"I was always drawn to drumming."
As we all know, a drummer’s most important job, aside from keeping time, is to get the listener moving.
Often, the greatest technicians on the kit can leave you feeling, well, a little cold when it comes to getting on the good foot and doing the bad thing.
On the other hand, it’s quite something when a drummer can mix chops with groove and enough power to get a festival crowd moshing in unison all the way back to the burger stands. Arya Goggin is one of those drummers.
If you don’t know the name, you’ll almost certainly have heard of and quite probably enjoyed the spectacle of his band, Skindred. Over the last decade the South Wales outfit have risen steadily up the bill of every kind of festival imaginable.
Mixing metal riffs, danceable grooves, reggae toasting and punk attitude, Skindred are everybody’s favourite festival band.
Their awesome mix of styles, frontman Benji Webbe’s undeniable charisma and the kind of huge hooks that translate to crowds of every size, means that the band fit right in at every kind of music festival and have impressed the crowds of Reading, Glastonbury, Download, Bloodstock and more over the years.
They’re a feel-good band in the very best sense, and powering that from the drum throne, it’s Arya’s groove and feel, coupled with a butt-shakingly good drum sound, that help make them such a great live band.
On record, they’re fantastic too, of course. Albums like 2007’s Roots, Rock, Riot, this decade’s Union Black and Kill The Power, and most recent album Volume are packed full of hugely hooky and moshable songs; tunes that translate perfectly to live shows, crowd-pleasers seemingly crafted to perfection by Arya, Benji, guitarist Mikey Demus and bassist Dan Pugsley.
However, as we’ve given over much of this issue to the topic of live performance, as we sit down with Arya in the band’s Bristol rehearsal studio, it’s the drummer’s ability to really put on a show behind the kit that we wanted to ask about. I
ndeed, who better than beat-master to one of the world’s best live bands to help you take your drumming performance to the next level?
How did you first come to the drums?
“For some reason I was always drawn to it. Queen’s We Will Rock You, that primal thing - it was just a stomp and a hand clap, I was probably five or six, just an excitable kid, begging my parents for some sort of drum.
"I remember when I was about three they gave me a toy drum kit with paper skins, so I had the bug early. Then it became more about the music and the bands. I listened to Guns N’ Roses’ Paradise City, same thing really - these big intros with very little going on but the drums; just begging my parents to have drum lessons at the school.
"They were like, ‘Right, if you do the lessons for a year we’ll buy you a kit,’ and I was like, ‘Easy deal!’ I had a drum teacher called Steve Crossing, and he was just great, he was a music freak, similar to how I am now, he was into Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and Queen, and he was just like, ‘Right, today we’re going to play along.’ And I was, ‘Right, I’ve got the bug now!’ Similar to all of us - if you’re reading this you’ve got the bug, right?”
How did you first hook up with Skindred?
“I was touring in a band from when I was 16, nationally. We started out in Devon, and I was going round supporting American bands on tour who’d come over and do Ozzfest and things like that and we would be the domestic support band. And we were just starting to climb up and do it properly.
"We were still unsigned but we were getting coverage in the press, then I auditioned for Skindred when I was 21, in 2001. I was a fan of Dub War, Benji’s band before, and we shared management with Skindred. My band had actually supported them, so it was an easy fit.
"So I went for the audition for them and 15 or 16 years later - still there. I’m a band guy and it’s always been about playing with others. Sessions and all that came later.”
How do you approach writing with the band?
“With Skindred it’s never, ‘Oh, my god, we’re massive… now we’re not… we’re massive… we’re not…’ It’s never been a rollercoaster like that, it’s been a gradual climb and it’s still climbing, which is really cool.
"So there’s been no winning formula that you have to try and repeat, like we’ve got to go back to album two where we had a hit, we don’t have to do that. The room we’re in now is where we’ve written the last three records.
"What usually happens is I’ll come in with a concept of a song I want to try and do, Mike will come in with a riff, or it will be a lyric… it’s rare that full songs are brought to the table but I think we’re trying to readdress that for the next album.
"We’re all getting a bit older now and people want to do certain things; if you’ve got a full song, bring it in and we’ll try and facilitate it. But it doesn’t become a full Skindred song until all four of us have a fight about it!”
Do you all have fairly similar tastes in music?
“There’s a massive amount of diversity. We all meet in the middle with certain things. Dan the bass player, he’s the reggae head, if I wanted to know about reggae I’d go to him. He also knows a lot about electronic music.
"He obviously loves rock as well, but I’d say he knows a lot more about those other kinds of music than I do. Mike is similar to me, but he’s very blues orientated, he loves Jimmy Page and Hendrix, he’s a classic rock kind of guy. Benji’s all over the place. His story is a good story - he was a punk rasta when the Specials were coming up, then there’s the Pantera stuff; he’s just really mixed up!
