We catch up with front man, Ryan Johnston from Skinny Living after their Bristol show on their headline tour.
Read below as we talk meeting at open mic and deadly sea snakes in the Philippines.
So first off how did you come up with the name, Skinny Living
Ryan: We were driving to a gig, it was Will and I at the time, we hadn’t met Danny and Rhys yet, we hadn’t become a band yet. So Will and I were driving to a gig and ran out of fuel on the way, were talking about how broke we were and we were talking about putting Skinny into the name of what we were doing and we were like “Ah, but we’re living skinny, living on the wire, no money whatever” and he was like oh we’ll turn it around! So that’s how we got the name Skinny Living.
So how did you all meet and decide to form a band together?
Ryan: Met at an open mic in Wakefield, called The Admiral Duncan. I don’t play an instrument when I’m on stage or whatever, so I was singing just on my own the first time that I had met Will and Rhys was there that night as well and they were both playing solo. And then a couple of weeks later after going back to the open mic Will asked me to come jam with him. He was like “do you want me to play guitar for you?” And then it just started to kick off from there and we met Danny at the same place too.
So it just went from there
Ryan: Yeah everybody was a solo singer, well trying to pursue something so we made a band.
You’re partway through your tour, how’s it going so far?
Ryan: Second day today! It’s been great. Yesterday…first one is always a bit crazy.
I guess you don’t really know what to expect
Ryan: Yeah, it was the first time presenting all the new music in that sort of order and that set list for people so, it was quite quiet yesterday, but it was nice and intimate. Then today it was a little bit more lively.
Where were you yesterday?
Ryan: Brighton…can’t remember the name of the venue.
Have you got any place in particular that you’re most looking forward to play, or have played in the past?
Ryan: Most looking forward to on this tour is Belfast because I’m looking forward to going home and see my family. And other gigs, we’re looking forward to Leeds and the London show as well because they’ll be quite lively!
Everyone always says good things about London shows
Ryan: Yeah, yeah it will be great.
If you could share a stage with anyone, who would it be and why?
Ryan: Hmm, alive…or dead?
Ryan: Ok, such a big question..gee I don’t know. Lauryn Hill?
Ryan: Her album, The Miseducation Of really inspired me as I was growing up and I love her vocals and I like a lot of the way she sings. She’s quite strong
So you’re an unsigned band, do you find it a lot harder to get your music out there for people to listen than if you were with a label?
Ryan: Umm, we’re sort of doing a thing at the minute with RED, which is a part of Sony which is distribution. We’re trying to do things on our own through our own label and stuff like that. I think yeah it is, it’s hard to do it on your own. We did it for two and a half years completely on our own and it can be tough but the way Facebook is and Twitter and whatever else there is but if you create content that people can relate with, sometimes it just catches and starts to explode. That’s how we got the interest in what we’re doing from other people for the music that we put on Facebook.
If you do get signed do you think you’d rather be with an independent label than a more commercial one?
Ryan: It’s more about making the right thing. It depends on the people, for me anyway. It’s the people and the focus and the drive and the belief that they have in what they’re doing and also in what we’re doing. So I think just team up with anybody to do anything. I think a lot of people will be, I don’t know…confused because it can seem quite glamorous or whatever but I don’t think it us until you actually achieve the goal you you wanted to achieve and become majorly successful and have created a fan base. A record label can’t provide that for you, they can get out and get people to see you more but it’s also really down to the band and making a connection with people.
So I just want to talk about Boardmasters as that’s where I first saw you. Your set had a bit of a technical malfunction, but you carried on your show regardless, how did it feel to know that the crowd had come to see your set and wanted you to continue the rest of your songs?
Ryan: It was amazing; it was really crazy! It’s funny we were there, what do you call it Watergate Bay? We stayed in Watergate Bay the year before and it was just before Boardmasters was on and there was a guy on that we followed. A singer called JP Cooper and he was playing there!
Oh yeah I’ve heard of him
Ryan: Yeah, he’s brilliant, his voice is excellent. And we were like “Ah, can’t believe he’s playing there” and then we ended up there the next year so. And because we didn’t really know many people down there and there were so many people there that liked our music it was really surreal. Especially as it was in such a beautiful place.
It’s so pretty down there! You had the sunset slot at that time as well!
