SKINLAB - interview with Steev Esquivel, May 2009
Tartarean Desire’s American Editor, Tony Belcher, recently interviewed the one and only Steev Esquivel of Skinlab. Everything from the reunion of his first proper band, Defiance, to the forthcoming new Skinlab album, to Philip Anselmo’s birthday, to why he has two, count ‘em, two copies of St. Anger, all the way to his time fronting Exodus was touched on, so have a look, friend.
I've listened to Skinlab since the debut record, Bound, Gagged and Blindfolded, and have a keen interest in seeing you get back to the magnificence of Disembody: The New Flesh, one of my favorite records of all time, particularly after the change in direction witnessed on reVolting Room, never mind the subsequent ~4 year absence. So welcome back. You were missed.
Thanks.... We’re happy to be back!
At one point I recall Skinlab was reported as finished, done, over.... What caused the Houdini act?
It's been a while, but I feel the break was needed. Things were getting hectic in our personal lives, and at the time we were touring 15 months per album cycle if not more. But we are back now and still heavy as fuck. I’m sure you'll be just as stoked as we are about the new album!
How has it been since Skinlab regrouped?
Great! We're still the same goofballls we always were; just a little more revived and beat up. Everyone is really ready to get out there and fuck some shit up!
Has the songwriting process changed since the "reunion"/resurrection and how was it for the upcoming record?
Not really. It’s pretty much the same as we always would [write]... someone will write something and bring it in for changes and comments and we'll take it from there. We'll usually run with the idea of whoever is writing it, just to keep the same spirit and emotion they are trying to get. Then we'll bash it out at rehearsals and twist and turn shit ‘til it makes sense to us. I will say that this is the most diverse record we have ever written.... ...Not so much verse/chorus/verse. We just went for it and wrote what felt best to us.
Are there any surprises in terms of sound this time around?
The whole album is just gonna blow everyone away! We are super proud of everything and now that's it actually being recorded with "real" tones and album quality sounds are coming out, we're all starting to freak out and get excited about the music we've created this time around. It's not n¸ metal, metalcore, black metal, comb-over metal.... We've kinda adapted our own tag -- "Stoner Metal"...that works best.
What musical influences can Skinlab claim?
Pantera, Machine Head, C.O.C., Acid Bath, Neurosis, Mastodon, Slayer and Crowbar!
Relatedly, who are some of your favorite bands and favorite albums?
Mastodon's new album [Crack the Skye] is amazing.... New Chimaira [The Infection] is nice and heavy.... Looking forward to new Suicide Silence and Dirge Within. There are a couple locals bands -- Un-id, Scorched Earth Policy, and DropSeven -- I’d like to see take off.
Alright, so what is your greatest inspiration for writing music? Aside from a band perhaps influencing you, what inspires you?
I always keep my eyes rolling and my mind racing trying to think of stupid shit to write about. The music I contributed to the new album was all about energy and emotion. Lyrically I’m still in the mode for the last few weeks here, and things are coming out more life against life situations and just looking at things from behind the smoke and mirrors and making up my own way of communications.
What do you think of Metallica's latest record, Death Magnetic, and their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? This band still causes lots of reaction and emotions in fans and former fans alike.
Ummm, I dig the record, actually, and I even bought two copies of St. Anger. ...I’m not a hater. I learn off of other peoples’ strengths and artistic adventures. If you don’t you'll always stay boxed in. I see James is singing heavy again live... that’s killer!! And just the fact that they opened the doors for bands like Lamb of God andMachine Head to inspire a whole new generation to heavy music and they helped to keep the ball rolling.
Do you have a favorite place to tour?
I love touring Australia.... They always fuckin’ kill shit for us!! The fans are just cool as fuck! South America rocks, too. They know how to throw down.
I caught a killer Skinlab show supporting Superjoint Ritual way back in 2002 in Atlanta. Do you have any favorite tour stories? How was Philip Anselmo, by the way?
