Devilskin – Paul Martin
Interview by Dave Borgioli-Jones
10 years, three #1 albums, DEVILSKIN is leading the charge when it comes to hard rock / heavy metal in New Zealand right now. It’s no surprise that Covid has played havoc with the band’s tour schedule, but we’re lucky to have them hitting the road for a rescheduled NZ tour September through to November. Guitarist Paul Martin gives us insight into the band’s latest album Red, the story behind their new music video ‘Sweet Release’ and everything else DEVILSKIN.
NZRock: 2020 has been a bit of a bittersweet year with Covid. You’re touring NZ on your latest album Red – another #1! – but that’s about as far as you can travel.
PM: Yeah Covid hit and we couldn’t go anywhere. We were like two weeks away from flying out to Europe and the UK, 40 dates and we had a bloody tour bus booked and accommodation booked and shit booked and promo done and then getting some really good fucking reviews from European and UK and magazines and stuff about the album and the States! Something like fucking 80 interviews with American radio stations. They were loving it! It was sweet and then Covid and then fucking no one’s going nowhere.
NZRock: Frustrating but hey, how does it feel to have three #1 albums?
PM: Yeah man it’s still surreal, I still pinch myself. I still freak out before gigs and get butterflies and think ‘what if there’s no one out there?’ you know, and I still get surprised when I see queues before our shows. It’s pretty special, man. It’s an incredible feeling.
NZRock: What songs are the most meaningful to you on Red?
PM: Every song. We demoed something like 30 songs so we had to fight each other to get that down to 12. We all had songs that we were totally attached to and it’s like cutting off a limb or leaving one of your kids outside you know. But the 12 songs that we put on the album just really put their hand up and once we demoed them we were like they have to be on the album. One I’m most proud of is a track called Sweet Release and I think that everyone stepped up so well on that song and played their hearts out. It’s not a complex song at all, it’s pretty mellow and there’s a lot of space in it, it’s a really dark subject matter. I wrote the lyrics about a young lad called Nicky Stevens who took his own life in Hamilton 5 years ago while he was in mental healthcare. He basically escaped and drowned himself in the river. It was such a horrible tragic story and his parents were trying to get some sort of justice for their son and an apology from the health system and they were just getting run around for 5 years and it was just a really brutal story that was in the paper here in Hamilton.
It’s been going on for 5 years and his parents are still fighting for justice. But it’s just incredibly sad and one night I just wrote the words down and Jenny already had this beautiful chorus and they just fitted together so well and it just became the song and then it kind of… we didn’t realise, and we submitted it for the album with all the others and everyone picked it. Once we recorded it we thought man we really want to make the video. It’s got a really strong message and we worked with Nicky’s parents on this as well so I kept them in touch with this the whole way because it’s their story of their son. We got their full blessing. We’re just trying to raise awareness of the issue of suicide in New Zealand, how bad it is, and the fact that we need to discuss it more and look after each other. When we were in the studio recording it, once Jennie had finished, I looked around and everyone in the studio had tears in their eyes. When I saw the first cut of the video I just go chills. It’s pretty emotional, it’s a true story and it’s something we can’t sweep under the carpet in this country and we want to do our little bit to raise awareness.
It’s a pretty confronting video and even Nicky’s parents said they found it really hard to watch it because it was so real, a tragic story. We wanted to do it all here on location, we filmed it in the same place where Nicky’s body was found, and the whole thing, we didn’t do that on purpose, I was scouting for an amazing location and found this place and sent it back to the director Alex Hargreaves who goes ‘that’s the spot’. And when I was talking to Nicky’s parents about it they go well that’s actually where he was found. All these crazy little things have happened like this. It makes me feel good that the story was meant to be told. I’m really happy that we’ve been able to do that, especially with the video.
NZRock: I noticed you had Greg Haver doing production on the new album. So you changed things up there?
