An Extended Conversation With Toby Cregan And Ben Reed of Skegss
On festivals, releasing “My Own Mess” and surfing streams with German river rats.
If you've ever been to a Skegss show, you'll know what chemistry is.
Sweaty youths mouthing every word, banging heads, and drenched hair – it's kinda punk, but not in a macho way. Testosterone levels are more on the mild side, as a result their angle appeals to the girls just as much as it does the boys, which always makes for a more pleasant gigging experience.
No doubt inspired by Ozzie Wright and the Goons Of Doom, their sonics are raw, a little angsty, but still catchy and easy enough to digest. The latter allowing their status to elevate over the five singles and two EPs they've released to date, literally taking them from bedroom surf jams to bumping the ceiling on the Australian music charts.
Interestingly Noa Deane was one of the founding members of the three piece, he was instrumental in the band's very first single, 'LSD', but unfortunately he had to split due to a WSL slur and the band conflicting with his 'surfing career'.
Tobes taking a hands-on approach to encouraging Skegss disciples. (Photo by Kane Grosvenor)
For the last four or so years the band's consisted of frontman and guitarist, Ben Reed, who you may remember from our recent Tasmanian rubber test, revered surf filmmaker and longtime member of the Stab brethren, Toby Cregan on bass, and Johnny Lani on skins.
Now, together with Ratbag Records, they've hit green on their very first full length, My Own Mess. Praised reviews have been pouring in since it's release last Friday and they've already scored Album of the Week with industry gatekeepers, Triple J.
The album's fifteen tracks aren't dissimilar to the Skegss bangers you know and love, just a little bigger, a little more profound and very worthy of a spin on your preferred sound consumption medium.
Stab jumped on a line with Benny and Tobes, initially via a correspondent from music illuminati overlords, Warner (yeah the band's big time now), who, unbeknownst to us at the time, listened in to every vulgar word that was said during the atypical non-interview.
The pair spoke of their unforgettable home town set at this year's Splendour in the Grass, the new album, how they've grown as songwriters, cutting ties with 'regular' jobs, and Benny's only ever attempt to ride a (river) wave on tour.
Meet Ben Reed, he's the guy singing on the record and we think he's an alright bloke. (Photo by Kane Grosvenor)
Stab: Boys! How you guys going? Saw some shots from Splendour in the Grass, looked pretty wild.
Toby: Yeah, that was crazy.
Ben: We were pretty psyched for it, 'cos everyone amped that gig up pretty hard, and I guess you think about it a fair bit. Then we went out and played, and we were on pretty early, but it was easily the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to.
Toby: We went down to Adelaide a couple of days before, to play the Adelaide side-Splendour show, which was good, because we weren’t just hanging around Byron torching it with everyone. We had one night off and just chilled at home knowing it was going to be one of the biggest gigs we’ve ever played.
Oh fuck. I was so nervous.
Toby: It’s pretty nerve wracking, I was shitting myself.
Ben: We psyched out a little bit. But after a couple of songs you start to embrace it and enjoy it a bit more.
Toby: As soon as the first couple of notes are put down, you’re like ‘oh it’s going to be ok'. Everyone had been all 'Splendour this' and 'Splendour that', it was giving me the shits so hard. I was just trying to pretend it was just another show but everyone was just talking it up so hard.
Ben: I didn’t even notice how many people were there 'til after.
Yeah the photos looked gnarly; so many people – and in the light you could really see how deep it went.
Toby: It was full 90's Big Day Out style! The sun was still hell high up in the air. I was having heaps of fun.
The Splendour set. Kinda huge, yeah?
And you guys have just dropped your new album now huh? My Own Mess?
Firstly is there any kind of story behind the titling?
Ben: Yeah I guess it was this year, we were in a bit of unchartered territory, just flogging ourselves, doing heaps of shows and putting heaps of energy into it.
Toby: Like Benny said, we wrote the album over a year or whatever and it was within that time that we got ourselves in heaps of different, uh, trouble [laughs] and made a big sloppy mess of ourselves.
Ben: It’s ok. Now. [laughs]
Toby: Right Ben-Ben? That’s pretty much it? Also, there’s a song that pretty much summed up the album… It sucks cos it’s only our first album and we’re already feeling like we’re in that fucked-up phase, you know like the fucked-up second album? [laughs]
Well, it was like 2014 when you released the first single 'LSD' right? How do you reckon the sound has evolved since? Has it changed or developed in some way?