"Which is great, and that’s what makes us unique. And for me it’s trying to harness those individual tastes; if someone wanted to do a drum’n’bass tune and the other wanted to do Pantera, how do you meet in the middle?”
Keeping it authentic
Mixing rock and reggae can go very wrong… even Led Zep went a bit ‘cod’ reggae with D’yer Maker? But it feels like Skindred have more in common with The Clash and The Ruts in the way you approach the genres.
“Yes, 100 per cent, that’s exactly how we feel, to be honest. I don’t want to dis bands but there was this whole American movement that mixed rock and reggae; a lot of those ’90s bands that used the reggae influence, and we were put into that category in the States, and we’re not about that.
"It was more like you say about The Ruts and The Clash and the Specials with the attitude; I think Rancid actually do a really wicked job of that because it’s believable. With reggae and punk it’s an attitude, an ethos and it’s believability isn’t it? You can smell a fake!
“Our album was Number One in the reggae chart in America for 18 weeks, but that doesn’t mean, ‘Oh, wow, that’s our market now, we’re going to cater to that.’ That was a fluke, a weird thing that happened.
"Our bread and butter, where we stand, our fans are mainly rock and metal and I think there’s a sound, an attitude, a punk thing that goes with that.”
You have a massive metal following, although you’re not really metal in the obvious way.
“We started off in that pocket, and I think we’re very lucky we did. Rock fans, metal fans, are very loyal. They’re not flash in the pan, and that’s why we’re still going 16 years down the road.
"It’s not because of the random thing you’ve done in the heat of the moment, that is the popular thing. We’ve toured with some serious metal bands… it helps having Benji as a frontman to be fair, he’s keeping it together out there and live is where we sit, and I think you can be entertained by us, and rock and metal fans want to be entertained.”
You never use double-pedal do you?
“I’ve used it twice. It’s not for me. We headlined the festival Boomtown recently, I think the headliners were the Specials, us, Cypress Hill; all the other acts were DJs, hip-hop, there was nothing rock about it.
"The next day we go to Bloodstock and it was us, Megadeth, Annihilator.… And I was standing out front watching Arch Enemy who went on just after us, a ripping metal band, f**king great, but to me, when you use double kick outdoors at a festival, it doesn’t have the power of those single kicks - you want to feel it but you can’t because of the speed.
"So when Skindred started it was a conscious thing to do that, to go, ‘Okay I can make a kick drum feel huge out front if I just play less. And I remember seeing the Def Leppard guys talk about Hysteria, and they were saying all our drum fills go ‘dah-dum-dum-dah-dah-dum’ because that sounds massive in an arena!”
You have a great drum sound, live and on record
“Consistency is about everything in drumming isn’t it? You want things to be consistent; your playing, your right foot, your hands, the sound… I was lucky I got with Tama straight at the beginning of my drum career, so they were always very forthcoming with letting me try things, so when we’d go and record, it was here’s as much gear as you can shake a stick at, and you’d go through everything, and each record you approach it differently.
"Kill The Power, for example, I was like, ‘Right I’m going to use my touring kit, I want that sound, but just a bigger version of that. So a massive drum room, trying to replicate those old ’70s sounds but don’t use any triggers, I wanted it to be pushing that envelope between triggers and acoustic drums.
"Then the last record I went in the completely opposite direction, I phoned up the London Drum Company and hired a load of Ludwig vintage gear. I decided I wanted to go completely that way and see how that feels because I’ve never done that before.
"I’ve used snares, but using old kick drums and Vistalite stuff, just having the opportunity to play around with things… miking I leave to the pros, the engineers, the producers; room choices we have a say in where we record the drums, sometimes we record in a different studio, the drums will go somewhere else.”
How much rehearsal goes into preparing for Skindred’s live performances?
“We’re really well rehearsed… though someone isn’t [laughs]! Benji will come to a rehearsal and we’ll be like, ‘Right we’ve got this thing and we’re all going to do it, and we’re gonna do this, and you’re gonna do that…’ and you get to the first gig - out the window!
"He’s just a loose cannon doing what he wants to do, and that’s part of the beauty of it! The three of us are trying to hold it down. We started playing the whole thing to a click, probably about seven years ago, the whole show is on a click now, we use triggers and all these kinds of things.
"I’ve got pads trying to do all that side of things, and now the pressure’s all on me! Being well rehearsed is one thing, but there has to be that danger element of I don’t know what he’s going to do! So I’ve got to keep my eye on him!”
How do you prepare for the big shows?
“It’s different now. It used to be boozy, to be fair. Because I think there’d be a certain amount of nerves, so it used to be boozy. It’d be three or four beers, getting food, getting a bit hyped up.
"We have a playlist that we’ve had the last six or seven years, the same things, that don’t change wherever we are in the world. To start with, Welcome To The Jungle, followed by Blitzkrieg Bop into Thunderstruck. And that’s been the same, so if you’re in the crowd it hypes them up, and you know it’s coming, you get The Boys Are Back In Town, the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage and we hear that and feel that backstage and so it’s started becoming a bit of a party.
