Interview: Paul Martin of DEVILSKIN
Words/Interview by Tam Schilling
Hard hitting Kiwi band Devilskin are soon to release their third studio album RED! Having stunned Australian crowds on tours with Halestorm and Slash Ft. Miles Kennedy and the Conspirators and appearing on Download Australia in 2019 Devilskin are gearing up to set the world on fire with this upcoming release. Devilskin have garnered a formidable reputation and a solid fan-base worldwide from their relentless touring schedule. A swathe of brilliant live reviews from Europe to USA to Australia are testament to the groundswell of support for this hard-working and focused New Zealand act. We were lucky enough to have a chat with bass player Paul Martin about the album, the current Coronavirus pandemic, suicide and much more.
Your new album Red is set for release on April 3, what can we expect from this album?
For people that know the band it is quite obviously our next progression. I think it is our most exciting work yet, I am so proud of the songs and how the whole thing has come together as one piece. I think we striked really hard when we recorded it to make it as immersive as we could. There’s little snippets and interludes in-between the songs that sort of weave it together. For us we are just so very excited to be able to release it now.
What was the bands inspiration when writing the new album?
There is quite a lot of stuff actually. There has been two years since our last album, and we write all the time. We had something like thirty songs to narrow down to like twelve. It was fierce because each song is like one of your children and you don’t want to cut that one off and you ask yourself if this song is better than that one and how are they all going to work together. It kind of seemed to come together quite organically. The songs sort of chose themselves. It's like the subject matters chose themselves and put their hands up.
There is a song on there that I wrote the lyrics about this 21-year-old guy who was in mental health care over here and was supposed to be on suicide watch and they let him out and he went and drowned himself in the river. The struggle that his folks have gone through to try and get some sort of ownership of it from the health warden and it's just been a nightmare for them and it’s a story that really struck home with me. It’s been five years now and that song sort of wrote itself. We sort of started jamming at rehearsal and it just came out in one go pretty much. That song for anyone wondering is titled “Sweet Release”. There is another song on the album called “The Victor” and that song was written about the time we were the first car on the scene at a really horrific car accident and that sort of really caused a lot of trauma for everyone for a while. No one was killed in the car accident, but it was pretty horrific. Again, we had written a song that day and it just needed some lyrics and Jennie had this beautiful melody and again it just sort of put its hand up and became a song that we just couldn’t do without. The album for us is chocked full of real-life drama and real things that happened to us.
The suicide song sounds pretty deep and hits home with me as my good friend was from New Zealand and he committed suicide almost 8 years ago now.
It really is. It’s such an awful story, it was in the papers all the time and his family were just trying to get authorities to say that the health system messed up. The family really wanted to make sure this wouldn’t happen to someone else. New Zealand has a really bad suicide rate. It was definitely a story but for some reason because it was in our hometown, our river that flows through town and its really special, so it really struck a chord with me. I went and saw the family and told them I had written them a song and played it to them and basically asked them if I could use it. They were overwhelmed by it and they were really happy and really touched and yeah it was a super emotional moment.
Wow, that’s giving me goosebumps!
Honestly, I get goosebumps when I hear the song.
I’ve listened to the album, but now that you have told me what the song is about, I’m going to go back and listen to that song again.
The context was everything and we encourage people to read the lyrics and sort of immerse themselves into the songs because even if they aren't musicians that’s what we do. We immerse ourselves into the music we love. It’s just such a privilege to be able to write and release songs on the scale that we do. We try to keep everything positive. There has never been anything negative about our song writing, everything is sort of good hope, keep striving and is a good message to get out. We’ve had a few people come up to us at shows and they show us the scars on their arms and said that they use to be suicidal and a particular song of ours had saved their lives. That’s pretty humble when you meet people and you realise that your music has had an a profound effect on other people. That’s something that we couldn’t take for granted ever, that’s a pretty special thing. There is a lot of songs that are going to touch people in different ways like that.
When planning to release the new album how important was it to you to have different versions of physical copies available rather than just going with an online release?
It’s crucial. We are all music hoarders as well. We all have a CD and record collections. People really really want vinyl. We have had so many people hitting us up saying “you are getting the new album on vinyl right and how many different colours?”. They just love it. When it's your favorite band and you can get different versions of the new album it's all exciting. We are doing boxsets as well which comes with all sorts of different goodies and signed stuff. The boxsets have been going off quite well. You must have it on different formats because it's exciting. There is so many people out there where music is their life and that’s what they do. There is a lot of people that just don’t buy into the soap opera TV or the reality TV and they have a life. They just love music so much they just climb inside the songs and those people tend to gravitate towards us. We are just lucky to be in the position that we are in.
I first heard of you guys when you supported Slash featuring Miles Kennedy in Brisbane in 2019, how good was that tour for you guys for exposure?
