Mike Skinner talks life after The Streets and why he’s happiest as a jack of all trades.
Mike Skinner spent 12 years fronting The Streets, the multi-platinum rap act that melted hearts with 2004’s weepy epic ‘Dry Your Eyes’. But that was very much then – today Skinner, 38, is gainfully employed running a record label, curating a club night and writing a movie script. One thing he doesn’t do any more is rap in those distinctively heartfelt tones.
“I’m known for certain things but those aren’t the things I want to be known for,” Skinner tells Hot Press. “For a very small amount of time I rapped. And for a much longer amount of time I’ve been a producer.”
He enjoyed his early years with The Streets. But by the end, the grind of recording an album simply to tour it had lost its romance. Skinner mothballed the brand following 2011’s Computers And Blues and hasn’t looked back. Marriage and a baby daughter have changed his priorities; even if he wanted to he couldn’t go back to being the cheeky scamp of old.
“I’m probably the worst person in the world you could ever meet at doing the treadmill thing,” he says. “I find it hard to discipline myself.” With The Streets having sold more than five million records, Skinner has the luxury of pursuing his muse. Closest to his heart is his monthly club night Tonga, which he runs at Camden Assembly and takes on the road to the Bare in the Woods festival in June.
“Nobody likes a polymath in this country do they?” he says. “It’s got something to do with our art college system. Either you do sculpture or you do fine art. There’s a suspicion of people who want to do sculpture and fine art.”
A decade after the height of their fame, it’s hard to convey just how big a deal The Streets were. With 2002’s Original Pirate Material, Skinner appeared before us as a fully fledged artist, an irreverent chappy with the soul of poet. Two years later, he went one better with A Grand Don’t Come For Free, a concept record about a doomed love affair that became an unlikely mainstream hit (for a fair chunk of the mid-2000s, the single ‘Dry Your Eyes’ was ubiquitous on Irish breakfast radio).
The Streets came along just as the music industry was beginning to suffer from internet piracy.
“When I started you had to spend 50 grand on a music video before MTV would even consider you,” he says. “And if they didn’t consider you… well good luck.”
The change has benefited younger artists trying to create a splash he feels.
“If you’re hoping to make a mark and you don’t live in London now is the best time ever. I run a record label and I put stuff out and, really, there isn’t a lot you can do to get people’s attention – apart from having a song that performs well on Spotify. Today is quite depressing.” Skinner could have squeezed a healthy profit by touring the The Streets for several more years, but the pursuit of lucre isn’t why he got into music. He’s come to reflect that if you want to generate bundles of cash, the record industry is the last place you should be.
“I know people who only care about money,” he says. “Making money is how they get enjoyment out of life. Whatever way they can make money, that’s the enjoyment to them. I fully respect that. Making music isn’t a very efficient way of making money. It’s probably the worst thing you could do in fact.
“Even if you are really successful – Drake would probably have made a lot more money if he started a hedge fund. Paul McCartney really isn’t that rich by hedge fund standards. He’s the Warren Buffet of music and his fortunes are nothing compared to some other people.”
Skinner can come across as slightly intense and idiosyncratic. Nonetheless, he is keen not to be painted as a recluse. Walking away from The Streets is not the same as tumbling off the face of the earth. He’s still out there, fighting the fight as best he can.
“With the possible exception of Rick Astley, I don’t think anyone consciously goes ‘Right, I’m going to step away from the spotlight.’ You come up with things that you want to do and you go and do them. In life you’ve only got a certain amount of time.”
Mike Skinner hosts a Tonga set at Bare In The Woods, which runs at Garryhinch Woods, Portarlington from June 9-11