Interview: Andy L. Smooth – Skinny Knowledge

The name on the cover might say Skinny Knowledge, but in essence, ‘Don’t Turn Out The Lights’ is a solo-effort from multi-instrumentalist Andy L Smooth. With the South of England-based vocalist/guitarist playing all instruments on the album, as well as tackling his first shot at songwriting, this is very much his baby. We caught up with Andy to get the lowdown on the album, as well as stories of his own musical background, and the worst job that he ever had. Connect with Andy below…

What are the origins of Skinny Knowledge? 

It all started when I decided to write a few songs. There weren’t any initial intentions of setting up a band at the time, it was just a ‘pick me up’ for myself, as I was feeling a little in the dumps at that time. I ended up with this collection of songs that I was really proud of, so I decided to head into the studio (The Ranch) and record them. I had a full-length record, and I knew I had to share it with people, so I used the name ‘Skinny Knowledge’ to release it. The name was initially created whilst I was at Uni in 2015, and I set up a project there using this name, but nothing ever came of it and we disbanded. I always liked the name, so when I chose to form a band around this album I’d just made, I used the Skinny Knowledge name.

How did you feel performing your first gig as a band? And how was it?!

We haven’t performed a gig yet! BUT we’ve just announced our launch gig for Friday 9th July at Canvas in Bournemouth, and we CANNOT WAIT!

What should people expect when they check the band out? How would you describe Skinny Knowledge?

It’s just real, honest, loud rock music. It’s not perfect, it’s not quantised, it’s not autotuned… It’s human. It’s the way music used to be made. Inspired by the likes of Nirvana, Green Day, early Foo’s records, etc.

I believe that the material for the debut album was your first as a songwriter? What was putting you off dipping your toes in the songwriting pool for so long?! And, how much of a cathartic process was it for you personally?

I’d been involved in the songwriting process with my previous bands, but being the drummer, I never really had much input into lyrics, melodies, chords, etc. Normally my suggestions were just structure-related. I had done a little bit of songwriting before, but nothing serious. I wrote a couple of songs in college for a performance exam, and in Uni when I initially set up ‘Skinny Knowledge’, before disbanding it, but again, these were all with other people. This was the first time I’d sat down on my own and just written music.

It started off being really hard, because I hate writing lyrics, and I’m incredibly self-critical. I’d constantly self-loath, and compare my lyrics to the likes of my favourite bands and think ‘they wouldn’t write that, it’s not good enough’. It took me a long time to get myself out of this habit, by constantly reminding myself that it’s MY music, no one else’s, and I shouldn’t compare what I’m writing to other songs, because it’s non-comparable. At this point, I then finally started to really enjoy writing. It was an amazing feeling to finally put into words how I’d been feeling. And to put those words into music was even better. The album is essentially a storybook of my life, a collection of tales. I truly opened up whilst writing these songs, and it felt amazing. I’ve literally put my heart and soul into these songs, and put my truth on the line for everyone to hear, and I hope that people can connect with that.

‘Imagination’ was the first single to be released, what was it about this one that made you choose it as the debut single? And what are the lyrical themes behind it?

I think Imagination is a good representation of the band’s sound. It’s fast, it’s aggressive, it’s catchy, it’s lively… It just had a bit of everything. That intriguing and sparse intro, the catchy chorus, the screaming middle 8, the big drum fills, the singalong outro… Whatever it was, it seemed to work as people really liked it, and I think it started our journey off really well and got people interested in us.

Lyrically, the song tells a tale of anticipation and hope. The story is told through an awkward, movie-like bar scene, and touches on the subject of courage, but also fear. The, ‘should I, shouldn’t I’ scenario that we all know too well. I think society paints a very distorted picture of normality, and it’s very easy to feel mediocre when you compare yourself to an unrealistic image. Everyone is perfect in their own way, you just have to believe in yourself and go for it.

What goes through your head in the run-up to releasing new music, especially your debut single?! Are you excited? Nervous? – Both?!

Definitely both! I was super nervous about it, as this was something I’d created all on my own, and because it’s my baby, I was really proud of it! But that doesn’t mean everyone else is going to love it. I also couldn’t blame anyone else if people thought it was shit, because it’s just me! I couldn’t hibernate behind a drum kit and blame the singer this time around! But the response was amazing, and everyone seemed to dig it, so that was a relief.

