Interview with Norman Skinner
It was by complete accident. I had a few friends in high school that were starting a band to play the local high school talent show. A few weeks before the show date the singer they had left the band and they needed someone to sing… anyone. Since I was hanging around they asked me and I said “Sure, why not”! I had never sung professionally or performed on stage before but it sounded like it would be fun. After that one single performance I caught the bug and stuck with it. Took a few lessons and just stayed persistent and tried to get better and better. I guess the rest as they say is history.
Do you have any career highlights from your days in Imagika?
I have plenty of high points from the Imagika days. Most were live performance memories alongside bands such as Kreator, Vader, Steel Attack, Metal Church, Therion, Morgana Lefay, etc. Many great show and tour memories!! We had plenty of fun times in the early years songwriting together, recording and seeing a gaining crowd of fans with each of our releases. Definitely some of the best years for me musically. Too bad things had to end on such bad terms.
Can you give us some insight on the final days of Imagika?
Unfortunately as the line-up slowly changed so did the dynamic of the band. The band dynamic evolved from a democratic brotherhood to more of a dictatorship. One person making decisions which he deemed were in the best interest of the band. It slowly became less and less fun and the songwriting ultimately was beginning to suffer at the end. I knew it was time to move on. Once I departed the band in October 2010 the others followed a couple moths later before contacting me to start SKINNER.
Moving on, you first went solo and released an EP under your name? Did you feel you needed to stretch your wings at that point?
Well, that’s a common misconception. SKINNER is not a solo band at all. Once Imagika called it a day in December 2010, Imagika members Bassist Jim Pegram & Guitarist Robert Kolowitz contacted me to form a new band. At first I was reluctant because I indeed wanted to stretch my wings so to speak. I wanted to do something different and perform with new musicians. The last thing I wanted was a carbon copy of Imagika. Both Jim & Rob talked me into the idea and it was Robert Kolowitz’s idea to name the new band SKINNER. SKINNER is more a spin-off of sorts from Imagika. Perhaps an evolution of where the band could have gone given the freedom to do so.
Then you moved on and worked with Dire Peril. What are are some of the differences, advantages or challenges between doing a solo project and working in a collaborative band environment?
When I left Imagika, one of the main reasons was to do something more in the Power Metal vein. Imagika was very thrash influenced and it’s not a secret that my heart lies more in the Power Metal realm. The band Dire Peril definitely let’s me embrace my love for Power Metal as well as my love for Science Fiction. This band was also an accident as I was initially paid to record on their debut album. I loved the material so much I agreed to stay on full-time. As I mentioned SKINNER is a band and not a solo situation. I have yet to do a solo project. I probably never will. I enjoy working with other musicians and creating a vision together. The idea of surrounding myself with a lot of YES men doing what I want doesn’t sound appealing to me.
How is your new album Sleepwalkers progressing along?
The album is completed and ready to be released. We are extremely proud of it. We are shopping it to a handful of labels currently. If we do not get the right partnership we will simply self-release it ourselves. I have always been a fan of the DIY attitude so this option would work well for me.
The southern California/San Diego area seems to be a growing hotbed from Traditional Power/Thrash right now. Why do you think that is?
As most Metal enthusiasts know the SF\Bay Area is home to many of the most popular thrash bands in history including Exodus, Testament, Death Angel, Forbidden & Heathen. If you add in California bands Metallica, Slayer etc. it’s no wonder that a huge group of emerging Traditional\Thrash bands would emerge out of this area having been influenced by such notable local bands.
Are you actively seeking label support or do you prefer to go the independent route?
I am actively seeking label support however these days the words label & support hardly seem to go hand in hand. My history with many labels has been negative. Not being paid and\or a very limited push of releases. I love the independent route as I am able to see exactly how well the release is doing and track the financials. When it comes to the actual business side of things I find myself wanting to be more and more involved.
After years in the business, how do you keep your voice in shape?
It’s simply proper singing. I take care of myself keeping my health up and not doing anything that could harm my vocals. I don’t smoke or do any drugs. I try to get a fair amount of sleep and am constantly practicing and working my voice.
Do you do any training or warm-up exercises?
I actually do not warm-up before rehearsals or shows. I consider myself more of a vocal sprinter than a marathon runner. I guess you could say my 1st song is my warm-up. Ha Ha!
Do you have any tips for young Metal vocalists out there?
Yes, practice, practice, practice! Seek out some training to make sure you are singing properly. Many vocalists practice all the time but if you are singing improperly you are simply practicing bad habits. On the band side of things surround yourselves with the best players you can find. They will push you to get better and better. Lastly, have confidence in yourself.
This a is pretty boring and predictable question but who are some of your great vocal influences?
Over the years I have had MANY influences. I listen to so many different genres and sub-genres of Metal. Those that listen to me know I love to change my style so it should be no surprise that my influences range. Some notable vocalists that have influenced my style are Russell Allen (Symphony X), Layne Staley (Alice In Chains), Matt Barlow (Iced Earth), Christian Alvestam (Scar Symmetry), Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Chuck Billy (Testament), & Sebastian Bach (Skid Row) just to name a few.
Over to one of your recent projects, Hellscream. Tell us about how that band came about. How did you meet and begin to work with Dave Garcia?
David and I had performed together at a festival in Ohio in 2010 shortly before my departure from Imagika. A chance meeting at NAMM in Anaheim California had us discussing the current state of Cage. He had mentioned they were taking a short break and he was looking to work on a side project with Neil Turbin (ex-Anthrax). I mentioned if he ever was interested in working with me I would be available. 2 months later he sent me a track out of the blue to put some vocals to. He loved what I delivered so we decided to make an album.
How has reception been to the new album?
The reception has been extremely positive. The album turned out so much better than I could have imagined. I absolutely love the writing chemistry between Dave & myself. Some of my most favorite songs I have ever written appear on the release. Definitely looking forward to starting on a follow-up album.
Have you every arm-wrestled Dave ‘Conan’ Garcia?
No way!! I’m a big guy but he’s a monster of a man. Even by accident he could probably rip my arm off. HA HA!
You seem very busy right now. How do you juggle Dire Peril, Hellscream and your solo career?
It is all time management and prioritizing. I believe if you truly want something to work you will make the time and effort. Sure at times it can seem overwhelming but it’s something I love to do so I don’t seem to mind.
Are you able to make a living doing music or do you have another vocation? If yes, tell us about your other life and professional career?
No, I make very little money in music and that is almost always re-invested into the various projects. I have a day job like most people. I am in the Information Technology field. People ask why I don’t tour more and that is the main reason. I need to plan it out and use my paid time off.
What does 2014 hold in store for you?
2014 should be a very busy and exciting year for me. My first ever music video Skinner – “Sleepwalkers” will be released in March. The album “Sleepwalkers” will also be released as well as 2 EP’s from Dire Peril. The first will be titled “Queen of The Galaxy” and the second is titled “Through Time And Space”. So a minimum of 3 album releases for me this year plus a few guest performances on some other band’s releases.
SKINNER – Sleepwalkers
DIRE PERIL – Astronomical Minds