Skindive's sound hits the listener like a slap in the face, a moment of shock that subsides slowly, giving way to a delicious, lingering sting and a rosy-pink burn. Visceral immediacy brands the music of composer / songwriter / guitarist Gerry Owens, yet the thirteen tracks of the Dublin quartet's eponymous Palm debut boast an astonishingly longevous emotional shelf-life too. Anchoring incendiary guitars and dramatic vocals with chugging machinery and thundering drums, Skindive unleashes dark, propulsive grooves, offset by string-laden orchestrations that enhance the album's cinematic ambience.
"Songs like 'Skindive,' 'No More Good Guys,' and 'Space Age Lullaby,' are all heavily reminiscent of film soundtracks," concurs Owens, who grew up surrounded by the strains of John Barry, Burt Bacharach, and Henry Mancini. "Soundtracks interest me a lot more than most music that's around at the moment. There's just a lot more depth to them. I've gotten into a habit recently of recording all of the films I watch â€“ videos, DVDs â€“ to MiniDisc and listening to films instead of albums."
Rather than tell a straightforward narrative, Owens prefers to craft songs that conjure up an open-ended mind set. â€œLyrically, I prefer not to give huge amounts of information away. You can read the lyrics a lot of different ways, and that's the whole idea. I don't like just being handed stuff on a plate. That's very boring, it's too easy, that's a big problem with the entertainment industry in general.â€? Skindive's approach follows a different ideology - â€œpresuming your audience has intelligence instead of hasn't.â€?
Born in Dublin, and raised just outside Irelandâ€™s Capital in the small town of Trim, Owensâ€™ parents bought him his first instrument, a Casio keyboard, when he was seven or eight. â€œAnd then the sickness spread, and I spent more and more money on equipment.â€? His arsenal of synthesizers was soon augmented with guitars, and by his mid-teens, Owens was writing original material.
Owens moved to London for three years after college, played in several groups and insists that â€œit was a great learning experience.â€? However, never really able to find his musical brethren, he returned Dublin to concentrate on writing new songs that distilled his aesthetic to its purest essence. Once he had a handful that met his exacting standards, he undertook the arduous task of finding band members that could animate the music.
The chemistry between members was of crucial importance. â€œI've been in several bands at this stage, and they all implode because of the personalities involved. It was very important to me to think in the long-term for Skindive. It took a long time to put the right people together.â€?
Bassist Alan Lee and drummer Ger Farrell were signed on during the first four months of recruiting, but finding the voice to embody Owens' lyrics proved to be a bit of an odyssey. â€œI had intended from the very start to use a female vocalist,â€? he explains, â€œbecause the music is so intense that you need a voice that's going to cut through.â€? They tried out dozens of vocalists, most of whom were very talented, yet lacked the distinctive timbre Skindive required. Finally, one rejected aspirant recommended a colleague in Los Angeles. â€œWe never thought of going to a different country for a singer,â€? Owens admits. â€œShe played the music to Danielle over the phone that night, and within a week Danielle was over auditioning.â€? â€œWe all feel lucky to have the people we have involved. Our relationships are based upon mutual respect and a love for music.â€?
Skindive adheres to a sound that is as distinctive as the artists Owens was weaned on: Massive Attack, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Depeche Mode. â€œWhat's exciting about music is pushing boundaries," he concludes. "Climbing on somebody else's bandwagon doesn't interest me.â€?
Skindive spent the next year playing around Dublin, polishing its stage show. Owens states, â€œIt's not like going to a normal gig. We use a lot of visuals, and had a film made specifically for the opening sequence. A lot of people who've never seen us before stand there with their mouths open, just staring, because there's a lot to take in, musically and visually.â€?
With their footing at home, and itâ€™s sights on one specific target: Palm and Chris Blackwell (founder of Island Records and Palm Pictures), the band self-financed a trip to the U.S. to pursue a record deal. â€œWe are huge fans of everything he's done,â€? admits Owens. "Even before the band was put together, we sat down and made a ridiculous pact that we were going to try and sign to Chris' label.â€?
His interest piqued by the band's demos and the reception they received in Los Angeles and New York, Blackwell flew to Dublin and, two songs into the gig, was adamant that Skindive belonged on Palm. Owens was ecstatic. â€œChris is genuinely a music lover, he's in it for the artists. That's what swayed us more than anything.â€?
Now the real work began. â€œI spent my entire life, from when I was a kid, looking forward to the day when I was signed and making my first album,â€? confesses Owens, â€œand it really was an long, painful, arduous task. We got a lot of gear together and I set up a studio in the middle of the country, in a converted stable. Basically it was just me and a dog there for six months. Every Thursday the guys would come down, learn the parts, Iâ€™d record them, and I'd mix the track on Friday.â€?
After trying his hand at collaborating with a Los Angeles producer, Owens opted to assume the bulk of production responsibilities himself. â€œWhich means if it's crap, I get the blame,â€? he laughs. â€œThere's so much going on in the tracks, it was hard to get a grip on what I was looking forâ€¦ even for myself it was difficult.â€? Adrian Sherwood (Nine Inch Nails, SinÃ©ad O'Connor) co-produced four tracks, and engineer-programmer Alan Branch co-produced three more. Owens flew to Vancouver to mix the album at The Warehouse with Skinny Puppy veteran Dave â€œRaveâ€? Ogilvie (Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails). â€œIt was 13-15 hours days for a year and a half, and it was difficult, but I'm very, very happy with the album,â€? beams Owens.
The 12 songs delivered on this self-titled debut will satisfy your cravings. Savor the sultry, ethereal vocals, served with a generous layer of growling guitar, spiced with pulsating percussion and topped off with a whooping dollop of bass. Skindive â€“ a delectable aural delicacy imported from Ireland by Palm.