With you performing all the instruments on the album yourself, how many sleepless nights did you give yourself? And, with so much personal involvement, was there a danger that at times you might be too close to the album, and did you find yourself having to take a step backward at times?

I never really thought about being ‘too close’ to the album per se. When I first started writing some songs, I never knew it’d turn into an album, or even be released, so I just wrote whatever I wanted to. I dove into the writing process head first and didn’t hold back at all, because I didn’t even know if people would hear it, so I wasn’t afraid to say what I wanted.

There were nearly-sleepless nights, I’d say! So initially, the studio time was booked in for April ’20, but we went into lockdown late March, so it was postponed. It actually worked out in my favour, as it gave me some more time to keep writing, but me being me, I put the pressure on myself to write more, and write better. When the studio messaged saying they were opening and I could book in the session, I only had 2-3 weeks. At this point, I was still finishing a couple of the demos, so I smashed through them, and then started tracking with a couple of weeks to go. This was the point that the nearly-sleepless nights started. I was under a deadline, as I HAD to get all the guitars, bass, and vocals recorded before heading into the studio, as all the guitar were being re-amped.

But luckily it all came together great, and I couldn’t be prouder of the finished product.

‘Keep Me Out Of It’ was the follow-up, totally banger of a track, and a killer video! Although the video was played for laughs (more Carl please!) the message behind the video (musicians re-training for jobs) was very important, but, what has been the shittiest job that you’ve ever had?!

The music video for that song was super fun! We loved making it, and yes, I believe it was a really important message to address, but we’re not a political band, so we did it in a fun ‘tongue and cheek’ sort of way.

The worst job I’ve ever had?! I’ve pretty much just had bar jobs (how stereotypical of a musician), but I did once go for a factory job which was pretty shit. I think I lasted about a week and a half. It wouldn’t have been so shit if I hadn’t have lied about knowing how to use all the big CNC machines… I completely blagged it, and I was put on these huge machines which would cut into metal and make stuff, and I had absolutely zero idea how to operate them, but I told the manager I did. They weren’t best pleased when I kept having to tell them stuff was getting jammed, and I kept breaking them… Eventually, I was sat in the staff room where Planet Rock was on the radio, and I heard The Temperance Movement (who I love), and I thought ‘screw this, I shouldn’t be here’, so I just left. I didn’t tell anyone, I just walked out. I think my Harley Davidson belt is still in the locker!

The album ends with a killer one-two of the instrumental ‘Heavy Metal Interlude’ followed by ‘Stand Alone’, was the instrumental planned, or did it just come organically from a jam during the recording process?

I can’t remember which I wrote first! There was no jamming unfortunately, as the whole writing process was me sat at my iMac writing stuff. I just remember jamming this heavy riff whilst bored, and being that I had no one else to answer to, I just wrote this quick instrumental piece, and wasn’t sure whether to write lyrics or a melody over it. I then realised Stand Alone was also in drop D, so I basically bounced down an instrumental mix of this metal thing, and pasted it before Stand Alone, and it just seemed to work, so I left it. It reminds me of when Sum 41 go into these random metal breakdowns. That’s how I see it.

It must have been an almighty buzz when you opened the new Classic Rock Magazine and there you are?!

It’s insane! It still hasn’t really sunk in, to be honest. I remember going into Tesco and finding the issue, and all I wanted to do was shout in the middle of the store “I’M IN CLASSIC ROCK MAGAZINE!”. I wanted every single person in there to know! I, of course, didn’t, but that’s what went through my head!

Skinny KnowledgeAre you a vocalist that also plays the guitar, or a guitarist that also sings?

Neither… I’m a drummer that also plays guitar and sings… Haha. Drums was my first instrument, but over the past few years, I’ve just found myself fronting a band much more often. Just covers stuff, but I tend to find more work this way, and I’ve started to really love it. Also, when I watch the likes of my favourite bands, I always watch the front guy and think ‘yeah, I wanna be him’. I want to stand at the front of the stage, rile up the crowd, and hear them singing along with me. As much as I LOVE drums, because I truly do, (and I’m better at them), I want to be the ‘Dave Grohl’ or the ‘Billie Joe Armstrong’ of the band.

In terms of a similar audience: who would be the ideal act for Skinny Knowledge to support?

