Skint & Demoralised Interview
In a culture of manufactured music and lazy lyrics, Yorkshire duo Skint & Demoralised are carving the way for their combination of Northern soul-pop, emotionally intelligent lyrics and performance poetry. Contactmusic.com met up with front man and lyricist Matt Abbott in a North London pub.
Skint & Demoralised have received a huge amount of positive coverage from both broadsheets and the music media. And although this bemuses Abbott to a point, 'I'm just a Yorkshire scamp singing about fish and chips and I'm getting in all these high brow publications, it's mad' he laughs, it is clear he has total confidence in the material and the project as a whole. 'Obviously it's amazing, but at the same time you've got to have such a strong belief in what you're doing and you've got to genuinely believe that you are an amazing band, you've got to set your sights so high that you feel like 'yeah, so we should be in the Times, why are we not on the front cover?' He's anxious not to appear cocky or pretentious - and he doesn't - but he clearly has total belief in what he is doing; and for good reason. Their catchy debut single, Red Lipstick is still selling well and made it to the Radio 1 playlist, and their unusual name is being banded about by a number of Industry moguls.
With the current state of the nation, Skint & Demoralised is a pretty apt name. Abbott initially heard it in a Reverend And The Makers lyric, but he recounts an interesting story about its inception after his first gig. The gig was in the Sheffield red light district and when Abbott was approached by a prostitute on leaving, ever the gentleman he didn't want to offend. 'I just said no sorry love, I'm skint, skint and demoralised' he explains. 'And she said, yeah love, we all are and then disappeared into the distance in her fishnets and high heels' - and the name stuck from that moment. This was the area where Arctic Monkeys based their song Who's That Girl There, which again is apt as Abbott sites them as one of his inspirations.
But it was not music that started the Skint & Demoralised journey, it was poetry. Abbott's love of poetry stemmed from his school days studying Seamus Heaney. As a young poet, he eventually got badgered to perform some of his work on stage in Sheffield at a secret gig and the buzz that live performance gave him spurred him on. 'When I started doing this performance poetry I thought, f*cking hell this is brilliant! So I went full throttle.I'm kind of an all or nothing guy, I just throw myself headfirst in' he said, and it seems that dedication paid off. Following in the footsteps of the great Johnny Cooper Clarke, a life long inspiration to Abbott (who he has since supported), he went from being on stage on his 18th birthday to being the hottest compÃ?re in Yorkshire and opened for numerous bands.
So what led him to make the change from performance poetry to music? 'I'd always fantasised about being in a band and about being in music but it just never seemed comprehendible like - I'm not a singer and I couldn't play an instrument'. Although on listing to Red Lipstick and an impromptu burst of Arctic Monkey's Who's That Girl There to illustrate the aforementioned story in the packed pub, it's clear he can sing! But it was the mysterious Sheffield music virtuoso MiNI dOG (David Gledhill) who spotted Abbott's potential on MySpace. 'He saw whatever 'it' is, he reckons he saw it and I'm not saying I've got it, but he saw it and it's coming true so far'. So with MiNI dOG's extensive experience in the music industry and in production and Abbott's poetic genius, Skint & Demoralised were born. Red Lipstick was the first song they wrote that had the conventional song structure, 'it encouraged us to start writing actual songs instead of weird spoken word tracks, started putting choruses in, started having northern soul stylings.it was weird, it just happened, it was an accident'. But Abbott is keen for people to see that it's not all about a cheeky chap singing pop-songs. It's so much more than that.
As a poet, lyrics are extremely important to Abbott. 'It really winds me up when lyrics are sh*t' he says. 'I think it's an art and people are letting it slip'.
And although on the one hand Abbott acknowledges that song lyrics are a form of poetry in their own right, he manages to keep the two quite separate. My songs are based on emotional experience, they are love driven and very observational, there's character observations and then there's songs about the drink and the desolation, so I'm trying to have quite a bit of substance.' This substance and emotional depth is clear in songs such as That Week In October, a brilliantly dark track about the dangers of relying on drink in times of stress. But Abbott writes his poems from quite a different perspective. 'I think it's good to be a little bit uncouth and as topical as possible (with the poems). Like a day after the expenses scandal I'll be doing a poem about MP expenses and the audience love the fact its fresh and new and relevant and it highlights its part of their life too.'
