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Devilskin Interview

Devilskin Interview
September 2014
(via Skype)





If moonshine could transmogrify, it undoubtedly would take the form of Devilskin’s album, We Rise. One minute, the New Zealanders’ debut offering makes your eyes water and your throat burn in a wash of barely distilled rage. The next minute, it slides down smoothly and warms your belly with luminous melody. After three or four spins, your brain will urge you to put We Rise away, and quit neglecting the other albums gathering dust on your shelf. But you won’t; you CAN’T. You have become hopelessly addicted.


Sonic Cathedral’s Robin Stryker caught up with vocalist Jennie Skulander, during the short break between Devilskin’s New Zealand tour and Australian tour. Dive in for the devilish details of We Rise, growling pin-up girls, little pills, and much more!

Sonic Cathedral:  We are so happy to welcome Jennie from Devilskin, which is our first time interviewing a band from New Zealand.

Jennie:  Oh, awesome!

Sonic Cathedral:  Devilskin came together in June of 2011, and We Rise is your debut album. So what were you guys doing during that time?

Jennie:  <laughs> We have just been gigging heaps, trying to get our name out there. I mean, it’s a lot harder in New Zealand to get booked with a band, unfortunately. Especially with our type of music, it doesn’t happen overnight. Actually, it doesn’t happen at all, to be honest. <laughs> You know, it seems like New Zealand is afraid of hard rock and heavy metal. So, the last four year, we’ve just been doing as many shows as we could across the country.

We were lucky enough to get management just last year, and that’s when things finally started taking off for us. Yeah, so it’s been a lot of using our own cash and our own time to do shows and anything else. But now, it’s great that we have a manager, and he knows his stuff. So that’s why everything has been happening a bit more in the last year or six months.




Sonic Cathedral:  You said that New Zealand is a bit resistant to hard rock. However, We Rise hit the streets in mid-July; raced up to the #1 spot on iTunes for New Zealand; and landed four songs on the Top 20. People DEFINITELY seem to like what Devilskin are doing.

Jennie:  We didn’t expect that … like, not AT ALL ... it was a surprise to us that it went to #1. We Rise was #1 in the country for three weeks, and went gold after two weeks. (In New Zealand, gold is when you’ve sold more than 7,500 copies.) We weren’t expecting it, and I think we’ve put hard rock and heavy metal on the map for New Zealand, which is pretty cool! <laughs> So, a lot of other bands are sort of confident now to release things and feel like they could actually go somewhere with their music, and not be looked down upon.

Sonic Cathedral:  I can’t even imagine what it is like for a band the day their first album is released. I would love to hear what you did the day We Rise came out.

Jennie:  I was pretty much watching Facebook all day, and seeing who was getting the album. And then, all of a sudden, people started doing this thing on Facebook, where anyone who got the album was taking photos of themselves listening to the album or showing photos of the fact that they had bought the album -- showing the cover and stuff. So that was quite cool! I think I had a celebration drink. The band actually went out that night, and had a few drinks to celebrate as well. I don’t know, it was a really weird feeling, actually.

Everyone was just so EXCITED because we’ve got a station in New Zealand called The Rock, and they’ve been pushing us quite hard. They played an interview of ours, so it was like Devilskin Day everywhere I went. <laughs> Social media and radio and stuff, it was just Devilskin. And it’s still like that. It’s weird because it’s such an odd feeling.

Sonic Cathedral:  What was it like the first time you were out and you saw a MASSIVE Devilskin billboard with your face plastered on it?

Jennie:  <laughs> I first saw a billboard on Facebook, and I was like: “Oh my God, look at that!” And then, when we played Timaru in the South Island, we actually got a photo taken with the billboard, and it was huge! I was just looking at it and wanted to pinch myself, like: “Is this real? It’s me. On a billboard. And I’m huge!” <all laugh> Like I said before, it’s really odd. I don’t know how to explain it.

Sonic Cathedral:  Would you tell us about the family inter-relationships of you and the lads in Devilskin?