Ben: Yeah, definitely. It’s still pretty simple though. And we don’t like to look back and think too much about what we would’ve changed, sound wise or whatever.
Toby: A lot of people say, ‘oh that’s a different sort of tune for you’, but really if you go back and listen to a lot of the b-side on the earlier EPs and stuff, a lot of them are super cruise-y. Other than the demo we put out with Adam, they’re all pretty similar. Either way I don’t think there’s ever been any conscious evolving of it.
Ben: I guess we’ve kind of beefed it up a bit with a couple more pedals, like back then I didn’t have any pedals and stuff like that.
Art by Jack Irvine, everything else, Skegss.
With writing lyrics do you have any kind of inspiration? Do you think that might’ve changed at all over that period?
Ben: I guess with the early stuff you can hear me using certain words a lot because I hadn’t really done much before. Now we’ve done a lot more and I’m writing more about experience. Some of the songs can be a lot deeper.
When you’re out, you’re putting a lot of energy into the shows, then you come home and it sort of all stops and the songs can be a bit deeper, and sometimes sadder, 'cos all the fun has kind of stopped for a bit.
They can even come across a bit emo, but they’re not, they can just seem like that because you’re not writing songs when you’re out doing hell fun stuff.
I also like when you meet someone who has a different way of looking at the world.
Toby: Benny, the way you look at the world is always changing. You can really tell where your head’s at by the tunes you’re making. When we were first starting you were so young and hadn’t really travelled anywhere and now we’ve just been doing so much crazy stuff, that’s what the tunes have kind of become about.
Ben: I like interesting people – what they’re saying – you’re taking that in, words you hear from other people….
One thing I’ve been doing lately is watching heaps of comedians, I just thought how interesting they are – their job is to find stuff that’s obvious, but they’re the first ones to point it out. I’ll try to do that with words and songs. Just make it original as possible.
How's Rage going, Tobes?
Toby: Yeah real good, had a solid day yesterday on sales. It’s just cruising. We’ve got the shit on there and it just runs.
Beau made a Rage board that we were maybe going to just sell on the Rage site as a complete. Noa did the art on it. We might put that up soon, put up a couple surfboards or something. I dunno, just one off shit. But we’re mainly just selling the hoodies and grips and shit.
I think we might start filming for Rage 3 now, 'cos I don’t work for the Bong anymore, I don’t have enough time in between doing the band and stuff. It’s mainly the next month or so that we’ll be chilling, before me and Benny go away, and I didn’t want to spend it doing something I didn’t want to do...
Computer Dilemma, Real Axe, Ferrari Boys, Skegss. Tobes. (Photos by Kane Grosvenor)
Was there a point where you realised you could have a swing at making music a full time thing?
Ben: Yeah, I was working down in Forster at a fruit shop part time up until around February when we were going on tour for like three months. So it’s pretty hard to to maintain a job when you’re doing that.
Toby: We’ve only just started paying ourselves a salary, or wage, or whatever. Before that we were living off the band card, but we were in the fucking trenches… it’s ah… Hard to answer the question and not sound like a dickhead!
Ben: Tobes and I have just been trying to write more songs now, we’ve been demoing a bit more, more than we ever have in our free time now.
Toby: There’s really not that much time to kill. There’s always a lot of shit to do with the album, and I’ve got shit to do, like stuff for Rage, writing songs…
Ben: We’re constantly brainstorming so we’ve got content all the time.
Toby: And we’re trying to make a million videos. Nick Chalmers is doing one for us, Kai Nevsy Neville is making a video for us for a song off the album.
Ben: We’re trying to make a video for every song on the album.
Toby: I’m over that now. I don’t think we do that any more. I fucking tried to make a video the other day and was just like ‘fuck this is so hard!’ [laughs]
Making a record at Grove Studios, obviously a serious affair. (Photo supplied by Toby Cregan)
So how was Europe, and that last tour?
Toby: Surprising. The shows were like twice as big as last time we went there. Next time we go the rooms are going to be a bit bigger again.
It gets me excited cos we’re like starting the band again essentially when we go over there, we don’t get any special treatment. As people slowly catch on, the response obviously gets better, then we can afford a bigger van and shit when we go over and get hotels instead of sleeping in Andy’s fucking ex-girlfriend’s room where she chain smokes and shit.
So it keeps gradually stepping up each time you go?
Toby: Hopefully until maybe they get over it. Or maybe it won’t work. Maybe it just won’t work! [Laughs] I don’t think we’d make money going over there yet, but hopefully one day.