PM: Yeah well we have Clint Murphy on the last two albums, and we’d worked with Greg Haver in the studio before. He’s the only guest artist that’s appeared on our albums. Greg played percussion on Be Like The River on our new album. We have a really good rapport with the guy and we recorded ENDO and All Fall Down with him and we thought hey man, this guy gets us. One of the cool things about working with Greg is he goes I want you guys to sound like yourselves, so bring all your own gear to the studio. Usually you turn up to a studio and they go “I know you’ve got your stuff there but I’d like you to plug into this and this and this and this and all that stuff” which is great to experiment in a studio but I think the buzz for Greg was that he just vibed off our sound. He wanted us to sound like ourselves you know, ‘bring all your own gear and just do what you do.’ It was a lot of fun. He’s a really cool guy. And with Simon Gooding engineering and mixing, he’s amazing. He really is. We looked at getting a few famous names, famous producers from overseas to mix our tracks, and we actually did a blind test with quite a notable producer and Simon and none of us knew which mix was which when we got it back and overwhelmingly we all went for Simon. He’s a star, such an amazing engineer. And we thought nah, let’s keep it in house, keep it all Kiwi. He’s worked with KIMBRA and KATY PERRY and all sorts. So yeah, cool guy to work with. It was a lot of fun and again, he gets our music which is the most important thing.
NZRock: What do you think gives DEVILSKIN that X factor compared to your other bands like BLACKJACK or WORLD WAR 4?
PM: Yeah, well BLACKJACK and WORLD WAR 4 are totally different kettles of fish. With DEVILSKIN and the amount of people we can reach now, that follow us, that’s the whole big different scale. It’s pretty incredible, and I don’t know what to put it down to. It’s a combination of things, first and foremost it’s got to be the music. They have to like your songs and people have to identify with the lyrics. We write a lot of real stuff, it’s all real to us. There are things that have genuinely happened. People can find the stories and relate to them and climb inside them. Just being able to connect with people on a real level is that X factor. We try not to get ahead of ourselves, we try not the read the hype or anything like that, just try to keep it real and meet folks, that’s what we like to do. Meet people that like our band and like our songs.
NZRock: You have some very dedicated fans out there. I was looking on Facebook and there is even a DEVILSKIN collector’s group.
PM: Oh, it’s awesome. The people that love us fucking love us. I’ve met people who have got our lyrics tattooed on them, or got married to one of our songs. When you find out stuff like that man it’s just so beautiful. You don’t expect to touch people in so many ways. You don’t really think about it because you don’t really know them, but when you find out. A girl came up to me and said “I’ve got your lyrics tattooed on my arms and it saved my life. Your music sort of saved my life.” Wow, that’s what it’s all about, you know. Being able to touch people like that, people that get your music and climb into it so deeply, like we do with our favourite artist you know. But yeah it’s pretty special.
NZRock: So where to from here with the Covid situation?
PM: We’re just going to have to wait just like everyone else. I guess we were lucky when it hit because we were just about to fly out to the UK and it could have been worse if we’d got through to somewhere in Europe and the whole thing had come crashing down on us. I think FAT FREDDY’S DROP were stuck in the airport for a couple of days which is pretty bad. So yeah, it could have been a lot worse for us, but I mean all our plans for the album were focused on international before New Zealand so we’ve had to change that around a lot obviously. We don’t know where we’ll be able to tour next overseas or when, so I mean just like everyone else we’re just holding on. But the word from above to say when the world is opening up again, doesn’t look that great at the moment. I can’t see a bubble happening with Australia any time too soon. You never know, we might be able to play a gig in the Cook Islands before too long, who knows. It’s the great unknown Dave, so everyone’s in the same boat and the one thing about this Covid is it’s really demolished its way through rock and roll. So many bands are just struggling right now, venues, everything. The whole support network for bands, from the people that print our t-shirts to the people that sell our merch, our light tech, sound tech, crew – everyone! So many people affected and we’re the only country in the world where you can still do gigs so we’re definitely going to enjoy every single minute of this New Zealand tour. But as for what’s after this? No idea yet, just wait and see.
NZRock: What’s your take on the rock scene in NZ right now? It’s almost like a bit of a renaissance, you’ve got DEVILSKIN, ALIEN WEAPONRY, SHEPHERDS REIGN etc.
PM: Well I mean, historically after a great plague there’s usually a great renaissance so the arts and music sort of come out thriving on top so yeah, let’s hope. There’s so much talent here in this country Dave and just so proud of the ALIEN WEAPONRY boys, what they’ve got going on its unprecedented in this country as far as a metal band achieving that level of stardom. SHEPHERDS REIGN, I absolutely love them, and I invited them along to our last Powerstation show so we could meet the guys and thought we need to take them on tour. Absolutely fizzing about being able to have them on tour with us. And yeah, just looking forward to having a great time. I think the audience is going to have a brilliant night.