Jennie:  Okay. Well, Paul Martin (our bass player), I did meet him probably about 12 years ago, and now, his wife is my partner’s sister. So, eventually when me and my partner Phil get married, his is going to become my brother-in-law. Nic (our drummer) is Paul’s son, so Nic will become my nephew. <laughs> Nail (our guitarist) is no relation, but I’ve known him for about the same amount of time as well. Nail and his partner and I get on real well, so we’re just like a big family-and-family-friend event!

People are going: “Oh, what’s it like being on the road with this band? How many fights did you have?” I was like: “We didn’t have ANY fights. We all got on really well and laughed and had fun.” To me, that’s the difference between us and other bands -- we all get on really well. I’ll say the whole tour I was just laughing my ass off because we all think we’re comedians as well. <all laugh>




Sonic Cathedral:  On tour, you need a person who’s a good navigator, one who can fix stuff, and someone who makes sure all the odds and ends get taken care of. Who does what on tour? And what might fans be surprised to learn about the personalities of Devilskin’s members?

Jennie:  It’s quite funny because Paul is fully tattooed, but he has got a heart of gold and is really nice. I think people don’t really expect that of him. He is also very, very funny! He is the one on the tour that was coming up with most of the jokes. Every time he would I tell a joke, I’d be like: “aaaaaah, that’s such a PAUL joke!” <laughs> Or he’d tell a joke and his son Nic would just look away and shake his head.

Nic is obviously the youngest, but he is very switched-on and very smart. He did a lot of the computer side of things on tour. With me and technology, I’m just like “yeah, whatever”, but Nic knows what he is doing. So, me, Nail, and Paul would just leave it to Nic to do anything with GoPro, Photogene, and that sort of thing of us traveling around the country. Nail would be like the Mister Fix-It. I would consider myself the navigator because I feel like I’m a good navigator. But half the time on the tour in the bus, I was asleep, so I wasn’t exactly telling people where to go. <laughs>

Nail and Paul, even though they are the elders, they are more the party-goers. Nic is sort of getting into it now because he is 18, so he is legal to drink. But me, I’m not. I am the girl who, pretty much after the show, I will do a bit of signing, and then go back to my hotel/motel, have a shower, and go to bed.

Sonic Cathedral:  Rock star life!

Jennie:  I know, right?

Sonic Cathedral:  A question for you from Eastcoaster, my colleague who reviewed We Rise: How did you learn to do growls, and how are you able to shift mid-song between ferocious growls and a clean (or even soft and melodic) style?

Jennie:  To be honest, I don’t actually know. It is just something I’ve been able to do, and over the years, it has improved. I have been singing since I was 15 … I’m 29 now … I remember, when I was about 15 and I was at high school, there was a school band playing, and I just jumped on the mic and did a massive growl, thinking I was Max Cavalera from Sepultura. <laughs> Yeah, I was surprised at what came out! I guess I’ve always had a bit of a voice.

Growing up listening to my dad’s music -- like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Dio and that sort of thing -- I used to mimic the voices or imitate the voices. But when I found out I could do the screams to singing, over the years, I’ve just improved how I do that. With the tour, we just did 20 shows, which I didn’t think I’d be able to do. But I did it. And I feel like I haven’t ruined my voice or anything. I don’t know why. Whiskey, maybe? Yeah, Jack Daniels! <all laugh>




Sonic Cathedral:  C’mon, it’s really tea, lemon, and ginger; isn’t it?

Jennie:  Well, I do have that too. But I do put Jack Daniels in my honey, lemon and ginger tea! <laughs>

Sonic Cathedral:  Sonic Cathedral approves! Diving into the nitty-gritty of We Rise, Eastcoaster and I have debated what the strange clickety chittering sound is at the beginning of “Never See the Light”.  Is it a monkey, a dolphin, or something else?

