Devilskin are coming to Australia in February 2021 (this interview was prior to the escalation in Sydney’s Northern Beaches cluster), one of the very first international bands to hit our shores since the COVID outbreak that has effectively shut down the world. Luckily as a result of that I’m getting to have a chat with the amazingly talented Paul Martin about what’s happening in the world of Devilskin, their brilliant latest album, RED, the supporting New Zealand tour and upcoming tour to Australia. Paul was the subject of my first ever interview for Sentinel Daily and it’s been a while since we’ve chatted so it’s nice to catch up early and run through what’s been going on.

“It’s been too long, wasn’t planning for it to be this long, but you know the best laid plans of mice and men go…  Things are well in NZ, so I guess we’re pretty lucky, for once our geographical proximity to Antarctica played into our favour. We’ve been able to gig and tour and stuff like that, it was a huge relief; people were ready for it. They were well ready to be out in crowds again and to rock and roll”.

We’re hanging for that here mate, we’re getting better but there’s still a lot of work to be done, especially with the current situation in Sydney. We’re still hoping for some relaxation. I was at a gig last night, but it’s still quite restricted. But at least we are gigging. “Yeah mate, we’ve got to be grateful for what we can get”.

On the topic of how other countries are handling the outbreaks and what it means for touring Paul had this to say: “In NZ we’re being a bit sheltered from what’s happening in the world (news wise).  I’ve got to watch a fair few other shows to know what’s going on. We (New Zealanders) can be insular and that’s not necessarily a good thing, but it does have some benefits too. It just makes it hard to plan a rock n’roll lifestyle around it as bands have to work in advance, you’ve got to have anywhere up to six – eight months in advance to plan anything, to be able to go anywhere. But it’s just one of those things, it is what it is and there’s not much you can do about it. We have to still book gigs in the hope that they will go ahead, we’ve got February booked and some other dates after that pencilled in if February doesn’t happen.

I’ve been following your New Zealand tour through Instagram and Facebook and seeing the crowds you’ve been getting, it is brilliant. So getting out on the road again, and from what I saw you really ripped it up around NZ, what’s the energy been like? “Yeah, we’ve had a few sold out shows, a really good vibe every night with everyone smiling. You knew that people were grateful to be out and happy to be out. The whole audience was just so happy. We always take a minute in our set to acknowledge mental health and to encourage everyone to keep an eye on each other. Every night that was just a really moving experience, we’d turn the lights up and tell everyone to look around at who they were partying with. Everyone was grateful for their freedom which just meant the spirit in the room was just great to be a part of. You could tell people were relieved to be out with their peers”.

It’s a real strong point of the metal community that they are just there for each other, their tribe, they are… You always see them looking out for each other, festival photos where the dude in the wheelchair has been picked up by all around him… “Passionate! That’s what it is. When we opened up for Disturbed here in New Zealand a few years ago, there was this guy from Christchurch who was in the crowd in a wheelchair, the crowd hoisted him up and he crowed surfed right through the venue. The band got him up on stage to party with them on stage, they signed a bunch of stuff for him. It is the spirit of togetherness, like minds and we’re all there for the same thing – rock and roll. So you know, the relief was palpable, people were freaking stoked to be out. As were we…”

You released RED in April this year, I actually interviewed Jennie (Skulander, vocals) on the first day of NZ lockdown, even in spite of that were you expecting the response you got to it? A New Zealand top two album? “Well, we weren’t really, we didn’t know what to expect. When you release something, you are not sure of how it is going to be. All you can be is happy with it yourselves.  We were really happy with it, proud of it and just couldn’t wait to get it out there. The response was awesome, we spent the first couple of weeks of lockdown doing a lot of press. I was doing interviews with radio stations in America and they were all just buzzing, this is just before everything turned to complete and utter shit. But they were just buzzing on the album, ‘you guys have got to come to America’, we were just stoked with the response, so positive. We were just blown away, of course it was the worst time in rock and roll history to release an album. We could do the digital release, but we weren’t able to release the physical copies because there might be germs on it, so all our plans went up in smoke. We held on tight and did what we could do, all you can do is to ride it out. Meantime we’ve worked on a whole bunch of stuff and we’ve got a whole bunch of new songs ready to go. On this last tour through New Zealand, we had a VIP component which was a forty five minute acoustic set that we did before doors.  That was so much fun, we got so much good feedback from it we are looking at recording an acoustic EP. Maybe we’ll do an acoustic tour.  It’s cool to present the songs in a different way, it allowed me to play the acoustic guitar as well. It’s just stripped down, bare bones, songs and Jennie’s great voice”.

That’d be great, I’d be really interested to hear that as some of your songs really lend themselves to that acoustic feel, however I’d be really interested to hear some of your more “grab you by the throat” songs. “Yeah, we do a version of Cherophobia (The Failure In Me) that’s really different, really wack.  It’s just fun and people get it.  It’s just such a cool way to present the songs and get people engaged with them. They know the song, it’s familiar to them but they haven’t heard it played like that. It’s a way for us as musicians to grow, to experiment with stuff like that”.

