Meet Skinless, New York death metal titans who, for twenty-three years have been delivering no-holds-barred brutality and insanely high energy live performances. This year, they’ve returned from a six-year album gap to slaughter the metal world with Only the Ruthless Remain, and, with the addition of a lead guitarist, it just might be their finest album yet. On the last stop of their east coast mini-tour, vocalist Sherwood “Thunder Wheel” Webber took some time out to chat with us. On a semi-inexplicable impulse, I decide to start by asking about a New York-based suicide cult whose members skinned themselves alive in the late ‘80s.
I wanted to start by talking about the Sunshine Family Ministry, whose song you featured at the end of your last video. They’re not too removed in time or space from Skinless forming. Is there any sort of inspiration there?
Sherwood Webber: I need to call in an expert on that. Pause.
[Pause. He returns with Joe Keyzer, bassist]
Joe Keyzer: There’s clearly been some influence there. Not to say that it was direct, but we kind of found out about each other after the fact. It just seemed like a really good fit, to benefit both groups, who are, I think, benefiting from each other, and moving forward, I think, both groups are gonna continue to benefit from each other.
Wait, what? The Sunshine Family Ministry benefited from you?
Joe Keyzer: I believe so, in some small way. Their ministry is gonna start to grow again.
Sherwood: We should start making shirts and sell them at shows.
Joe: At a certain point, they were [a tongue-clicking noise that indicates “done”] – there was nothing left of ‘em, but they’re starting to grow back.
Are you serious?
Joe: Yeah, they’re building again. I have a pipeline of communication with them. I haven’t got a chance to listen to it yet, but I got a new track that got ripped down from an old box of tapes that we’ve been ripping down. It’s old music that’s been recovered. It’s one of the recovered recordings.
All I’ve heard so far is “Satan is Real”, er – not “Satan is Real” – “Satan is Living”
Sherwood: I think they also took some influence from The Louvin Brothers on that one.
Right? It’s the same melody even.
Joe: You guys are crazy. I just got an update. New track. I hope it’s awesome, ‘cause I haven’t even previewed it yet.
[It is, indeed, awesome. Called “Satan, Oh, Satan”, it is sung by a six-ish year old girl who, half-way through, begins speaking in tongues. For updates, find The Sunshine Family Ministry on facebook.]
We’ve been ripping it slowly, got a big box of tapes of reel-to-reel recordings, and I have a friend of mine working on ripping them down. There’s some members of the family that’re just now starting to work with us on it.
Are you serious?
Joe: Yeah. It’s not my project, but I’m part of the pipeline.
Sherwood: There has to be a level of secrecy with the whole thing.
Yeah, can I even print this?
Joe: Hey, if you would like to, it’s okay.
So, anyway, it’s good to see you out here. I remember reading you wouldn’t tour anymore. Is that still the case?
Sherwood: No. I mean, we’re touring right now, right? Three shows.
Joe: We’re on tour, right now, weekend tour.
Sherwood: Weekend tour, some of the best shows we’ve ever played. Show number three.
Sherwood: Three. [Laughter] We had a good year, y’know? Two thousand fifteen, we played a ton of shit.
Bummed I missed ya at Maryland Deathfest, not having Thursday tickets. Was that sort of your comeback?
Sherwood: Yep, that was a good one. We did Hellfest this year as well, and yeah. This weekend’s been f*cking great. Boston, Brooklyn, Philly.
How was Dave [Matthews, lead guitar…not that Dave Matthews] brought into the fold?
Sherwood: Dave and Noah [Carpenter, guitarist and founding member] played in Armor Column together and there was some obvious chemistry there, and then it just made sense. We’ve always, over the years, kind of toyed with the idea of a second guitarist. When that chemistry was apparent, it was a f*ckin’ no-brainer for us, and Dave – number one – shreds, has an incredible work ethic, and he brought a whole new life to us, which is killer.
Has that affected the songwriting process?
Sherwood: Yeah, I think it has a little bit. He’s been a big contributor to that, and, y’know, the guy rips leads, and Skinless traditionally hasn’t had a whole lot of lead work, but the guy f*cking kills it.
When you’re playing old stuff, do you find yourself retroactively writing lead parts?
Sherwood: Not really, no. On the old recordings, there was always the basis of a two-guitar track going on, which, live, we were always well able to pull off. With a second guitarist, it makes it thicker, heavier, and you can play some of the harmonies.
When Skinless broke up, Noah said it was because the “fire” had gone out. How did you get that back?
Sherwood: We were all kind of spread out, and going in different directions, life-wise. Noah just decided that it was too much of a struggle to reel everybody in. I’m in Denver, these guys are all having kids, doing life stuff. At that point, the fire maybe wasn’t there for the band, but now it’s f*cking raging.
No kidding; the new album’s sweet.
Sherwood: And we’re playing the best shows we’ve ever played. The band’s better than ever. It’s crazy.
Yeah, it used to be that the first two albums of each band were the best, but now we’ve got all these twenty-something year old bands putting out their best stuff.
Sherwood: Absolutely. A lot of bands are like that. New Immolation is f*cking killer. I guess it’s a testament to the longevity of this scene, where we’re playing these shows and seeing friends that we made twenty years ago, playing our first shows. The fact that we’re still able to do it and still have these folks around is a f*cking honor. To be able to drink beer with these boys and have fun, play our music and have people so excited about it, it’s awesome.
How did you get the vocalist from Dragged Into Sunlight to do a guest spot?
Sherwood: I was just such a huge fan of the band, and kind of reached out to those guys. We were talking about doing some shows, or – there was some exchange there, and I asked him if he wanted to do vocals on our record. He’s a big fan, so there’s that mutual respect. They’re younger guys, a younger band, but it’s an honor for me. I love that band.
And [the vocalist of] Demilich?
Sherwood: Antti Boman was out opening for King Diamond, and I work as a production manager in Denver. He was playing guitar in another band that opened up for The King, and we just immediately hit off as beer-drinking death-metal heads and I was like “Well, now’s your chance to do your vocals on our record. Let’s do it.” So it was a drunken iPhone thing and, boom, had it on the record.
Moving forward, do you feel like you’re back in a momentum with this?
Sherwood: Absolutely. We’ve done a good amount of shows this year, and, for us, it’s about all the capacity we can handle show-wise. That’s really special for us, because when we do get together, it hits harder than ever. We’re always talking about – we were sitting at the bar last night talking about new songs, writing, and getting it going in 2016, so we’re a band on our own pace, and that’s cool. That’s cool with everybody, cool with Relapse [Records], cool with us. We’re all family men. That’s our priority, but goddamn it’s nice to drink beer with our boys.