Paul Kerr talks to Paul Martin, affable bassist of New Zealand's biggest metal band, Devilskin...
“Hello, Paul speaking. Hi Paul, this is Paul Kerr. How ya going? I’m calling from Sentinel Daily. I’ll give you a heads up, this is my first time, and I’m a bit of a newbie, so please bear with me”…
Introductions (and possible screw ups identified) out of the way, I am talking with Paul Martin, founder and bass player for Devilskin. The band released a new album a couple of weeks ago, which has debuted as the number one album in New Zealand, their second NZ number one in succession, a strike rate of 100%. After breaking the ice with talking about things like the weather, which apparently has been pretty shitty (grey days) recently in NZ, but has improved today and then comparing it to the 30 odd degree day we are sizzling through in Canberra. Another earthquake today registered at 6.1, but Paul is in a fairly safe part of NZ south of Auckland; this makes us contemplate how many shitty things are happening in the world recently. After resolving a bit of a phone connection issue – which results in a call back to the other number that results in a much clearer conversation where I don’t feel so rude by saying sorry, I couldn’t quite catch that every second sentence – I am ready to undertake my first interview with the very personable and pleasant Paul Martin.
I’ve been introduced to Devilskin through reviewing the recently released, second album, Be Like The River. In my opinion, it is a cracker. It was my first taste of the band, was there any particular inspiration behind the writing of the album? “I think we are pretty much continually inspired, there’s always something going on, we’re always writing lyrics, Jennie (Skullander, lead vocals) and I equally write the lyrics, we are always both working on something. It’s always a work in progress. We didn’t set aside a specific time together to write songs for this album, but then we’d keep in communication and then come together for a weekend to work out what is there, trying to hear how this sounds with this riff. We had about 8 songs that didn’t make the first album so we had all those to go through and this time we had to cut the album down from around 30 songs – it was a big process to get down to 13″.
So it’s just inspiration hits you, then write it down and try that? “Yeah, it’s all day, everyday, just stuff like that. When we get the chance to sit down, ok, put these lyrics with that, this is what I’m saying here. I guess lyrically, with the album, my stuff is bit more introspective whereas Jennie’s are a bit more visceral, FYI for example”.
The different styles go together for me and they gel. “Good, well Jennie doesn’t pull any punches with her lyrics and I think that is the beauty of them. She draws all sorts of inspiration from all sorts of things, everything from frustration with the industry to relationships and things like that”.
So the Devilskin debut album, We Rise, went platinum and was number one in New Zealand. How daunting was it to write and record the follow up? What was the feeling within the band? Did you guys feel pressure to top your debut? “Well it could have been as daunting as we wanted it to be. How do you follow up something like that? We honestly didn’t think ‘well we have to follow up with a number one and work really hard towards that’. We just didn’t think about that side of it, we just went ahead writing the songs that we were writing and picking out the best songs that we had. It was more about making ourselves happy. Bt we were pretty happy and surprised when it (Be Like The River) debuted at number again last week. It’s all a bit surreal to be honest, but we are absolutely stoked. We didn’t actually sit down and intend to write radio songs, or a number one album or anything like that, it was all about just being more of us and writing exactly what we wanted to write. We called a lot more of the shots with the production on this album, made sure we got what we wanted with the songs and that we were happy with it”.
It shows, you (well I) can feel everything you’ve put into it, your passion comes out within the songs. “Cheers, that’s what it feels like to us, that’s why we do it. Honestly, it’s such a rush when other people get the songs, get the passion and feel the good vibes we’ve put up there. Especially from other parts of the world, it’s a pretty cool feeling. We are totally blown away to be where we are and get the attention that we are getting”.
