When European melodic hard rockers Jagged Edge split after their debut album No Fuel For The Soul, guitarist Myke Gray (who had also briefly been in UFO) and bassist Andy Robbins joined forces with ex-Kooga frontman Neville MacDonald and drummer Dicki Fliszar (who had played in Bruce Dickinson's solo band) to form UK rock band Skin in 1993. That year they hooked up support slots with Little Angels and Thunder before releasing their self titled debut album. The band made such an impact that they became part of the Sanctuary Music stable, masterminded by Iron Maiden manager Rod Smallwood and were regularly featured in (at the time) the weekly UK metal bible – Kerrang! As Nirvana and their like changed the musical landscape, Skin found themselves swimming against the tide of grunge and while their two follow up albums 1996's Lucky and the following year's Experience Electric were tremendous blasts of slightly more "modern" rock, the chart success that the debut and its singles had garnered proved elusive. Their label Parlophone dropped the band after Lucky and disillusioned with the music scene, the foursome split after their third album. Skin may have only been around for five years, but for those that had seen them live, they were a band never to be forgotten. Then in 2009, completely out of the blue, Skin were asked to reform to play the main stage at the UK's Download festival and amazed by the fans reaction that day, the original foursome decided to release one last (and brilliant) album, Breaking The Silence. Sea of Tranquility staff writer Steven Reid recently had a chat with Myke Gray to discuss the highs and lows of Skin and whether this really is the final time we'll see Skin.
SoT: Hi Myke, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions.
I have to start by saying that I was a massive fan of Skin back in the nineties and that I still play your self-titled debut album regularly now. Are you surprised by how well those songs have stood the test of time?
Myke: To be honest yes, as a songwriter you are always hoping to make a physical or emotional connection with people through music, sometimes it catches you by surprise which songs do and which ones don't. It's a good feeling when they do!
SoT: After that debut, the band's two subsequent albums 1996's Lucky and the following year's Experience Electric saw the band follow a different musical path. Was it a case of the effect that grunge had on the scene, was there record label politics involved, or was it just a natural evolution?
Myke: We definitely got caught up in what was going on at the time, we were influenced by bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, which isn't that surprising because they are great bands, but I think it confused our loyal fanbase, and the kids that were into grunge didn't relate to Skin as an entity, which is understandable looking back. But some songs from the second and third albums are some of our most popular. So some good stuff did come out of it.
SoT: Every time I saw Skin play live, the main thing that struck me was how much fun it looked the four of you were having. What brought about the decision to end the band?
Myke: We ran out of steam and energy, when you no longer have a major record label it is financially very tough to survive as a band, because touring is so expensive. After managers, agents and promoters have taken their cuts there is not much left for the band. We literally couldn't survive, and as they say in America, once your house dies it's time to get off. We started to blame each other, and the fire went out.
SoT: Was there a point where you just became too disillusioned by the whole music business?
Myke: When Skin split I had no desire to form another rock band, there would of been no point, when you have been in a band with one of the best singers in the world, it's a tough act to follow.
I went in another direction which was the biggest mistake of my life.
SoT: So with over a decade away, you were enticed back together by the chance to play the main stage at 2009's Download Festival. How did that come about?
Myke: Andy Copping, from Live Nation, the promoters of Download, contacted the band and asked us if we would like to reform and play on the Classic Rock day in 2009. The line up featured Whitesnake, Def Leppard and ZZTop, it took a bit of time for all the members to agree, but I am very glad that we did.
SoT: Were you pleasantly surprised at how much interest Skin reforming created and just how dedicated the fans still are?
Myke: The reaction from the fans has been overwhelming, and to be honest they are the reason we made another album. Without them we are nothing.
SoT: Was it a bit "unreal" to be playing the main stage at Donington, where the band had appeared on Monsters of Rock before, after all that time?
Myke: The whole experience was very intense, we had not seen each other for 11 years, we only had 3 days of rehearsal, and then we played 3 warm up shows. It was one of the best things I have ever done, and I loved every second of it.
SoT: Once you had played Download, was it inevitable that the four of you would eventually record again under the Skin name, or was it quite a difficult decision?
Myke: Everything we have done after that has always been quite a painstaking decision. We all have careers and a family so getting our schedules in alignment at the same time is very difficult, but we have always felt we owed it to the fans. It's been tough but worth it!
SoT: The four of you have led very different lives since Skin first ended, was it a little difficult to get back in the groove to start with?
Myke: Once we are together it is easy, it is getting us together that is the hard bit.
SoT: Were all the songs written especially for Breaking The Silence, or were some of them from your previous time together?
