Skindred’s Mikey Demus: these are the 10 guitarists who blew my mind
When your album’s called Big Tings and the cover depicts a cat in shades and a leather jacket, you’d better damn well deliver - fortunately, Welsh ragga-metal pioneers Skindred are among the most reliable names in heavy music.
Big Tings is rammed with the kind of big-riff swagger that’s sure to get crowds moving come festival season - or, indeed, on the band’s imminent UK tour.
As guitarist and songwriting lynchpin Mikey Demus points out, “We've thrown away the rulebook and pushed ourselves harder than ever to create the biggest, baddest, and most banging songs we could muster.”
Given his penchant for extreme genre-mashing, we were intrigued to see who made the cut on Mikey’s list of key influences - and it sure makes for fascinating reading…
Big Tings is out on 27 April via Napalm Records. Skindred tour the UK this month:
Thurs 19 Norwich, UEA
Fri 20 Southampton, O2 Guildhall
Sat 21 Nottingham, Rock City
Sun 22 Manchester, Academy
Tue 24 Glasgow, O2 ABC
Wed 25 Bristol, O2 Academy
Fri 27 Leeds, O2 Academy
Sat 28 London, O2 Academy, Brixton
Sun 29 Birmingham, O2 Institute
1. Jimi Hendrix
“It all has to start with the number one, really. I mean, who isn’t into Hendrix? This guy became my God when I was about 10 years old. I happened upon the Woodstock film, which culminates in probably the most iconic Hendrix performance - after that, I was hooked.
“I started up with tab and listening to his records to try and get into what he was doing. It never sounded right, obviously, and even today, the things I do musically might not scream out how important Hendrix is to me, but it’s in there. I just gave up trying to do anything like that. It’s kind of sacred to me, so I don’t touch it!
“No-one since has plugged a Strat into a Marshall stack and made sounds or vibes like that, period. There’s just something otherworldly about him, like he’s from another planet or time. People still haven’t caught up with what that guy was capable of playing or doing musically - it still amazes me to this day how special he was.”
2. Keith Richards
“Where would I be without Keef? No-one’s taught me more about strut, swagger and playing for the song.
“His guitars were always the coolest-looking; he just had this iceman thing onstage, which I loved. There’s a period in the ’70s, I think, when every time you see him onstage he’s out of his mind on who-knows-what - but he looks like he wants to fuck the world up with that guitar.
“And then there’s THAT Telecaster. I think Micawber might be my favourite-looking Tele of all time. Keith taught me about open tunings, less is more and just pure attitude towards your stagecraft. And I love his singing voice, too.”
3. Marty McFly
“So, my next guy really ought to be Chuck Berry; I got to him by way of Back To The Future. Just something about the way Marty McFly (aka Michael J Fox) got up on that stage, rocked the arse off of that ES-345 and kicked Marvin Berry’s amp over - I was in! I thought it was badass and I wanted to do that.
“My dad got me onto Chuck Berry - I was determined to be able to play Johnny B Goode, Carol, all those signature intros. I think my favourite song start of all time is still Maybelline - the guitar is so out-of-tune, but it just doesn’t matter. It was one of those licks I practised and practised. Again, I never truly nailed it but it was a gateway drug for me to go onto other things.
“I grew up surrounded by rock ’n’ roll, punk rock, The Beatles, The Stones and so on - I fell in love with songs as much as guitars, and then growing up in the ’90s I was exposed to so much amazing alternative and guitar music - it was such a great time for inspiration.”
4. Kurt Cobain
“...Which sort of leads me to my next one. Being around in the ’90s when bands like Nirvana exploded was pretty important. I kind of missed the boat on a lot of ’80s and ’90s rock; I think I was just a year or two too young.
“For me and my buddies, the grunge thing kind of spoke volumes, and this guy being a lefty was a big jigsaw piece to me. I couldn’t play like Hendrix despite all my best intentions, but here was a guy throwing everything he had into a left-handed guitar, and I could get behind it. I learned barre chords by watching his hands, that sort of thing.
“I guess the whole attitude of his approach resonated for me: it made it okay to be a bit shitty, it made it okay to hit the thing hard. That approach unlocked a lot for me with guitars later on. I got better, but I never gave myself a hard time for not being perfect - so much of the music that moved me and other people still had the hair on, and was a little rough around the edges, and that was okay.
