British genre-bending quartet Skunk Anansie has sold more than 5 million albums worldwide and has won a load of music awards, including voted best British band by Kerrang! magazine for two straight years.
Too bad they can’t get arrested in the United States.
Ace, guitarist of the London-based group, hopes their third album, “Post Orgasmic Chill” (Virgin, released Aug. 10), will break the ice. After touring stateside the past month with Sevendust, Powerman 5000 and Staind, Skunk Anansie is well on its way.
The group – Ace, singer Skin, bassist Cass and drummer Mark – has had a hard time penetrating the U.S. market because no other band quite sounds like Skunk Anansie, Ace says.
“Everyone wants to fit you into a box so they can describe you,” he said recently. “To be honest, we’re all guilty of it. I do it myself. When someone asks me, ‘What do they sound like?’ I go, ‘Oh, they sound a bit like Tool or Black Sabbath.’ What happens, when people like to put you in a bracket of music, like power-rock, it’s quite hard to put us in one because we’ve got Skin singing, which makes it very different. We’re a little bit hip-hop, part pop, some slow stuff, part drum ‘n’ bass, with a lot of African and Eastern influences.
“When people ask me what kind of band we are, just off the cuff I go, ‘Well, rock music.’ That’s all I can say, really. It’s a cop-out, but it’s like asking what kind of music was Led Zeppelin? Well, it was rock music, because they had soft stuff and heavy stuff and you couldn’t put it in any extreme direction. Whereas some bands you can say ‘They’re hard-core’ or ‘They’re metal.’ There’s lots of different styles in our stuff, but essentially it’s rock … heavy and melodic.”
CD stores shouldn’t bother figuring out what bin to put “Post Orgasmic Chill” in. Just set up a separate display and let its eclecticism sell itself. The tracks, produced by Andy Wallace (Nirvana, Jeff Buckley), range from atmospheric (“Tracy’s Flaw”) and hypnotic (“Charlie Big Potato”) to raw and powerful (“The Skank Heads”). All of it is too complex and provocative for Top 40 radio listeners, but that hasn’t stopped the group from developing a growing underground U.S. following.
“I don’t know that we ever said, ‘We’re going to be different from everyone else,’ ” Ace said. “I just think we were. We were all in different kinds of bands; they were all different degrees of this band, really. When we formed, the music felt right. I know that every time we go in to record, we’re always trying to find something different, some new sounds or a new way of doing things, just so it’s fresh.
“That’s why it takes longer for us to break through. When you’re doing something that’s radical, in a way, it’s harder for people to get into it. But if you do break through, you become the innovators of that scene. In America, it’s harder to break the mold, whereas in England, when we came out people were bored, ‘We need something new,’ our popularity there was gained quickly.”
It grew so quickly, within a few years, they were headlining some of England’s major summer festivals, playing to 100,000 fans.
It’s not all wine and roses back home, Ace says. They do have their critics, who think the band is just plain weird, but the band members laugh it off.
“It’s funny,” Ace said, “we played the Glastonbury festival and we headlined it and there was like 100,000 people, and it was televised live on national TV. It went great. The next day in the press, the Kerrang! review said ‘What a great show.’ Then the NME (New Musical Express) and the Melody Maker said, ‘They were rubbish. Nobody liked it.’ It’s like, were we at the same gig?
“If they feel like it, the press will destroy a band if they can. It’s only because they create them at the same time. If they create them, they can destroy them. Since they didn’t create us, they can’t really knock us.”
The notoriously vindicative British press can’t be taken too seriously, Ace says, because they all have agendas and ulterior motives.
“They make up scenes as well,” he said. “They tried to make up that romo scene and they really cut their throats because no one bought it. Everyone was like, ‘No, romo’s not happening.’ They said ‘New Romantic’ is really coming back, so they called it romo. But there weren’t any romo bands. They made it up. Everyone’s still laughing about it, and it destroyed NME’s credibility.”
Skunk Anansie’s credibility, meanwhile, is on the skyrocketing. It can only get better, Ace says.
“I’m hoping that this album is going to break through so people can start to know us and we can come over and play America on our own,” he said. “We’re on Virgin this time, which is a lot better than Sony. They’re pushing us and marketing us. The buzz is good, and we’ve built up a club following ourselves from all the other tours we’ve done, so it’s all feeling like it’s coming together.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “A punk album called ‘Dawn of the Dickies’ by the Dickies. I remember buying it around the same time I got the 45 of ‘Five Minutes’ by the Stranglers.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Motorhead, when I was about 12. It was just before my birthday, and I remember coming home after the show and telling my mom, ‘I want a bullet belt for my birthday,’ because (singer) Lemmy was wearing one. And she actually bought it for me. My parents were great, they let me get away with everything, because I was never a bad kid. I did everything, of course, but I didn’t do it incorrectly, so I could go out and stay out all night, as long as I told them. I think it was because we had a load of kids in the family and we were pretty poor; they tend not to hassle you when you’re living like that.”
BWF (before we forget): Experience the “Post Orgasmic Chill” with Skunk Anansie on the Web @ www.skunkanansie.com.