Vocalist Norman Skinner himself has released 9 studio albums world-wide and has played countless shows & tours. He has made quite an impact as a force to be reckoned with in the Metal world. Dubbed the Metal Chameleon by members of the press, Skinner possesses a very wide range and utilizes it in a unique style to effortlessly switch between the beautiful and the brutal. Mr. Skinner is a very sought after vocalist being recruited often for live guest appearances as well as recordings. Norman has shared the stage\studio singing alongside such vocalists\musicians as James Rivera (Helstar), Andy Larocque (King Diamond), David Garcia (Cage), Lance King (Krucible), Mike LePond (Symphony X), Mark Briordy (Jag Panzer), John Macko (Fifth Angel) & many others. He can also be heard as a guest vocalist on albums with bands Legen Beltza (Spain), Katagory V (Salt Lake City, UT) & Project:Roenwolfe (Atlanta, GA).
Robb Napalm-You have made quite a name for yourself in the last twenty-some odd years of being a metal vocalist and your reputation certainly precedes you. Before anything, where did your inspiration to become a vocalist come from?
Norman Skinner – I was in high school at the time and honestly had never given any thought to becoming a lead vocalist. I played no instruments and was just another Metalhead hanging out with my friends. I did however have a beat up guitar I never learned to play collecting dust in my closet and had given it to my best friend our sophomore year. He started learning to play over the summer and by our junior year joined up with a group of musicians to play the annual talent show. They originally had a guy from the school choir on board to sing for them but just 2-3 weeks before the show he flaked on them for reasons unknown to me. I received a call from the other guitarist in the group asking if I would sing in his place. I really have no idea why I was asked. I had never sung before. Nobody in their group had ever heard me sing. I was just the close friend that would hang out at their rehearsals. I’ve always been a laid back go with the flow kind of guy so I said why not. Ha Ha! We played the show and were disqualified due to our friends pitting and stagediving. After that one show I was hooked and just followed a new path that led me to where I am today musically. Crazy how life works out.
Seeing as you are a metal veteran with years of experience under your belt, how do you think metal, as a culture and style, has evolved in your eyes?
I think overall “Metal” as a style has grown and become so much more than the early Heavy Metal pioneers could have ever envisioned. I say this because in my opinion Metal music has become one of the most experimental and adaptable musical styles to date. I can’t think of any other style of music with so many different sub-genres and sounds. We have Death, Thrash, Power, Industrial, Progressive, Doom, Stoner, Speed, Classic, Operatic, etc. So in regards to style in many ways Metal has evolved to great lengths and at the same time for some of the sub-genres it has stayed exactly the same true to its roots. Metal as a whole is very universal, yet at the same time splintered. The same can be said for the Metal fan… a universal Metal culture with degrees of differences in each of the sub-genres. As a metal fan you can find yourself at a concert surrounded by other metalheads and see one person wearing a Deicide shirt and the next wearing a Winger shirt. I personally love it! I as a metal fan am able to radically change what I am currently listening to all while staying within the “Metal” umbrella.
-Skinner, Dire Peril and Hellscream. How did you come to be the voice for these 3 powerhouse bands?
I spent 2004-2010 fronting the Power-Thrash band Imagika. After our US tour in support of what would become the final Imagika album “Portrait of a Hanged Man” I knew my time with the group had run its course and I was eager to branch out and try something new. I had no idea that my leaving the band would start a chain reaction resulting in the group disbanding just 3 months later. Guitarist Robert Kolowitz & bassist Jim Pegram approached me about starting a new project and that was the beginning of “Skinner”. The group has been going strong ever since performing often while writing and recording. We released our Album “Sleepwalkers” last May as well as a music video for the title track. We are about to enter the studio to record a new album “The End of Tribulation” and are very excited to see what the next year holds for us.
