Interview: Jennie Skulander of Devilskin Talks ‘Red’

The outbreak of Covid-19 has been problematic, and perhaps even disastrous for the music industry. With the cancellation of tours everywhere, and lockdowns being implemented in many countries, the music industry has taken a pretty hard hit. But there is good news. With so many of us at home, there is more time than ever to fully immerse ourselves in the music of our favourite bands. One band I recommend taking the time to listen to is Devilskin, a female-fronted metal outfit from New Zealand. Singer, Jennie Skulander has vocals unlike anything you’ve heard before.

Spotlight Report got the chance to sit down with her to talk about their new record Red, how they’re coping with physical distancing and lockdown, and how damn awesome women can be when it comes to unclean vocals.

SR: So how are you doing at the moment with everything going on?

JS: Yeah, it’s alright. We’ve been in lockdown … we’re really in lockdown … the only things that are open are supermarkets and gas stations and pharmacies pretty much. But yeah, keeping busy, getting ready to release the album on digital platforms, so pretty excited about that.

SR: Corona has really impacted on a lot of album launches, but I guess we just have to be more digital to get around that.

JS: Yeah, that’s the thing. Unfortunately, there’s nothing much we can do but … at least have it on that digital platform so people can actually listen to it. We also had heaps of shows lined up for the album, and JB-HiFi in-store meet and greets and those have all been cancelled … and our Europe and UK tour was supposed to be kicking off in two weeks … but [sighs] oh well [laughs].

SR: And is there anything else fans can do to help you guys during this time?

JS: Yeah … I mean, just buying the album. It should be available on digital platforms. Or you can pre-order a physical copy … we’ve got boxsets as well … once the lockdown is over for us we’ll be sending those copies. We also have merch so if you wanna buy merch then once this is all over we’ll be sending those out. Yeah, just keep on listening to the music. We’re wanting to help people as well. I know there’s going to be a lot of bored or people that are just a bit down and having that music is just gonna help them while they’re all – pretty much worldwide – everyone’s in quarantine [laughs].

SR: {Laughs] Yeah. Well that is the good thing about the timing. Everyone is at home. They have more time to really sit and listen to music.

JS: Yeah, that’s true [laughs].

SR: You guys have been at it for is it ten years now?

JS: Going on eleven years now.

SR: Nice!

JS: We did our first show ten years ago, but we actually got together at the end of 2009. It doesn’t feel like it -laughs].

SR: And you all knew each other before you started the band. Am I right?

JS: Yeah. Paul did a radio show that my old band used to send demos to. And he was in another band called World War Four that my old band had supported, and ‘Nail’ was in a band that my old band had supported … just around the country. And I knew Nic was Paul’s son. I met Nic when he was like … nine or ten …

SR: Oh, wow!

JS: [Laughs] Yeah. So, yeah, we did all kind of know each other. Not well, but we knew each other. And yeah, they sort of approached me … oh well, Paul approached me. I’d just moved to Hamilton and he approached me to start a band and I kinda just wasn’t interested because I’d just broken up with my old band and then ‘Nail’ approached me again like six months later and I was like ‘whatever, I’ve got nothing else going on’ … so, there you go.

SR: We’ll, it’s worked out pretty well.

JS: [Laughs] Yeah.

SR: How is the bond between you guys? Are you pretty much all like family now?

JS: Yeah, we are. And we also are … well, my husband is Paul’s wife’s brother.

SR: Oh, okay.

JS: That makes Paul my brother-in-law. And Nic’s my nephew. The only one that’s not related is ‘Nail’ but we’re still all like family. We’ve all got our different personalities and stuff, and we all know each other very well [laughs].

SR: I saw you guys for the first time when you were touring with Halestorm in 2017. I was just so blown away when I first heard your voice.

JS: Oh, thanks.

SR: What was the reaction like on that tour? Was everyone really welcoming?

JS: Yeah. It was great. It was cool. We hadn’t played too many Aussie shows either, so it was cool to play packed out shows – because of Halestorm – but we were really well received. And then last year when we came back for Slash and Download we’ve just seen the fanbase grow more and more. So that’s really cool. We’re really looking forward to getting back to Australia as well. Hopefully this year … depending on what’s happening with the coronavirus. We’ll see.

SR: Fingers crossed. Normally I would be asking when you’d be coming back, but you don’t really know right now.

JS: No … I mean, we had a plan … it’s hard to say whether that plan will go ahead because of everything that’s kind of been cancelled and postponed for us. Fingers crossed!

SR: I’ve got my fingers crossed for you!

JS: [Laughs] yeah.

SR: I think it’s so crazy that you guys had to travel the world and get known everywhere else before you really made it in Australia. It’s just insane. You’re so close – you’re our neighbours!