Myke: All the songs except "Trigger Inside" were written especially for Breaking the Silence, there was no digging out old riffs. It was all inspired by the reunion.
SoT: Had you continued to write songs while you were away from the music business?
Myke: I wrote songs for pop bands, and music for adverts and movies, but nothing I am proud of. You are dealing with advertisers who are only interested in if it sounds like something in the charts. It is completely soulless.
SoT: The album has turned out amazingly well. Personally I would say it just pips the debut as your best album. What has been the highlight of putting it together?
Myke: As a complete album it is my favourite also, I am just happy to be given the opportunity to work with these guys again, they are very inspiring.
SoT: I have to say that I'm a real fan of Nev's voice, from his debut with Kooga through his work with Skin, his voice was always amazingly strong. He really deserves more recognition in the media and his performance on Breaking The Silence is stunning....
Myke: As far as I am concerned Nev is one of the best singers on the planet, and I am very proud to be in a band with him.
SoT: His voice really is that important to the band isn't it?
Myke: I wouldn't want to be in a band with anyone else! It does seem amazing that he is not recognized as one of the British greats up there with, Coverdale Plant and Rodgers.
SoT: Breaking The Silence sounds like it really should have been the follow up to the Skin album, was it a conscious decision to return to that sound?
Myke : That was exactly the intention we had when we went back into the studio, Classic British Rock. We wanted to capture the energy we have when we play live, which was something we had never managed to do before.
SoT: Well it definitely worked! The physical version of the album is only available from the band's website http://www.skinfreak.co.uk/ . Why is that?
Myke: We are the record label, we self financed it. It cost us just under £20,000 to make, and we figured if we sold 2000 copies we would break even. We did actually approach EMI to re-release our first two albums in 2009, in connection with the Download festival, but they declined. We vowed at that time never to give over our music to a record label ever again, we never want anyone telling us if we can or can't release our own music.
SoT: Am I correct in saying that you raised some of the funding for the album from sales of your live acoustic comeback album Up Close And Personal?
Myke: The album was funded by the acoustic album and DVD, without that we could not of made this album, so we have to say a big thank you to the fans for supporting Skin.
SoT: You stated before Breaking The Silence was released that it would be Skin's farewell. Why is the reformation being so short and sweet?
Myke: It is just very hard to balance Skin, families and careers. Nev is a school teacher, Andy is a chartered accountant, and Dicki lives in LA. It was always going to have a timeline, we would never of thought that is was 18 months, originally it was going to be 10 days!
SoT: Isn't there a tiny part of you that would like to continue, or has doing this been a good way of getting closure on this part of your life?
Myke: This is the natural time to stop, we have made an album we are proud of, we are all on good terms with each other, and we have said thank you to the fans.
SoT: So that's definitely it then?
Myke: I have been around too long to ever say never, and the great thing about the future is that is unwritten.
SoT: As a proper way of saying goodbye, you are playing a set of farewell shows in December of this year, I believe that the fans have been helping you choose the set list. Have there been any requests that have surprised you?
Myke: What has surprised me is that every song we have ever recorded has been chosen by at least one person! Mostly it is what you would expect, but it has been a very pleasant surprise to see "Stronger", "Born to Rock & Roll" and "Redemption" from the new album in the top 15, plus "Monkey" which is a song that only appeared on the Skin Up EP, very high in the table.
SoT: You've put together a great line up for the tour, with Matti Alfonzetti and Toby Jepson supporting, which in a way will be like going full circle for me as I first saw you on stage back in 1989 with Matti in Jagged Edge when you supported Thunder in Perth. No rock bands played, or play Perth, so for us young rockers it was a huge event! Then the next time I saw you play was with Skin supporting Little Angels in 1993. So it will feel a bit like a family reunion! Are you planning on doing anything special with Matti and Toby?
Myke: Yes, Matti & Toby will be joining us onstage, we are planning on having them sing on Redemption, which I suspect will be very cool!
SoT: Can we expect (hope for) some special releases, or the odd one off show in the future?
Myke: We are hoping to record a live album and DVD on this tour, but I think that will be the last ever. But like I said, the future is unwritten.
SoT: Can we expect any more Myke Gray music, even if it is not under the Skin Banner?
Myke: I think so. I am writing and have quite a few ideas but will wait until the new year before I even think about anything else
SoT: Well thanks for taking the time to answer the questions Myke. I'd just like to thank you for making so many fans happy by getting the band back together - I'll be at the Glasgow show on the tour - and to wish you guys success in whatever you all do next, whether that is in music or not.
Myke: Pleasure is all mine and look forward to meeting you in Glasgow.