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Interview: Steve, Neal and Matt from SKAM

SKAM - AlbumLeicester trio SKAM are ramping up proceedings as they prepare to ‘chocks away’ for album number three, ‘The Amazing Memoirs Of Geoffrey Goddard’. The concept album, based on the story of a time travelling RAF pilot, is due next month. I caught up with guitarist/vocalist Steve Hill, his brother Neal on drums and bassist Matt Gilmore before they played Glasgow recently. The album, and the concept behind it proved to be a hot topic.

How does it feel being back out on the road? Are you treating the crowd to a taster of the forthcoming album?

Steve – “We’re opening with two new tracks (‘Between The Eyes’ and ‘Fading Before The Sun’). We decided that as we had released two singles and they were picked up by Classic Rock as tracks of the week, then we would go with those two tracks”.

Matt – “They’re going down well. They’re going down very well. We’re quite well rehearsed, so before we go out on tour we know what we want to put in the setlist. The album has been a few years in the making, as we’ve spent a lot of time on it, so the songs are very well rehearsed, and I think they sound great. It’s nice to run them through a massive PA, rather than in a rehearsal room, so it’s nice to see that reaction and the response has been mega”.

You said it yourself that the new album (‘The Amazing Memoirs of Geoffrey Goddard’) has been a long time coming. By my maths, it’s been three years since the last studio album. How long have you been actually working on this one?

Matt – “It’s been worked on for about two years. It’s a bit weird, but in the past when we have released an album, it’s been the work up to that, then it’s the work after, the PR, the promotion side. With ‘Peacemaker’, I think we did three UK tours off the back of that one record, so we didn’t really finish ‘Peacemaker’ until 2015. We then decided we wanted to do something a bit different in respect to the concept of the new album”

The new album is incredibly different, to say the least. I love a good concept album, but the general consensus of a concept album is of proggy, mythical dungeons and dragons etc, but SKAM have gone in the totally opposite direction. What was the thinking behind the concept?

Neal – “When I joined the band, like Matt said, we had finished touring ‘Peacemaker’, and we sat down and thought what do we want to do with the new album. It stemmed from the fact that we wanted to do something a little bit special, so we researched someone called Victor Goddard, who is a real life RAF pilot who thought that he could travel through time with flight, and it just snowballed from there. We got that idea, started writing, and then it just got a little bit out of hand! We thought, well if we are going to have this as a concept, then we need all the artwork to match. Even recently, the video for ‘Between The Eyes’, we felt that it needed to tell a short story so we went for a storyline video.”

Steve – “I’ve written a short story on each chapter for the sleeve notes. It will come with two books; the story, and then the lyric book”.

The whole imagery, the artwork is stunning. The cover art especially stands out. The Spitfire looks incredible. Wait, it is a Spitfire isn’t it? You’re not going to turn around and say actually it’s a Hurricane!

Matt – “Haha! No, it’s a Spitfire!”   

Steve – “We’re very lucky. The artwork itself was done by a friend of mine, an incredible graphic artist, and it was literally a chat that we had one night over a beer, and he said that he would would love to do it. I had to double check with him, as I knew that we wanted front cover, back cover, singles, posters etc, so I didn’t want to put too much work on him, but he really came through for us, and it’s all hand drawn. I have the originals done by pen, and he did every dot himself. He does them all hand drawn then adds contrast etc on the PC”

Neal – “He’s amazing really. Since then, we’ve added to his workload, as we need different things like tshirts, etc!”

Skam, Voodoo SixIt certainly is made for a physical product. To put all that work into something, and not have a product to hold in your hands at the end seems like a waste.

Matt – “Absolutely, that’s what we like about it. It’s going back to a time when it was just better. People were more connected, and even if you skip the vinyl and just get the CD, it’s a double CD gatefold. It’s something to own. It’s the ownership. It’s not just about the music, it’s also about the story. But if you get the vinyl, it’s a double album gatefold, it’s badass!”.

Steve – “This is our third record, and when we sat down we realised that there is only so long that you can write songs about birds and beer, we wanted to down something that meant a bit more. I’m not belittling anything that any band does, far from it, but we didn’t want to just realise another ten track album of songs that we had written about girlfriends etc. We’ve been sitting on this album now for about a year. I got the finished music a year ago. We can’t wait for people to hear it”.

