Arts

Skunk Anansie singer Skin: Good art does not come out of perfect places

Twenty five years after Skunk Anansie broke on to the music scene the London rockers are still in demand. Lead singer Skin talks to Kerri-Ann Roper about why she's a proud Londoner and why good art and perfection are mutually exclusive

Skunk Anansie – 'Brixton's still got its energy, it's still got its vibrancy'

THE opening of their band biography says it all: "Skunk Anansie were born radical and have stayed that way ever since." The rock band are celebrating 25 years in the industry, which is no easy feat.

Ask lead singer Skin, real name Deborah Anne Dyer, about the milestone and she's refreshingly modest.

"Yeah, you know we did have a bit of a break," she says laughing.

Having formed in London in 1994, they have six studio albums under their belt, with new single What You Do For Love just released and their celebratory album 25LIVE@25 also out.

They took a break from 2001 to 2009, but their popularity and chart success doesn't echo that at all.

"I think to be honest when you've been around for 25 years, at a certain point you do sit back and take a bit of stock and go, 'You know what, that's not so bad'," she says.

When we speak, the band are preparing for a string of European festival dates followed by a British tour in August and September, with many dates already sold out. But first up on Skin's agenda is something else – packing.

"It's quite stressful just getting your s**t together and getting the show together and making it all come together, so it's a bit of work. I just realised I need to pack my clothes to go on tour."

Ask her how things have changed for women in the industry since her early days and she doesn't mince her words. But then that's the joy of speaking to Skin, nothing is filtered and she's not afraid to have an opinion.

The 51-year-old says: "In one way we're going really forwards, conversations about inter-sexuality and diversity and women's rights and trans rights feel like this amazing forward thinking thing, but then as well as that, it's the opposite, the American government is being very polarising and I feel on some levels things are going backwards.

"I mean who would have thought in this day and age we'd have been talking about abortion rights for women? So in some ways we're moving forward and things are great and Time's Up and Me Too have really made people, especially men, aware of how some of their behaviours have affected women.

"With social media the discussion moves so fast that some people are being offensive and they don't even know it – two steps forward, one step back."

Speaking to her, you get the feeling she's always had a sense of who she is and what she's about.

"I mean, the difference I think with me is that what people didn't realise is that I was a lot older than I actually looked," she says when asked about her own rise to fame.

"I was 26 when the first album came out so by that time I was a fully-fledged adult and I knew exactly who I was and wanted to be and I got there through trial and error.

"I wasn't that person at 18, absolutely not. I got there through all the mistakes I made and through all the knowledge I gained to that point.

"By the time Skunk Anansie started, I was very safe and secure in who I was. I'd shaved my head, I felt very comfortable with that. That was when I got all my strength. I was the opposite of Samson – the minute I shaved my head I was like, 'Ahh, I'm strong'."

And strong opinions are something the band hasn't shied away from. The first track on their 1996 album Stoosh, titled Yes, It's F****** Political is proof enough. Asked about mixing politics and music, Skin recalls a talk she did with young producers and song writers recently.

"The one question was: How do you write songs, what's the most important thing when you are writing a song? And my number one thing is, my answer was: The difference between me and you is I'm me and you are you. I have my way of talking about issues and you have your way of talking about issues and so for me it was really important for me to say what I had to say about my life."

Not that writing a political song is easy, she explains.

"The most difficult thing to write is a political song and I never once in my life sat down to write a political song because it doesn't work like that. You have to be upset about something so you write about it and that's where the political songs come from."

Speaking of politics, it's something the city of London hasn't escaped amid a rise in knife crimes. Is she still a proud Londoner?

"Absolutely. I think that people have got to remember something about knife crime and all of these things, none of these things are new.

"London is an urban city and I spent a whole lot of time in New York and they have a whole bunch of crime and a whole bunch of things going on that nobody talks about because it just happens all the time," she says.

"People say to me, 'Oh you're from Brixton, that must have been hard". I'm like, 'It was f****** great'.

"I go there all the time because my mum still lives there and now it's gentrified and all of those things, but it's still Brixton – it's still got its energy, it's still got its vibrancy.

"I have lived in Malibu and places that had very low rates of crime and you know what happens in those places? Everybody goes to bed. They have dinner at six o clock and they're in bed by nine o clock and they wake up to work out and it's f****** boring, it's so bland.

"I'll tell you what doesn't come out of perfection – good art. Good art does not come out of perfect places; it doesn't. Because if you don't have anything to worry about, what kind of art are you going to make if you've got nothing to fight against?"

:: Skunk Anansie's 25LIVE@25 UK tour kicks off on August 16.

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