The Music Interview: The Streets

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white English rapper might sound like the basis for a bad Saturday Night Live sketch. But with new and exciting urban music being as rare as rocking-horse shit these days, you could do a lot worse than twenty-three-year-old Mike Skinner, a.k.a. the Streets. His debut album, Original Pirate Material, fuses hip-hop and house music to earthy witticisms on the blue-collar “birds” and “geezers” of Blair’s Britain. The effect is both cartoonish and touching. On “Don’t Mug Yourself,” Skinner warns his mates about becoming putty in the hands of a “fit bird;” on “Too Late,” Skinner takes an unflattering look at losing a girlfriend through arrogance: “We met through a shared view/She loved me, and I did too.” Always in search of another like-minded soul, I met Mike for coffee while he was in New York on yet another promotional sortie. — Grant Stoddard

So did you fly here first class?
Oh, no, no. I think you have to be Michael Jackson for the record company to pay for first class. (to a Warner Bros. P.R. guy seated nearby) Oi, how many sales you need to have to be first class?

Warner Bros. P.R. Guy: You know Enya?

Warner Bros. P.R. Guy: She’s the only Sony artist that flies first class. She’s sold fourteen million.
So do you reckon I need to sell five million? One million? How many records do I have to flog to go premium economy?

Warner Bros. P.R. Guy: Don’t even think about it, Mike.

So the NME called your album the most important British debut since the Sex Pistols’. Your reaction?
I think the NMEis the most important magazine since . . .

Look In? [the long-defunct, less edgy British version of Teen Beat]
Yeah! Look In! Fucking hell.

That was a sad day when that went under.
When did that happen?

1985, I believe.
Fucking hell. I don’t know if I’ve thought about that magazine since 1985.

So how are you coping with the groupies?
Oh, I don’t cope with any groupies. I’ve got a girlfriend. My behavior is impeccable. It’s quite nice having girls want you. That’s all you really need, really.

Have you noticed a massive change in the way you interact with girls since becoming successful?
Not just girls — boys too. Let’s not discriminate. People listen to a lot more of what you’re saying. That’s the interesting thing, and it’s quite enjoyable. Being listened to feels good.

Were you with your girlfriend before the success?
No, I got together with her the week the album came out. So we’ve only been together about a year. She didn’t know who I was. I was nowhere near where I am now. But the album was out, and I had done a bit of press, and I’d done a video and stuff, but people didn’t really know who I was.

Your song “Too Late” is a real story. Have you bumped into that girl since the album took off?
I was in a really big relationship with that girl in the song. But funnily enough, she’s never said anything to anyone. But her best friend sold a story to the paper that I’ve been going out with her. And I never . . .

It must seem funny, picking up The Sun [a popular British tabloid] and reading about what you’re supposed to have done.
Not really — it’s not funny at all.

Strange, I mean.
When you first get interviewed, you’re quite stupid. People ask you questions and you answer them honestly. Then you realize that doesn’t give you a very peaceful life; it leads to more questions. You start realizing that being honest is too good a story. You know what I mean? You just bring grief on yourself. So gradually — you can see it happening with artists — they come out, it’s all exciting, they’re controversial, and then they start thinking, “This is killing me.” So they start closing up a bit, and eventually they start sounding like politicians in interviews. So I’m a politician in training. [pause] But I’m always happy to make drug references.

All right. Sex on ecstasy: is it any good?
To be honest, I haven’t had a massive amount of sex on E. But, yeah, I think it’s probably all right until you come down and you don’t know the person you’re in bed with. I think the advice is . . . Sex on pills: do it, but then go home and be on your own when you come down.

In your album’s liner notes, you give thanks to the women who dumped you and the guys who beat you up. Did that happen a lot?
No, I’m not that downtrodden. I think it was just something funny to say. One of my pet hates is that massive boring thank-you list on every album. It usually starts with God and goes right through —


Mum, Dad, Uncle Bert . . .
Yeah, those are the first ones. Then it starts getting “music industry” towards the end. BORING. They’re a waste of album space. When you get a carpenter to make you a closet, he doesn’t walk out the house saying, “I just want to thank my mum for raising me.” It’s unnecessary. I get an album because I like the artist. That big space on the page could be filled by something funny or useful. So that’s why I did that, really. Something short and sweet.

What was the last job you had?
I worked at Burger King. I stole from the tills, I bought my equipment with robbed money. I made tunes in the bedroom and I sang in the closet. That’s what I say in interviews. I mean, it’s true.

So have you met anyone in the music scene and immediately thought, “Oh, he’s a twat”?
Do you want me to be honest?

If you’d like. On your website, you talk about the day you met Damon Albarn from Blur at a party. He came over and said, “Welcome.” As in, “Welcome to our club.”
Yeah! I didn’t know what to say. I was a bit stunned. At first I didn’t really recognize who he was. Which I’m sure will hurt his ego.

Yeah, he’s gotten a bit fat.
I did like a couple Blur tunes. [sings] “Woo-hoo!” I tell you what, I’ve met a lot of people with cocaine problems. [thoughtful pause] I’m not talking about Blur, of course.

So what album do you use to set the mood?
R. Kelly! That’s always been the traditional one.

Even after the scandal? It might set the wrong tone.
I’m going to say something really controversial now, but I don’t think what he’s doing is pedophilia. I mean, Gary Glitter is a freak. A freak with a lot of problems. R. Kelly is a guy who shags girls who are a little bit too . . . nubile. It’s a borderline case. I don’t think he needs to be demonized.

Is this why you hate the criminal justice bill?
Yeah. The criminal justice bill has everything to do with shagging fourteen year olds, and we should abolish it.

No one in America knows what it is.
It’s a law that was passed in the UK to stop people from dancing in fields to repetitive beats.

Because there’s a huge problem with that.
It’s like saying, “We’re gonna pass a law to stop people from walking on the sidewalk with a blue hat on.” It’s so specific. It’s like Big Brother, isn’t it? It’s like 1984. Is it 1984 or 1986?

1986 was the year Look In went down.

No, that was 1985. Challenger went down in ’86.

What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?
Probably the first one. I went a bit overboard on the Vanilla Ice haircut.

When was the last time you yacked down your shirt?
The last memorable one? In a cab on the way back from Ministry of Sound. The cabbie was screaming at us, saying “He’s puking all over his shirt!” A friend had to pull me out of the cab. He ended up losing me, ’cause I wandered into someone’s garden and passed out.

I’m glad you didn’t dodge the question. When I asked Supergrass that one, they said, “Oh, we don’t do that.”
HA HA HA HA! Well, I can tell you, I was with them the last time they blew down their shirts. Have you heard about Supergrass’s parties?

No, what about them?

So when you come back to the U.S., do you really have to fly economy?
When we came over, we got bumped up to Premium Economy.

Maybe they thought that you were Frank Skinner [funny, English equivalent of Craig Kilborn].
Funny you should say that. We were trying to get into a bar last week, and it was quite a swanky bar. It was a N.E.R.D. party. And he [gestures to P.R. Guy] was like, “We’ll have to go up to the bouncers and tell them who you are,” and use that as leverage, raise the stakes, you know? So my friends went up to the doormen and said, “We’re with Mike Skinner, the Streets, we want to come into the party.” They all did that, and the bouncer said, “I don’t care if you’re with Frank Skinner.” Anyway, we got in eventually. 


© 2003 Grant Stoddard and Nerve.com.