We chat to Mike Skinner about the return of The Streets, losing his tour bus in Dublin & more
It's been a while since we've heard from Mike Skinner.
At least, it's been a while since we've heard new music under his The Streets banner. With his era-defining debut album 'Original Pirate Material' celebrating its 18th (!) birthday this year, the Brummie musician is on the comeback trail with a new mixtape – almost a decade after retiring The Streets.
We caught up with him recently to chat about 'None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive', turning older, his forthcoming film, and that time he partied so hard that he lost his tour bus in Dublin.
Alright, Mike – where are you and how are you?
I'm in London, and I'm good. Gregg's is opening on Thursday, so there's always that.
Was it daunting to return to The Streets name, after officially retiring it almost a decade ago?
I think psychologically, it's a sort of 'fake it til you make it' thing. You have to do things in a way where you aren't scared, because when you're making music, if you're feeling scared, you can hear it. Do I still feel like that? Oh yeah, you feel it way more the longer you've been doing it. The longer that you make music, the more you overthink it, definitely.
Your new mixtape 'None of Us Are Getting out of This Life Alive' is the first Streets record since 2011 – but you've been keeping busy since then with DJing, touring and writing a film...
I did the first Streets song about two years ago, it was a song called 'Burn Bridges'. I tried to avoid that pressure or over-thinking it, and the way that I did that was by doing another thing for a while, called The Darker the Shadow, the Brighter the Light - which were kind of demos, really; I was just sort of getting a feel for it. Then I did Streets songs with collaborators. Meanwhile, I think it's important to say that I already made a Streets album before I made the mixtape, because the film that we're trying to make is a musical. It's a Streets album with a film. So this is actually my second album that I've made since I've been doing The Streets again. So I stopped thinking about it, really, and I think that's a good thing – because I'm back to just doing it, rather than it all feeling new. So this is actually my second album since I've started again.
Did the process of writing the film influence the kind of music that you're making now?
I've said this before, but the reason I stopped doing The Streets was to make a film, and the reason I started doing The Streets again was to make a film. So that sums it up as best as anything (laughs). And I started to really make stuff that sounded good in a nightclub. I think when you DJ a lot, you internalise how simple it has to be. When you're sat in a studio and you're working on a song, it gradually becomes... you become desensitised to your own song, so the tendency is to add more, add more, add more, because it keeps you entertained in the studio. But when you're playing stuff in a nightclub, the more you've added the worse it gets, without question. So you start to really, really internalise this emotion that adding more is almost always a bad idea. And I think that's inspired the mixtape, more than anything.
You've written it, you'll direct it - what else can you tell us about it?
It's called 'The Darker the Shadow, the Brighter the Light', and it's about a DJ, played by me. We went through the traditional channels last year and did rounds of trying to get funding, and had lots of meetings and all of that, asking people for money. Got a script editor on board, which was amazing at helping me make the story as good as it can be – and then had a bit of a revelation at the end of the year when I realised we actually needed to do it in a different way because of the situation that I'm in. Also, the film industry doesn't really care about me – so you're pitching something to people who just aren't really naturally interested; you're just someone who hasn't directed a film before, the same as every other director who hasn't directed 90 minutes, anyway. So we're in a good place; we went back to the music industry and we've got it funded now and I'm just waiting for lockdown to end so I can shoot it. But hopefully we'll shoot it all this year. We're not gonna do a 4-week thing like most films, because that doesn't really play to our strengths - we don't have a problem with actors in the same way that most films do. So I'm gonna do it in bits, rather than one big 4-week shoot.
You've collaborated with some interesting people on this mixtape – some of whom are more unexpected that others, like Tame Impala and IDLES.
Tame Impala, we met last summer on our festival run. What tends to happen when you do festivals is you tend to bump into the same bands over and over again, because when a band is out for the summer, you tend to end up at the same festivals. So we did a lot of shows last year with Tame Impala – Germany, Australia, all over the place. So that was definitely just via festivals and dressing rooms. IDLES was they'd basically said that they liked me and I liked them, so I got in contact. But then people like Ms. Banks – she's just in a lot of nightclubs that I'm in, so we came across each other in Malta, at Annie Mac's thing... you just tend to see people. And Oscar #Worldpeace is a really good friend of mine, we did a club night together called Tonga.
One of the first Streets gigs was at Dublin's Ambassador Theatre in 2002 – tell us what you remember about that.
Just before the Ambassador, we had two shows in Japan, because we thought that – having never done a show before – we wanted to make sure that we could do it. And the shows in Japan were an absolute joke. The first one was in Osaka, that was the first ever Streets show – and we definitely ironed out a lot of creases. It was basically a rehearsal. Then we came straight back and did the Ambassador. I actually lived with a guy from Dublin at the time, and we forgot a load of stuff that I'd left in my house. He actually went and got it and flew over to Dublin with it. And then the next night was in Belfast, and I missed the bus. I ended up at this party, and this was obviously before iPhones – and basically, the tour bus had no idea where I was, so they just went to Belfast without me. I remember I met someone who had been to the show the night before, and they got me a train ticket to Belfast and I made it to Belfast on my own. I've never ever lost a tour bus in my whole career, apart from on the very first night in Dublin.
So much of your early material was about finding your place in the world as a twentysomething. You turned 40 last year – was that a big deal for you?
No, not really. I actually probably think that the last ten years have been quite tough, really. I've had to do a lot of growing up. DJing, despite what you see on Instagram, is very humbling – because you don't know what you're gonna get. And you really just have to try and work out how to entertain people. It's very humbling. Honestly, if you go on a DJ's Instagram, all you see are the biggest shows they did last summer, which is usually a massive festival. But day-to-day, it's wildly different – everything from clubs where it's the week before payday and no one goes out because no one's got any money. Doing The Streets, where people buy the tickets six months in advance, every night is quite similar; it's the same size venue and hopefully it's busy. But I've DJed in front of like, two people quite a few times. And I've DJed in front of ten thousand people. It's very humbling and you appreciate it when it goes well, and you chalk it up when it doesn't. So to answer your question... I actually feel better than I did when I was thirty.
'None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive' is out now.