You’re one of the first international bands that are coming back to Australia, how much are you looking forward to that? “We had such a good time the last time we were there with Slash and the Download shows. We’re real kindred spirits I think, the Aussie rock crowd, and our crowd and us. I consider us, we’re part of the rock crowd, the people who go to the concerts. I’m the guy up the front, standing on everyone’s feet who’s trying to get a guitar pick from the band. So we’re all rock fans, and on the same buzz, Australia is just the home of good honest rock. Growing up for me I was listening to bands like Rose Tattoo and Heaven, just blowing my mind. There was heaps of bands as I was growing up, just old school bands that were rocking. Australia’s always been like a mecca for hard rock and to me I’ve always felt like if you can get this Aussie audience to like you, you’re doing pretty good”.

It’s always had that great pub rock scene. “It’s not pretentious, it’s feel-good music, it’s just good for the soul, rock and roll! So for us the Aussie crowd has always been important. We’ve been to Europe six or seven times now and we are always saying, shouldn’t we be doing Aussie first but as we are getting such an immediate response from Europe, it ends up a no brainer for us, we have to go there.  It’s been a long hard road for us to try and get airplay and traction over there in a big sort of way. When you get that, you’ve got to be over there to back that up. Things have never quite lined up until now, so we’re determined to get over there (Australia) and have some fun.  We’re really looking forward to it”.

I’ve ran into a fair few guys around here who were stoked that you guys are coming over, they’re over the moon. One of the guys caught you for the first time at Slash, he was telling me how awesome you guys were and how cool it was that you told the crowd you’d be up the back signing stuff and you were there – rocking out and just enjoying yourselves. So he can’t wait for you guys to get over here – especially Canberra. I must say I’m looking forward to see you guys at The Basement.  I’ve been spreading the word. There’s a really great crew there and they’ve really been keeping live music going here in Canberra, getting the local bands up and going throughout COVID. “That’s what it’s all about (the rocking out and enjoying ourselves). Oh good man, because it’s the grass roots venues that are holding on through the skin of their teeth and they want to be there for the rock and roll market but it must be so frigging tough for them. It’s awesome that there are venues over there that are still supporting the bands”.

It is tough, the capacity has been slashed to 150 with COVID, that’s why we’re hoping we may get some easing of restrictions with going back to one person per two metres square instead of four.  Australia can sometimes be a bit of a nanny state, but this is serious. “You can only do what you can do, for now we just can’t wait to get over there and full steam ahead”.

The places you are going are Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and you were doing somewhere around Gold Coast. “Yeah, we are doing Coolongatta, and we’re doing Perth as well. The Perth crowd are awesome, must be hard for them because they are so remote, a bit like NZ and we miss so many gigs because we’re so far away. But when the gigs are on, it’s on…”

I was going to say they’ll lynch me because I forgot Perth.  They are always keen, so me not saying it…  Oh man, Perth is a stronghold and although logistically it is challenging to get over there and get your gear there but hell it is so worth it. It is not a place we want to leave off. You know the trip over, I just love it, it’s like flying over the moon, it’s incredible. Us Kiwis don’t see stuff like that every day”.

Will you run the VIP sessions over here? “We are hoping so, we just don’t have the details as yet.  No idea of what it will be, but we are keen to do something”.

Well, we’ve just go to hope it keeps heading the right way, there’s still talk of the travel bubble. (note: this chat was before the Sydney Northern Beaches fiasco – Ed) “Slowly but surely, we are getting there, it’s going to happen. We are determined. We just can’t wait, it’s really important for us to get over there, meet some people, make some noise and have some fun. Push this new album of ours, we love playing it live. Everyone is pumped up to play these songs”.

You read my review of it, it was something else. “We put everything into the album, all the songs have meaning and some of them are pretty close to the bone. There’s some personal stuff on there, it’s just the way the album wanted to write itself and it was so good to put it all together like that”.

Everyone I’ve spoken to loves it, it was number one on my top 10 for the year, beating out Trivium and Testament. “Oh wow.  It means so much when we know the songs are connecting with someone.  The fact that you are excited about them, we know that the songs have done their job.  It’s what we wanted to do with this album, just make people think, get immersed in it”.

Whatever you are doing, you are doing it well.  It comes out in the songs, the sound, the lyrics. “It comes together organically; everything just fits into place. I’ve been involved when you are writing songs and it’s a bit of a struggle. With this band it is just so easy, as you said, we’re all on the same page.  Nic (Martin, drums) and I don’t even need to look at each other, it’s a really cool chemistry we have together. I’ve never had this sort of thing in a band before and I’ve been in a heap of bands for years, but this is something special and everyone in the band knows that. We don’t take anything for granted. Every tour is a gift and we just love to be able to do what we do. We love getting feedback on an album or a song”.

You’ve probably got a fair few interviews tonight mate, so I had better let you go.  It’s been great to catch up with you, hang in there and we can’t wait to see you. “Fingers crossed that the travel thing sorts itself out and we’ll be there before you know it. We appreciate your support and kind words, it’s part of the reason we are so charged to get there. We know there’s people excited about us coming over”.

Devilskin will hopefully be levelling these stages in February:

Wednesday 17 February – Newcastle – Cambridge
Thursday 18 February – Canberra – The Basement
Friday19 February – Sydney – Crowbar
Sunday 21 February – Coolangatta – Coolangatta Hotel
Wednesday 24 February – Perth – Amplifier
Thursday 25 February – Adelaide – The Gov
Friday 26 February – Melbourne – Stay Gold