Brit-hop wonderboy Mike Skinner happy to go with the flow

By Scott Kara

Mike Skinner reckons his performance at the 2005 Big Day Out in Auckland was "awright". Those that witnessed it remember it as - mostly - patchy.

Yet on the phone from hometown London, Skinner maintains he was "fit" that year at Mt Smart Stadium.

He admits, however, that the next gig in Sydney wasn't too hot. "Oh yeah, I'd been up all night," he laughs, "but I'll be on much better form this year."

Skinner is back in New Zealand next week for the Big Day Out and he can't wait "because it's the most enjoyable festival tour in the world".

He says it's summer, his schedule at the start of the year is cruisy ("so I'm not stressed") and the atmosphere at the Big Day Out is not as frantic as similar sized overseas events.

Plus, with echoes of his hard drinking and drug-taking past, he's looking forward to socialising.

"Every single night that the festival is on there's something organised. Because bands are pretty lazy really and they'll just stay at the hotel and have a drink. But when you've got the festival organiser putting on barbecues and nights out everywhere you just go with the flow and the flow is really good at the Big Day Out."

In the past year Skinner has been keeping his, er, nose clean and he's sober.

After the success of his second album, A Grand Don't Come For Free, which included hits Fit But You Know It and Dry Your Eyes, he lived the high life, partied harder than ever, and hit the booze and drugs. Those high times were documented on last year's third album, The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living, which was a stark contrast to previous albums.

His tales about being a working-class, club-going geezer were replaced by stories about the perils of living the high life.

On When You Wasn't Famous he spouts: "How the hell am I supposed to be able to do a line in front of complete strangers, when I know they've all got cameras?"

Recently in music magazine NME Skinner revealed to his mate Pete Doherty - the Babyshambles frontman and boyfriend of model Kate Moss - that the line was a joke about Moss.

Not surprisingly many didn't have any sympathy for the poor little rich boy. The album divided opinion and got mixed reviews - some scathing. TimeOut called it dreary, sad and shrill and said, "if cocaine was a performance-enhancing drug then Skinner should change dealers".

To explain where the album came from he takes us through a short timeline of his career.

He describes his 2002 debut, Original Pirate Material, as coming about through inspiration and "a lot of it just rolled off the top of my head". The song Let's Push Things Forward sums up that pioneering album which he created on a computer in his bedroom and injected the rather limp UK garage/2-step scene with some spirit.

On the second album he says he developed his songwriting craft which is why he believes it had so many hits. Meanwhile, The Hardest Way was about "brutal honesty".

He stands by the album but he's also realistic. "It just wasn't really what people wanted to hear. I don't think people could really relate to it, which is what it came down to in the end," he resolves.

"But I'm proud of it because if you were in my position then you'd realise that it's a good album and I think I really put my finger on it. And other people that I know, like Pete Doherty, really like it. So I definitely think kids found it a bit much but I think people still have respect for where I'm at.

"I think I could've carried on trying to make chart hits but I'm pleased that I just kept it genuine. I got a lot of interesting songs out of success so I feel great and the music might have got really warped but I've just kept making it."

Last year was a focused one for Skinner where he did the overseas festival circuit and continued to make music, including filming the world's longest music video for the track Deluded In My Mind. The 20-minute long video is seven minutes longer than the previous title-holder, Thriller by Michael Jackson.

He's in a very business frame of mind nowadays, talking about his "schedule", the new songs he's written for the next album and where to take music next.

"Ninety-nine per cent of who I am is just a guy who loves making music all the time and that bit hasn't changed," he says. "But I think I've become a lot more relaxed because when you become successful you don't have to worry about a lot of stuff and it's just an absolute pleasure to be able to make music all the time.

"As the Streets I've just gone from one album to the next and I can honestly look back on the last six years and say, 'I'm not unhappy with anything that I've done', and I don't think that can be said about most bands."

So where to next?

"I think as long as you keep yourself in the zone where you don't quite know what you're doing then I think it's always exciting and you have to feel a little bit scared of what you're writing. If you feel too comfortable, you're going to lose."

Lets hope he's fit next Friday - or you'll have to let him know about it.

* The Streets at The Big Day Out, January 19, Boiler Room 8.30pm.

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