Were any of you in the Forces? In the RAF?

Steve – “We were in the ATC (Air Training Corps), it’s a bit cheesey I suppose, but that’s where it stems from, our love for the RAF and that British heritage. Me and Matt met at the cadets. I was in a rubbish band, and Matt got a bass for Christmas when we were kids, and we formed a band”.

Never any thoughts about making a career out of the Forces?  

Matt – “There were some there for a while, but I wanted to be a rock star instead!”

Steve – “We both actually signed up, but it never happened. I signed up to be an engineer, got my exam results, and they told me to go to university and come back… but I never went back”.

I’ve made a note of the words that end the album on ‘New Dawn’, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. Is that the best way to sum up the whole process for the new album?

Steve – “It’s got the meaning of the actual story, but it is part of that, yeah. We are known for being positive lads, but we are pushing, and trying to make something in this industry, and it doesn’t always seem possible. You’re up against millions of other bands, industry types, people bunging money in people’s pockets… It’s a struggle sometimes, and it will seem impossible until the day that finishes and we can call ourselves rock stars!”

Guitarist, bandleader, actor, record label and radio station owner, Steven Van Zandt, made an interesting observation in an interview recently. He said that he felt sorry for bands today because the advent of YouTube, Spotify, etc meant that bands could have product out there without having to learn their craft through playing dives over the years… but SKAM are seasoned road warriors.

Matt – “Exactly, that’s what it’s about, the live show, and that’s why we get frustrated sometimes. We feel like we have served our apprenticeship. We have literally driven up and down the motorways for ten years in different guises. We work and what-not, but play 100 plus gigs a year”.

Steve – “You know what, I fully agree with him. The amount of bands we see that have an amazing product in their album. No doubt that they are decent musicians, but they go on stage and they can’t fucking play! It all goes to pot. We have played in some horrific places with no sound, amps going down, PA breaking, and I don’t want to sound arrogant, but we are a formidable live band”.

Neal – “Being on the road prepares you for any scenario. If anything goes wrong, it doesn’t matter anymore, as we know exactly what to do, which makes a big difference”.

Matt – “The live show needs to be good. The CD could be brilliant, but rock n’ roll is all about the live show. Always has been. Always will be!

SkamThe British rock scene seems to be thriving at the moment. Loads of smaller festivals like Wildfire, Rockmantic, Rockwich, etc,and heaps of young local talent bubbling under, just waiting on that opportunity.

Steve – “Definitely, I love it at the minute. I feel like we are part of something, for the first time in a long time. You go upstairs in here and there is a poster for Bigfoot. Guys we know. Guys we’ve played with. Everywhere we go on this tour it’s the same, Bad Touch, Massive Wagons… and I’d like to think that we are part of that”.

Neal – “We just need the big boys in the industry to pick up on it”

It’s frustrating when established acts tour and pass on giving a smaller band the chance to play for a bigger crowd. Gene Simmons talks about rock n’ roll suffering, but opted to take Paul Stanley’s sons’ band The Dives out with them in the UK. By all means, take them out, but maybe stick a smaller band on first. Give them some decent exposure.

Matt – “We were just talking about this today. Of course you want your kids to do well, but even if you take that out of the equation, there is still the buy-on clause. All we are asking for is the same as these bands got 30/40 years ago. It’s frustrating. We go to a lot of gigs, and there is that moment when you think has any thought gone into this? We all have that dream of getting picked up for a big tour!

Steve – “We talk about this for hours in the van. Matt is spot on, we can’t wait for one of the bands to make it. Not just us, any of them, just one. I would feel so much more relieved, because it would mean that the music industry still worked. If Massive Wagons got picked up and taken out on a world tour, then I would be so pleased. Just to know that it can still happen, because at the minute I’m unsure”

Can you imagine Baz (Mills, Massive Wagons frontman and resident nutter) on tour in America?

Steve – “Haha! They wouldn’t know what the fuck was going on!”

On that note, the opening band can be heard wrapping their set up, and SKAM depart to get ready to introduce the audience to Geoffrey Goddard. The album is due November 17th. SKAM will also play a special album launch gig in Leicester the same day. For ticket details and album pre-orders check out the official SKAM website.

Interview: Dave Stott

Band images: Callum Scott

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