Jennie:  I wrote the song for my friend Shoki, who passed away back in 2010. He used to come up behind you at bars and stuff, and do these dolphin noises with his mouth. It just freaked people out! So that is actually HIM at the start of the song. Someone managed to get audio of him doing these dolphin noises a year or so before he passed away, and he is also in the song. You can hear a voice: “Hello, my name is Shoki Come-and-Shit-Man”. It’s a joke because his name was Shoki Kamishima. So yes, it’s actually a person doing a dolphin noise.

Sonic Cathedral:  Ha, I am the big winner. It is Flipper!

Jennie:  <laughs> Yes!

Sonic Cathedral:  I love We Rise … if I could fill a tub with all the notes and splash around all day, I’d be happy as a clam. But the three songs that I go back to obsessively are “Little Pills”, “Dirt” and “Burning Tree”. Could you give us some insight into those songs?

Jennie:  Little Pills” was pretty much one of the first songs we wrote, and it was just sort of personal experiences. I had just moved to Hamilton (where I currently am in New Zealand); I had just come out of a crappy relationship; and I had lost my job. I was quite down, and had to resort to taking anti-depressants to sort of get back on track. And that’s what the little pills are. That is what the song is about -- taking these little pills. I remember when I first started taking them, and I was feeling a bit funny. That is where the “Grinding teeth, I feel the love” part comes from, because I was suddenly feeling all happy … but OVER-happy. <laughs> And then, also the relationship side of things was put in the song as well.

“Dirt” was written by Paul, and was pretty much meaning that we are all dirt. One day we die, and become dirt, and then trees grow, and that sort of thing (if you understand what I mean by that). We become dirt when we die … Paul can explain it a bit more … but that’s kind of what I’m getting at. “Burning Tree” is another song written by Paul, and it’s one of my favorites too! <pauses> Oh, I can’t actually remember what is behind that song. It is a song about reality obviously, and the downsides to reality. That is sort of a hard one because I’m not 100% on it. I just remember taking his lyrics, and going “man, I’m gonna sing these!” <laughs>




Sonic Cathedral:  I will go out on a limb, and guess that you wrote “Violation”. It seems improbable that you could tap into that level of primal rage, if you were singing somebody else’s lyrics.

Jennie:  Yeah, I did. I wrote that. That came from a time in my life when I had a lot of bad stuff happening. It started off when my partner’s dad died suddenly, and then my grandmother passed away. Two weeks after she passed away, some people broke into me and my partner’s house, and stole our stuff. I remember coming home … and I was just getting over all these other things happening … and all of a sudden, I’m feeling absolutely VIOLATED by these people. At night, I’d stay awake, and just think about things I wanted to do to these people, if I caught them.

We’ve got a massive fence that’s kind of old, and I’d think: “Oh, I’d love to get their hands, and just rub their hands against the fence until they get all these splinters. I would tie them up in the garage, and do this or that.” It is kind of cynical, but it made me feel better. Yeah, that’s where the song came from. I was so ANGRY for ages about it.

Of course, in New Zealand, the court systems are rubbish. You can get away with shit here -- you can fucking MURDER someone, and you will get three years. That’s pretty much how shit it is over here. So these girls, even though they got caught, they walked free. So they are still out there, doing this shit.

Sonic Cathedral:  I hope they hear “Violation”, and know it’s about them!

Jennie: Yeah, I hope they do too!

Sonic Cathedral:  Do you perform “Violation” live?

Jennie:  Yeah, we do.

Sonic Cathedral:  “Violation” is a wildly profane and violent song. So, when you’re on stage singing it, where are you looking? It would be unsettling to be in the audience and to have you make eye-contact, while singing about beating my wrists and peeling my skin …

Jennie:  <laughs> Yeah, sometimes I do, just because it sort of adds to that. A lot of the time, I’ll be looking at the audience, but I’ll be thinking of other things in my head. I can kind of drift away, and then, that makes me put my all into that song and what it’s all about. When I was recording “Violation”, our producer was just like: “Nah nah nah, you can do better than that. Nah, you can do better than that. I’M THE GIRL WHO BROKE INTO YOUR HOUSE, do it again!” He was trying to rile me up, and it WORKED. <all laugh>




Sonic Cathedral:  It certainly sounds like it on the album!

