Hardly the Same Snake

Skinny Pelembe’s new record sees him step out of his comfort zone and into the beat
By Alex James Taylor | Music | 1 March 2023

‘Hardly the Same Snake’ album artwork

“When I really like music, it always seems to sound like his pieces look.” Yorkshire musician Skinny Pelembe (the pseudonym of Doya Beardmore) is remembering the first time he saw one of Robert Rauschenberg’s artworks: the master of collage and combine who spliced diverse references into rich tapestries. The same can be said of Beardmore, whose latest record, Hardly the Same Snake (out 28th April via Partisan Records), applies a similar process; blending self-recorded samples, baritone vocals and dubby beats to form expressive compositions.

Following years of mentorship on the roster of Giles Peterson’s famed Brownswood recordings, Hardly the Same Snake sees Beardmore step away from familiarity and into the unknown; a somewhat subconscious cycle that sees him start afresh with each new project – hence the album title. The result is a record he says is the most authentic representation of himself. One that reconstructs the traditional pop structures into emotive, expansive landscapes; where surfaces shimmer with lightness and freedom above those murky depths that continue to swirl at the heart of Beardmore’s work.

Alex James Taylor: Congrats on the gig [Skinny Pelembe played a headline show in London days before this interview], how was it for you?
Doya Beardmore: I enjoyed it. The gig after in Sheffield was the first time I’d ever sung in-ear rather than using a monitor. I got a cheap system for like 90 quid just to try it out, and then I realised that every single gig before, including the one in London, I’d just been fucking shouting at people. [both laugh]

AJT: It sounded great from the crowd. It must feel good to play the new material live?
DB: Yeah it does. I’ve been sat on it for ages, which I don’t mind because I’m working on new stuff all the time anyway. But it’s the thing of… we put out the first album and played gigs with like a six-piece band, kind of working at 70 percent – that album is a bit more jazzy, more chilled. You’d look out at the crowd at festivals and they’re all enjoying it but just swaying or chin-scratching. That summer in 2019 was mega, we went to Russia and Istanbul, all sorts, but the connecting thing between all those gigs was like, “Everyone is chilling, we need some fast tunes, some really fucking bassy ones.” And it’s starting to feel like that now.

“There was something about being totally adrift with no idea if anyone would take the album on, or if anyone would like it, or if I’d even still be playing music.”

AJT: What was your mindset going into this new record? It’d been three years since your previous album?
DB: Yeah, man. It probably wouldn’t have been that if the pandemic hadn’t happened, but that time allowed me to go off and be a hermit, working on this new material. It was a bit of a weird time. I amicably left Brownswood – Giles Peterson is forever my idol, I love him to bits – but there was something about cutting off that rope from the liferaft to the main boat and suddenly being in the middle of the ocean that appealed to me. There was something about being totally adrift with no idea if anyone would take the album on, or if anyone would like it, or if I’d even still be playing music. There were lots of panic attacks during that time [laughs]. There was something about being totally adrift that meant I was writing from a place that felt a lot more direct, with no outside influences. It was a bit of a risk but I think it’s paid off.

AJT: Is that a common impulse for you?
DB: I think subconsciously, definitely. I moved back to Donny [Doncaster, where Beardmore is from] to do the first album, cutting away from any friends or social life I had [laughs]. After that, I cut off anyone involved in the first album. I think it was a thing of trying to really define a sound that is completely, inherently me – constantly starting from a blank slate. I don’t want to make music that’s easy. Hopefully it’s easy to listen to, but I don’t want it to sound like it was easy to make.

Photography by Sophie Jouvenaar

“I don’t want to make music that’s easy.”

AJT: The album notes mention how you recorded live music and then used those as samples, creating your own sounds. I know you come from an art and design background and wondered if that process relates to those aesthetics?
BD: The first time I was ever aware of an aesthetic in art was during a primary school trip to the Tate and I saw Robert Rauschenberg’s work. I think that was the first time I was aware of what collage was and it’s always stuck with me. That’s how I want music to sound. When I really like music, it always seems to sound like his pieces look. With the sampling, I could make beats all day. I’m probably going to start sending out a lot of that stuff to other musicians. But for my own stuff, I don’t think I want to be using anyone else’s samples anymore. I personally want to be able to say that I made that track I sampled – they’re like hidden tracks within tracks.

AJT; So did the production process differ for this record?
BD: In a way, but because of lockdown really. The first album was like a real, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ collage thing where we just had loads of jams with people. One second of a bassline, one snippet of drums, and we’d try and force it all together – there are lots of edges that don’t quite fit. Then this time around, I wrote most of it before we even started and then recorded the whole album with me drumming as well. And you know about a band only being as good as its drummer? I’m a fucking, shit drummer [laughs]. So then I went to Malcolm Catto’s [co-founder and producer of The Heliocentrics] place, who co-produced the first album, and we just jammed. I went to him with all these tracks like, “Mate, here’s a sketch of the drums, can you do it way better?” And kind of like a doctor who knows what you need rather than what you want, he was like, “No, just give me a few bars of that song and I’ll give you twenty, thirty minutes of me jamming on top of it. Then it’s up to you to chop it up and sample it.” It’s like, “Fucking hell, I’m going to leave your studio with hours of drums.” [laughs] Which is amazing, the best present I’ve ever had, but when you only want not even a bar and you’ve got twenty minutes to choose from, you can go a bit mad.

But kind of like the first album, I was pushing stuff together to figure it out. And it clicked. A lot of it actually still has my drums on it. Then guitars were the hardest thing to get in there. When you do any kind of electronic or hip-hop adjacent thing, if the guitars are on the wrong side of rock, it can sound fucking horrible. It has to be a bit more naive, or bluesy, or psych. There are loads of guitar on the album but you can’t really hear them, they either sound like synths or really far back.

AJT: With everything you make, there are these really layered undertones throughout, it feels like you’re swimming about in this deep pool of references and sounds.
BD: I’m trying to get closer to straight-up songs, but I don’t want to lose what I love about DJ Shadow, or Slowdive – those really dense albums. But all that falls by the wayside when you hear Can’t Buy Me Love, or something like that.

AJT: What was interesting about watching you live was seeing when you knew to keep things tight and when to loosen things up.
BD: When we play live, the easiest thing to do would be to get a track or to use backing – I mean, so many bands do, but fuck backing tracks. I just can’t do it to myself, so luckily I have Pete and Tom in the band now and they’re of the same mindset. They can noodle ’til the cows come home, they’re unbelievable and are proper deep musicians. But they also get the thing of, “Let’s just fucking rock.” If I fuck up, I want to be able to use that in the show. To look at the drummer like, “Right, what are we going to do now?” and we find our way out. When you see bands do that, it feels special. I don’t want to be playing gigs just cookie-cutter. At some point it’d be nice when we’re really tight and warm, to look at each other and be like, “Shall we just go off-piste here?”

Skinny Pelembe’s new record, Hardly the Same Snake is out 28th April via Partisan Records.
Follow Skinny Pelembe on Instagram.

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