It’s well-deserved from where I sit. So on from that, how good is it to be able to share all this with your son and your sister-in-law? “Amazing, I actually press ganged him (drummer Nic Martin) into the band when he was 15. Our original drummer had to have an operation and we had some gig booked so I went to Nic and said he had to help us out or he was grounded (laughs). He was shitting himself, had to get up there and you know at that stage he couldn’t even set up a drum kit. He has always had a bit of a natural talent for it but he was pretty green back then. Honestly though, only after a couple of shows with him, Jennie and Nail (lead guitarist) looked at me and said “Hell, we’re not going back to the old guy”. So we didn’t, but he just works his arse off, he works really, really hard. Honestly he’s pretty naturally gifted when it comes to most instruments. I couldn’t be prouder, playing on bass with him, I get goosebumps every night. I’ve given him a few different instruments over the year and he always manages to work it out and make them sound good. Things like a baritone ukulele, which I’d be muffling my way around it for a week and I couldn’t figure it out, he picked up and was playing it quickly. Jennie, now being my sister-in-law – fantastic, she’s the most outstanding vocalist I’ve ever worked with”.
She’s got a real presence about her, her vocals are so powerful, amazing. I likened her in the review I did to Amy Lee of Evanescence with the ability to growl like Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy. “Jennie can do whatever she wants with her voice, she’s incredible. She’s smashed everything she’d ever done before on this album but the coolest thing is she’s got this amazing gift for melody. We can be jamming a riff, making up something in the band room and I say Jennie, put something over this. So she’ll grab a blood Womans Weekly or something and start reading a recipe out of it. I’m going holy crap, whatever you’re doing just do that, it was amazing. Just the melody she comes up with, she’s always had the knack from the very first demo she did at 16. To be playing on stage with her is pretty special. A lot has got to be said for Nail too, he’s an incredible guitar player, works his arse off. All these guys do, I couldn’t be prouder of them”.
So yeah I get it, for me I listen to a wide range of music, some of it incredibly intricate – think bands like Trivium, Iron Maiden with their progressive work, Avenged Sevenfold. However I love what seems to be the simplicity of the songs for Devilskin, but yet they sound great and are quite catchy. What, in your opinion, makes the Devilskin music so accessible? “Again, it’s Jennie’s vocal melodies. The singer is always speaking a language thee audience can understand. To put everything as eloquently, beautifully, and as melodically as Jennie does is a big part of it. She’s just got it, whether it’s singing, growling, whatever, there’s something out of it that is just captivating. It’s really cool to see it from stage, Nail and I will be just looking out at the crowd and we know Jennie has got this big growl coming up and she lets it out and you just watch people’s jaws drop. She’s just special, magic”.
I think that and I also do like the little catchy riffs and fills you put in there. There’s something about that, for me, I really like something that gets my foot tapping, it catches me. Your beats and your rhythm section drives the songs beautifully. Though I must say one of my favourites on there is the bass driven Animal. “Yeah it’s a simple bass riff and a little bit of atmospherics around most of the song, but the emphasis is on Jennie’s dark vocal and the delivery is just so emotive and with a strings section. We had the opportunity to put a strings section on four of the songs, definitely had one on that and it adds all this grandeur, adds a real power to the song. I absolutely love that track, I love playing it live”.
So on that point, what songs are you most looking forward to playing live to the punters when you go out supporting the new album? “Limbs, because that’s the opposite, it’s got a lot of moving parts and is actually quite complex. I’m not going to say it’s our Pink Floyd moment but we’ll stick with ‘it’s our prog moment’. We’ve got a fast waltz and a prog moment on this album, on the last album we had a disco riff with the bass line. Yeah but Limbs, it’s a lot of fun to play live, it’s just really big and grand and epic and huge… Voices too, it seems to be getting quite a following. We are releasing it as a single and shot a video for it last Friday night when we played the Vector Arena, opening up for Disturbed. 12000 people, big stage, big production, it was a really cool night – Disturbed were off the hook”.
