None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive

None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive

“I think that what makes you different or what gives you your power is the thing that will destroy you,” Mike Skinner tells Apple Music. “The fact that I was really, really anal about having songs make sense and being really simple was what made those first Streets records stand out. After a while you end up getting weighed down by those ideas for the sake of a concept, rather than just saying some cool shit. So if this album does have a theme, it was a determination to just say some cool shit.” The common thread running through Mike Skinner’s first Streets record in almost a decade (there’s been DJing, The D.O.T. project with Rob Harvey, supergroup Tonga Balloon Gang alongside UK rappers Murkage, and the long-planned Streets film) seems to be technology—mobile phones, specifically. The other big feature is the features. Skinner has handpicked a diverse crew to celebrate the return, taking in gilded UK MCs (Ms Banks, Oscar #Worldpeace), maverick, genre-ambivalent Brits (Hak Baker, Jimothy Lacoste), modern rock heroes (Tame Impala, IDLES), and a fair few more. It’s a dynamic and uncompromising set of songs that reestablishes the importance of Skinner’s voice in British music. “This album was like a rebirth,” he says. “It was painful in the logistical sense—it was much more complicated than I was expecting. By the time it was finally done, I was a new man.” And did the time away teach Skinner anything about himself? “It reminded me that I always found naming songs very weird and continue to do so,” he says. “My songs don’t have titles when I work on them. ‘Blinded by the Lights’ was called ‘Slow Motion’ for ages because it originally had a chorus that said ‘Everything’s going on in slow motion’ and then I changed it in the mastering. Same with these songs. But I have two biggest lessons. One: Until you’ve been in the studio and you’ve recorded the song, you don’t have a song. The other thing I learned is that all artists are really similar. It doesn’t matter where they’re from, they’re just people singing into microphones hoping that it’s good.” Read on for Skinner’s in-depth thoughts on each track. Call My Phone Thinking I'm Doing Nothing Better (The Streets & Tame Impala) “When you do a lot of festivals, you tend to see the same artists over and over again. We did about seven festivals with Tame Impala last year—everywhere from Germany to Australia. So there was a fair bit of watching each other’s shows side of stage. In Belgium, at Rock Werchter, we hung out in their dressing room and set up this song. This one and the Ms Banks song were done in the traditional way, which is—and I know you’re going to think I’m about to say in the studio—but it was done over email, which is more traditional than being in the studio these days, whatever anyone tells you. This album as a whole was very much in the studios—so everyone on the record was recorded in one. There were usually, on average, two days of actual recording per song, and then many months of rewriting and changing stuff about. But I actually flew out to see Kevin [Parker, Tame Impala’s frontman], literally just before lockdown. I found that I’m really fascinated by Perth, actually. It’s the most remote city in the world, and there’s a definite vibe, but it’s not what you think. Kevin is the sort of super chilled guy I’d expect people from Perth to be, whereas there’s a lot of people I know from Perth that are incredibly switched on. It also has the smallest Louis Vuitton store I’ve ever seen.” None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive (feat. IDLES) “I can’t wait to do this one live. I was reading a lot of sea shanties when I wrote this. If you listen to my verse, I’m talking about fishing, basically. Because it was so existentialist—including the chorus—it needed Joe [Talbot, IDLES’ frontman] to bring it all down to earth. If there’s one thing I could change about the album, it’s the first line to this song. ‘I don’t like my country/It’s more of an addiction.’ In the context of Brexit, it’s a fun thing to say, but now, in the context of the NHS saving us, it’s a bit crass. We had a great couple of days in The Pool [recording studio] in South London with IDLES. I spent the whole first day playing it and playing it and playing, and then we just sat there and watched them rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. At the end of the day, they got it down. We did a few bits of vocal, and I did that hook with the band. I love IDLES. We’ve got exactly the same sense of humor—very band-y, very tour-y. People who tour a lot, they’re institutionalized and go down strange rabbit holes conversationally. The humor and everything else is very self-reinforcing. It’s a bit like being in the army, but without people trying to kill you.” I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Love Him (feat. Donae'o & Greentea Peng) “This is a club record. It’s massively inspired by ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ [Donae’o’s 2008 single], so I sent it over to Donae’o to sort of let him know that I had basically ripped off his record. I wasn’t expecting him to want to