Skint + Demoralised
I meet Matt Abbott at a small, comfy pub in Wakefield on one very cold day back in November. It was a strange experience. Not because of him (he’s a top fella), but because one of his singles was the first I reviewed here in England. I guess life is just like that.
This interview was supposed to go earlier, but life has a strange way of messing with your plans, so in advance, a sincere apology to Matt Abbott, the voice and soul of Skint + Demoralised. For what it’s worth, it was a very nice conversation and, for his age, he does know his music.
How did you get your start in music?
Basically, I used to do performance poetry, kinda like stand up comedy but in rhyme. I couldn’t be in a band because I couldn’t play an instrument so I got them on their own on Myspace, and then this guy from Sheffield found me and he was looking for singers to work with as he just does music and then asked me “do you mind if I put your poetry over music”. I said yeah, you know, for a bit of a laugh. We got on straight away, like songwriting partnerships so we end up writing songs, then we got played on radio, got a record deal and went from there, really. It was entirely online. We did 6 or 7 songs without meeting each other. It’s things you can do these days.
So you recorded them on a studio or was it all in computers?
He literally sits in a room in his house! He’s got this little room in his house, plays the guitar parts, then the bass, drums, sends the music to me with him singing, I’ll add my own vocals and send it back to him. So, yeah, it’s weird. When we did the first album, we did it in a studio proper, but it’s too expensive. For the second album, we’re doing it all in his house.
Yeah, too expensive.
The thing is, he’s got quality gear in his studio and we can record when we want. In a normal studio that you pay for, you know there’s a time and it stifles creativity, you know what I mean? You lose some details.
Personally, some studios do feel a little constricted. The pressure of paying by the hour and all that. Maybe it’s also a little clinical?
Yeah, it’s not very natural, it’s quite forced. Different bands work in different ways, but I personally like this. Besides, we don’t have any money for studios!
You could always argue you’re lo-fi.
Well, yeah! If you listen to stuff like the Arctic Monkeys demos or the Libertines, they are all very lo-fi. But in the end, it’s all about the song. And maybe how it’s recorded, to an extent.
Could work. There was this band from the 90s called Collective Soul and their first demo, as it was, it came out as an album. The label said “it’s fine”, signed them and told them they would release the demo as an album. When you listen to it, it shows, levels are all over the place, production’s shoddy…
Still, if it catches the spirit of the song, it does the trick, right?
They had two massive singles from it. I like the album. It has its little charm.
Yeah, yeah, it sounds good. Sometimes it’s the way to do it. Record labels think that by throwing money at something it will make it better. Not all the time.
The problem of sounding TOO good in record is trying to pull it off in public.
Hence the term “studio band”, but anyways, how did you choose your name?
There’s this band called Reverend and the Makers. Basically, the stand up comedy I used to do he used to do too, I was fifteen at the time and I used to go to all his gigs and he used to really really inspire me and in one of his songs he says “I’m so skint and demoralised”.
The one with Tim from Bromheads?
Yes. And obviously the connotation of being skint and demoralised summed me up. I was 16, didn’t have any money and everything seemed to be depressing. It’s negative but in a tongue in cheek way, you know? In Britain, people like to take the piss out of how bad things are and find some fun in it. To me, “skint and demoralised” is like being so bad it’s funny, but I never wanted it to be a band, it was just my name to go on stage and do my poems. It was also my name on his forum. Some people say it’s too long for a band name, but I like it. It’s a good name.
I like the name, a lot of people do. I don’t mind, really. KISS, it’s simple and it works.
R.E.M. They are always changing the meaning and the history behind.
I rather be judged on the content than anything else.
Since you mentioned you did a lot of standup, do you do lyrics on the spot and improvise?
You could be the Wakefield equivalent of Notorious B.I.G.
(laughs) No, but I write my poetry to be delivered in a certain way. It’s quite snappy and I do stand up comedy to get a sense of rhyming. I can write quickly, but on stage? No. That’s a whole different talent.
The first album is pretty much spoken word, but you mentioned there’s a change for the second one.
Yes. It’s more singing. The reason why the first album is spoken word is because I was starting out and it was only poetry to music, it had a bit of a charm to it. I sang a little in the chorus and harmonised but that was it. Now I’m older and had a lot of practise. When we started in Skint and Demoralised, I was seventeen, so my voice sometimes sounded like a boy. Now I can sing, not proper, not X-Factor, but I can sing now. It had some charm before, but I wanted to change, you can’t do it forever.
It’s hard to change your style from one album to other. One of my pet peeves is people being too critical of changes.
Yes. The Arctic Monkeys got a lot of criticism because of changing their styles between albums. I like the change.
They got a lot of crap for Humbug, I thought it was good.
I think it’s amazing! Alex Turner is an absolute genius, I love him. He’s so good I hate him! (laughs)
Again about poetry, are your lyrics sort of stream of consciousness?