Yeah, what a night! It was so good. It was amazing for us to be invited. We were originally invited two years previously when they first came to New Zealand for the two shows they had one in Hamilton and one in Auckland. So, we were pretty excited specially to play in an arena in our hometown with Slash. During the day Slash’s tour manager who is his Front of house sound tech, this guy called Quake he got really sick and had to get carted off to hospital. They had to call in another guy to help them mix that night. When we flew to Wellington the next day the band was freaking out asking if Quake was OK. He was in the hospital here in Hamilton and he was quite ill. He wasn’t allowed to travel for ages. Slash’s crew were freaking out about what to do. Nail and I put our hands up and said “hey look we live close to the hospital and we can take his stuff to him, we will go visit him, keep an eye on him and keep him company”. So consequently, we got to hang out with Slash’s tour manager who has been with him since the snake pit days. We took him grapes and magazines and chatted to him; he is a really lovely guy. We heard all these amazing stories from him from touring the world with Slash for the last 20 or so years. Two years later we get invited to do the New Zealand shows and also the Australian shows. It was kind of like their thank you to us. We were so blown away to be invited and we made so many new friends in Australia.
I’m actually a band photographer and I got the opportunity to photograph you guys when you played with Slash last year, it was the first time I had heard of you guys and I walked away thinking “Wow who is this band?”
Ah cool, thank you. It has been hard for us to get our foot in the door in Australia. To then be invited on these shows with Slash and then to do the Download shows it was so important for us to be able to share our music to Australia. We have so many friends there and it’s such a rock place. We just want to get back there as soon as we can and play some more.
With the current Coronavirus epidemic your UK/Europe tour got cancelled, how badly has this crisis affected you as a band?
We have worked so hard for this, but no one saw this coming. It just sort of went BAM! out of the blue. When the first signs started showing we sort of pricked our ears up and went OK let's see what develops but everything was changing daily. Not just for safety, but everything got canned. It was very disappointing for us as we were supposed to be flying all around New Zealand hosting listening parties of fifty people but that couldn’t happen. Everything got cancelled. In the great scheme of things, we can reschedule. The priority right now is everyone's health and well-being. It’s pretty gutting, but everyone is gutted. We are making the most of it as we are still releasing our album on April 3. We can't ship physical copies right now, but we are obviously doing all the media platforms. We are still taking pre-orders for physical copies and the boxsets. We just must keep busy with ourselves and enjoy getting the great feedback from the album release.
Do you have a favourite memory from touring?
Yeah, I do. I have lots of them, but I guess a year and half ago we toured through Europe with Halestorm. The crew were awesome. We were playing in Vienna with Halestorm, they are massive they sold out all their shows before we were added to the bill. The venues were packed from 3000 to 7000 people in the venues. The venues were already packed when we came onto the stage. As soon as Jennie comes onto the stage and opens her mouth and she sings you can see the ripples go through the crowd. There was just this one special night in Vienna I just happened to look up and see the lights and everything but there was heaps of people holding their hands up in heart shape and everyone was singing along. They had obviously seen our name on the poster and gone and done their research and downloaded our songs and they knew our songs, it was pretty surreal to be on the other side of the world and to have that love that was coming from the audience. It was pretty cool.
The band members have stayed the same pretty much since you started in 2010, what's the secret to keeping all band members happy?
*laughs*. Well I think we are all pretty grounded and we all know what we want. We have a lot of respect for each other's talents. Before we got together Jennie’s former band was called Slipping Tongue and I was their number one fan. I loved them. We had a drummer originally for the first year Rob McWhannell who has sadly passed away now. He had to step down because he had a shoulder operation coming up so I basically press ganged my son Nic into the band temporary and he was 15 at the time and basically said “come on tour or you are grounded” *laughs*. Nic did well at high school and finished a couple of years later, he got two scholarships to university. We had just released the first album We Rise, and we were on tour in the South Island and just heard our album had gone number one. Nic comes up to me and goes “look Dad I'm really struggling with Uni and the band; I’ll have to choose one. I’m really sorry but I'm going to drop out of Uni”. *laughs*. I was really happy, his mum sort of burst into tears. Nic has grown up with the band. He is such a good part of the song writing, he’s super talented in the studio and he is a multi-instrumentalist. He’s a huge part of the song writing. I pinch myself at rehearsals sometimes when I hear his drums. Jennie is my sister in law now because she married my wife’s little brother. We are pretty tight knit. Everyone thinks Nails and I are twins because we both have the shaved heads, but we are the only two that aren’t related. *laughs* It’s become a habit now to look alike for Nails and me.
Before we go, do you have any words for your Australian fans at all?
Yes. We have all been tested at the moment. I know you guys got tested really hard with the fires earlier in the year, I was actually in Brisbane when the fires were on and its really heartbreaking. You guys are a tough lot. In these sorts of times we have to watch each other's backs. It’s going to be tough, but we are tougher. Whenever you need some comfort music is always there for you. Keep hopeful and sit tight and ride this thing out.
Watch the video for "Corrode" below:
Red is available for pre-order via iTunes here: https://music.apple.com/au/album/red/1500498677