Daniel Pugsley, Skindred
Sarah caught up with bassist Daniel Pugsley before their Liverpool gig on 15th December 2018 to talk venue germs, ear worms, and cats…
Hi Daniel! Firstly welcome back in Liverpool, it’s great to have you back
It’s great to be here, thank you.
You’re here on the “That’s My Jam” tour. It’s been a huge tour, starting on Halloween and running right up to a few days before Christmas, and there have been lots of smaller venues that perhaps you wouldn’t normally play on a shorter tour. What was the idea behind doing a tour like this?
Over the years we have tended to do that, where first we’ll play the bigger venues and then later in the year we’ll play the smaller venues, the kind of venues which are more regional based. The venues are not what we would play on our “A Market” tour when the album first comes out…. That’s a really rubbish way of putting it! “A Market” “B Market” “C Market”… The original idea was we would just play a few shows right at the end of the year to just do something and keep busy. Christmas is coming up and it’s a good way to make a little bit of money at this time of year. As it went on and the word got out that we were doing a few shows, more and more promoters approached us to play and it went from us planning to do 12 shows to us actually playing 31, 32 shows. It’s been really cool, very interesting and quite a different way of doing things as well. Usually we would just go out and tour, we would get on the bus and tour and that would be it, whereas this way we go out and play for a couple of days, and then we are home for a couple of days, we get to be with our families and then we are back out again. I love going home and this tour has given us the chance to do that, but actually it’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be.
What makes it harder doing it this way?
We’re on and off the bus all of the time, so we don’t get used to sleeping on the bus, and at this time of year we all get a little sick anyway. Playing the smaller shows in the smaller venues makes you more likely to get ill as well because it tends to be sweaty venues as well. Tonight is obviously a bigger venue, but the smaller venues are different. They are awesome in their own way, but yeah… we tend to get quite ill!
Have you had a favourite venue on this tour?
A lot of these venues are the venues that built us as a band when we were starting out, the venues that we used to play 15 years or so ago, this is how we got our name out. We’d play these places and then people would start to take a chance on us doing the festivals and those kinds of things. It’s been really great to go back to these places. Last night we were in Roadbenders in Northampton. I can remember the first time we played there. We were on tour with another band and they pulled out of that particular show that night and we ended up headlining the show that night, playing in the little room in there. It was so long ago, like 2001. Going back to these places has been like “wow” for us. I don’t know if it’s the favourite, but the surprise venue so far has been Marrs Bar in Worcester. It’s tiny, maybe could fit about 200 people and it’s got this really basement like feel to it, even though it’s not a basement, it’s up on the first floor! People who I know from the area were saying to us before “Mate, what, you’re playing there?” “The stage is tiny!” “There is no barrier! It’s going to be crazy” and blah blah… But that’s just old school. We’re used to playing the punkier shows where things would be a bit madder, and that’s no sweat, but I still have my worries about playing somewhere like that and having my gear broken or something. But it turned out to be one of the most fun shows because it was just packed to the gills with people who were just so up for seeing the band. We play the smaller venues and we play to the friendliest faces, to the people who really want to see you. It’s all just been really fun.
The fan reception to the tour has been obviously well received with a number of dates selling out. Fans can also purchase the VIP upgrades on their tickets, which is something that is becoming more and more popular for bands to offer. Is this something that you find Skindred fans are keen to purchase?
On this particular tour, if we’re honest, then no, not as many as when we do our main tour. I think bands are always looking for ways to make money as people don’t buy as many records anymore, so the VIP packages can be another revenue for bands. When you look at how much ours cost in comparison to other bands, and what the fans actually get from our experience, we feel it’s actually really good value (www.skindred.net/vip has all the info). What we find with playing the smaller venues is the ticket prices might be a little bit higher than would be typically expected there, and then the meet and greet packages are the same prices as they would be in the main tour, and the fans don’t seem to see it as being quite as inviting on this tour as they may have on the main one. We do get at least a handful of people at every show, but on the main tour, we could see 30 to 40 coming along for the VIP bit.
So it can be a popular option then?
Yeah it is, and again it’s part of the fun. I’ve seen bands that we’ve toured with do the meet and greets, but I still don’t know any band that does what we do. We do like to hang out with the people, actually have a chat with them. We’ve seen it where the other bands will literally just do maybe one photo with one band member. We don’t do that, we’ll play songs for the fans and then come and just hang out for a chat, and we’ll then get our photos taken. It’s really about spending the time with them. I really like it. There are people who have been coming to see us for years and years but somehow they have never met us, and I recognise them from the shows, so actually meeting them through something like a meet and greet, it’s actually a really nice feeling.
“That’s My Jam” has been my ear worm for weeks and weeks now in the run up to this gig tonight. One of the striking things about Skindred is how distinguishable your sound is, and how many instantly recognisable songs you have. Many of your songs are played as essential tracks at rock clubs up and down the country. What do you think the secret is to writing such infectiously popular music?
That’s really kind of you to say! It’s actual always been a really conscious thing for us that Benji as our singer isn’t the typical metal singer. He’s very versatile, but at the same time very melodic. It’s a combination of that, and then at times on our albums being able to get very experimental, but it just comes down to us wanting to write good songs. We put a lot of work into it, and I think as a result of that every song now has its own personality. Sometimes you can listen to a band, even bands that I love this, where you’ll play an album and every song is kind of like the next song, and then the next song is kind of like the next song, and so on. We’ve always tried to not do that. We’re influenced by a lot of different things, and a lot of the rock and reggae we like then crosses over into pop. I mean, I love pop music! We end up conscious of the kind of arrangements you’d hear in pop. So we’d have a metal song, it’d be really heavy, but we’ve got the dancehall and reggae kind of drums happening with it too, and we’d think about if this was a pop song, how the structure of it would work. We’d say to ourselves “Why don’t play it like this” and I think that can make a song more listenable and easier to digest.
