|Wednesday, Dec 3, 2008, 05:27:50 PM|
Thursday, September 09, 2004
No matter what anyone says, Skindred is not the new Bad Brains
By Newt Briggs
If dreadlocked Skindred frontman Benji Webbe seems like something of an odd fellow, it probably has something to do with his genes.
"I grew up in a very mixed-up household," says Webbe in what may well be the understatement of the year. Webbe's father was "from a small island in the Caribbean," where he made steel drums out of discarded oil barrels. Weebe's mother was born in Wales, where she grew up listening to showtunes. And his mother's father "was a pirate from Philadelphia who raped [his] grandmother."
The genetic hodgepodge lent an unusual character to Webbe, who emulates the cultural heritage of his father, the geniality of his mother and the rebelliousness of his grandfather. At the same time, he's the product of his environment. "I think there's more of a community spirit in Wales," Webbe says. "I mean, you can walk down the street and say hello to somebody in Wales without them thinking that you want to rob them."
As Webbe notes, however, this homegrown hospitality tends to be extended only to fellow Welshmen. Ever since Edward the Longshanks tromped into Wales and claimed its pastoral countryside for England, the Welsh have been more than a little suspicious of outsiders. "The Welsh hate everybody who's not Welsh," he says. "It's true, man. They'll hit you when you ain't looking. It's terrible."
While this makes the Welsh notoriously surly drinking partners, it also gives them a unique sense of national character. "Wherever they go, they blend in," Webbe says. "I've traveled the world, and I've never been to a Welsh bar. I've been to English bars, Scottish bars and Irish bars, but I've never been to a Welsh bar. I'm telling you, these people are like chameleons, man."
This same mutability can be heard in Weebe's music. Fusing reggae grooves with the rapid-fire thump of dub and the bone-jarring wallop of heavy metal, Skindred inevitably inspires comparisons to the grand Rastas of punk rock, Bad Brains. While Webbe relishes the association, he attributes it more to his hairstyle than to the band's sound.
"To someone who doesn't know anything about reggae music, of course we're going to sound like Bad Brains," he says. "It's like someone who doesn't know anything about opera might say that Pavarotti sounds just like Mario Lanza. But when your ears are trained and you know what you're looking for, you're going to say, `Shit no, Mario Lanza don't sound nothing like Pavarotti.'"
Webbe is more apt to compare Skindred with acts like the Clash, the Specials and No Doubt--bands that folded ska's upstroke rhythm into a rock 'n' roll framework. He jokingly refers to the style as "nu-reggae," riffing on the mainstream's tendency to classify everything not easily categorized as nu-metal. "It's not like Frankenstein," Weebe says. "We ain't sewing bits of bodies together in a lab, you know. We're taking a bit of ska and a bit of dancehall and a bit of metal and making the music we love the only way we know how."
Even the band's name is a reflection of its diverse roots. Skindred is not a word per se; it is an amalgam of skinhead, dread and kindred. It reflects Weebe's social philosophy, which loosely combines punk's anti-establishment rage with reggae's up-with-people zeal. Although he embodies the former on stage, Webbe tends to lean toward the latter in his personal life.
"I'm a born dreadlocks man," he says. "I mean, I don't twist up my head or nothing. I just let my dreads flow. Like I said, I'm a natty to the bone. I ain't no Rasta man, but I wear my red, gold and green, and I bounce just like I'm in Kingston, Jamaica."