Almost a decade into his career, having travelled to countless countries and entertained hundreds of thousands of fans, Mikeydemus finds himself four studio albums deep and surrounded by guitar gear. Skindred are a multi award-winning British band who recently completed several legs of a tour (including the UK, Europe, and Australia) supporting their newest offering, ‘Union Black’, out now on Sony BMG. Their sound comprises of an unlikely yet infectious mix of Metal, Reggae and Punk. Mikey sat down with us at Seymour Duncan to chat about his take on tone, technique, toys, and what’s next for his band.
What do you find to be the difference between an American audience versus a European audience?
“Not a great deal of difference when we’re up there doing our thing, to be honest. Most crowds across the globe like to give their all once we start getting into it. We love getting to play as far afield as we do, there’s some spots that understand our vibe a bit better than others. I love traveling to play music, playing in front of new crowds keeps you hungry and on your toes, so hopefully they’ll have you back. The reward is often coming home seeing the fruits of your labor on UK soil. The main differences between the US and Europe are the things people say to you once you’re done playing, or what they shout at you during the gig – some places in Europe would have you play for 3 hours which is not something most bands are able to do!”
What difficulties do you encounter when on an overseas tour?
“Mainly having to use rented backline, it’s a different story every night for both tone and reliability. Different voltages can sometimes be a problem too, if your transformers give up the ghost. We’ve had gear die on us & even worse, get stolen abroad which is a massive, heartbreaking pain in the ass. I try not to take out gear that I couldn’t bear losing, but as you spend time with guitars, amps and effects on the road they become part of the framework, which makes it really difficult to get by without them if something bad happens. Often no two guitars or amps are the same, it really blows when you have to replace the special ones.”
How do you deal with different voltages from different countries?
“I always carry small portable transformers which step the voltage up or down accordingly to make my pedalboard work – most of the time our backline is region specific and works respective to the country. My guitar tech (Matt Tag) and I are rebuilding my rig currently. I’m looking to rack a few things and get a lot of pedals off the floor, also allowing our Ableton Live setup to deal with effect program and amp changes for me. This whole new effects rig is going to be powered by several bits of kit (including a Custom Audio Electronics MC-403 power supply) which will accept universal voltage. Ideally I’d like to power my entire rig with a Voltage Regulator that kicks out the same voltage no matter what the stage is providing, I’ll get there one day!”
How do you deal with gear and customs?
“We normally have a carnet (like a passport for gear and merchandise) when traveling to countries which require it – we’ve never really had huge problems in this area as our Tour Manager, Luke Bell, is well organized. Or maybe we have and I don’t hear about them, either way he’s doing his job! However, we have suffered instances of damage to gear through airport handlers treating things negligently. We generally only take guitars, pedalboards, and our Ableton Live setup for fly-in shows, otherwise our entire backline gets driven to where it needs to be. It’s hard to travel light when we rely on a fair bit of gear to make the show happen and prefer to use our own backline, but it’s far too costly to haul everything around all the time so we have to pack smart.”
Why did you change out your stock pickups?
“Some of my guitars needed a little extra special sauce to handle the sort of music we make. Being a heavier band with a lot of metal and punk influence, some stock pickups often can’t cut it in lower tunings with lots of gain thrown on top. Plus I’m a total gear head who loves taking things to pieces and meddling… I grew up with the smell of solder thick in the air so when it came to hack up some of my guitars, the only choice was Seymour Duncan pickups. My first electric guitar was a Mexican Fender Strat, into which I installed a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails in the bridge. That same Strat I later attempted to paint up like Jimi Hendrix’s famous ‘Monterey Strat’ with artsy psychedelic doodles; It turned out looking more like really, really bad tribal if anything.”
“I use Hot Rails for Tele in the bridge and neck of my main (silver/black) Telecaster, my other Tele (blonde/white) has a Hot for Tele in the neck and a Rails in the bridge too. Both of those are tuned to Drop C, the majority of our songs are in that tuning. In my Strats there’s a Custom 5 (which I’m looking to swap for a JB to try out) in the bridge of the one guitar and a Hot Rails in the bridge of the other two. My live Strats are tuned to Drop A# right now. The Seymour Duncans I use in all my live guitars deal with both of the lower tunings perfectly.”
“In the Telecasters, the Hot Rails pickup has a really gnarly bite and roar, tons of output but still lets that Fender ‘twang’ through. The mids really sear through the mix and allow for a really saturated sound, without being muddy like some humbuckers can be. The neck Hot Rails pickup really spanks too, but cleans up to a beautiful & warm tone when you back off the volume. Both pickups have that great Tele tone, only souped up to the max; they’ve got bark and bite! I love the sparkle that the Hot Rails pickup lets shine from the Tele, but still crushes in lower tunings. The Seymour Duncan pickups I use in my Strats also have the same deep low end and thump and are great for high gain riffs and lead playing. I get a lot of people asking how I make my Fenders sound so heavy, I tell them big-ish strings & Seymour Duncans pickups are the way to go.”
“The Seymour Duncan pickups I use in Skindred allow otherwise stock guitars to cope with drop tunings, heavy riffs and such. I’m constantly on the quest to improve my tone, and I’m learning that I prefer the sound of ceramic bar magnets and overwound coils for tight low end and shredding, and chunky mids. Adversely, I also had Seymour Duncan Seth Lover and Pearly Gates humbuckers in other guitars I used for standard tunings and more straightforward rock n’ roll, and they are amongst the sweetest sounds out there if you’re looking for lower to medium gain tones. What’s coolest about using SD versus stock pickups is that most Seymours are 4-conductor wired for endless tonal versatility and variety.”