I guess so, yeah. Alex Turner, big influence. I always loved Eminem, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and all that. There are a lot of lyricists I love but when I heard Alex Turner, obviously from Yorkshire, it kinda make me realise that you can talk with your accent. I mean, I was listening to Eminem but there wasn’t anything I could relate to my life, so how could I sing a song when I’m from Wakefield? So when Alex Turner, from Sheffield, did it, well, I’m not copying but it made me realise I could do it. I like Billy Bragg, Squeeze, The Cure, Morrissey. Morrissey is probably my biggest influence, he’s just so honest. Straight, talking about feelings, insecurities.
And he gets away with it!
Yes, a lot of people he’s just whinging but I think he’s honest! No one is entirely happy with themselves. Pop music these days, you got all these girls right now singing about how hot they are or look. Bollocks! I don’t wanna hear that! I can’t go onstage and babble for three minutes about how good I am. It’s not what I like. Maybe someone finds it entertaining, but there’s no emotional connection.
What about your second album?
It’s big gap from the first and second. I was 17 and now I’m 21 and you do change a lot. Relationships and, you know, you talk about your life, the barriers you find. I would never compare myself to Morrissey in a million years, but I want to be honest.
So, lyrics as catharsis?
Yes! I think so! If there’s something playing in your mind, write it in a song and it’s releasing it from your body. It’s not real any more.
As a musician, what do you think of social media? Has it helped?
Yeah. It’s a weird one. Obviously you can get your music in Youtube and Myspace and Twitter and all that, so it’s easier for people to access your music but it’s also easier to knock it from the ground, ’cause everyone can do it. Ten years ago, getting played on the radio was a big deal, whereas now it isn’t.
Online it’s a double-edged sword, you need to find out how to stand out, really. The fact is that the other day I said “if you retweet this I’ll send you my song”. Bang, done. Then 200 people got my song and maybe watch it on Youtube. I do supposed bands have to work harder on it and, well, record labels are getting weaker. A band can get 400 plays one day on their Myspace without a record label behind them, where as back in the day, you needed them. You get the exposure yourself.
We are still in a stage where the record labels aren’t there and still are trying to sell records like it’s 1995, they don’t get how the internet works. And bands struggle as they need to get people to listen to music again. Give it five years and it’ll be amazing, but right now people are adjusting. I like Youtube right now and that’s where I put my demos. Myspace is dying.
Bandcamp seems to be getting some ground.
And Soundcloud too. Spotify is amazing! Love it. As people become more technologically aware, it will work better. Record labels won’t be around forever, not like we know them now. 360 deals are now what they use: publishing, merchandise, gigs, everything. It does make more sense in a way, because they aren’t making money from record sales, which means they’ll spend money on everything but you won’t make it back, so can’t carry on as they are.
It’s an old model, like taking an ostrich to a formula 1 race (!)
It’s not adapting, and it’s a scary thing. Music will survive, but not as we know it.
Whatcha reckon, are albums dead?
As a music fan, I’ll listen to an album, but people not any more. Let’s say I put my album on Itunes, and people buy only the ones they like. Or get it from torrents. An album as we used to know it…I mean, Florence and the Machine have sold a shitload of albums, but how many people will listen to anything else than ‘You got the love’? I hope it comes full circle, thought, good question.
It’s kinda the signature question. When I was a kid, getting stuff in Mexico was very hard due to political blockades, so you had to be patient, but now patience is out the window. Sometimes you feel it’s a chore to listen to a whole album.
Probably a consequence of the Internet. A song now is less precious than it used to be. If I send you a link, bang! You download it straight away, but ten years ago, it would take too long so the album was still precious, but now you can download 500 songs in an hour and they aren’t special and you can’t be arsed to listen to an album, it’s been devalued. Kids using to go out with their bucket money and spend it on singles or albums in a record store whereas now, they’re not bothered like. They get it, maybe listen to it and never check it again, no value. People aren’t bothered to pay for it any more.
I can’t imagine myself listening to Pixie Lott, but every song she’s releasing is a single, so is single after single after single. Before, a band could release 2 or 3 singles and that’d sell the album, but now it doesn’t. The market seems to be focused on singles only. You couldn’t have something like The Smiths, Stone Roses or The Jam right now.
If you want a single, you need to make it like a calling a card.
And now it’s how much you can cram up in 3 minutes. I can’t get into a fancy girl with a catchy beat. I can’t.
And still, you got people like Arcade Fire, getting away with an album and getting massive kudos.
Or The Black Keys, their new album is amazing! It touches some in psychedelic rock, but it’s good.
Thanks, Matt, that’s all for now!
We talk a little about Johnny Marr and his ventures with The Cribs and Modest Mouse. Matt mentions old videos of The Smiths where he’s letting it rip. Also a little bit about Morrissey and his stance in gigs and what is sold or not. The little stories about Moz are fun and sometimes and Oasis how they got progressively worse as they chucked out the other members.
We then ramble about reunions, like Blur and Pavement, and although he’s quite young he does know his music and has a mature perspective about how this business seems to go.
Even though he’ lived most of his life in Wakefield (with a slight detour to London), Matt enjoys Wakefield, citing friends and family. But that wouldn’t stop him for moving out and getting to know more places. That search for an experience to soak in wide-eyed wonder you get from some of his songs.
Skint + Demoralised are currently on tour.