With a sixth studio album, Black Traffic, due out today, I caught up with Skunk Anansie front-woman Skin to discuss the recording process, going indie and her ‘black feminist rage’ label.
When I ask about the recent show in conjuction with Kerrang!, where the band previewed tracks from the new album, she seems genuinely happy with the reaction from the crowd. “I think it’s one of my favourite gigs in a long time. It’s was absolutely rammed jammed packed and it just totally went off. The new songs went down just as well as the old songs so that was really nice to see because that doesn’t really happen“.
The story behind the album title however is more somber, reflecting their more worldly view and the current climate. “It ended up being a little prolifical, a little bit contemptuous, and Black Traffic is really just about the the black traffic that runs around the world. What you think is controlling stuff, is not what really what is controlling that stuff.”
In terms of the music sometimes having a political edge, Skin explains “we talk about how things effect us, and how we feel about various things. Sometimes it’s personal, sometimes it’s political. We never go out to be political but we’re living in intense times and in that way it’s going to be a big topic for us in the writing.”
The process of recording has been different this time around and Skin explains that “we recorded things in a very experimental way. We took ourselves out of our comfort zone and said let’s do things differently and see what happens. So we walked into the studio with a handful of great choruses and a handful of great riffs and kind of put them all together. It’s something I’ve never done before, I’ve always had everything done and dusted before I ever stepped foot in the studio and that was really like jumping off a cliff. I put myself in a pressurised situation and it worked really well.”
Despite the more experimental way of working, there was also a shift in terms of time constraints. “This time we gave ourselves a little bit more space and time to song write and everybody, wanted to have their ideas in there, and if you’re not there you can’t have your ideas in there so everybody was in the studio all the time.”
In no small way is this due to the move to release independently, in conjunction with 100% Records. “Logistically it’s much much easier. We’ve always had complete creative control, so in that respect there was no change, but what really changed is the way that we do things and that’s really driven by the fact we can do everything on the internet now and we can do things off computers and that’s one of the major differences between now and 10 years ago. Before it was like 20 staff and now it’s just 3 staff and that’s given us more financial power and logistical power. We can get things done a lot quicker, there’s no corporate labels wasting money with £1000 lunches for their friends. It’s just more succinct and a tighter operation.”
It seems as though the bands hiatus has also played a part in the way they’re now working. “I think the industry has changed and I think we’ve matured and grown up. We’re better at relating to our families and friends, as that’s something that you learn. We have the beauty of hindsight and I think we’re more wise as well.”
So what about the fact that the music is supposedly based on ‘black feminist rage’? “Black feminist rage? What is that, is that a political party?” she questions. “I think that’s something people said I said, but I certainly wouldn’t use those words about myself. I am black, I am gay, I am female, and I think people kind of call it black feminist rage, which I think marginalises my point of view. I think my point of view is the same as most people, you know, like a white guy from Cheltenham. I think what we talk about in our songs mirrors what a lot of people are thinking, it’s just that people like to compartmentalise you.” As she continues you can sense the frustration of this labelling, “I think it’s a way of putting things in a box and then throwing them away. You call it black feminist rage and everyone switches off and misses the point.”
Skunk Anansie’s sound is undeniably emotional. When I ask if this is draining or cathartic she tells me “it’s inspiring. It gives you fire when you really know what the songs are written about. If the songs mean a lot to you then you can play them again, and again and again, and you can conjure up the feeling. And when you know it means a lot to other people, and the songs have meaning then I think you’re heart is in it.” Which leads her to briefly comment on the upcoming tour. “We’re really excited about playing new songs, and I get to wear brand new crazy outfits.”
Black Traffic is released on 17th September, and the European tour begins on 6th November. Visit www.skunkanasie.net for more details.