Finally. after a few attempts foiled by COVID 0outbreaks either in Australia or in his native New Zealand,powerhouse alt.metal band Devilskin is hitting our shores for their first ever headline Australian Tour. The band is stoked to be finally coming to Australia. (Note: unfortunately, due to our very different laws in the States and Territory the band have announced they have to pull out of the Perth show as they could not meet all requirements to enter, this was announced after this interview).
Red turned two years old the other week, I remember talking to you just after it was released, and you had felt it was your best work. I think it is an amazing album that shows a band very comfortable in their own skin, but Wow, that two years has absolutely flown, so looking back on it now, do you feel the reaction and feedback on the album was what you had hoped? “It was, it just wasn’t on the scale we had hoped. We effectively got the rug pulled out from under us, releasing an album just as COVID was hitting everywhere. We could release it digitally, but couldn’t send out physical copies, it was just the worse time ever to be in a band and be releasing an album. What do you do? You’ve just got to ride it out and hope for the best. I think we were all really gutted that we didn’t get to tour it as much as we wanted to and give the songs the chance to be heard. The songs were, and still are so important to us, that’s why we’re really amping out about this Aussie tour. Finally, we get to play these songs for people, it’s cathartic and we need to do this. Even though we’ve been writing songs in the two years since, this album needed it and deserved the respect of us touring it and getting it heard by as many people as possible”.
It will be great to hear the songs live. “We love playing it live, it’s just so much fun. It’s uplifting, we can feel the progression that the band has made and it’s just fun to play live. The songs are really special, Jenny (Skulander) will sing a lyric and I’ll get all teary eyed, she nailed it. I know what the songs about and the songs are still really, really, important to us. So you know we just want to share them with folks, and share our experiences. Once we’ve done that, I guess we’ll feel were in a better place to carry on and work on another recording”.
Yeah, you’ve just got to get it out. “Yeah, you do. We were ten days away from flying out to Europe for two months and that was going to be the start of the album tour there. It was hard for us, but then it was hard for every other band in the world too. There’s one thing I’ll tell my grandkids about COVID and that is, it was fatal for music. We’re just stoked we now get the opportunity to tour it”.
I see you’ve been busy in those two years still, the band managed to get some touring in around NZ before things went to crap again. How did that feel and how did the fans react to the new material that had been woven into the setlist? “Snuck in some tiny little gaps. The NZ fans were really good, it was great to be able to get out and do some. To play the new songs and see the fans already singing the words to them and we could really feel it. The new songs sound big on stage, it’s just another level. We’ve set ourselves a bar and after recording it you’ve got to step up and do it justice live. I think we are smashing it at the moment, the band is really good and the songs are still inspiring”.
There was a gig in Whangamatã (now I’m going to pronounce this wrong) in Jan (Kickdown Festival) where you got to bring a couple of passions together for the night. Motorcycles and metal, how did that come about? “Fongaa-maat-aa, it’s a really cool little coastal village in the Coromandel Peninsula, it’s beautiful, the beaches are to die for. It’s funny because I’ve been going there since I was five because my grandparents used to live there. But now it’s got traffic lights and shops everywhere. They do an annual beach hop, a rock and roll beach hop and the place is just crowded. It’s something like seventy five thousand people descend on the town for the weekend and it’s all hot rods and everything there. The promoters of that wanted to put on this bike festival and make it like Sturgis (Motorcycle Rally) in the States. It was pretty ambitious for a start, but they did everything right. Then everyone was sitting on the edge of their seat to find out what the latest COVID stats are and are we going to get closed down, if it hits Red Light then you can’t have functions. We just scraped in, I think it was two days after that festival the whole country went into Red Light again. Harley Davidson was right behind it, we’ve got a deal here with the local Harley Davidson dealer in Hamilton and I was talking with the promoter a few days before the gig. I said ‘hey Bro, it’s really cool that we can ride our bikes out on the stage. You know thanks for doing that.’ He’s like ‘what, what? Who said you could do that?’ I went ‘oh shit, I must’ve just assumed.’ (laughing) I said, ‘Oh sorry man’. He then says, that’s a great idea. You think we can do it?’ I said, ‘I know we can.’ Huge stage and it had a giant Harley Davidson logo at the top. I just pushed his buttons until he let us do it so Nail and I rode our bikes out on stage. Sun was going down, afternoon concert and a band called Hello Sailor played before us, some of my idols growing up. It was a great concert, a great day and great bands. We did this Coromandel Loop run and it’s about three hundred kilometres on the bikes. We’re stoked we got it in, because as I said, two days later… We lost Homegrown festival, which was such a bummer, because that’s a really great day. But hey, you’ve just got to roll with it, take it on the chin and keep moving”.
You could see the biggest grins on Nail’s and your faces when you rode out. “I think they’re called shit-eating grins (laughing). It was cool and the crowd freaked out. No-one expected it, our manager didn’t, the Health and Safety guy sure didn’t… The promoters were blown away and we were happy, we were playing a lot of the stuff off Red, and it went down well. Everyone had a great time, so next year they’ll do it again and it’ll be bigger and better”.
