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DOWNLOAD: Hello Skinny Mixtape
The Quietus , July 26th, 2012 04:44

Free download Smash + Grab, a free mix tape/mini-album by Matthew Herbert/Mulatu Astatke drummer Tom Skinner

Hello Skinny is a new solo project by Tom Skinner, a London-based drummer with quite the CV - he plays with Matthew Herbert, Mulatu Astatke, Eska, Sons of Kemet and Owiny Sigoma Band. He's signed to Slowfoot Records for the release of his debut solo album this October, and has a track due for release on the next Bubblers compilation on Gilles Peterson's Brownswood label.

In advance of both, he's put together a free mixtape (though to be fair, it's closer to a mini-album or EP, considering that it consists entirely of his own unreleased material), entitled Smash + Grab, which you can listen to and download below.

The EP features a wide roster of collaborators, including London-based saxophonist and clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings, with whom Skinner has played in bands for quite some time (including great jazz group Zed-U). It's got a collage-ish thing going on, working live instrumentation and samples into a jazzy, dubby brew, and is well worth a listen. Since he's got such a variety of musical pursuits on the go, and with the promise of an album to come, we dropped him a quick line for the, ahem, skinny on this new project.

You've worked with quite the roster of names - what's your musical history? How did you get into drumming, and how did you get involved in playing with such a variety of musicians?

Tom Skinner: Apparently ‘Drum’ was the first word I ever wrote so I guess it was meant to be! I come from a musical family. My Mum is an amazing concert pianist so there was always a lot of music going on at home. Initially I started playing drums when I was 9 because some mates and I decided to form a rock band. I started drum lessons and never looked back. I was really lucky to have gone to school and grown up with some really amazing musicians. The secondary school that I went to was a real hot bed of creativity for art and music. The facilities were shit, but there were so many talented young people, and we had some really great teachers.

It was at this time that I met Tom Herbert and Dave Okumu of The Invisible and other like-minded musicians such as Andrew McCormack and Finn Peters to name but a few. We got into jazz, and just practiced and practiced and practiced! We’d rehearse in my parents front room as often as we could. Go to late night jam sessions. Spend hours listening to records. It was so much fun and definitely the best way to learn…from each other, just doing it. I think for all of us it’s just been a natural progression from then on.

How did Hello Skinny come together? When did you first come up with the idea for the project, and did you have any particular ideas about what shape you wanted it to take?

TS: ’ve been writing and producing my own music for some time now. Quite a lot of more dance-inspired electronic music. My first studio set up was an old Apple Mac and an Akai S1000 sampler that my friend lent me, that was it! But I was really into the idea of sampling and at the time was listening to a lot of hip-hop. I made some good tunes but it was only when I started working on the Hello Skinny stuff a few years ago that I felt I had something that was coherent enough to release. I didn’t really have any pre-conceived idea about the shape of the music when I first started working on it, but I soon realized that I had a body of work that seemed to fit together sonically and was coming from the same place emotionally.

What sorts of music has inspired you for this project? I can hear a lot of dub and jazz in there, but your music feels quite broad ranging in its interests.

TS: The musical references for Hello Skinny have been an important part of the writing process. The jazz thing is an obvious one as it’s played a big part of my musical history. Also growing up and living in London has had a lasting effect on how I hear certain things. Reggae, dub and jungle is a sound that I’ve grown up with in this city and the more recent developments in bass music and techno have had an undeniable influence on the sound of my music. However I’ve also been listening to a lot of krautrock, psychedelic guitar music, film scores and more ‘out-there’ experimental stuff.

The name ‘Hello Skinny’ comes from a song by The Residents, an avant garde band from San Francisco who have been going for almost 40 years. Their uncompromising, DIY approach to music making has also been a big influence. They have an amazing visual style and great sense of humour which I think is missing in much contemporary music these days.

You've already recorded a debut album which is set for release in October - could you tell us a bit about what the album's going to sound like? Does it have any particular theme or concept behind it?

TS: The album definitely has more of a live sound than the music on Smash + Grab. I guess conceptually it’s a bit of an introduction to me and my musical world. It’s like saying “…Hello, I’m here, doing my thing. My name is Skinny and I’m Skinny… Hello Skinny!” It’s quite autobiographical. All the songs are based on my own personal experiences.

What's your working process like for your music as Hello Skinny - is it mostly recorded solo, do you play all the parts, or do you work with other musicians? Do you have an idea about composition and form before you start, or does it come out of improvisation and gradual reworking?

TS: There are few guest spots on the album. Saxophonist and clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings features on several tracks and Tom Herbert plays bass on a couple of tunes, amongst a few others, but for the most part it’s just me on the record. I played most of the parts and produced the record myself. A lot of the pieces started as improvised ideas which I then developed further through gradual reworking and tweaking. Some of the pieces are more through composed pieces with no improvising. Three of the tracks don’t even have any drums on them!

You've already brought in some great musicians to guest on Smash & Grab, like Shabaka Hutchings - are those connections you've formed with people through collaborations in the past? Are they people you feel you share a lot with, on a musical level?

TS: All the people featured on Smash + Grab and on the album are close friends and collaborators. I have been working with Shabaka for several years now in the trio Zed-U with bassist Neil Charles, and more recently in Shabaka’s group Sons Of Kemet. We are quite different in many ways but I feel we have a really strong musical connection and push each other to do things differently.

Another big influence of mine who features on the album is Trumpeter Byron Wallen. I have been playing with Byron for over 10 years now and he has been a great friend and a huge inspiration musically. Trudie Dawn Smith who features on the track ‘Yeyo’ from Smash + Grab also features on the album. She is an amazing talent to watch out for. We are currently working on some new music for a forthcoming EP. Rowdy Superstar is the one who is like “…so have you done this yet?!? You need to do this! Get your shit together!” and my good friend Dilip Harris aka Demus who mixed the record has been the real guiding force. I always turn to him for guidance and advice. A true mentor. It’s pretty humbling to have so much support from so many amazingly talented people.

In advance of the album you've put together Smash & Grab, a mix tape. Was the idea behind it to show off the sort of approach you're taking with this project? How did it come together - are these tracks from the album sessions, or a number of tracks you've been working on with a mixtape specifically in mind?

TS: There’s one tune on the mix tape, ‘Remember’, that I made for the album but in the end I felt it didn’t quite fit sonically with the rest of the record so I left it out. The rest of it was made with the idea of a mix tape in mind. I just wanted to try and make a bunch of tunes quickly without spending too much time on it. Keep it rough and ready. A lot of it is quite cut and paste, using samples from records and films, etc. It’s been fun to make something like that after spending quite a lot of time on the record.

Have you been performing the project live at all, or do you have any plans to?

TS: I have a great band and we have done one gig so far but there are a few more in the pipeline. We are playing Café Oto on 30th August, The Victoria in Dalston on 19th October and Brixton Electric on 17th November as part of the London Jazz Festival.