Spoken word at a music gig is an unusual phenomenon, so what made Skint & Demoralised avoid the pull of conforming for the commercial market? 'People say you're just talking; it's not just talking, there's a certain art to spoken word, and it's more difficult than it seems and I'm quite good at it to be honest and it's the best way for my lyrics to come across. I've got to play to my strength really, instead of conforming to what we think we should do by putting a band behind me and getting me to sing, it's like, 'no, f*ck that, we wont have a band'. Having said that, Abbott sites a number of artists that provide him with inspiration, both lyrically and musically. 'Definitely Bob Dylan and Jonny Cash mainly, but also the Doors, The Smiths, Arctic Monkeys and the Last Shadow Puppets. It's not like I just want to copy their music because it's not like that, but I feel a connection. They kind of bring out a side of me that produces the lyrics' he says. Its also clear that Gledhill's work as Slo-Mo has had a profound affect on him and the music of Skint And Demoralised. And indeed it seems that Gledhill's musical talent both nurtures Abbott and complements his lyrics perfectly.
But it's not all been plain sailing. The move to London, as any young adult will tell you has taken some adjustment. 'Ah, it's completely f*cked me up, which is brilliant' he laughs! 'It's so lonely and it's so intense, you can't relax, which I love but sometimes it does get to you.' However, he has used the initial isolation to feed his creativity and spent hours writing poems 'It removes everything in your life that could possibly distract you from your creativity. It's hard not to sound pretentious.its literally just you..like it was me in my bedroom for 8 hrs with my bottle of gin; it allows you to go places in your head that you normally wouldn't be able to access'. The duo also had a difficult time recording their up-coming album 'Love, And Other Catastrophes' whilst in New York. They recorded with the Dap Kings (who have been the backing band for the likes of Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson) but it seemed that the session musicians found the unusual style of some of the songs difficult to get along with. 'It opened my eyes that not everything was fine and dandy; I thought it's going to be quite difficult this' says Abbott. That coupled with the fact that his musical partner suffered from insomnia on the trip and the responsibility lay with Abbott to keep the project together 'This guy that's always been my father figure is lying on the bed completely f*cked, complete nervous breakdown and I'm trying to pull him together whilst my head is like an absolute washing machine' But the album was recorded and it's a testament to Abbotts emotional insight and maturity, something that is evident in his lyrics too.
This maturity shows in other ways too. He is an active supporter of the BBC Poetry season and lends his time and expertise to the project. He is also staunch supporter of Love Music Hate Racism and vehemently opposed to the BNP. So does Abbott see his music and poetry as a political platform? 'I mean it obviously is a political platform, that's fact, it is. When they do rock the vote in America, its massive, we need to do that over here..so music obviously is a political platform you've just got to be careful about how you do it, you cant just ram it down peoples throats coz they get fed up with it, you've got to approach it in the right way.' It seems that Abbott has the right attitude to make it work and has also found the right way to do it.
So what next for Skint & Demoralised? They are filming the video for the new single Failing To See The Attraction which will be out in October, followed by a UK tour. They are also continuing with their festival season, playing gigs at Reading and Leeds, The Summer Sundae and Bestival. Their album is due out early next year and Abbott is clearly excited as he tells us what to expect. 'There's a few poems that bring it all together as one, so hopefully you'll listen to it as an album. It's a bit different; I don't think anyone's done poems on an album in that way. The actual album starts with a poem that was a voicemail message and then there's a massive needle scratch and it goes bang!' and that's just the sort of inventive material we'd expect from this duo.
Abbott is continually writing new material in the form of both lyrics and poetry despite the trappings of London life. He recently caused a storm when he was featured in The Sun Bizarre column with a poem he had written for his ideal woman, a certain Lily Allen. All we can say Lily, is you better snap this one up quickly!