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Interview: Skindred drummer Arya Goggin
Skindred might just be the ultimate party band. With the driving riffs and beats of nu-metal powering the band's sing-along choruses and ragga toasting of frontman Benji Webbe, anyone who's witnessed their live shows can attest to the fact that if ever a band can whip up a crowd to a frenzy of joyous moshing, it's the Newport-based foursome.
Behind it all is the cultured playing of 'Dirty' Arya Goggin; the man fusing the good-time grooves together with a mix of brute-force metal crashing and cleverly-worked ska-reggae parts.
- Check out Arya Goggin's drum setup -
"We want to be a festival band," he announces. "I think it's the goal of the band that you can play Reading and you can play Download and still make a connection with reggae fans, rock fans, dance fans, whatever. I don't know if we've hit the nail on the head but we're one step closer with each record."
Skindred's latest, Union Black, is their fourth album to date in a decade-long career that has brought them some stateside success (their debut album topped the US Billboard Reggae chart) and a legion of fans who love their unique mix of socially-conscious lyrics, dub feel, metal shredding and hardcore fury.
Union Black has all that and more, with Arya's beats incorporating everything from straight-up hard rock to dubstep. Meanwhile the album has the nu-metal endorsement of Papa Roach's Jacoby Shaddix lending vocals to lead track 'Warning'.
For Arya (he was given the nickname 'Dirty Arya' by Benji, after Jamaican sax player Richard 'Dirty Harry' Hall, by the way), it all started when he heard appetite For Destruction…
"The intro to 'Paradise City' was what got me going," he recalls, "and I decided to learn drums. I was about eight at the time and my parents wouldn't let me. So I had to fight with them for a few years and they got me drum lessons and said if I stuck at it for a year they'd get me a kit.
"So I stuck at it and they got me a kit a on sale-and-return basis hoping I'd pack it in!"
His Premier Olympic retained, Arya set about learning his craft. "I had lessons for the first three or four years from a guy in Exeter, where I'm from. He was really good and always told me I'd go back to him in three or four years and do all the rudiments I didn't bother doing…
"I just moved back to Exeter so I'm going to see him pretty soon! I'm going to work on double kick drum. Not for speed metal stuff or thrash but I think it opens up your playing if you're versatile enough to do that. I think it sounds great with fills, mainly.
"And obviously brushing up on my rudiments would be a good thing, just for getting round the kit. I'm getting older now so I don't want to be thrashing away forever!"
They don't like reggae, They love it
Many bands have tried incorporating reggae beats into their style, to varying degrees of success. Skindred's take on it is both effective and unique.
"The rock side of things is what sets us apart from other bands that integrate reggae into their music," says Arya. "You look at 311 - I love their drummer, Chad Sexton, but I think the sound has always been a bit weaker because the reggae side is the more dominant.
"With us the rock is more dominant but it's the parts that we play that give the reggae sound rather than the gear. When we're doing something really rocking I want it to sound as punishing and loud as possible - and if I was using smaller drums and cymbals it wouldn't come across that way."
Perhaps not surprisingly, one of Arya's biggest influences is an accepted master of playing reggae beats in rock. "I get my influence from Stewart Copeland, who's really effortless," he says. "I don't do that sort of style but it's pretty similar to a Skindred thing, you've got the reggae verses and the rocking choruses.
"I'd never compare myself to Stewart Copeland but that's the kind of thing we do - chill out for the verse then bring it up for the chorus.
"I think of myself as a band drummer guy, nothing more, nothing less," he adds. "I could probably sit in with a reggae band and get away with it, but I guess my natural style - where I sit - is a little bit of everything. I'm not saying I'm a master of any of it, but I could probably get away with it. I'm not selling myself well here, am I?"
While Arya's is a fairly standard heavy rock set-up, a 10x5-inch Tama Artwood 'Popcorn' side snare gives him another option when it comes to some of Skindred's more interesting rhythmic patterns.
"I don't necessarily use it for the reggae stuff, it's more for the drum'n'bass. I always get compliments on it. And on the new record we started doing a dubstep sort of thing which is really fun to play."
Going for it in the studio
On record Skindred's output has often been a little less well-received than their live shows. The band have sought to address this with Union Black by, as Arya puts it, "throwing the kitchen sink at it".
"On the new album we really wanted to have that live excitement. It's funny, I've read the reviews of the new album and they all say, 'We can't wait to hear these songs live,' so whatever we do, they always want to hear it live anyway.
"I spent a lot of time doing overdubs. Just to beef everything up and give it a bit more excitement. Like there's percussion in there. I was having a great time as a drummer.
"When we started out we'd think about what we were going to do live and it would limit what we'd do in the studio. This album we just thought f**k it, do everything then think about how we do it live.
"I spent a lot of time doing overdubs. Just to beef everything up and give it a bit more excitement. I was having a great time as a drummer"
"Everyone had in the back of their brain, 'How are we going to do this live?' But no one said anything. then we had to get a session guy in the band to run things like Ableton where he'd be able to trigger off samples, he'd play all the synth stuff but he'd have drum loops and breaks in a Launchpad and be playing along, but it's all quantised so it's very hard to go out of time with it. He was playing it all live so he was able to jam with me because we were both to a click."
When it comes to Skindred's energetic live performances, Arya has a couple of things that help him prepare for those intense workouts.
"I drink loads of water throughout the day to stop me cramping up, then I have a pint before I go on. On the last tour my tour manager was acting as my drum tech and he started bringing me a pint of cider midway through the set as a little reward.
"I do get a bit excited and antsy beforehand, I can't sit still so I just try and stretch it out. On the Rob Zombie tour we had a yoga instructor which was nice because my back's getting really f**ked up. And I just started stretching it out and I felt so much better."
Skindred have been plugging away for a decade, and it finally feels like they might be about to hit the big time. Arya admits the band has staying power.
"Keeping at it is the main thing," he says. "Just having that tenacity. I don't know why people are moving to us now; I think it's just that we won't go away! [Laughs] If people are coming to the shows you can't really argue with that.
"And we're doing the biggest shows in this country that we've ever done. My advice is to get out there and play as much live as possible, and believe in it."