That was an awesome tour!! The band and crew treated us great and the crowds were always killer. ...Cool story was celebrating Philip’s birthday backstage at the House of Blues in New Orleans and his Mom and family brought Anselmo's Catering -- family Cajun seafood madness from their restaurant, and his Mom organized everybody to sing Happy Birthday. Afterwards Phil, in his shy, deep voice said, "Ah, shit. You goddamn motherfuckers," and his Mom speaks up: “Ahh, Philip. Watch your mouth.” He replied: “Ahhh, Ma.”
So would a Skinlab/Machine Head/Slayer package still be your dream tour?
Fuck yeah! We always talk about what tours would be amazing.... That would top all!!
I also saw one of your "rare" performances as vocalist for Exodus (in Washington, D.C. back in late 2004, supporting Megadeth) -- you had a mix-up with "Piranha" that night, by the way, and Gary Holt gave you some shit on stage right afterwards. Always a good time.... Anyway, how did fronting that band come about?
I did it because Zetro had bailed out last minute. Paul Baloff and Exodus have always been friends, so I told them I would be down to help. Little did I know it would lead to the Megadeth tour, which was amazing!! I had a great time, though it was probably the hardest job I even took as far as singing. Hahaha.
I know how you feel about Paul Baloff (R.I.P.), so was that tour a "Make-A-Wish" kind of thing for you?
Absolutely, and that was the whole reason I did it!! Paul was a huge influence on me. I used to headbang in front of the mirror back when I was a fuckin’ kid pretending I was Baloff. ...25 years later I’m on his stage singing his songs. ...I could have retired and been a happy man!!
Robb Flynn went from Vio-Lence to Machine Head and you had a similar "career path" from Defiance to Skinlab (i.e., from Bay Area Thrash to a more aggressive, Pantera-influenced sound). And now you've got both Defiance and Skinlab at once. How's your "other band" going and how do you balance the two, musically and in terms of writing? How do you keep the musical and lyrical ideas separate?
Well, first off, Defiance and Skinlab are two completely different monsters. It was really easy to separate the two just because they’re so different. [Skinlab guitarist] Snake helped record the vocals for the Defiance album, which was cool because he'd always let me know if I crossed over into Skinlab mode.
What's the fate of another of your bands, Re:Ignition, which also featured Snake?
Re:Ignition was as fun as all side projects should be. We took it as far as we could without touring. It was really only used as a vehicle to get a lot of mellower songs I had and kinda turned into a really cool rock project.
Any new plans for a record or tour with Re:Ignition?
Who knows? ...Never say never.
Back to the new record, do you have any information you want to share -- song titles, name of the album, etc.? When can we expect to see it?
The name of the album is The Scars Between Us. A few titles include “Scream At The World,” “Karma Burns,” “Papertrails,” “In For The Kill,” “No More Heroes,” and “Wolves Blood.” It should be released this summer sometime. ...It's a sick ugly bastard of an album. There’s nothing pretty about it. We’re back in full guttural mode.... Fans should expect this to be the best Skinlab album yet.
Taking it a step further, how soon will be it be before Skinlab gets back on the road -- there's gotta be some tour plans in there somewhere, right?
As soon as we get the album done we start touring in June, starting in South America with Ill NiÒo and Skin Culture.
How did you come to sign with Stand and Deliver Records and how have they treated you thus far? Ohio is a long way from the west coast....
We met through a friend -- actually my co-manager and one of my best friends, Shaun Glass from Dirge Within, hooked it up. We also knew of them from a band called Flatline, who are just a crushing metal band. [Stand and Deliver] seemed to be pushing them pretty hard. They have been doing great [for us]. They are on top of everything they said they would do. So, yeah... so far, so good!
And with that, the interview was complete. Thanks to Steev Esquivel for taking the time and Matt Polena from Stand and Deliver Records for making it happen. If you gave up on Skinlab for whatever reason, perhaps there’s cause for you to check ‘em out again on The Scars Between Us. After that, watch out for a full U.S. tour in the fall. In the mean time, check out their video (online at that other place, you know the one) for the song “In For The Kill,” which features Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight contender Nate Quarry and Sportfight veteran Greg Thompson beating up on each other in a cage while the band plays on....
- Tony Belcher