Ryan: Yeah, it was perfect, the weather was great as well! We were worrying that we were gonna get rain but…it still would have been fun anyway but it was just awesome.
I also noticed you guys recently spent time in the Philippines as a band. What was it like playing over there and what did you get up to?
Ryan: We went with a travel company called STA Travel Company and we did a song for their social media called Like A Ray which we did last year and they helped us make a video and put it out for us and help us get exposure and more people to know who we are. When we were there after making that video and meeting the guys that were running the thing we met this girl called Torah and she was talking about the Philippines and I used to have dreams about the Philippines when I was a kid and she was like “I wanna go and take somebody there, it would be great to work with a band”. And I was like well we’ll go! Yeah, it was crazy how it all came together, a year later we doing it.
The whole time we were there things we’ve seen were ridiculous! Swimming with turtles, we were on a boat going out onto the reef and just before we got into the water a sea snake swam past the boat and they’re like one of the most venomous snakes in the world and were a bit like fuck! But we got in because the guy that lived there was like “No they won’t touch you as long as you don’t touch them”. It’s just such a crazy place to be and we went to an island that’s completely cut off from the modern world and it was just amazing. Unbelievable kids…there was a little school there and teachers got boats over to teach the kids but it cost like £10 or £20 to pay for their education for their whole school for a whole year. So we were like oh we really want to help and to give them loads of money but then we were thinking at the same time, they have something really beautiful there without and you don’t want to spoil it. So it’s really hard. You don’t know whether it’s right to give that up to try and help with what they don’t have and educate them maybe for them to be able to become doctors or whatever but then I don’t know, it’s just a tough decision!
What was it like gigging over there?
Ryan: Yeah the gigs were great because the people are so so happy. Like so happy and they just loved it. It was crazy, we got onto this beach in this place called Port Barton and the locals call it the Last Paradise as not many tourists know about it and not many people in the Philippines know about this place. They’ve recently got tourists coming over the last three years and they had printed off these massive banners with our faces on it saying “Welcome Skinny Living to Port Barton” and there were all these boats and we were just walking down the beach arriving and were just amazed by everything around us and then we looked round and our faces were on this wall like oh my God! They were photographs that we wished didn’t exist anymore ha ha!
How did you find that!?
Ryan: It was mad but it was amazing playing there and the reaction was great and then we played in another area called El Nido which is another area but it’s quite touristy so there was a load of people from Egypt and Israel and Britain, America which was fun too.
I feel like you don’t really stick to a genre with your songs, and your lyrics are very relatable, so what’s your song writing process like?
Ryan: Failing really! I don’t even know if that’s easy to understand ha!
Like trial and error?
Ryan: Yeah, it depends, like in Rush the new song I wanted to right a song with the title, Rush. I didn’t know what way it was gonna go to begin with, but then we started working around with writing the song. As soon as the guitar started playing I said we’re always in a rush and then I just built the rest of the song. So it comes in all different ways because sometimes Will will play guitar and I’ll hear what he’s playing on guitar and I’ll have a feeling of what the guitar is doing, then I’ll write. Especially with A Better Way of Thinking and Only I when I’m listening to it, it gives me a feeling that is the words so the emotion ties to the sound.
So are there any musicians or bands that you draw inspiration from?
Ryan: Lots and lots. I mentioned JP Cooper earlier on as we listened to him a lot at one point. He influenced us quite a bit. I think on one song in particular called Clouds. It’s strange because we all listen to so many different artists. I’m really influenced by Bill Withers and really influenced by hip-hop and there’s loads of different genres but you just sort of put it in where it feels right do you know what I mean? Only I has a hip-hop undertone on it because of the beat and the bass line but it’s also got like a country thing in it with the way Will plays guitar. But it’s whatever emotion that we’re feeling and just put it into the track.
So for the last part of the interview we tend to do a Would You Rather round if you want?
Ryan: Yeah ok!
So would you rather live one life that lasts 1000 years or 10 lives that last?
Ryan: Mm… 10 lives that last a hundrend!
Change the past or see into the future?
Ryan: Neither..I wouldn’t like either one!
Finally, a third eye or a third arm?
Ryan: Ha ha a third arm!
Interview by Sacha Patston