So it must be pretty cool to get that chance, I’ve read about the people you’ve opened up for, the people/bands you’ve interviewed. Obviously you’re more than just a player in this band, you’ve done quite a bit in the industry and you’re quite the skilled operator in the interview stakes yourself through the many years on The Axe Attack on The Rock FM. “Yeah I kind of fell into that, because I was playing in a heavy metal band and got interviewed on the radio. It was a student station and I got on with the DJ – though I certainly didn’t want to be a DJ as I thought they were all wankers (laughs all round) and lo and behold, 30 years later I’m still doing the same radio show. I think it’s a testament to the loyalty that comes with the music, your hard rock, your heavy metal fans, it’s more of a lifestyle rather than a fad. The people who loved AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin 30 years ago, still listen to it today. (I’m in total agreement with Paul here) It’s a metal community, I’ve always loved playing music and loved supporting other bands, the local bands here in NZ who just love playing music. It’s great to see that the scene is vibrant and healthy and you can be a part of it, it is awesome”.
Who was it that inspired you when you were starting out? What sort of influences did they bring to your style? “I grew up on bands like Uriah Heep and Black Sabbath, my sisters were playing it. There was a lot of rock ‘n roll in our household, Chuck Berry and stuff. I listened to a lot of music and loved any sort of music. From the age 5 I always wanted to play trumpet, got one of those when I was a teenager, got reasonably good at it and then chucked it in for a bass guitar and switched to lead guitar. I then listened to stuff like Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Black Sabbath of course, Michael Schenker, UFO, Judas Priest, all the old school stuff had a lot of inspiration for me. I love Jimi Hendrix, Bernie Torme from the Ian Gillan Band, Rory Gallagher, Allman Brothers. It’s not just the metal stuff but I guess metal has always held a big passion for me and I played this stuff really badly in cover bands as I was growing up but I guess you refine your sound and your style but you still stay true with your original music that inspired you. Though I am now continually inspired, there are new bands coming out every day, so many genres, different styles, you just can’t help be inspired every day”.
So you are obviously talented across the stringed instruments, swapping to bass guitar for Devilskin, but you were also known for your lead guitar work (as well as vocals) for World War Four (WW4). What is your preference to play? “I actually still do play for World War Four and we have a gig this Friday in a small pub. But I don’t know, I love playing lead and love the power that comes from bass. I can’t decide, lead is fun but bass guitar is a weapon… I don’t claim to be too flash in either but I really enjoy it. I love aggressive bass and I love aggressive guitar, anything I can sit down and play loud in a room I’m stoked with”.
So you are supporting Halestorm in January in Australia, what can us Aussies expect when we come and see you? “We’ll have a pretty good rapport with Halestorm by that time cause we’re doing about 7 gigs over here before and they seem like really sweet people. They chose us, so we’re stoked. I think a vocalist like Lizzy Hale and a vocal like Jennie on the same night will just be a major treat for the people who come along. Two absolute powerhouses”.
Hoping I can get up there from Canberra, it’s about 3 hours away. I’ve just got to talk my boss into letting me go early. “Tell him you’ve got to go to your rock ‘n roll night job!”
Finally, something out of left field, if you were organising a dinner where you could invite 5 people who you’ve always wanted to meet (dead or alive) who would be there and why? “Oh man… that’s tough. I want to enjoy my dinner so it wouldn’t be politicians or anyone like that. For a talking point I’d go for Aleister Crowley, and I’d sit him between Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page (one from the bucket list). Randy Rhoads, Dimebag… and Phil Lynott, and Bon Scott“.
There’s just too many isn’t there? “I’d like to get all these old rockers around and you know, Aleister Crowley would be a hoot at the party. How about you Paul?”
I am able to get the first three out in quickfire and then I am stuck. Talk about turning the tables on me… I am finding it extremely difficult, and say I should have been better prepared. But I finally get them out with a few stories to add. For a first interview, Paul makes it very easy for me as he is a great person to chat with, affable and just down to earth. Anyway I thank Paul for taking the time out to chat with me and I tell him I really hope to catch Devilskin live in Sydney. Paul says it was his pleasure, and was really glad to know I enjoyed the album.
Devilskin, new album, Be Like The River is out now. They will be appearing live, supporting Halestorm in January. You can catch them at the following venues:
Tuesday 10 January – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Wednesday 11 January – Factory Theatre, Sydney
Thursday 12 January – Triffid, Brisbane