Dire Peril was a band\project that guitarist Jason Ashcraft had been trying to launch for a couple years prior to contacting me in 2010 shortly after my departure from Imagika. I first met Jason in 2002 when my now defunct band “Machine.Called.Man” performed alongside “Symphony X” in San Francisco. He became a fan of my voice & style and years later when the time came to record his 1st album he reached out to me as a hired musician to record all vocals for the debut album. The music was a perfect fit for my type of vocals and he gave me free reign to alter the existing lyrics to fit my melodies. I loved the songs that we were creating so mid-way through the recordings I told him I would accept no more money and would finish the remainder of the album for free. I later was asked to perform just one live event to showcase the music and launch a vocalist search. I enjoyed the performance so much I made the decision to join permanently. The debut album was eventually chopped into 3 EP releases. The 1st being “Astronomical Minds” which we released in 2012 and the second is “Queen of The Galaxy” which will be released on September 26th here in the US. We just released a lyric video for the track “Space Invaders” and I urge all of our fans to find it on YouTube and check it out. We currently are recording a couple tracks to finish the 3rd EP “Through Time And Space” which we will be releasing through Dead Inside Records Spring 2015. Since we have had most of the songs already recorded for the three releases we have been hard at work writing for our fourth release but first full-length album title “Final Scenes For Forgotten Worlds”. We have just 1 song to complete before we begin working on recording plans. We love to stay busy!
Hellscream was the product of a chance meeting between guitarist David Garcia (Cage) and myself at the NAMM convention in 2012. He had mentioned during a conversation that he had a bit of downtime between Cage albums and was working on some music for possibly a side project. I stated I was very available and interested in working with him and gave him my information. Two months later I received a song to write & records vocals for. He loved what I had done with the track and decided we would work on an album. We released “Made Immortal” in 2013 to excellent reviews and an overwhelming response from metal fans globally. We currently have no plans for a second album but I have my fingers crossed.
-You also have the Skinner album “Sleepwalkers” that was released this year and the EP “Queen of the Galaxy” with Dire Peril to be released in a few weeks. How do you juggle the writing and vocal responsibilities between 3 bands full time and still manage a personal life on top of all that?
Luckily I have always been extremely good at multi-tasking. Part of my day job is project management so to work on many different projects at once whether it be business related or music just seems to come naturally to me. I am a firm believer that life is too short and we should live in the now so I try to do as much as I can with the time I have. It’s true that at times I feel I need to take a break or breather for a week. Between my day job, wife\kids, 3 bands, running a record label and not to mention all the guest vocal appearances live & recorded that most people don’t put into consideration it can get pretty hectic. For instance besides my own two releases this year I was also featured on 3 albums as a guest for the bands Lipshok, Project: Roenwolfe, & Steamforged. I just feel if you truly love something and are passionate about it… you can find a way to make it work. This year marks the second time I have released 2 albums in one year. In 2005 I released “2.004” by Machine.Called.Man & “Devils On Both Sides” by Imagika. It’s almost a running joke with those close to me to ask how many bands I am in or how many albums am I working on. I embrace it though and next year if all goes well I hope to see the release of 3 studio albums. I’m not about to slow down and I am sure when my time comes to leave this life I will surely be leaving behind a lot of unfinished music.
-I had the opportunity of listening to “Queen of the Galaxy” from Dire Peril and the EP is fantastic. How was it working with the Canadian Power Metal Queen, Brittney Hayes (Unleash the Archers)?
Jason (Ashcraft) approached me with the idea of writing a song called “Queen of The Galaxy” based on the film “Barbarella”. He had been talking with Brittney (Hayes) about recording on the song since he is a huge fan of her voice. He had already written and demoed the music and was planning to use the track as the title for the EP. He was even getting artwork designed after her likeness for the cover so I agreed even though at the time I was unfamiliar with both the band “Unleash the Archers” and the movie “Barbarella”. Ha Ha!
