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Skindred interview: Benji talks Union Black, pop and West End musicals

by Tina Bass. Published Mon 02 May 2011 16:31, last updated: 09/04/12

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Purple Revolver joined Skindred's Benji halfway through their current UK tour, before their Nottingham Rock City gig and gave us the low-down on their high octane performances and album Union Black.

As he tucked into his afternoon tea, complete with scones, clotted cream and jam, we talked about the Royal Wedding, found out he's a massive West End musical fan, counting musicals as a major influence and is a closet pop fan, recently catching a Marina and the Diamonds gig with his girlfriend and asking Katy Perry to sing Rhianna tunes at her concert.

PR: Did you watch the Royal Wedding?

Benji: I watched a little bit of it in a shop when I popped out in Wolverhampton. I loved the red jacket with the blue sash. That was lovely. It was definitely me, I'd wear that. He did look great and I'm happy for them.

Purple Revolver: How's the tour going so far?

Benji: This tour's been fantastic. We've done four nights and we've sold out three of them. With some of the bigger venues we may be struggling but on the whole it's been amazing.

PR: What was the last concert you went to?

Benji: Marina and The Diamonds. I saw her on Jools Holland and bought her album and when my girlfriend and I saw she was coming down to Cardiff we got tickets and went.

PR: That's not very metal!

Benji: Yeah I know. I went to see Katy Perry recently as well! A friend of mine was doing lights for her so he managed to get us in this little booth. By the time I got to the there I was shit-faced and I sat drinking more wine and you know what, I can't even remember the concert! I remember saying “I want her to play 'Umbrella'” and my girlfriend was saying, “This is not the girl, it's not the girl, she doesn't do 'Umbrella'” and I was like “I don't care, I want fucking 'Umbrella'”. I do like heavy metal concerts, but I like to go to all sorts. I'm not all metal, I really like Marvin Gaye as well, some of his songs are phenomenal.

PR: Let's talk about your new album Union Black, it's the first album you've recorded in the UK right?

Benji: Yes, all our other albums were recorded in Florida and LA, which is not a bad thing, but it was nice to be in England in the cold of winter, doing a record. We spent six weeks with James Loughrey – he did some stuff with Page and Plant, So Solid and Cheryl Cole so he's quite diverse. His big claim to fame was 'Murder On The Dancefloor' by Sophie Ellis-Bextor. That sealed the deal for me! He knew exactly what we were talking about and we were all on the same page, it was brilliant, we had a really good time in there.

PR: Is the new stuff going down well so far?

Benji: I think that no matter what me and the band members say, it's the fans who should dictate how the energy is, so I'll talk to people online on Facebook and ask people who were actually at the concert what they thought. They've been able to listen to the new album for a few days now and they've been saying that the new songs come across really well.

PR: Do you think it's important that the sound of a record doesn't deviate too much from what a band sound like live?

Benji: Well I don't think we've ever captured the live thing. We make good records, but when we play the songs live they come alive even more. There's just this energy when it's live. We want people to forget about their bullshit, because life's crap enough, just enjoy yourself.

PR: Over the past decade the internet has had a massive impact on the music industry, particularly with music piracy, having just released a new record has this had any effect on you?

Benji: I was told yesterday by a friend of mine who is always online, that he searched and searched but couldn't find anything that had been leaked, which is really good, but now it's released, it's out there.

My manager found someone who had put the individual tracks on Youtube and he made sure they got removed. All we ask is for you to give us a month you know, just a few weeks. I believe this: if you're going to download music then you are hurting the recording artist, but there is a way to repent and that's to buy a ticket when they come to town and buy a shirt. That's all I ask.

PR: It seems that what's being said is that it's those exact kids that are downloading all the stuff that are keeping the music industry alive, because yes, they are downloading for free but as a result they're hearing music that they otherwise probably wouldn't have heard and as a result of that, they go out and buy tickets for shows.

Benji: If someone said to me, no one will ever buy your record, then I'd be like download, take it, because it's better for it to be sat in someone's bedroom for free than to just be sat somewhere on a shelf, because at least then, when I do play a concert, they come to see it.

PR: Who would you consider to be your first major musical influence?

Benji: Musicals from America - West Side Story, Carousel, Oklahoma, Oliver Twist - when I sat in front of the TV watching them, I just thought it was amazing, I wanted to sing like that. Even now, I don't think there's a month that goes by when I don't watch a musical. Early teens I discovered The Specials and The Sex Pistols, music with guts. Bands like that just blew me away. I started in a reggae band, but I always wanted to do something that was more amalgamated and mixed which is why I'm right at home with Skindred.

PR: What's your greatest achievement so far in your music career?

Benji: Being in a band and not listening to bullshit and just carrying on, I think that's an achievement in itself in this day and age. Because if I listened to anything except the good things then I would stop. The bass player from Metallica was saying how he really likes Skindred and Jada Pinkett-Smith, she's a big fan as well. I met her in LA and she was starstruck by me. It was weird. It's like people of a whole other level digging you and stuff.

PR: Do you have any favourite venues?

Benji: There's a little place in Camberley, I can't remember what it's called, but I like to go there once a year at least.

PR: Aside from music, do you have any other quirky skills or talents?

Benji: I do like boxing and I like to indulge in a little bit of boxing myself.

PR: After this tour you've got Download coming up.

Benji: Yes, we're very excited. But I'm excited to play all the time because I love playing. Whether it's an acoustic session or playing at Download, Sonisphere or any of the other big festivals, I'm always excited. I've got something that I want people to share.

PR: Thank you for the interview, Benji, see you in the mosh-pit at Download.

Photos of Skindred at Notts Rock City by Lara Leon-Cullen

See Skindred at Download - tickets available through the site - http://www.downloadfestival.co.uk/2011/


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