JS: Yeah. We had a lot of people asking … “why” … we had played UK and Europe more times than we’d played Australia and even though Australia’s close, I think we found that we were more well received in UK and Europe first so that’s the places we’d been hitting. But slowly, we’ve started taking off in Aussie. Just getting on the bill with obviously Halestorm and Slash and Download has really, really helped. Hoping that when we do come back the fanbase is gonna be a lot bigger than the last time we did headline shows [laughs]. We look forward to it.

SR: I think if you give it a couple years, we’ll be pretending you’re Australian anyway. It’s what we do … “we’ve always loved them … they’re one of ours” [laughs].

JS: Yeah [laughs].

SR: And is it true that Halestorm was supporting you guys for the New Zealand leg of the tour?

JS: Yeah, it’s because they weren’t as well known. I think they’d come here once to play a show and didn’t sell out the Powerstation. We could sell out the Powerstation, plus having two New Zealand number one records under our belt, so we invited them out and they were keen. We played a whole lot of places across the country and yeah … it’s weird to say that they supported us in New Zealand, but they did [laughs]. But once we got to Aussie – the fanbase was a lot bigger – we supported them. And in Europe of course we supported them [laughs].

SR: I think that’s really cool that they supported you in NZ. That’s awesome!

JS: Yeah … they were trying to get more of a fanbase, and we were selling out shows. Our first tour was twenty dates in New Zealand, and we sold out every single show. We were quite stoked that they said yes to coming down and supporting us.

SR: You kind of helped each other in a way. You got them more fans over there and they got you more fans over here. Pretty cool.

JS: Yeah, exactly.

SR: As you said earlier, your album comes out on April 3rd. It’s absolutely brilliant. I’m reviewing it too and I’ve basically just written down the track list and “love it” next to every song.

JS: Oh cool! [laughs] That’s awesome!

SR: And it’s doing pretty well so far – the first three releases – it’s amazing!

JS: Yeah. Thank you!

SR: Do you have a favourite song that you worked on?

JS: I really liked recording ‘Eyes Red Heavy’, I guess, vocally, for me it’s quite emotional and also ‘Sweet Release’ … that was a favourite to record … that’s also the band’s – one of our favourites. Everyone in the band loves that song. ‘Bright Lights’ as well just because it’s a little bit different to what we normally do. And it’s actually a song fully written by Nic – apart from the vocal melody and the lyrics. Yeah … those are probably my top favourite ones to work on and perform. Always love performing ‘Corrode’ as well – just a fun one to sing.

SR: You’ve named my favourites too: ‘Sweet Release’, ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Corrode’.

JS: Well, there you go! [Laughs]

SR: How was the recording process? I think Paul used the words “intense but satisfying” to describe it.

JS: For me … I enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun recording. And working with Greg Haver and Simon Gooding and just being pushed to do certain things. It was just a great recording. A lot of the time I don’t like being in the recording studio; I’m not a fan of recording, but every album I’ve recorded with Devilskin I’ve enjoyed. Our last two albums were done by Clint Murphy in the UK and I really enjoyed working with him as well. But Greg Haver and Simon were like a nice breath of fresh air. Just a little bit different in ways … and just adding little special effects and just like that. Listening to songs you kind of forget things are there … I really enjoyed it!

SR: It’s good to hear that! A lot of people say that’s their least favourite part for them as well … because it can be a gruelling experience. I’m glad to hear it wasn’t painful for you!

JS: Yeah [laughs] it was cool.

SR: And where did the name ‘Red’ come from?

JS: We were just discussing titles and putting names forward and I think it was Paul who suggested ‘Red’. It’s a one word title, but also the fact that the colour red represents so many different things. It can represent love, passion … you think of red sometimes you think of anger … I guess like devils and that sort of thing. It can make you think of so many different emotions and things and I think that represented the album really well, because there’s quite a lot of anger and a lot of emotion on the album and it really seemed to fit.

SR: It’s perfect. I think you’re right it captures the love, the anger, the everything you’ve got going in each song.

JS: Cheers.

SR: And, so I love the opening lyrics the ‘All Fall Down’.

JS: Cheers.

SR: What inspired that?

JS: I think … that was written by Paul … because we shared lyrics … so “Fear will make you follow” … I think it’s just people being scared and being sheep. I guess a good example is this coronavirus thing. There’s the whole fearmongering … people are going and piling up and doing things they don’t need to do right now … that’s kinda how I interpret it … sorry [laughs] … you knew what I was saying

SR: It’s perfect. That’s what I was thinking listening to it. I thought “this song is so timely” … I know you didn’t plan it this way but damn!

JS: Yeah [laughs].

SR: Do you have any behind the scenes stories from making the album? Anything funny or interesting to share?