be on it, but thrilled that he was up for it. And Greentea Peng is brilliant—everyone go and listen to her music straight away. I knew this would be a single pretty quickly. That, I’ve realized as I’ve got older, is my job: choosing the best songs. Seeing the wood through the trees. I’m often not very good at it, but I’m getting better. In the case of this album, it was about working on one song for a week, then don’t listen to it again for a few months and keep moving. That way, I was constantly on this merry-go-round of refreshing insights. My other job is knowing when to be unreasonable. Being nice while being unreasonable is the greatest skill you can develop. Plus, picking the right moments to be unreasonable. The album artwork is a good example. I took a photo of the chain myself and knew it was the front cover. Then the designer at the label took it and added a few bits. If I was younger, I would have found something wrong. Whereas my honest first instinct was ‘That looks great,’ so we didn’t change a thing. If you know something’s right, don’t make a fuss for the sake of it. You don’t always have to justify yourself.” You Can’t Afford Me (feat. Ms Banks) “There’s sometimes a conservatism in rap. Once you’re a full-time rapper and you don’t have to try and get a job, then actually being a wild sort of guy talking about killing your enemies and shagging someone else’s girlfriend is actually fairly conventional. And there’s a lot of pressure to conform to this—I felt it, and I’m not even a rapper, really. But when I was younger, I had to check myself. It becomes a hardest-kid-in-school thing. And then if you’re actually tough, people say, ‘Well, they can’t rap, but it doesn’t matter because they’re tough.’ Different forms of music have different version of this, of course. But whenever you get someone who sidesteps this, it takes a lot. Ms Banks is so powerful in herself. She’s so talented, obviously—but she’s quite soft and…nice. It’s pretty powerful and it’s very unusual. I’m quite good at getting through the rap thing, because I’m older now and also a real rap geek. I’m not a threat to anyone. So I can have conversations with people who feel like they need to inflate themselves. People like Ms Banks don’t really go for that.” I Know Something You Did (feat. Jesse James Solomon & Eliza) “Jesse James Solomon is an interesting artist. He has a foot in different worlds. He came up super starry and cool with the Strata EP, then had a huge rap hit. He can be fully posted up with the goons—and I love that. I was really pleased when ‘One Way’ [2018 single by Suspect featuring Solomon and Skepta] came out because it sort of normalized him. It rooted him in the culture. We did this one on a boat, opposite The O2, at Soup Studios, and it came together really quickly, and then it took years to finish. Which is the case with most of the album. I think it’s a good thing, because they all have an immediacy. They started quickly. They were forged. There was a moment captured quite quickly. Then it was a lot of replacing stuff and mixing, mixing, mixing. Ultimately, I think something that’s good has to be wrong. If it’s not wrong, then you’re really just copying someone else. And when I say good, I mean original, or catchy.” Eskimo Ice (feat. Kasien) “Kasien’s ‘6FT UNDER’ record [2018 single with Kelvin Krash] changed my life. He’s a good friend of Gianno [Parris], who ran Visions Video Bar in Dalston. Greentea Peng worked behind the bar, too, actually. I have something in common with everyone on this album, basically. With this track, it’s about getting waved. Trying to soften that somehow. ‘Blinded by the Lights’ sort of brought me in a back door, because at the time I wrote it, getting waved in a club wasn’t really a thing in rap. But now it is. That’s what everyone sings about now. That’s why I did that song in 2017, ‘Your Wave God’s Wave God,’ because it was an arrogant way of saying there’s a connection that I feel. The swearing that opens up the second verse is from Quadrophenia, and even that takes me back to clubs. Unless you’re saying something simple and clear, it gets lost in a nightclub. I’m not going to go outside my house right now and call someone a wanker or a c**t. But I absolutely would do that in a nightclub. It works.” Phone Is Always in My Hand (feat. Dapz On The Map) “There are three lines on this song that probably sum up the album. ‘Call and call my phone thinking I’m doing nothing better/I’m just waiting for it to stop so I can use it again.’ Then there’s ‘Phone is always in my hand/If you think I’m ignoring you, I am.’ And finally: ‘You’re ignoring me/But you’re watching my stories.’ Phones ended up featuring really prominently, which gave the album a bit of a theme, which can make things easier. I’ve done quite well with concepts, but also quite badly, if you remember Everything Is Borrowed [The Streets’ 2008 album]. It was also important here to have Dapz On The Map feature, as a Birmingham artist. Birmingham has really given me life where I wasn’t expecting it. Becoming an adult, for me, is about shedding a lot of those playground meannesses that you sort of internalize, and Birmingham—or leaving Birmingham, rather—helped me do that. I am very much just some guy from London these days, but when I meet a lot of the new Birmingham artists like JayKae, Dapz, and MIST—there’s no baggage and there’s a no nonsense to them. The thing that Birmingham is good at is no nonsense; the thing that Birmingham is bad at is showbiz. Londoners—and even Mancunians or Liverpudlians—understand that hustle and it doesn’t bother them. Brummies are very straight-talking and it’s authentic, and can also be a bit paralyzing. Birmingham and places like it give you a sense of getting above your station, which is very charming at the right time. But it’s also disabling creatively.” The Poison I Take Hoping You Will Suffer (feat. Oscar #Worldpeace) “People have asked me about the line ‘Every girl has a dude in their inbox talking to himself.’ There’s also a line on the final track [‘Take Me as I Am’] where I say, ‘Men are weird at the close of the PM/Just ask a pretty girl to show you their DMs.’ The big things to have happened in the last few years here, I think, are Brexit, coronavirus, and Harvey Weinstein. Now that we’ve had some time to digest the horrific Weinstein case, we know we have to get rid of the power that’s involved with these situations. I also feel like it’s often to do with the pathetic lack of power, too. Lack of power and pathetic ego is what leads to a guy talking to himself in a girl’s DMs. I know I did ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’ [2002 single], but I actually think all boys have that sort of moment. And they sort of should have that moment where they go, ‘Oh, I need to be a bit more savvy. Because I’m not going to make this work if I keep embarrassing myself.’ And then they hopefully become decent people from that point. Girls are that much more mature from a younger age, and they have to put up with boys taking about 20 years to catch up.” Same Direction (feat. Jimothy Lacoste) “I find Jimothy so deep, so psychedelic as a person. His background is super interesting. It’s like Primrose Hill, but council estate. His background is confusing—and not yet figuring out who you are can be bad for mental health but really good for music. A couple of weeks before lockdown we went and filmed him at a chicken shop opposite Koko [music venue in Camden, North London] and spent hours in there talking. I feel like him and M.I.A. are kind of similar. It’s like they exist outside the normal realm, because that’s the life that they have experienced.” Falling Down (feat. Hak Baker) “Hak is another super interesting person. From the Isle of Dogs, which is sort of an island and right by the City of London. It feels like you’re in the ’60s, but in a different way. It’s like their mentality is from a different era—and I think they’d be the first to admit that. When you get an indie rock person and put them on a rap song, it’s a blessing because they aren’t trying to copy anyone. It reminds me of when Pete Doherty was on [2006 Streets single] ‘Prangin’ Out’—it’s a gift across the creative frontiers. It’s inspiring to see what’s possible if you come at something without your baggage. Hak could have easily been a rapper—and in some ways he is a rapper—but instead he shows what can happen if you pick up a guitar in prison for drug dealing and then comes over to your world. He’s so interesting because he doesn’t agree with a lot of the stuff that rappers come out with. There’s a conflict for him that a lot of people feel, but he voices. When you put rap music into context, I think it excuses a lot of things that other people maybe can’t get away with. But he doesn’t excuse people, and that’s fascinating.” Conspiracy Theory Freestyle (feat. Rob Harvey) “Rob is one of my best friends. He sang at my wedding. He helped me at a strange time of my life, when I was basically trying to be defined by not being The Streets. And that’s not a good energy to have with anything. Whenever you’re anti-something, that’s not a good energy. Working with Rob on The D.O.T. really helped me. And this song is at least 10 years in the making. Rob made the demo back then, I made a beat out of it, and every few years we’d revisit it until I loaded it up for this album and found the files had corrupted. So I asked Rob to get after it and I finished it off after a decade. All of Rob’s family are in the building trade, and we both share a similar mentality where we try and turn music into a normal job. Because we were brought up to think that if you don’t have a job, you might as well fuck off, right? He tries to turn music into a normal job by writing songs every day, and I try and talk about normal stuff. It’s very probably a recipe for some sort of mental health problems at some point in your life.” Take Me as I Am (The Streets & Chris Lorenzo) “This was as simple as Chris sending me a load of big drum and bass stuff and immediately thinking this was an absolute banger. It made me think of ‘Bricks Don’t Roll’ [2014 DJ Hazard single], and I knew I wasn’t going to let this one get away. So I emailed him straight back and said I needed to be on it. I’m just really, really confident about this one. No one can tell me it doesn’t work, because I know. I’m fully aware of what doesn’t work. And this works.”

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