That’s cool though, it’s all free travel and experience, right?
Toby: I love Europe, and the UK. I reckon that was one of the funnest tours we’ve done, the last time we went to the UK. Like going up to Scotland, the kids up there are crazy.
Ben: They don’t really have security guards ever.
Toby: Good pub culture.
Benny grips a chord on his Mustang in front of a dazzled audience. (Photo Kane Grosvenor)
Do you think that makes people more respectful and behaved?
Toby: Hmmm. I had to get security on this one drongo, but he was from Lismore not London – Fucking Aussies man! [Laughs]
He was bumping into these girls, he did it once and I was like ‘Dude! Don’t do that!’ Then he knocked Benny’s pedals out or something then barged into the same girls again, he was a drunk-ass idiot.
I snapped when he pushed Benny’s mic into his face, so I just threw my guitar down and went into the crowd and pretty much dragged him outside myself.
Ben: Then everyone cheered! [laughs]
Toby: But yeah, I’m not a tough guy!
You guys have had Jack Irvine doing all the artwork for you for a while now yeah? How’d that come about?
Toby: That was [Aaron] Girgis, our manager, his business partner since like 2011. They’ve just been besties. Girgis hit us up and we thought it was cool what he was doing with Jack in Cronulla, they made something happen in a place where there wasn’t much happening in terms of art and music and shit for young people to do.
We just liked doing things in coastal places, cos we like surfing and stuff. And you’ve gotta remember Noa was in the band back then. Heaps of people were like ‘oh it’s Noa’s band’ and that kinda helped us.
Our first gig was in Thirroul and half of the kids just rocked up to see Noa, which was sick, we were loving it. We didn’t give a fuck, we just wanted pricks to watch us play!
Sometimes we still get the classic ‘where’s Noa?’ [laughs] In England and shit. It’s so good!
Hows I signed Noa’s name on some prick’s shirt the other day!
A band and a rural studio. (Photo supplied by Toby)
He was only in it for a little while, hey?
Toby: Yeah it was after the ‘fuck the WSL’ thing, he had to bone out. But, he was in the band for about a year I think. But we weren’t playing heaps of shows, just the odd giggo here and there.
What do you guys think of Blistar?
Toby: Backing it big time. I listened to it on Bandcamp but I wanna wait and get his vinyl.
What are you working on now?
Toby: Well cos we’ve finally got some time, we’re trying to get working on new stuff while we have a sec. Like compiling shit. I wanna get working cos once we get on another tour it’ll just keep going forever.
Is it hard to write on the road?
Toby: I don’t do it. Benny sometimes can.
Ben: Yeah, I’ll come up with some things and just record to my phone or something.
A neat package of recognisable heads. (Photo supplied by Toby)
So have you guys been getting in the water?
Toby: Yeah we both surfed today. Waves have been pretty shit, but while we’ve been waiting to go on tour, that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Mainly riding a foamy cos I’m pretty blown [laughs]
Do you guys get to slip out between shows on tour?
Toby: Naah. Benny, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we’ve never surfed on tour?
Ben: Only time I’ve ever surfed on tour was in Germany.
Toby: Oh yeah, Benny got to surf that standing wave thing.
Ben: In boardies!
Toby: It was freezing cold and they’re all these river rat dudes, that’s all they do, just surf that shit.
Ben: They psyched me out, said it was real gnarly.
We had frontman Benny down in Tasmania, popping shuvs and testing rubber. He exceeded all expectation. (Photo: Nick Green)
Toby: Yeah there were some hell nice skater, surfy dudes, well they can’t be surfers cos they live in the middle of Germany, but they were like ‘come surf the river tomorrow’. So we go down there and Benny takes his shirt off and starts asking these river rat guys if he can borrow their board and they're like ‘nah, you won’t be able to do it, you’re an ocean surfer!’ [laughs]
We were watching him from the bridge, losing our shit watching him get shut down by the river rats.
Ben: Some kid goes ‘this is Shane Beschen’s old board, so no, you cannot use this’.
Toby: And it was all snapped and shit! Then Benny had a go and yeah, he couldn’t do it. Who the fuck would wanna do that anyway? It looked fucked!
My Own Mess will also be released on gatefold 1LP Yellow vinyl complete with an Jack Irvine-designed 28-page zine.
Here's the stream, though, we'd prefer you spend the dosh and own the wax.