"Everyone’s having a drink going, ‘Woooahh, this is great, yeah!’ And it’s like, right you’re on, and suddenly you’re a bit slower, I’d find I was a bit slower, so I’d get on and I’d try and hide myself in the click, in the hope that the click would anchor me, so you’d start using it as a crutch.
"These days I’ve just been stretching and water. I think when you’re getting a bit older, muscles tire, and I want to be able to play longer and harder and not run out of steam. So there’s plenty of time to have a drink and all that sort of business afterwards, but the more water you drink the better. Hydration, you don’t want lactic acid pumping up.
"I use finger tape for my fingers, every finger apart from my little finger and my thumb, do some stretches, a bit of pad work. Nothing too intense, just loosen up really, listen to music. I will always go out front as well and watch the support band front of house because I want to get hyped up. And luckily as a drummer you get to do that because no one recognises you!”
Arya's Tama/Zildjian rig
Are you conscious when writing songs now of what will get a big crowd moving, like do you have a road-map that you follow to create the perfect, big-sounding Skindred anthem?
“I don’t know if the band would disagree on this but I certainly know when we’re writing what are going to be the biggies. I just have a feeling, there’s a certain pulse or a groove, like you know you can play that at a festival, you know that’s going to get a reaction. So when you go to the studio, it puts more pressure on Benji I think, it puts more pressure on him to come up with something because it’s about his delivery - we’re support artists in that we know our roles. It lives or dies by him, really, because we can have the best bit, like, ‘This is going to be great!’ but if he doesn’t deliver that special sauce, it’s going to fail. So there’s a lot of pressure on him and I know he feels it because the more albums you do the harder it is. I start shying away from the ragga type beat, we were doing that a lot, so how can I make that more interesting? How can I change that so it doesn’t sound pedestrian to me anymore? Like you say, this is the roadmap, and so on the last record, Sound The Siren we turned that around so the verses was just the snare beat, no kicks…”
Sound The Siren has got that Roger Taylor-style, simple but effective clap-along quality…
“Exactly, yeah, you see the crowd dancing and you’ve done your job! If they’re not dancing or nodding their heads and you’re struggling for this part that you think’s the best… there are so many times I’ve written these parts and I’m like, ‘Yes! I’m going to be in Rhythm, they’re going to love this one, this is it, this is it!’ And the producer’s like, ‘What are you doing? Your job is to do [mimics simple We Will Rock You beat] for this…’ So it’s finding these interesting ways of really serving the song and keeping yourself happy. The conversation started with, how do you prepare for these bigger shows? I guess trying to do something that’s tangible to someone who just likes music who isn’t a drummer or bassist or guitarist - they just want to hear something that they enjoy.”
What do you think is the key to the band being such a strong unit for so long?
“I think the fact that the band is still rising, it’s getting bigger each year and you’re ticking off these different things, every time we do Download festival we’re higher up the bill, every time we do Reading festival we’re higher up the bill. You go to Japan and you’re playing bigger venues. There was never this spike, a single never went massive, Skindred were never the biggest band in the world. We want to be, we want to get there, we want to play bigger shows, we want to write better music - and I think because we haven’t done that yet there’s that driving force of that we want to just keep evolving and pushing and seeing where we can take this really weird band! The other thing is that everything’s equal in Skindred, the songwriting is equal, the publishing is equal, the T-shirt money, it’s a partnership and it always will continue to be that way. There’s no, ‘I write the songs, you play what I say, and I take all the money.’ I never wanted to be in something like that. Especially if you’re playing drums. It’s like you’re a kid and you’re playing drums and you’re like, ‘I should learn guitar because that means I get songwriting credits…’ These things, I think that breaks bands up. So I think we’re lucky that there’s that holding us together too.”
Do you still have those ‘pinch me’ moments when you’re looking out over the massive crowds you’re playing to now?
“For a minute, I don’t want to say ‘big in America’, but we sold well in America compared to what we were doing over here. We sold 400,000 records and were playing big shows in America, over here we were playing the Barfly. It was just this juxtaposition, we were doing the Conan O’Brien show in America, and touring with all these bands, and we came back for Christmas, let’s do a Christmas tour in the UK. Okay, so we’re doing the Cavern in Exeter, the Barfly… those moments are ‘pinch me’ moments, not because you’re doing massive things in America, it’s because you come back here and it puts it into perspective! Last year we headlined this festival called Polish Woodstock and it was 750,000 people and you cannot see for people and we were the last band on our stage, and it was incredible. And I think last year we played Wembley twice and Brixton in the space of nine months, and I think you have to have these moments to sort of keep yourself grounded as well, recognise what’s going on around you. It’s not just because of you. There are these people out there buying records or buying your merch - I think that’s another reason we’re still going as well, there’s a respect for our fanbase, for the audience that come to the shows.”