Skint & Demoralised – Interview
Back in 2009, we Wisenheimers somehow got hold of Skint & Demoralised brilliant first album “Love, And Other Catastrophes” – which was not that easy, because it tragically was not released until 2011. Singer Matt Abbott talks to bushwah about what had happened to their debut, their work with the Dap-Kings and how “kitchen sink dramas” of the late ’50s and early ’60s influenced him as a lyricist!
Skint & Demoralised went through quite a development – from a two-man project to a full band, from spoken word “rapping” on your first album to indie rock band singing, from poet to songwriter. Please tell us about this development – how do you feel about it, how did it happen?
S&D actually first started as me doing spoken word performance poetry on my own. I was massively inspired by the legendary punk poet John Cooper Clarke and started doing gigs at local venues and clubnights. When MiNI dOG found my poems online he started adding them to backing tracks, and this is how the first S&D songs were written. So the reason that the first album is mainly spoken word is because the songs were originally poems, and MiNI dOG simply added music beneath them.
After taking a break when we left Universal and having sung in the band for a couple of years, I fancied having a go at singing on the songs. This gave us a new challenge, opened up a lot more vocal melodies and also freshened our sound up a bit. We didn’t want to make a second album that sounded the same as the debut, so were really happy to completely change things by singing. I personally think that it gives the songs a more mature feel and I’m glad that we made the transition, although I won’t rule out doing spoken word on a song again.
I guess to answer your question it was a natural development as I matured both as a man and as a writer, and it’s important that bands evolve and reflect such change in order to keep the creative process interesting and exciting for everyone involved.
You recorded the first album “Love, and Other Catastrophes” with the mighty Dap-Kings (famous for their work with Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones, Mark Ronson) in NY. How did it come to this, what was the idea behind it and how was the work?
It was all MiNI dOG’s idea! When we first started writing songs, we both shared a passion for Northern Soul music and we incorporated this into our early style. When we signed to Universal, they wanted to place us with a well-known producer but we were desperate for MiNI dOG to land the job. We knew that it would be difficult and would need a bombastic idea, so he suggested that we record with The Dap-Kings in NYC. The guy at the label loved our idea and they agreed to go ahead; three months later we were on our flights out to JFK!
It was a truly amazing experience to work with a band like The Dap-Kings and also to record in their iconic Daptone Studios. You can really hear their craft on “You Probably Don’t Even Realise…” in particular and I love the percussion that they added to the album version of “Red Lipstick” as well.
This first album was not released back then in 2009 (it came out in 2011 alongside their second album “This Sporting Life”), even though promo copies were sent out, it got numerous fantastic reviews in the music press and great airplay. What happened? Why was this fantastic album not released at this point?
Basically, when “‘Red Lipstick” was released as a single it didn’t do well enough in the UK Singles Chart, and so at that point they decided not to release the album and to let us go. Part of the problem was that we had 10,000 free downloads of our demos before signing to Universal, but also the fact that promo copies were sent out didn’t help either. The promo copies leaked online months before “Red Lipstick” was released and so by the time it was eventually released, most people already had it.
Your second album “This Sporting Life” is named after a David Storey novel, the single “All The Rest Is Propaganda” is a famous quote from Alan Sillitoe’s novel “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”. And even The Arctic Monkeys debut album “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” is a direct quote from this novel… so please tell us – what’s the young british indie rock band’s fascination with this classic novelists?
What’s the connection between you as a “punk poet” and this so-called “angry young men” writers of the 50s/60s?
These great novels and subsequent films are from the British new wave of cinema and literature, and are classified as the “kitchen sink dramas” of the late ’50s and early ’60s. The appeal for me is that the stories are written with such brutal honesty, and instead of trying to glamorise the lives of people in working class Northern England, the novels and films show these characters exactly as they would be in the real world. That’s why people relate to them so strongly and for lyricists who try to capture honesty and realism, there really is no finer period of history to take influence from.
The “angry young men” challenged everything that most young working class people love to challenge; authority, the class system, coming of age, finding identity and most of all love. These are the issues that we can all relate to, even 50 or 60 years later, and the classic characters that emerged in these novels and films will always symbolise the change in life that we all undertake when we develop into adulthood.
Do you see yourself more as a poet or a songwriter now?
I see myself as a poet and a lyricist, because I still have very little musical involvement when it comes to writing our songs and I think that’s our strong point. I focus on the lyrics and vocals whilst MiNI dOG focuses on the music and production, which means that we work separately and so we always keep each other guessing whilst bouncing off each other. I am definitely not a songwriter because I can’t play an instrument, but I think that being a lyricist is a very important role!
You just released a new song – “When Saturday comes”. Please tell us more about it – is this the first sign of a new album?
This is indeed the first sign of a new album. We currently have five tracks that we actually wrote last September/October and right now we’re in the process of writing another five or six to finish the album. Hopefully this will be released in January 2013.
I’ve always been extremely passionate about football and so it was great for me to write a lyric about the sport. Apart from novelty World Cup anthems there aren’t really any songs about football and so I’m really pleased that we’ve managed to make it work.
What’s your favorite The Smiths album? And: what are your favorite Morrissey lyrics?
My favourite Smiths album is ”Hatful of Hollow” although I realise that it’s a compilation album as opposed to a studio album. For me, nothing captures the magic of The Smiths better than this release, and the fact that a lot of the recordings are from live radio sessions is astounding. Two of my favourite Smiths tracks are “Girl Afraid” and “William, It Was Really Nothing”. Also, a lot of the lyrics on this album were stolen from “A Taste of Honey” which is one of the great “kitchen sink dramas” I mentioned earlier!
If I had to choose a studio album then I’d say “The Queen Is Dead”. It quite simply is an astounding record and I personally think it is the finest British LP of all-time.
Which artists (musician, writers.. whatever) are your biggest influences?
My biggest musical influences are Arctic Monkeys, Elbow, The Streets, Squeeze, The Cure, Billy Bragg, Jake Thackray, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and The Pogues. The writers that have influenced me most are James Joyce (“Dubliners”), Oscar Wilde, Alan Sillitoe (“Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”), Stan Barstow (“A Kind of Loving”) and Lord Byron (“Don Juan”). The poets that have influenced me most are John Cooper Clarke and Charles Bukowski, and finally the directors/writers than have influenced me most are Julio Medem and Dominic Savage.
What are your all time top 5 favorite albums?
That’s a tough one! Obviously this changes every six months or so, but at the moment I’d say…
- Arctic Monkeys “Favourite Worst Nightmare”
- The Smiths “Hatful of Hollow”
- Bob Dylan “Highway 61 Revisited”
- The Doors “The Doors”
- The Streets “Original Pirate Material”
Although I also have to mention “Blonde On Blonde” by Bob Dylan, “Rum, Sodomy & The Lash” by The Pogues, “Back To Basics” by Billy Bragg and “Seldom Seen Kid” by Elbow. I know that’s cheating but they have to have a mention!
What are your plans and aspirations for 2012? What would you like to happen for Skint & Demoralised in this year?
At the moment I have a full-time job so S&D is more a hobby when I have spare time than a career, but by the end of 2012 I want to have finished the first draft of my debut novel and be ready to release the 3rd S&D album!
Matt, thanks for the interview!!
The Skint & Demoralised albums “Love, and Other Catastrophes” and “This Sporting Life” are out on Heist Or Hit Records.