So finally, we have the Australian Tour around the corner. There’s been a couple of false dawn’s but it’s finally here. How does it feel that it is finally happening? How is the feeling in the band? “I think for us all it is a bit surreal; you know up until a couple of years ago that was our reality. Hopping into planes and flying here and there, playing gigs, and just touring. Then when it sort of stopped, and then it kind of, you said a couple of false starts… The tour’s on, oh no, we’ve had to postpone it, the borders shut… So, it messes with your emotions man, you’re excited and then you’re crushed, you’re excited and you’re crushed, then you’re hopeful. Then you don’t want to get excited anymore. But now that we have the tickets… Everyone has just got massive grins and we can’t wait to get there. Of course, we are bringing Shepherds Reign with us, who are just awesome. Island guys and their songs, they cover Gojira, and they do that really well. It’s that new style metal with Polynesian drums and oh lord – I’m absolutely stoked we can bring them with us, they are going to blow people’s minds. So, it’s not just about the gigs and feature the album, that is paramount. But it’s also getting to spend times with our Aussie friends, and people like yourself, who we’d catch up regularly until a few years ago. Everyone is looking forward to it, it’s not like work, it’s not like a vacation but we’re all looking forward to a good time. Spend some time on the road together and watching people’s jaws drop when they see Shepherd’s Reign. Hanging out and enjoying Australia, we love playing over there”.
There will still be some jaws drop from the new people who have never seen Jenny live and heard her let rip with a growl or a scream. “Yeah, they come back for more and their jaws drop again. There was a stage, and we were doing Until You Bleed, and Nail and I were doing some backing vocals. People were coming up to Nail and I and saying, ‘man when you guys’ growl, it sounds epic’, we said ‘dude, it wasn’t us. It’s Jenny.’ ‘No’. So, we had to make a point of getting away from the microphones so people wouldn’t think it was one of us doing a sneaky Satan growl in there, it’s all Jenny. I wish I could. It’s funny watching people’s jaws drop. Bring it on!
It’s a full-on tour, five States and six shows in nine days. You’re also doing some states for the first time. “One Hundred Percent, if it was up to me, we’d be over there for a couple of months and play every little town that we could. But this is a starter, we’re looking at coming back later in the year, hopefully we’ll get a few of those places then. I’ve never been to Adelaide, and it looks absolutely beautiful. Yeah, there’s a lot of travelling there, so. I guess I’ll be experiencing most of this out of a van window. Can’t wait, it’s just exciting. But yeah, we’ll be back, and we’ll be playing one, at least one, show with Sevendust and Steel Panther. That’s been put off a few times to, so we’ll be back for that in October and we’ll look to do a few other shows around the place. We just want to get a foot in the door, we’ve got a lot of work to do in Australia. We just want to get over there and play and meet folk”.
Well I know a lot of people here are just going to the venues that you are at even if that has changed, because they fell in love with the band when they caught you with Slash and Myles Kennedy. “I love that about Aussies, over here it costs arms and legs, and first-born children to travel domestically. Over there, people don’t mind travelling to a gig. There a few of us that have done our fair share of travelling over to Aussie to see a band that didn’t come to NZ. But it blows me away, you guys are travelling a long way to come see us. That’s cool, because once those people are in the room, they are committed and we’re going to have to make sure they have a good time. Perth and Adelaide, they are often left off itineraries, I mean we could save a lot of money not going but we want to get there. If you are in a band you’ve got to be realistic, the first few tours are going to cost you, you’ve got to work on getting your name out there. This is the thing Paul, if I ever get asked to give advice to new bands, what would I tell them. Momentum, momentum, momentum. It’s precious. Once you’ve got it, you’re moving but once you’ve lost it, it’s really hard to get back up. But of course, COVID has levelled the playing field for just about everyone. There was a time here where we were able to do this in NZ and I guess a few people may have been jealous because we could gig here. But now it’s turned around and we’re watching our American friends get to gig about”.
With the current climate, there’s probably a lot of extra preparations and precautions the band have to undertake to make the tour happen. “Yeah, there’s a lot of stupid rules, isn’t really going to do anything. But we’ll tick all the boxes to make sure it happens. Whatever we have to do to get over there, we’ll do it. All the bureaucracy that goes with touring has now quadrupled. We just want to gig”.
It would be hard because everywhere has different rules. “Yeah, any Kiwi that can follow what’s going on in the different States, hats off to you”.
Mate, we have got no idea and we live here… (both laughing). “Like I said, it’s been the hardest two years for music in history. We just want to get out and play”.