How did your collaboration with Gary (Stringer from Reef) come about on the Big Tings album?
I think I am allowed to talk about this now… we originally wrote the song for Brian Johnson (AC/DC). Our manager was friends with his manager, and when he was no longer in AC/DC we wrote “Machine” for him and it looked like he was going to come and sing on it! We always come on to AC/DC, you know, Thunderstruck is part of our entrance music. When our working together didn’t happen, Brian still ended up using the song on his TV program, so it was well worth us doing it, but we then had to think about who can do it. We tossed around a few names, but Gary came forward and said he would love to do it. I remember years ago the mini disc adverts and Reef being on the adverts!
Do you have a favourite song to play live?
It’s probably Pressure from the first album. We were talking about things being catchy and I think for me that is the perfect example of it. I love a lot of the songs, like I love playing Rat Race and I love playing Sound the Siren, and Warning… but Pressure just because of the look on people’s faces when they clock what song it is! That’s often my favourite part of the gig, when I see the look on their faces. People just love that song.
I think Set It Off might be one of my favourite songs, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard you play it live! You must play it sometimes though?
I don’t think we’ve played it for the last 6 or 7 years. On the Volume tour we might have played a bit of it as part of a medley and we’d go from Selector into Set It Off, but we haven’t played it properly in year. We sometimes might muck around with it, jamming it or whatever, but no we haven’t played it live in a long time.
You’ve been a band for nearly 20 years now! What advice would you now go back and give a younger you?
I think 2019 is sort of the 20 year mark for Skindred, coming up with the name and what have you. Me and Benji have certainly been playing as a band for that long. What advice would I give myself…? This will sound absolutely crazy… You know how we were talking about the music being as catchy as it is? Well I was 18 when the band started and I came up with the name “Skindred”. We were bouncing around ideas and I was thinking “Skin” was like punk and “Dred” was like the reggae thing, and then “Kindred” because we were like Kindred spirits. I never realised that people could read it like “Skinned Red” because that sounds so heavy! It sounds like we’re so metal and so heavy! We were supporting Fear Factory early on in our career and we were in Portsmouth when I walked past someone who said “Who is the support band?” and their friend “Oh they are called Skin Death”. The name has become what we are now, but I think I wouldn’t have called us Skindred. I would have called us something else, not as heavy sounding. People who don’t know Skindred think they know what we sound like already.
Just from your name? What do you think people get from the name alone?
I think people automatically assume we sound like Soulfly or Sepultura. People don’t realise just based off our name, we’ve got elements of classic rock, elements of punk, elements of reggae, elements of metal. I mean when we go heavy, we are fucking heavy.
Aside from the pop, what other bands are you listening to at the moment?
Kvelertak, I like them a lot, I like what they do, I think that’s really cool. There’s also Turnstile, and I think Stray From The Path are pretty interesting, they are like a modern take on Rage Against The Machine but leaning a bit more towards the hardcore thing. I like a band called Conjurer, they are also from the UK and they are amazing. It’s really drilling but also really sludgy as well. From the older stuff, I like a lot of cheesy classic rock… Toto and Boston. I love the feel good moments, the power ballads, and then also really bratty 80s American hardcore, like Black Flag and things like that. They always write these really perfect short songs. Like Bad Brains. It’s such a catchy thing and it’s only a minute and a half. I love it. But then again, I listen to a lot of dance music too
*whispered* Me too… I just wanted to ask about the “That’s My Jam” video and the Big Tings album cover. They both feature a very funky looking cat. Where did the idea for that come from?
We’d joked around that we wanted to make a collection of songs, not like a greatest hits because we’ve never had a hit! You know how Aerosmiths greatest hits was called Big Ones, we were saying ours would be called “Big Tings” because of the Jamaican influence. When it didn’t happen like that some of us in the band were still pushing that we could make a record called “Big Tings”. When we decided that we would do it, it was actually Arya (Goggins, the drummer) to use a little cat and put Benjis sunglasses on it. We ended up with all these different mock ups of this one idea, and eventually Sam (Hayles of DOSE productions) designed that cat and we were like “Yeah, that’s it, that’s the cat!” They were able to run with Aryas idea of the cat wearing the big glasses and the leather jacket. When we came to make the music video, we had these kind of ideas, sort of like Da Funk by Daft Punk where the guys walking around with the big dog head on. We wanted that crossed with Saturday Night Fever! So that was the idea behind it. I like that video because I’m not in it.
Are music videos not your jam then?
I do enjoy it sometimes, but honestly, I like playing music. I’m not really into having my photo taken, and I know that’s part of the whole thing, but for me it’s not my vibe.
How would you say Skindreds sound has evolved over the years?
I think that we’ve always tried to do the same thing but we’ve also tried to always push it in different directions. If you look at our records some of them are really electronic, the last record is really rock, the one before that we had the idea to make it a kind of 90s riff rock record. Volume is all just riff, riff, riff, riff whereas Big Tings is not like that. We always try to push our sound and I think that’s one of the things that has given us longevity where we can try different things but in the arena of what we do.
How was 2018 for Skindred, and what do you hope 2019 will bring for you?
I think it was pretty good. There’s been a lot going on for all of us on personal level which has made things quite difficult at times. It’s hard to answer whilst we’re still in it. Ask me again in 2019. Next year…? Maybe we’ll be the biggest band in the world.
Daniel, thank you so much for talking to us today.
Interview by Sarah Cummings