En cette fin d’année qu’on décrirait volontiers sombre, obscure voir dystopique, l’une des rares choses qui puisse encore apaiser les maux des esprits les plus tortueux, c’est la musique. Un art, miroir déformant de réalités tant physiques que psychiques, qui existe depuis des temps immémoriaux (AMEN !). « Bonne » ou « mauvaise », douce ou assourdissante, elle déclenche, dans ce petit recoin à senseurs qu’est notre cerveau, les sensations les plus diverses et improbables.
Ici nous parlerons chaleur ! Le Londonien Skinshape, bien loin d’une Grèce à deux doigts de se faire sortir de l’Europe et d’une Angleterre en mode « Brexit », nous pose ici sur des plages plus hospitalières avec un nouvel LP nommé Filoxiny. Un entre-deux où l’ancien bassiste du groupe Palace, nous offre une petite merveille aux accents grecs. Un opus parti du concept de xénophilie (du grec philoxenia), qu’il a pu expérimenté lors de voyages en Grèce. Un mot que l’on associe instinctivement à son antonyme, omniprésent dans un chaos médiatique devenu indéchiffrable.
Ça fait donc plaise de faire de l’étymologie en mode musical. Surtout quand c’est réalisé en studio analogique où l’anglais bricole des machines d’un autre temps. Saturé d’écrans, c’est comme reprendre un bon vieux dico papier pour y retrouver la nostalgie des pages que l’on tourne d’un doigt humecté, ici remplacé par l’oreille. Au lieu de pages tournées, ce sont des plages que l’on passe. Cette traduction sonore, par William Dorey, de l’hospitalité à la grecque apaise face à une actualité plombante. Du moins, le temps d’un album qui rappelle un principe fondamental de toute société, qu’on soit réfugié ou touriste.
À l’occase de son nouvel LP, Filoxiny, sorti sous le label Lewis Recordings, Monde De Poche a échangé avec Skinshape, un artiste particulièrement apprécié et découvert via son premier travail éponyme. MDP vous propose ici de faire connaissance avec lui et d’accueillir sa musique pour en faire ce que vous voudrez. Elle invite à pratiquer la xénophilie sans modération, dans les limites du possible. Bonne écoute et bonne lecture !
Peace et à l’année prochaine !
MDP: What’s the story behind your fresh album Filoxiny, especially behind this mysterious word? What does it mean?
Skin.: I have spent quite a bit of time in Greece over the last few years, staying with the people who released the first Skinshape LP back in 2014. They are now good friends of mine, and the way they have treated me when I stayed with them was like an enhanced version of hospitality. Not letting a guest pay for anything, looking after you like you are in your own home, it’s a great feeling… There is no word for this phenomenon in English, but in Greek it is ‘Philoxenia.’ But my good friend Vasilis mis-translated it… to Filoxiny.
I want to experiment with different genres, different arrangements (aka instrumentation)… That’s what Filoxiny is about, I wanted to explore more ‘cinematic’ elements and recreate my love of film music to some level.
MDP: Your sound is characterized by a fine melting pot of folk and distorted guitars, hip hop drums, psyche synth, etc. By lending an ear to your new LP, we can perceive new adds like horns and violins compared to your previous pieces, Oraculo & Skinshape. Why is that?
Skin.: I have gradually changed my sound over the last four albums. This was not so-much intentional, it’s just a natural progression. My recording/engineering capability has improved over the years, so the quality of the recording has become better, and I am trying more techniques and spending more time getting the recorded sound ‘right.’ As to the music, I don’t want to just remain in the same style, that severely limits you as an artist. I want to experiment with different genres, different arrangements (aka instrumentation)… That’s what Filoxiny is about, I wanted to explore more ‘cinematic’ elements and recreate my love of film music to some level. I included two violins, two cellos, two French horns, trumpet and tuba on this album! And I hired some really nice microphones to make sure I captured the best sound possible of the orchestral parts.
There’s no band to work out the parts as would be normal for many artists, it’s just building up the tracks bit by bit by myself.
MDP: Your sound is really appreciated for its solid melodies such as a good storytelling? How do you proceed in the writing/composing? How do you perceive your musical evolution since your first and self-titled?
Skin.: The songwriting process is quite strange and unconventional. I often start a song with a drum loop that I have recorded, and use that rhythm to create the main part of my new song. The drums are the skeleton used to build up all the flesh and blood of the rest of the instruments and vocals. That has been a fundamental element of creating Skinshape music since I started. There’s no band to work out the parts as would be normal for many artists. It’s just building up the tracks bit by bit by myself. I feel like if I started to make my ideas with a band it would completely change it and it might not be ‘Skinshape‘ anymore.
MDP: Is it true that you play all instruments on your album? How is it to be a kind of “homme-orchestra” (one-man band)?
Skin.:It is not true that I play all the instruments, but it is not so far from the truth (smiley) I play almost everything, except the drums, the orchestral instruments (but I am playing the flute), and a few other bits like the double bass which I don’t play.
I chose to spend a lot of my time learning recording, and recording with tape, instead of improving my guitar playing.
