Oakland is a city that has a little of everything. Culture, sports, nightlife, the works. You can see an Oakland Raiders or Oakland A's game during the day, catch a Golden State Warriors game by night, and cap it off with a late night session at the Stork Club or Yoshi's. Oakland also features some of the hardest and best bands around. Machine Head, Fueled, Level, New Idol Son, Neurosis... all practiced in the same building or nearby. One band that was nearby and has been razing some interest as of late is Skinlab. These four musicians play some serious grooves and have made themselves known relatively quickly. With two records released by Century Media (Bound, Gagged, And Blindfolded was the first), Skinlab has some recording clout. Fronted by former Defiance vocalist Steev Esquivel, and with European tours and a slot at the Dynamo festival in their resume, this band of merry Oaklanders have just begun in their quest for world domination.
I talked with drummer Paul Hopkins recently about their newest release, Disembody: The New Flesh, and about their label, Century Media.
"They get us out on the road and they support us 100 percent and they all like our stuff," Paul says. "We played in England, France, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, we went a lot of places. We were supposed to go to The Czech Republic and Hungary, but we didn't end up doing those shows. Fans are pretty enthusiastic over there," he adds.
I then asked him about their European tour with Swedish grindcore masters Entombed. "That was great man," Paul says. "It was cool to see those guys 'cause they've been touring for ten years and we have total respect for them. They just keep going, and every night they were just tight as hell."
I asked about the mixing of audiences and the reaction. "Our crowds worked good together. The Napalm Death tour was good, too. We weren't sure of the crowds, but the turnout was really good," says Paul.
So how is Skinlab doing overseas? Says Paul, "We're selling good over there, and in the States. After playing Europe, I love playing the States again, though. Europe's great, and I'm the least patriotic person you'll find, but it's easier to live and survive in America." Words of wisdom for any bands that are Europe virgins!
We then talked about guitar players, something that has been a revolving door for Paul and company. "Ya know, we've been the Spinal Tap of guitar players," Paul says. He adds, "Hopefully we won't have to mess with that anymore" (now that they have ex-Skrew guitarist Snake).
I then asked Paul about past guitarists and about the new blood. He says, "Gary Wendt played on our first album, but he didn't write any of it." He adds, "We went through a lot of fill-ins because Gary left in the middle of a tour. I miss him." Gary was actually the band's fourth guitarist, following Mike Roberts, ex-Lazz Rockit axeman Scott Sargeant, and Adam Albright.
Does Paul remember Release, Gary's former band that featured amazing minimalism and power? "Release -- I loved those guys," he says. "The drummer Steve (Kilgore) blew my mind! I used to play a five piece kit, but now I play a four piece so I can have my ride cymbal closer (like Steve)."
So how did Snake become guitarist number five? Paul recalls, "We did a tour with Stuck Mojo and HED(pe), and in between the tour was a tour with Skrew and Fall From Grace. So we met Snake, and Steev and Snake really clicked, and they were talking about doing side projects and stuff." He adds, "When we got back from our tour we didn't have a guitar player, so we needed someone to do the album. He and Steev talked and Steev wanted Snake in the band. So he joined."
Asked if he's working out, Paul states, "He loves the road, and it's cool to have someone like that in our crew." Sounds like a keeper.
I asked about the Oakland/Bay Area thing, and Paul said, "Scott and I live in San Francisco, and Snake and Steev live in Richmond, so we meet halfway and play in Oakland, but none of us are hard ghetto dudes or anything." Honesty prevails.
So what about the almost-required cover song addition to EPs and such? Paul states, "We're thinking about putting out an EP called Foreskin, but we don't have enough ideas yet. We were going to cover a Voivod song off Dimension Hatross and a Faith No More song, but we ended up doing (Mexican Mafia Metal legends) Brujeria's "Raza Odiada (Pito Wilson)." Good choice.
Always looking for other good bands to check out, Paul tells me to watch for a band he saw on the road called Canderia. He says, "They're technical like Meshuggah, but hardcore and sorta death metal. The drummer blew me away." He adds, "I like technical music, but I'm more into groove, like Deftones." Skinlab has played with the Sacramento group on occasion, and the two bands are both on the trail of success.
I then asked the age old question -- what are some of the bands influences? Paul says, "Slayer's been a major influence on us, not in sound so much, but in aggressiveness." He adds, "Individually, Scotty is into Pink Floyd and classic rock kinda stuff. Snake likes Kiss. We all like different things, but it all revolves around rock music. I liked the Police, then I got into Metallica and the whole metal siege."
We then talked about how great a drummer (Police-man) Stewart Copeland is. "I've always noticed his playing, that it was great whatever he was doing." I agreed 100 percent. Underrated but appreciated, you could say.
So what is Paul Hopkins playing these days? "I have a Premier set now, a Signia." He adds, "I have a Sabian deal going. I have to buy them, but as far as getting, replacements on the road, that's taken care of." One of the perks of being on a label -- free or almost free gear!
So what is in Skinlab's future? "We got a letter saying we're not doing Ozzfest this year, but we're still gonna bug the shite out of them," Paul says. I'm sure one day they'll be on the summer tour from the former and current Sabbath frontman.
Being drummers, we talked a while more about drums and my old band New Idol Son, and it turns out that Paul, originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, knew of one of my band's ex-guitarists (former Cincy standout Mike Davis) while he was still back in Ohio. He also knows another of New Idol Sonís ex-axemen, Jimmy "Tuna Can" Arceneaux, now Swerver frontman and talent finder for Bay Area club The Edge. Small world. It all comes together in Oaktown.