On the eve of The Streets’ fourth album hitting the shops, DiS caught a few words with a reflective and infectiously optimistic Mike Skinner.
As previously reported on DiS, you had a full new album, good to go a whole year back but decide to scrap 80% of it. What made you take such drastic action?
It ended up being just a collection of parables and it got a bit wordy and clever and I felt like it needed to be brought back down to earth a little bit, bearing in mind there were even songs about donkeys on there. I wanted to do something that was very different, that was also not referencing modern life ‘cos I thought that would challenge me into going in a new direction.
How have you managed to do your kind of reportage lyrics without referencing modern life?
It was very difficult. That was the reason this was the most difficult album I've ever done. All the songs are quite personal really. There's a song about religion on there. There are a lot of kind of different tales and hopefully they come across.
Are they autobiographical?
No, they are pretty much plucked out of the air. I hope they come across well. People I’ve played it to are really loving the album and hopefully they'll keep loving it.
You've used only live musicians for this album. How easy or hard was it getting your ideas over to them?
Well, it involved a lot of humming, to be honest, and a lot of lah-di-dah-di. It was relatively easy in a certain way ‘cos once we got started, I found that I was very opinionated and felt like I knew exactly how the thing should sound. It wasn't difficult in that sense but logistically and in terms of the time it took, looking back, it was a pretty big ask.
Are these musicians you used mates of yours or did you go for people who made the sounds that you wanted?
As much as possible, they were people that I had worked with before. Johnny Drum Machine (who's my drummer), he was a kind of a surrogate uncle-cum-musical director. He's probably the best musician I know. He was there all the time but there were also guys from my live band and then there was clarinet, which was Johnny's sister. We also worked with an orchestra in Prague.
Did you have to get up and do a Maestro with them?
I didn't conduct, no but I've reached the point now where I sit right at the back and oversee things, which I think is the most creative position to be in.
It's great that you managed to actualise your ideas through working like this.
It's great when you've done it but it's very trying at the time.
Does Everything Is Borrowed have a story or theme running through it?
It has a set theme in that none of it references modern life. It's a very positive album; there's nothing really negative on it at all.
So are you feeling optimistic about life at the moment?
I'm feeling really optimistic right now because this album that's taken me two and a half years to make has finally been done. It's great to actually talk about it in the past tense. It was a really, really difficult album to make and so yeah, I feel really happy. I wanted to make something that was positive, in rebellion against the last album.
On your Myspace blog entry, 'Parties and Smarties', you say you’re hoping to run a competition where the prize will be taking the winning fan from one gig, on the road with you until the following night’s gig in another city. Do you think that's going to get off the ground ‘cos it's a mad idea?
It is mad yeah, but we’re trying to work something out. The way that The Streets is run is fairly centralised with us, but of course I'm signed to a label but the labels are under a lot of pressure at the moment and they are not a lot of fun really. So I'm trying to step outside of that really and run things myself. We've got a guy who's going to run it all. I think that's the key; have someone to run it all and organise it all, cos if the shit hits the fan....
Yeah, people need to be able to get back home.
With trying to do things your own way, did you attain a sense of freedom with the video you personally made for 'The Escapist', (below) where you are just walking through France?
I don't watch MTV any more. I get a lot of my music off You Tube, which is what most people do now and I think what works on You Tube, or what connects, is kind of real events and real, genuine things and so I purposely wanted the video to document something real so that's why I did that. We are only making one conventional music video for this album which is the next one, 'Everything Is Borrowed', which is about me getting evicted from my house. That's a real kind of piece of drama that we've created in a really traditional way. I'm going to make eight more video (one for each song) but they're gonna be low key and kind of creative.
I saw your MySpace bulletin from August 15th, where you tell everyone that you were evicted that morning. Now obviously, this is one of your songs and it's one of your fictional stories but some people really took it to heart and the messages they left were so sympathetic.
Oh yeah, I know. I feel quite bad about that actually. Well, because I was just trying to present it in a way that linked with the story and to highlight the types of things that are going on at the moment. I got a few offers from people to put me up too.
The Beat Stevie films have taken on a life of their own on You Tube, with one recently being shown on Channel 4. You'll tour the album now but are you planning on getting more into the film in the future?
Definitely. We're entering the last one we did at all these really amazing short film festivals around the world. After my next Streets album, which will be the last Streets album, I'm going to make a film but I want to make it all myself. I want to have the team around me by that time.
What the short film about and what's it called?
It's called 'Don't Get Off The Bus' and it's about a journey we took from the Roskilde festival in Copenhagen last year, to another gigI was doing in Cardiff. It was on Channel 4 recently but we're not allowed to show it on the internet until we've entered it for all these awards, as they have strict rules.Finally, your album is called Everything Is Borrowed but now is your time to come clean. What do you still have in your possession that you borrowed but haven't yet given back yet?
I've still got my brother's copy of 'The Orphanage'. I've had it since the last time I saw my him at his house and he was in the process of lending it to my sister but I stole it off my sister. I said, 'No actually I need a film to watch tonight because I'm going to be bored so I'm going to take this and I'll give it to you after'. So actually, it's my sister I need to give it to and it's still sitting on my table.