How big are we talking?! If we’re going HUGE, it’d either be Green Day or Foo Fighters. My two favourite bands and I wear my influences pretty obviously on my sleeves, so I think fans of these bands would really dig our music. A smaller and more realistic support? Maybe Dinosaur Pile-Up? Like myself, Matt Bigland (the frontman) also recorded the first DPU album entirely on his own, and it’s also very ‘early Foos’ so I think that’d go down pretty well. I also think Sum 41, that’d be rad!

What are your first musical memories? And what was the lightbulb moment that made you go “I want to do that”?

The first rock record I owned was American Idiot. I remember my sister playing it to me on her Sony Walkman CD player (old school), and I really liked it, so in order to persuade me to shut up for a while (I was an annoying little brother), she bargained with me. 10 minutes of silence in exchange for American Idiot. I immediately fell in love with the album, and it wasn’t long after that Bullet In A Bible came out, and I was hooked. To this day I’ve watched it front to back thousands of times (I’m not exaggerating), and I think being 11, watching that DVD definitely was the moment I thought ‘yeah, that’s what I wanna do’.

Personally, who has been the biggest influence on you becoming a musician? Would it be a teacher? A family member? A fellow musician?

I would probably say, my Nan. Unfortunately, she passed away when I was 11, but she was a professional performer (theatre, shows, West End, etc), and a classically trained singer. I don’t particularly have memories, but I know when I was younger, we would sit at the piano together, and she would always put musicals on the TV when I’d go round. After she passed, I used my inheritance money to buy a drum kit, so I definitely think one of the reasons I became a musician, and have an ear for music, is thanks to my Nan.

What was the last gig that you attended as a fan?

It was a couple of days before lockdown 1, and it was actually my old band, Black Water County. I was the drummer for about 4/5 years but then left to pursue other things.

Skinny KnowledgeWhat current social issue are you particularly passionate about?

It may seem a bit obvious, but the state of the music industry. Not only the fact that people seem to be taking the arts and events industry for granted (why people expect musicians to play for free is beyond me), but also it feels like ‘human music’ is becoming more and more redundant. I wish there was a way to turn that around. I’m not asking for everyone to love rock music, but I even miss pop music that was still made with some form of soul, and creativity, rather than the charts being filled with unemotional drivel that’s pumped out for the masses.

On the note of the financial state of the industry, that’s a whole other ball game. Music must be one of the only industries in the world where people expect things for free now. ‘Play our events for exposure’. NO. I can’t pay my bills with exposure. You wouldn’t hire a plumber to fit a sink in your house and tell him you’ll pay him by sharing his Facebook page. Why’s it any different for us? This whole attitude has reflected on the whole industry, with regards to sales, shows, etc. People expect music for free nowadays, like it’s not something worth paying for, and it’s madness. It can make you feel a little worthless!

What album do you have in your collection/Spotify playlist that would surprise most people?

I like quite a vast array of music I think! From Eminem and NWA, to Slipknot and Avenged Sevenfold, to Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac, to Dua Lipa and Bruno Mars, to the Eagles and Chris Stapleton. I can’t really think of anything that ‘overly’ obscure as opposed to just ‘obscure’!

Although 2020 was a year to forget, there was some great music released; what would be your album of 2020?

This may shock people, being that Green Day released a new album, BUT… Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ was definitely my jam of 2020. If you haven’t heard it, LISTEN TO IT! It’s an outstanding album!

Who would you class as an underrated songwriter?

I absolutely love Tom Fletcher’s songwriting. I’ve always liked McFly, but only really started delving into their back catalogue last year after starting to write music myself, and appreciating how clever the songs are. He has a very Beatles-esque quality to his writing. If I ever write a more pop-influenced track, I’ll normally take some ideas from McFly songs!

What are your plans for 2021 should COVID ever disappear?!

Well, as I said earlier, we have our official launch party on 9th July at Canvas (which we’re buzzing about), then after that, it’s just gig, gig, gig! We’re at that early stage where we just want to get on as many stages as we can and get in front of as many people as we can.

How active are you on social media and where can people connect with you?

We’re fairly active on our social media! It’s the only way we’ve managed to spread the word over the past 6 months. Normally I probably wouldn’t have been so active, but it’s been a big help to be honest, as we haven’t been able to go out and play.

We’re on Facebook (Skinny Knowledge), Instagram (@SkinnyKnowledgeOfficial), Twitter (@SkinnyKOfficial), and YouTube.


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