JS: I guess … when we were writing songs … we’d been writing a whole lot of songs and we were having some song writing weekends away just to get more songs for the album just to get more tracks to choose from I guess. And we were out at this beach in New Zealand – kind of in the middle of nowhere – and we’d come up with this song and I had some lyrics for it, but you know – and a melody – but it wasn’t great … and we were heading back and we came across quite a serious car accident where two children had been thrown from the car and were lying on the side of the road. We ended up helping the kids and the family and picking all the pieces up from the road, until the appliances could get there, because we were in the middle of nowhere … And the whole thing took a toll on the band. We all got affected by this accident. And one of the songs that we wrote and have put on the album – it’s called ‘The Victor’ – it’s about the incident happening. So not exactly a funny thing happening, but … it’s life … and we ended up putting it on the album because it’s something we were involved in and it affected us quite a lot. And the story also was out last year in New Zealand, because the guy who caused the accident – there’s more to the story – but the guy who caused the accident pleaded guilty. And we were ready to go to court and stuff to dob him in, but he pleaded guilty, so they started putting the story all over the news and stuff like that. We actually got mentioned quite a bit – that Devilskin were there helping with the accident. Yeah, so that’s one story to come out of that.

SR: It’s good that you were there to help. But it would be quite a traumatising experience.

JS: It really was.

SR: And it being on the news all the time wouldn’t help you move on either.

JS: Yeah. Once it came back it brought up a lot of feelings. But being able to record the song and perform it is kinda like a release. I’m glad it’s been put on the album.

SR: To just go back to the album “Be Like the River” and I wondered what those words mean to you. It’s clearly quite important to you.

JS: Yeah … well that comes from, obviously, the song ‘Be Like the River’ which is on ‘Red’ [laughs] … but pretty much that’s the statement of ‘Be like the river/Cut through the Stone/Fight Like a lion defending his home’ … we released it when we’d done really well and a lot of people started bagging on us and talking shit about us. “Be Like the River” means we’re gonna be like the river and just keep flowing. We’re not gonna let these people bring us down. If they wanna talk about us, they can talk about us but we’re gonna do our thing and not care about what they say and pretty much cut through that stone.

SR: People are always going to be horrible.

JS: Mm.

SR: As a female musician, do you get crap for that? Or is everyone welcoming? I hear it can be a hard industry for women sometimes.

JS: Most people are welcoming. I feel like I’m just one of the boys anyway. Some people can be dicks but I don’t let it get to me. I’m out here doing my own thing and for me it doesn’t matter what gender I am. A lot of things I can do, sometimes I think I can do a lot better than males. You don’t have to be a male to be a singer/screamer. I’ve had people go “urgh! She shouldn’t be singing that type of music or she shouldn’t be doing growls and shit” … well, why not!? [Laughs]. And people tend to say sexual things as well, but I just roll my eyes. Nothing’s gonna happen. I just don’t let it bother me.

SR: It’s good that it doesn’t get to you.

JS: Yeah. It used to, but it doesn’t really anymore. What’s the point? And the people who tend to say shit don’t know me. So … why let it bother me?

SR: Exactly! And what you said before about sometimes women can do it better than males … I completely agree with you. I used to listen to a band … the singer was a tiny little thing and some of her screams were just so much more impressive than most of the other bands around at the time. Women can do it too!

JS: Yeah, exactly! And you’ve got the likes of Jinjer at the moment who are smashing it! She’s a female!

SR: Yep! It’s probably a good time for female musicians in powerful bands, in metal … women are starting to take over.

JS: Yeah! For sure!

SR: And lastly, do you have any final words for the Australian fans who are waiting patiently to see you guys and get your album?

JS: Yeah, look forward to it. I hope if you are in lockdown then some music’s gonna help out. Support us, buy our stuff, buy our merch. And we will be back very, very soon. Hopefully. We have plans to come to Aussie – we’re just hoping that they don’t get crushed. We will be back and hope to see you out there someday!

SR: I’ve got my fingers crossed. I hope it’s sooner rather than later that you can come back!

JS: For sure!

SR: I hope you have some nice down time … I don’t think you get much of that in the music industry.

JS: Not really. And also I’ve got a three year old.

SR: I was think going to say I wasn’t sure how old she was.

JS: Yeah. She’ll be four this year. Actually, when we came over for the Aussie Halestorm tour, she was on tour with me. She was four or five months old at the time.

SR: That’s amazing! She’s probably a bit too young to fully appreciate that, but when she gets older I imagine it will be a story to tell all her friends.

JS: Yeah. For sure.

SR: Does she listen to your music?

JS: Yeah, she does.

SR: Does she appreciate it yet?

JS: Yeah. She likes to watch my music videos more. And if I come on the radio she knows it’s me.

SR: That’s cool!

JS: Yeah, it’s really cool!

SR: She’s gotta be the coolest kid ever! Already listening to metal, already getting into that scene. I’m jealous! It took me longer to find my music scene.

JS: [Laughs]

SR: It’s been so nice talking to you!

JS: Thank you!

SR: I can’t wait to see you guys again!

JS: It’ll be later on in the year. Hopefully things will calm down and we’ll be back over!

Pre-Order ‘Red’ From Itunes