Yeah, I’ve seen that from a few bands, my wife and I got down to Geelong to see the Foo Fighters play their one-off gig. We were so lucky to see them before Taylor (Hawkins‘) passing. It’s impacted her, it’s impacted a lot of people. You can see the outpouring of emotion around the world now, it’s a fraternity of people that have been affected by that tragedy. “Oh wow, yeah man. We’re all, the rock music, the metal music, whatever you want to call it, the live music scene. It’s full of energy and camaraderie. We’ve all got something in common, we’re all strangers in this room, but it’s a real sense of community. I don’t go to raves or things like that, so I don’t know what they’re like. But I go to our shows, and you know there is definitely a lot of love in the room. Not just as a band we need it, but as people we need it and as the audience, they need it too. Belonging to a big thing. Like you said Taylor Hawkins passing away, it affected so many people, so hard. It highlights the randomness and the brevity of life; we don’t know what’s next or who’s around the corner. So every gig you have to get amongst it and make sure you are living your life. We’re rock and roll people and that’s what gets our blood pumping. We need to be in the room with like-minded folk and to share the love and share the experiences”.
COVID had a similar experience here in Canberra that we were able to gig now and then, there was a period of sitting. I spoke to the bands who were happy to be playing but challenged by people sitting down. You’d watch some though and it’d get too much for them, they’d jump up before being told to sit. “I feel for them, but it does give you a different perspective of the band as well. It can allow you to dig into the band and watch what they are doing more, no pressure to get up there and frigging head bang and get jostled. I’ve got about 2m of titanium in my back, had a broken back for a while. So my days of being in the Slayer moshpit are over. I’ve done probably four Slayer moshpits, but now someone would give me a good shove in the back and I’d either crumple to the ground or get the Red Mist. I’m quite happy to get to a place where I can see now. It’s just shows you how smart COVID is, it can get you while you’re standing up, but not sitting down…” (laughing). The scary thing for me is that, I started writing about what’s happening now. Do You See Birds, the first song on Red, is about being locked in and looking out a window. It’s kind of like this dream or vision I had of a guy looking out a window, the birds are all free and can fly off whenever, he’s stuck in this house forever. Then, All Fall Down, was about a dystopian government locking you down sort of thing. So yeah, when this started happening, I was getting a little freaked out, and started wondering what’s going to happen next. I better write some love songs… (laughing). At the time I just wrote from feelings, and it was more a science fiction type of thing. It wasn’t supposed to happen. We’re surviving it”.
What’s on the agenda post Aus? “Well we’ve been writing a lot of songs and we’re going to record a couple of them, probably an EP rather than a full length album. But we’re just going to see how these songs sit once we get back from Aussie and demo them properly. But we’ve definitely got some new music we want to put out and we’ll be looking at a NZ and Australian tour later on in the year. Really excited for that, starting to get cranking and get that momentum up again. We’re applying for all sorts of things, and talking to our mates in Halestorm. There’s a lot of interest in the States and we’d like to get back to Europe. But it’s one step at a time, Aussie is our focus at the moment. We just want to get over there, play some music and meet a bunch of people and friends. But yeah we will be having a busy year, we’re not going to be sitting on our butts. We’ve got twice as much work now that we’ve had the last two years scuppered on us”.
As I said above, you’d been keeping busy in the downtime. I’d been checking out what you’ve been up to, and I saw you had been doing some charity work as part of the Red Dog Riders SMC, rides for I Am Hope amongst others. Did you want to give us some more info around it? “Started a social motorcycle club and it’s a whole bunch of people from different walks of life. We just enjoy riding our bikes, been together for a couple of years, and there’s this comedian in NZ called Mike King, he was on the comedy circuit for a number of years. He’s then had a very public battle with depression for a couple of years, he’s come through the other side now and he’s an advocate for people who aren’t getting help. He’s especially targeted young people, he’s set up this I Am Hope charity to give counselling to teenagers and kids that need it, because there are so many in a bad way now. So as soon as you mention Mike King’s name, it was really easy to get sponsors for it. We ended up having over five hundred bikes and we did this big trip around the Coromandel Loop. We had a big party after and auctioned off all sorts of things, a Devilskin guitar with a merch pack that someone paid over three thousand dollars for. People were wanting to give because this charity is so cool. I was stoked to be part of it and got the band involved as well. We made thirty five thousand dollars as club so we were really happy about it. As a band we’ve done a lot of charity ourselves, we’ve raised funds for St John’s Ambulance, We’ll do whatever we can for a worthy cause and it’s great to have that platform. Everyone’s feeling it pretty tough these days. COVID may be dwindling out but everyone has to pick up the pieces of their relationships, their businesses and their lives. I think a lot of people just want to do what they can”.
Thanks so much for having a chat with me mate and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.
Devilskin’s Tour with Shepherds Reign Kicks off this week and takes in the following dates:
Friday 29 April – Sydney – Manning Bar
Saturday 30 April – Brisbane – Mansfield Tavern
Sunday 1 May – Gold Coast – Coolangatta Hotel
Thursday 5 May – Adelaide -The Gov
Saturday 7 May – Melbourne – Max Watts