There is a delicious dissonance between your Vargas pin-up girl look and your voice, which can be absolutely scorching. What is it about the retro pin-up look that appeals to you?

Jennie:  I guess I’ve always been into it. I found that image worked well with my body shape a few years ago. I am a little bit different now, because I’ve lost a bit of weight. I used to have big boobs and white-blonde hair, and I’ve got the curvy hips. I used to love that sort of scene because my dad is an ex hot-rodder, so I’d always see people dressed up like that, even though it’s a ‘40s/’50s sort of look. Yeah, I had a real passion for it.

I liked the fact that I could turn up and do shows, and people would expect something else to come out of my mouth. They wouldn’t expect someone dressed up like that to be doing low growls and screams and shit. So, it’s kind of like to get a reaction from people. <laughs> When I was 17, I did my first show outside my hometown of Rotorua. I had short blonde hair, and I was wearing a red tee-shirt and jeans and HEELS. I didn’t look like a rock singer … I just looked like a normal girl. And then I got on stage, and just went <low growl> “RRRRRROOOWR”. I remember seeing this audience going: “What. The. Fuck?!” And so, it was real funny.

These days, I still love the pin-up look, but I’m incorporating it with more like a grungy look as well. I just feel like … oh, I don’t know … I’m sort of over wearing heels on stage. <laughs> Even though the corsets are very pretty, they’re not always comfortable to wear on stage. It’s fun to dress up! I’ve got an incredible wardrobe.

Sonic Cathedral:  We Rise hit the streets on July 11th and, a few days later, you went gallivanting off for a 20-date New Zealand tour that looks like it was sold out at every venue …

Jennie:  Well, 17 out of 20 were sold out. That’s really good for New Zealand, especially for rock and metal.

Sonic Cathedral:  What are some of the highlights, and did you have any lowlights?

Jennie:  Highlights would be … definitely, one of the shows we did was at the Powerstation in Auckland. It was our biggest venue, and it was sold out, so about 1200 people were there. They were all there to see us, which was real trippy! Now, we had played at the Powerstation before, but that was opening for Coheed & Cambria. So, to have our own show and to pack it out, was absolutely AMAZING. If you look on Facebook, my cover photo is from that show. We were all smiling.

Another one was: We played in a town called Ohakune. One thing I missed out on in the South Island was snow. We’d go driving through snow ranges and stuff, but I wanted to actually have it snow and be in that. It never quite happened in the South Island. But when we played Ohakune about three weeks ago, it snowed. I ran outside, and it was just such an awesome feeling. Waking up the next day, there was just snow everywhere! It was just so cool. <laughs>

I guess the lowlights would be that we got sick. I go the flu, then Paul got the flu, then Nail got the flu, and then Nic got the flu. We did our third week, and we all had the flu. But we managed to get through it. That was kind of a lowlight. It probably didn’t show on stage, but when we were off stage, it was sneezing and coughing. And I pretty much slept that whole week, any chance I could get. When I wasn’t sound-checking or getting ready, I was sleeping.

Another lowlight would probably be that my body adjusted to tour time. <laughs> My normal bedtime is like 9:30 or 10:00. I like to go to bed early because I get up some mornings and go and do fitness at 6:00 in the morning. But lately, I can’t get to sleep until 1:00 or 2:00 AM now, and I like to take naps during the day now as well. I know that, right after I do this interview, I am gonna go and have a nap. <all laugh>

The whole tour was just a massive highlight! We all had so much fun. After the two weeks of smashing out nine shows in the South Island with one day off (which really wasn’t a day off because we were traveling), I realized that I absolutely LOVE doing this, and how amazing it all was. It was so trippy … <odd yodel-yawn sound> … sorry, that’s just my dog …




Sonic Cathedral:  Dexter makes the same sound to unsubtly hint that my Skype session is interfering with his nap time.

