Tonight I am getting to talk to the amazing Jennie Skulander, of Devilskin for the first time and it is a very weird time in the world. COVID-19 is being felt throughout the world and bringing not only the music industry, but the whole world to a stand still. New Zealand, homeland of the band has moved to level four lockdown for the first day when I am making this call. This means staying at home, only being able to leave home for essential goods and limited outings. Devilskin have a brand new album coming out and we kick off the discussion talking about how it is such a weird time in the world right now.
Hi Jennie, how are you coping with the restrictions and how big of a change for you personally? “Yeah, it’s alright. First day, it is really eerie. We live right next to a main road and there is no road noise, it’s just very quiet apart from my three-year-old. Strange!”
Well, she’ll keep you busy, that is for sure. “Oh yep”. So what’s the things that you normally do that you can’t do anymore? “Getting out there, going to the gym, I’m set up here but just being able to pop out and head up the road to the dairy. Some are still open, some supermarkets are as well, but you are getting questioned going out. Very strange, it’s supposed to be a month but could be longer. Very weird”.
You’ve got the new album Red coming out at the end of this week. Previous Devilskin albums We Rise and Be Like The River have both gone to number one, is there any extra pressure on you all when you all got down to writing the new album Red? “No, I mean there’s just been a few delays getting into the recording studio. We’d planned to get in at the end of 2018 but we got the opportunity to tour with Halestorm in Europe so that got put on the back-burner again. We actually recorded it in April last year, so I feel like it’s just been a long time coming and with all this happening and now it’s probably the worst time to release it. But we are excited to have it coming out and I hope that everyone who is a bit bored, stuck at home, will have some fresh music to listen to”.
I did the review for the album for Sentinel Daily and I loved it. It’s a really good album so I’m really enjoying -thank you. “Cheers”. I’ve talked through the Devilskin writing process with Paul (Martin – bass) last year, but what drives you with writing. Have you changed the way you’ve approach it compared to previous albums? “I think the only sort of difference is that we have Nic (Martin – drums) coming to us with more songs that are already put together because he can play pretty much every instrument. He did that with Endo and Bright Lights. He came to us and presented a whole song that he’s already recorded with all instruments and we’re like ‘Oh shit, that’s cool.’ So we re-record it with the whole band and there it is. Also leading up to the album, we’d been doing a lot of writing weekends together. So just going away and coming up with ideas, parts of ideas, revisiting old songs, freshening them up and seeing what else comes out. I think that has really helped as well”.
I’ve been lucky to see you twice: in Sydney with Halestorm back in 2017 and then your set at Download in Sydney. I know quite a few people who were amazed at your presence on stage and have become massive fans as a result. How differently do you approach the recording process to a live performance? “When I’m recording, I’m going in with an open mind with the producer. If he’s got any ideas that could make my voice sound better or an indication of changing any certain notes, I’m all for it. When I go on stage I know what I want to do and I approach that with what else I’m doing on stage, if I’m running around or stuff like that. So if we have a rehearsal, I try to rehearse what I’m going to be doing as well. Things like where am I going to put my cartwheels, where am I going to be lying down, where I am going to be running around and stuff. It’s a bit different going to the recording studio”. So you wouldn’t be doing all that in the studio? “No! Definitely not”. (laughing)
In the review on the album, I comment at one point that your vocals with Sweet Release are dripping with emotion as you hit that last “Let the river flow through me” line. What was it about that song that brings that type of emotion? “The theme of the song, originally when we came up with it and I had a few words to it. Not many, but you know, the lyrics are pretty sad. I did have that line of ‘Life’s Emotion, Sweet Release’. Then Paul wrote some lyrics about this guy in Hamilton, about five years ago in a mental health facility on suicide watch. He’d been let out to have a smoke break, unsupervised and he disappeared. Two days later his body was found in the Waikato River. So he’d gone out and taken his life, so there’s this big spiel that the DHB and mental health facility didn’t apologise for what happened to the family, they’d lost their father. Paul wrote about him and that situation, so recording the song I was thinking about that and that’s where the emotion is coming from. Even now, I think about it, especially getting to that big bit at the end and I get Goosebumps singing it. It’s a very emotional song”. It really carries across great and resonated with me. “Cool”.
I realise that The Victor is about the car crash you came across when returning from writing. How does it feel (and for the last one too) to turn something that could be so tragic into something that is so uplifting? “It can be hard, that crash affected us all. I had bad anxiety from it, and we weren’t sleeping so it was pretty good to be able to put it into song and express it. I think when you’ve got something that emotional it comes across on stage as well and it’s just a good release. That accident happened and the guy actually pleaded guilty last year. We were all set to go to court as witnesses to what we saw. He had pleaded guilty, even that being brought up as it was all over the radio and TV, people were going this is disgusting as it was a racially driven issue. Once the album is out, we’ll talk about it more. But it is really good to be able to put tragic things like that into song and express them because you were a part of it and it’s always going to be a part of you”.
Thinking about that and the current situation we are in there is likely to be some great opportunity to get gold in there for the creatives? “I plan on writing some lyrics, yeah… (laughs). I know Nail (Tony “Nail” Vincent – guitar) has got a setup at home and Nic and Paul are living together at present and they’ve got a setup at home. We could possibly do some Skype band practices. We are just not allowed out of our homes unless we are going to the supermarket pretty much. Strange, really strange to be releasing an album during this time as well, but unfortunately we didn’t plan. Quite unexpected”.
Yes it is, I know you have had to postpone the European tour that was planned. So when the world does become a little less crazy than it is right now, will it be picking up that tour straight away or no idea as yet? “It will be later on in the year I believe that tour. We are hoping to do a New Zealand tour about mid-year, but it depends on the situation and to we want to get back to Australia as well. We’ve got plans but it’s just hard. Everyone else is in the same boat as well”.
Well it’s good that this album is coming out as it’ll give people a bit of joy. “Yeah, and I mean you’re going to be stuck at home, why not check out our album on Spotify, you can download it. I think we are going to wait until the lockdown is over to send the physical copies (confirmed with social media message today) but they will still be available online. Of course, everyone will be stoked to be able to get back and perform, but we have to wait. It’s one thing I am looking forward to when this all blows over”.
Definitely, I’ve been speaking to a few friends who saw you with Slash, Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, another who contacted me today asking when are you coming back to Australia. You are building such a fan base here, particularly after the couple of tours here last year. I think you’ll build a much bigger groundswell over here. “Cool, we are looking forward to coming back, eventually…”
Who was it that inspired you when you were starting out? What sort of influences did they bring to your style? “Going right back when I was getting into singing, I was into a lot of Deftones, Slipknot, and then changed it up and really got into Mars Volta, Coheed and Cambria. I actually like a lot of male artists that can sing high notes (laughing). But just growing up with my dad’s music – playing Judas Priest, Dio, and try to be able to sing like them. For Devilskin we’ve all got different influences, Paul’s favourite band is Black Sabbath, Nail’s is probably Pantera. Nic’s changes quite a bit as he’s into a lot of the heavier, more modern stuff. I seem to go around in circles with the same few bands, Deftones, Jeff Buckley, Mars Volta…”
A few issues with the phone line ensued at this point, so we are forced to quickly finish off. Thank you Jennie for taking the time out to talk with me and I wish you all the best with the lockdown. I’m really looking forward to the album getting out and I’m sure it will be well received. “Fingers crossed everything is good. I’m just happy we are getting to release it and hopefully some people will enjoy some new music while in lockdown”.