(this interview originally appeared in issue #32 of Modern Fix Magazine in 2002).

– interview by james wright

In a time when musical imitation passes for innovation, U.K upstarts Skindred have come to challenge everything you know about music. Combing the best elements of the Deftones, System of a Down, 311 and Bad Brains, Skindred have successfully defied musical boundaries.

The roots of Skindred can be traced back to frontman Benji’s prior stint in funk/reggae rockers Dub War during the early 90’s.

“The way I looked at it was, Dub War was a formula 1 racecar and we got stuck at the starting line,” says Benji. “Dub War was signed to Earache Records in the mid-90’s and touted as the next big thing by the label. The label was unable to provide the band with the push needed to break them through to the mainstream.”

The frustration, label problems and absence of mainstream success led to the band parting ways amicably.

We had three years of playing the same clubs and that’s because we were on a small label that wasn’t prepared to spend the money to move us forward,” remembers Benji. “It’s very frustrating when you see, no disrespect, but bands less talented than yourself go further. We just decided to disband because we were just gonna continue to go round and round in circles. So we shook hands amicably and said, Its been fun boys. See you on the other side sometime.”

The split gave Benji the freedom to work with other artists. Starting a new project with new bassist Robert Trujillo called Mass Mental. Benji describes Mass Mental as “a small punk rock thing with two bass player’s”. The band recorded an album for a small Japanese label but for the most part it was distributed on the net. Besides Mass Mental, Benji made a guest appearance on the first Soulfly’s record on ‘Quilombo’ and ‘Prejudice’.

After Mass Mental and the Soulfly records, Benji set out to find the talent for what would become Skindred.

“I always wanted to do something that was from my hometown, so I met this bass player and we just auditioned people. For about 18 months we kept having false starts until we found the right line-up and it clicked. When you get the right recipe, cake tastes right ya’ know?”

With a final line-up in place and numerous shows under their belt, the band quickly headed into the studio with producer Howard Benson to record.

“The album’s been recorded for over a year now, which just goes to show you how fresh it sounds.”

After a false start with RCA Records in the states, Skindred signed with Bieler Bros. Records, a subsidy of MCA. When asked why he signed Skindred to Bieler Bros. Records, Jason Bieler’s love for the band pours out. “I heard a record that could change the face of rock,” explains the excited Bieler. “The combination of punk, metal, reggae that Skindred uses just hasn’t been done credibly for years. There have been bands like Bad Brains, who have done elements of it, but I don’t think anyone has ever personified it as clearly as Skindred has on this record.”

The record in question is “Babylon”, an explosive combination of musical styles that is truly left field of the mainstream. “I think music should be about what’s not happening in the mainstream,” Benji jumps in. “Everybody is waiting for another Faith No More kinda thing, man. It’s crazy. Look at how many bands that have come out in the last ten years that sound exactly like them! Come on man, what’s wrong with these people? Move on.”

When asked if he thinks “Babylon” will bring Skindred mainstream success Benji is optimistic, “I think it’s about time music had a kick in the ass and we saw some changes. I do believe our album’s strong enough to change something though.” That optimism quickly gets squashed by his realism, “I’m very real, I don’t expect anything until the ticket’s in your hand and that’s how I play this game. Some people think it’s pessimism and I think their right,” he smiles.