“It had a darkness that I could identify with. I remember hearing my dad say how terrible a particular Nirvana song was, which sort of spurred me on. You get to an age where, if your parents aren’t into it, chances are you’re on the right path, right? There were so many great players from that time that I loved: Chris Cornell, Dean DeLeo, guys like that. We were really spoilt in the ’90s. And I never knew it at the time.”
5. Tom Morello
“In an era where everything had sort of been done already, this guy stood out to me like a sore thumb of pure genius. The things he was doing with a guitar completely slapped me upside the head and made me rethink everything I knew about playing the guitar.
“The riffs, the solos, the approach and even the message struck a chord for me when I first heard RATM - I don’t think a band has been angrier, heavier, funkier or more creative. From the get-go, this was my music: it spoke to me in a way that nothing had done before.
“It was probably what got me into the idea of a ‘riff’ making the song, and the importance of the riff. Riffs could be your calling card, your secret weapon. I also think that RATM was my gateway into drop D and detuning, so they have a lot to answer for!”
6. Tony Iommi
“Another lefty that really inspired me. As much as his playing and riffing, I was taken aback by Tony’s story about the loss of his fingertips. Stuff like that makes you think, ‘I have no excuse - if this guy can do it, so can I.’ I’m fortunate to still have all my digits intact, but I can’t say I’ve ever laid down anything as humongous as a Black Sabbath riff.
“Learning about his discovery of Django Reinhardt was another eye-opener for me, and more ammunition for putting your heart and soul into playing no matter what. He’s an inspiring player and the godfather of the riff - I can’t thank him enough!”
7. Dimebag Darrell
“I was late to the party with Pantera - I kind of tapped into them after joining Skindred. Again, I’d never really been about shredding or would have even thought of myself as a metaller, but these guys were heavy and groovy on another level.
“I also loved how Dimebag turned soloing on its head, made things atonal and yet totally melodic. All that Floyd Rose stuff and the Whammy pedal cried out to me, too - I’ve never really been about subtlety with effects or noises; they have to be weird and in-your-face. Dime was the king of all that stuff and the emperor of savage riffs.
“I still play Pantera riffs in most soundchecks... I just can’t do the solos justice! I had the honour of meeting him a couple of times in the US; all the stories about how much of a rad guy he was were all completely true. He was generous with his time and spirit - he gave so much to the masses and individuals in the moment. He taught me a lot about how to be, how to act and how to enjoy what you do.”
8. Josh Homme / Troy Van Leeuwen
“So this is obviously two guys, which is sort of cheating, but I have to mention them both. For me, Josh brings unorthodoxy to music in the coolest way. His approach to playing, gear, tone and songcraft, leaves a lot of people (myself included) scratching their head but loving every minute.
“I’m a big QOTSA fan, and what I love most about them is the wide pool of influence they draw from. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts. As for Troy Van Leeuwen, he’s just a badass, hands down. I love the flavour he brings to the band; without him it just isn’t the same. And he’s possibly the most sharply dressed man in the business.”
9. Jared James Nichols
“I follow a lot of guitar-related profiles on Instagram, and one person that is constantly blowing my mind is Jared. If I could just borrow someone’s feel and touch for bluesy leads, it would be this guy’s. His chops are so freaking tasty it kind of kills me - and he doesn’t use a pick!
“He’s got searing, killer tone and his playing is so tasteful, every bend is perfect, he’s got gobs of soul and vibe. I can’t get enough of the way he plays - I would love to meet him someday and just soak it up. I feel like I could just watch him play all day.”
10. Cory Wong
“I discovered Cory’s band Vulfpeck online and have been a big fan ever since. They’re all brilliant players, but what this guy’s right hand can’t do isn’t worth talking about.
“The way Cory hits that Strat is mind-blowing - his hand is like rubber, his arpeggios and rhythm are just so liquid.
“I’ve never been a massive speed freak with playing, but watching this band do their thing is a lesson in forward thinking of improvisation and feel. They’re so fast and fluid. It’s like they’re reading each others’ minds. They’re another group that are so good it sort of makes you want to pack up your gear and go home!”