MPD: A friend of mine who plays and teaches classic guitar tends to think the many instruments you can play the less you can master them. What would you answer to him?
Skin.: I think that he is definitely right. But if you can only master one instrument you will be a very different type of musician. I chose to spend a lot of my time learning recording, and recording with tape, instead of improving my guitar playing. And I’m very happy I made that decision because it means my music skills are more rounded, I know how to play guitar and bass quite well, and I can play little bits of other instruments, enough to be able to play parts for my songs.
Funnily enough, the four Skinshape albums are all on different labels! It doesn’t make much logistical sense really, but that’s just how it worked out!
MDP: Is your music still powered by Mystikal Roots only, as written on your first LP cover? What do they mean to you and how do you reflect them into your sound?
Skin.: Mystikal Roots is actually the first ever person to release Skinshape… I’m surprised you found out about that! But it doesn’t really count as an official release to me! I made four tracks for an EP for them. Not long after that Melting Records got in touch with me, and we signed a contract for my first album. We just reused the album cover from the Mystikal Roots release. Funnily enough, the four Skinshape albums are all on different labels! It doesn’t make much logistical sense really, but that’s just how it worked out!
MDP: New album, new label, Lewis Recordings. How was the transition? Do you have any funny or unexpected story about the making of Filoxiny?
Skin.: Lewis Recordings is really one person, who is also linked with the label ‘Beatnik’ who released the ‘Oracolo’ album in 2015. So I already knew Lewis personally, so the transition was an easy one as we knew each other already.
I don’t think I have got much to do with hip hop or hiphop labels really! Melting Records who did my first album, they released a lot of ‘trip-hop’ but it’s more jazzy and experimental.
MDP: Why are hip hop labels so interested in you? I mean, you moved from one to another one and your music is not hip hop strictly (personal opinion) even it has clear elements of it.
Skin.: I don’t think I have got much to do with hip hop or hip hop labels really! Melting Records who did my first album, they released a lot of ‘trip-hop’ but it’s more jazzy and experimental. It’s only Lewis Recordings that is more involved with hip hop, having released music from artists like Edan, amongst others. If hip hop people are drawn to my music, I couldn’t really say why, nor would I want to. I will leave that to them to say why (smiley).
MDP: You also run a reggae label, Horus Records? Could you tell us more about it?
Skin.: Horus Records was started in 2013, a year before the first album came out. Actually the first ever Skinshape release on vinyl was the first Horus Records release. My song « Soul Groove » was featured alongside another artists’ dub track on two sides of a 7″ vinyl.
It’s really just a fun project, reggae has always been one of my favourite types of music so it’s really our homage to the greats, and our great honour to contribute to the music we love so much.
I run Horus Records with my old friend Ben (Bell), who currently works at Lion Vibes, one of the World’s premier reggae record stores (!!). We focus on releasing our own music, written and recorded at ‘The Arch’ studio in north London, the same studio that I record Skinshape in. We record our own music to tape, as well as reissue rare old recordings from 1970s Jamaica, licensed from the original producer/artist. It’s really just a fun project, reggae has always been one of my favourite types of music so it’s really our homage to the greats, and our great honour to contribute to the music we love so much.
Having a weird dream, or reading some good books, or having a series of interesting conversations – all of these can help an artist to develop and evolve.
MDP: How does your side-projects help you to evolve musically?
Skin.: Any project that I do, even if it is not music, contributes to evolving musically. Having a weird dream, or reading some good books, or having a series of interesting conversations – all of these can help an artist to develop and evolve. If it was only music that influenced the writing of my music, then it would not be very interesting. All of the experience of life can be channeled into the music in some way.
I want to explore my love of African music and incorporate some of those elements into my music, for a more upbeat, fun and funky outing that Filoxiny.
MDP: What’s next? Any project on the go?
Skin.: Yes, I am working on the fifth album already, which the theme is loosely Skinshape in Africa or something along those lines. I want to explore my love of African music and incorporate some of those elements into my music, for a more upbeat, fun and funky outing that Filoxiny. It’s exciting! I’m also working on new Horus Records original material, so there will be a lot more stuff coming.
…the issue I have is with digital stuff. Although I use digital technology to record my music, I think it’s taken away a lot of the recorded magic one can find on old music.
MDP: Your music is full of nostalgia and at the same time you live the present. What do you think about today’s life, today’s music?
Skin.: I am not a huge fan of today’s music in general. Of course there is a lot of talented artists and amazing musicians. But the issue I have is with digital stuff. Although I use digital technology to record my music, I think it’s taken away a lot of the recorded magic one can find on old music. That’s why I am always listening to music from the 50s-80s, because something about analog recording lends a really authentic sonic and overall feel to a recording. It’s amazing how easy it is for someone these days to record music, they only need a computer and a microphone. But nothing can beat the high quality of the old great studios, EMI, Capitol, Decca, Olympic, Gold Star… All these legendary studios had the most incredible live rooms for recording and the best possible recording equipment. That level of sonic excellence might never be reached again!