INTERVIEW WITH BENJI WEBBE BY SAMMIE STAR
When it comes to bands that have been making music for over 25 years, genre means nothing when trying to convey a message that comes from the heart. As one of metal’s most successful hybrid acts, Skindred came onto the scene in 1998, and their mixed arsenal of metal, punk rock, reggae, and hip-hop has been one of the trailblazing soundscapes that many other bands have emulated.
“98, way back when, wow,” vocalist Benji Webbe pauses. “You know what? I think we’re not just a band. This whole thing has been brewing since I was a child. As a singer, I gravitated to punk rock as a kid. I loved punk rock music. I also loved the dance hall reggae stuff. I was torn between two worlds, but I didn’t want to let go of one or the other. I didn’t want to be in the pocket.
“I HAVE ALWAYS LOOKED AT MYSELF AS A REGGAE SINGER IN A ROCK BAND”
The whole, this is rock, that’s reggae, this is hip-hop, I hate that. It’s not creative. Why are you putting labels on yourself? That’s what Skindred has always been about. I have always looked at myself as a reggae singer in a rock band,” he laughs. “It’s something that is very important. It’s been done by excellent bands like The Clash, The Police, and The Specials. When I look at Skindred, those are the forerunners before us. I know if The Clash had music to draw from, like we use drum and bass, hip-hop, I know they would use it by any means necessary to get their message across. You use what you got around you. That’s what we have been doing from day one.”
Creatively, their latest album Smile draws from many different musical influences. As an artist of mixed heritage, this meant more than evolving the metal, punk rock, reggae sound they created. Smile found a way to modernize itself again by developing a new profound perspective that had previously pioneered the genre with each release.
“GOING BACK TO THE ESSENCE OF PUNK ROCK AND REGGAE, OUR SOUND HAS ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT FIGHTING THE MAN”
“Music is supposed to be creative. It’s not supposed to be, ’Oh, that’s what that is,’ or, ‘That’s what that is.’ I will never understand why people do this,” Benji responds. “I’m only going to wear these clothes because I am this, it’s crazy. I’ll never understand it. We need to evolve. I come from mixed heritage. My mother was a light-skinned black woman, my father West Indies. I was between two worlds. I believe that Skindred is that band that can bring those worlds together. We have been doing that for the last 20 odd years. It’s the music industry that keeps dividing people, and it’s not fair. You have to let people decide what they want for themselves, not you tell them. Going back to the essence of punk rock and reggae, our sound has always been about fighting the man. It’s always been about those trying to get us. Doesn’t matter the race or gender, whether your black or light-skinned. Doesn’t matter if it’s in Jamaica or New York City. This music comes from the street. It’s the same cry of the youth. The world continues to be this way, and as long as that continues, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
While Skindred has never been afraid to tread the waters of the political or the personal within their albums, a lot changed within five years that made Skindred dive deeper into the themes of Smile, making this one of the most immersive records they have written to date.
“TIMES HAVE CHANGED SO MUCH SINCE THE LAST RECORDS. THE WORLD HAS NEVER BEEN SO MANIC AND CRAZY.”
“We had a pandemic that we never had before,” Benji says. “We were experiencing a lot of racial and sexual tensions and bullshit that we never really experienced in the past. That gave me a whole wardrobe of lyrics to choose from. We had never been in a time like this. With this many wars, my pen was going fucking crazy. I can’t speak for everybody. I can only speak for myself. Times have changed so much since the last records. The world has never been so manic and crazy.”
For an artist that has lived an exciting life with nothing short of fantastic albums and experiences to back that up, Benji feels Smile was a reset in some ways despite the pandemic.
“The first album I wrote with Skindred, I had all my life to write lyrically,” Benji remembers. “Every album after that, I had two years to write. That’s the gap. Going back to Smile, all my adult life, I have always taught. Now, instead of having two months or two years to write a record, I’ve had four years to write one. I feel like I have had the time to start again, to start fresh. Even though this pandemic was devastating and painful, creatively, I’ve never been in a better place.”