Jennie:  <laughs> All the fans and meeting people and people being so into the band, it was just a real awesome time and a real awesome journey for us all.

Sonic Cathedral:  Have you started seeing Devilskin tattoos yet?

Jennie:  Yes. Yes, we have. Some started a few years ago. I’ve been finding that, at least five people, I signed their arms, and they got it tattooed. We had a guy last week do it, actually. <laughs> It’s odd, but it’s cool.

Sonic Cathedral:  Have you had the experience yet, where someone gets a tattoo of your face on their arm or chest or back, and they want you to come admire it?

Jennie:  Uh, no not yet. I think, if that happens, I’d probably be a bit freaked out, rather than happy. I don’t know … it’s just weird. But I’m sure it’s going to happen, so I’ll prepare myself. <all laugh>

Sonic Cathedral:  Thankfully, Devilskin’s tour romp is not yet at an end. You’ve got show dates coming up in Australia in mid-September. Have you played Australia yet?

Jennie:  Yes, we have. We did a tattoo expo over there a few years back, and then we went back the year after for some shows. This was in Logan (just outside of Brisbane), and then the year after, we played Brisbane, Logan, and the Gold Coast. So, we’ve done that area. But I’ve never been to Sydney or Melbourne, so I’m really excited. I’m excited as well because my best friend lived over in Perth, and she is going to fly over to Melbourne that weekend. So, it’ll be like catching up with a lot of ex-pat Kiwis who now live in Australia, which will be cool! I’m really looking forward to it, and I’m looking forward to SHOPPING because Australians have way better shops than we do. <laughs>

Sonic Cathedral:  Lovely! For a band with a debut album, Devilskin have checked a bunch of things off the bucket list already. What is the next thing you’d love to conquer?

Jennie:  I’d like to do the Europe thing. Get out there to Europe … Japan, I think that’d be quite cool. Especially with having Paul and Nail in the band, with the red beards, the Japanese would love that! They kind of look like anime characters, so I’m sure that they could turn us into a cartoon. That would be cool! <laughs>

I would love to break into the US. I know that would be hard, but it would be pretty damn cool. I understand that, with all this, it will be like starting over again, but I’m prepared. Uhm, also release another album. We are looking at releasing a live album at the end of the year. But then, doing a second one would be great. Playing a big festival would be cool. We do Homegrown in New Zealand (which is all New Zealand artists), and it’s just a big day of that, and it’s real cool. But I’d love to do something like Soundwave in Australia. Next year, they’ve got Faith No More, Soundgarden, Judas Priest, and all that, and I’d LOVE to go do that, especially next year because I love Faith No More. Or play a big festival in the US or Europe. And do some collaborations, maybe with some other New Zealand artists. That would be quite cool.

Jeez, there is sooooo much I want to do. So yeah, those would probably be the starting point of it all. Just get out there, and get more international, and release more music. Conquer the world … Kiwi style!




Sonic Cathedral:  I am willing to be subjugated by Devilskin! Talking directly to your fans or readers who are just learning about you, what would you like to tell them?

Jennie:  If they haven’t heard us before -- like maybe they’ve just seen our image or something -- definitely check us out, because you might be surprised. Especially with the album, we don’t like to have just one song that sounds the same. We are kind of diverse; we love doing heavy stuff in the middle of doing ballads, and that sort of thing.

To the Devilskin fans already, THANK YOU so much. There is a reason why we are doing so well, and it’s the fans. We are sorry that it has taken so long to bring something out, but we’re in New Zealand. It is kind of hard when you don’t have a lot of money to do these sorts of things. Just a huge thanks to the fans. If you’re not a fan yet, try us out … or your money back! <laughs>

Sonic Cathedral:  We Rise was definitely worth the wait. Jennie, thank you so much for talking with Sonic Cathedral today.

Jennie:  You’re very welcome. And thank you!

Massive metal thanks to James Southgate at Music Management Inc. for setting up the interview!

Photo credit (live shots): Simon O'Connor Photography 

Check out Sonic Cathedral’s review HERE.


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