How has it changed your playing?
“For a time I was playing a brand of guitar that did nothing for me, with active pickups that I thought would be right for what we was trying to achieve. Sadly they just didn’t feel like me – it felt uninspiring, like borrowing someone else’s dodgy gear which was unsatisfying. Since coming back to guitars which are far more my style, and putting my favorite sounding pickups in them, I feel I’m back to my sound which I feel has made me more creative and satisfied when writing, recording and playing. When you’re playing gear that feels, responds and sounds right to you, you play and perform better. Seymours are a big piece of that puzzle in my opinion.”
How would you describe your playing?
“Fairly aggressive, our live show is a slight balance between fine control and complete chaos sometimes. I’m far from technically minded with my playing, I’m more of a riff guy than a lead player, but I can still bust loose with a solo or tasteful lick rather than noodle away on record. I strive for cohesive feel in my playing and to be “in the pocket” with the other guys in the band; rhythm and soul have always been far more important to me than shredding speed based solos. That and a shed ton of feedback, weird noises and delay are my thing really. I love having odd toys in the effects chain and battering my guitar into submission with them. Most of all, I like playing loud.”
How would you describe your music?
“Skindred sounds like Sean Paul getting into a bar brawl with Pantera, with a little Clash and Pendulum thrown in for good measure. We’re basically a rock band, with a ton of metal, reggae dancehall, dance, punk & electronic influences thrown in to the mix. It’s a weird mix to some at first, but we find that globally we turn people on to a new sound just by doing our thing. I have a couple of other projects in the works (including some atmospheric, instrumental ideas and also an “in-yer-face” punk rock band called The Dirty Shanks) that I hope will be surfacing sometime in the near future. I’m really into effects pedals and other exciting bits of gear. When I joined Skindred 9 years ago, I had one guitar, an amp head & speaker cab, not even a tuner pedal. I’m now surrounded by stacks of amps, outboard rack gear, rooms full of pedals and around 25 guitars so you could say I might have a bit of an addiction.”
Have you used any of the Seymour Duncan pedals?
“I’m the proud user and abuser of both the Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster & Shape Shifter pedals. The Pickup Booster gives any amp that extra gain (without thinning out the low end of your tone like some classic overdrive pedals do) meaning you don’t have to push the amp to trouser-flapping volumes, and is an essential weapon when flying in to hired-backline shows. You never know what you’re gonna get from some rental amps, this little box gives it that well needed surge, it’s like steroids for a tube amp. It’s saved my sound for two summers when flying into random festivals and such. The Shape Shifter is probably the most versatile Tremolo out there; the controls allow you to dial in some insane throbs and pulses, the rate and depth both feature a range that is far wider than any other I’ve used, and the shape knob is an ingenious first for me. The tap/ratio control is a benchmark that other brands should wake up and compete with. All that and they’re built like tanks that take an endless beating. Can’t say enough good things about ‘em.”
What was your favorite gig and why?
“We’ve been very fortunate to have played some huge festivals in the last couple of years, including main stage slots at both Download & Sonisphere in the UK. We also headlined Polish Woodstock this summer in front of around 350,000 people, pretty crazy stuff. Our European and UK fanbases have really represented in the last couple of years; it’s a great feeling to be able to play for that many people. I think my favorite gigs to date were on our recent UK headline run, which culminated at the HMV Forum in London. There were literally thousands of Skindred fans lined up around the block waiting to get in, it was a truly amazing thing to see. The gig went seamlessly, we played our hearts out and the crowd went mental. It’s moments like that when you feel like you’re really making waves on your home soil. We went on to win a Kerrang Devotion award, and Best Live Band at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards shortly afterwards. I’m looking forward to making some more Skindred history in other territories in the near future, especially getting to return to Asia and the USA. We spent a great many years in the US, I can’t wait to hit the fans with the new tunes.”
What artist or bands were your big influences and how did that affect you.
“I am and always will be a massive Hendrix fan, it’s what made me pick up a guitar in the first place. I grew up listening to lots of Rock n’ Roll, Blues and Punk, people like Elvis Costello and Chuck Berry were big influences, song guys rather than lead shredders. Guitarists like Steve Cropper, Joe Strummer and Wilko Johnson really stood out to me, they had personality and presence without being technical virtuosos. I think it’s something about guys who played Teles; guitars which were simple, honest and humble; working men’s guitars. I didn’t really get into metal until later years but growing up I was a staunch fan of guitarists like Tom Morello and later Wes Borland & Jeff Irwin, whom I thought were doing their own thing with the guitar whilst carving out amazing, crushing riffs.”
“I really check for guys who have their own sound, do their own thing unlike anyone, like John Frusciante, Jack White, Billy Gibbons, Slash, EVH, Dimebag Darrell, Angus Young, Keith Richards. People who play a couple of notes, and you know it’s them instantly by their tone and style. I’m also super into ‘noise’ guys who take an unconventional approach to guitar and make it exciting, like Johnny Greenwood & Aaron North. I’m lucky to have met many players who are beyond talented and have become big influences, like Dan Donegan, Jim Root, Jerry Horton, Myles Kennedy & Ian D’Sa, players who are becoming a new breed of legends. As you can see their are a great deal of diverse influences here, a theme concurrent with Skindred.”
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