Here’s The Skinny On Skin’s Reunion
After 11 years away, Skin were a surprise addition to this year’s Download Festival bill.
Come on in for an interview with singer Neville MacDonald and guitarist Myke Gray…
Formed in 1992 by ex-Kooga vocalist Neville MacDonald and former UFO/Jagged Edge guitarist Myke Gray, and completed by bassist Andy Robbins (Tokyo Blade/Shogun) and ex-Bruce Dickinson drummer Dicki Fliszar, the quartet enjoyed considerable popularity until a post-grunge implosion.
Gray and McDonald explain why Skin are back and what – if anything – happens after Download.
Interview: Dave Ling
How did this reunion happen?
Myke Gray: Three months ago had you told me Skin would be at Download, I’d have laughed. But I got a call from Andy Copping [of the festival’s promoters, Live Nation] asking if we would consider getting back together for a classic rock day. I hadn’t picked up a guitar for five years and was no longer in contact with the others but as far as I was concerned the answer had to be yes.
Neville MacDonald: When I heard Myke was trying to get in touch with me I was afraid someone was trying to sue us or something. After discovering what was on the table a lot of soul-searching went on, but we decided to give it a go.
Neville, you had dropped out of music altogether?
MacDonald: Yeah. My son had just been born and the demise of Skin drained me so much that I turned my back on it all. I went back to college and work with young people in Wales.
What was it like to see each other again after so long?
Gray: It felt like nothing had changed. We met in a studio in Wales to see if the chemistry was still there and ran through a 16-song set without a mistake. By the end we were like two schoolboys; laughing, jumping up and down and hugging.
Did Skin lose the plot with the final studio album, 1997’s Experience Electric?
Gray: No. I look at it as our best record. But after parting with Parlophone Records [EMI subsidiary], Snapper Records couldn’t give us marketing or tour support.
With a run of six Top 40 singles, Skin enjoyed a decent run of success.
Gray: Yes, but through that the entire time each of us only made £150 per week – even with a Top Ten album. When I got into session work you earn three or four hundred quid an hour. After a while we wondered why we were doing it. I got involved in pop music, and then almost killed myself through drink and drugs…
But you were teetotal in the band’s heyday?
Gray: Until the age of 28, playing guitar for eight hours a day was my obsession. Through the soullessness of pop music – working on adverts for TV, making lots of money from doing nothing – I ended up drinking and taking drugs. And like everything I do, I embraced it fully before a moment of epiphany which caused me to pull back and indulge my other passion; martial arts. Now I’m one of the most successful personal [fitness] trainers in the country.
Neville, in a radio interview you attributed Skin’s demise to the grunge explosion, though the band’s farewell gig took place in the spring of ’98 – by which time Cobain had been dead for four years.
MacDonald: Yeah, but the scene for our kind of music was dead. We had been labelled ‘old-school’ and found ourselves in a cul-de-sac.
Gray: There were lots of reasons why Skin broke up, most of them financial. Once you lose your record deal, it’s incredibly hard to keep going.
Myke, post-Skin you had a band called Schism and played with the female singer Dirty Harry.
Gray [sighing deeply]: Schism was a project fuelled on drugs. We were asking ourselves, ‘How can we consume as many drugs as possible and still make music?’ It did okay, but…
Did you not think it would be career suicide to play guitar with Right Said Fred?
Gray: You can say that, but one particular song I wrote for them made me half a million quid. It bought my house. When you’ve been a rock musician for 20 years and never made a penny, it gives you a pension and allows you to look after your family.
Myke, there’s a quote at your business website – ‘Victory over self is more important than victory over others’ – that suggests you have mellowed greatly?
Gray: Well, I’m a life coach now. Successful people come to me to try and find some balance in their life. In my formative years I had very little interaction with other people, my life was spent in my bedroom dedicated to the guitar. Engaging with the entity that was the music business was difficult.
During the band’s heyday it was perhaps felt that you were rather full of yourself.
Gray: Well, insecurity is driven by fear. I’d be the first person to admit my actions were very self-absorbed. My clients tend to be very powerful people and I have to tell them, ‘If you think you’ve got a big ego you should’ve met me with I was 24’. But I’m 41 years of age and these days I have a very different perception of what’s important.
With a second warm-up date at London’s 100 Club just added, you must be ecstatic at the reaction?
MacDonald: We’re astonished, but the business has changed so much. The way music is listened to these days, if the internet had been around back then things might not have gone the way they did.
Should the Donington appearance go well, might Skin continue in some sort of capacity?
Gray: When you see your name on the poster and you’re on after Tesla and just before Journey, it does make you think. As I’m always telling my clients, the great thing about life is that you never know what it’ll throw at you next.
MacDonald [guardedly]: This far ahead, I really can’t answer that question. The band hasn’t even been in the same room together yet, but relearning the songs and singing again after all this time has given me a great buzz. I’m keeping an open mind.