Step one was to watch the movie which was HORRIBLE!! I hated it… writing lyrics was going to tough as to me the movie is about a space chick banging aliens and stuff. I had to be creative and just took a portion of the movie where she meets the Angel and they try to escape the labyrinth etc. Next I did my homework and listened to clips of Brittney singing to get a feel for her style and voice. As I began writing the melodies and lyrics it became very apparent to me that this song should not be a duet and should mainly feature Brittney with a minimal amount of my vocal. Brittney recorded her parts with her engineer near where she lives and they turned out fantastic… just the way I heard them in my head when creating the melodies. I recorded my backing tracks in my own studio and the song was complete. I have never met nor talked to Brittney before so I have no personal experience working with her but I am sure our paths will cross one day.
-Any plans on possibly doing a “North American Power Metal” Tour with Unleash the Archers and Dire Peril (because that would be awesome)?
I don’t see why not. I agree it would be very fun as the music is a great fit and Dire Peril is starting to branch out of our area for performances. Plus, I’d love to meet the woman behind the voice.
-I also listened to Sleepwalkers. Killer stuff. Pure in your face carnage and the vocal job is tight as Hell. How do you keep your batteries charged and the new ideas and creativity constantly flowing? What inspires your lyrical ideas?
When I work with such talented musicians like my Skinner band mate’s and I’m submitted such phenomenal music it’s easy to stay excited and energized. I’ve been lucky enough to work with dynamic songwriters over my career. When the music is dynamic it’s much easier to write songs that don’t all sound the same. Each track has its own identity and feel. I have turned down most bands\projects over the years for exactly that reason where all the music has a similar sound. My lyric ideas… well, it really depends on the project. I make a conscience effort to remember to make each project I am in have its own sound identity otherwise why be in more than one band. In Dire Peril it’s easy as Jason comes up with 90% of the concepts and ideas and I write lyrics based off of that. Plus everything is Sci-Fi based. In Hellscream I stuck to subjects like Mythology, Heaven\Hell, Life\Death, War, Armageddon… everything that is METAL!! In Skinner I practice freer reign. I write based on whatever inspiration I am feeling from the music. Personal life experience, something I watched or read, or whatever my brain can conjure up. So all in all I guess you could say I gather my lyrical ideas from everywhere. Perhaps that’s why I am not short on ideas. HA!
-You are called the “Metal Chameleon” and the name truly suits you as your vocals could easily be a 3 man job, but you handle it all. What do you do to keep your vocal chords in their chameleon like state?
I was first dubbed “The Metal Chameleon” in 2005 I believe. Little by little I saw the term being used more and more and I thought it was cool. I never set out to be any particular style of singer. When I was first teaching myself to sing I would have mixed cassette tapes I would create and like most beginning vocalists I would try and emulate those singers and songs in my room or in my car. The only difference I think is I loved a lot of diverse styles of vocals… so my listening pattern from song to song was a bit chaotic. For example… Testament, Queensryche, Faith No More, Obituary, Skid Row, Pantera. I just got used to changing my tone and timbre of my voice and as the years went on it showed through in my music. I love to do straight up metal vocals with clean singing and some Rob Halford screams and let’s add a dash of death vocal as well all in one song. Why not? It’s all the stuff I’ve grown up listening to and it keeps the songs that much more dynamic. Regarding your question of how I keep my voice in shape… it must be the constant writing, recording, & singing. If I didn’t do as much as I do I believe my voice would get rusty very quickly.
-Are there any tours planned for you and what can the metal world expect from you moving into
The end of 2014-2015 fans of my work can expect 2-3 more studio albums as well as a couple new music videos. I will be performing West coast US dates but no formal tours are currently being planned. Skinner will definitely be planning a tour to support our next release.
Thank you so very much for your support and for taking the time to interview me.
With the current line-up now in place 2013 saw many new live performances and lots of studio time as the band recorded their full-length effort “Sleepwalkers” due out Summer 2014. The band also worked alongside Director Mike Sloat (Testament\Machine Head) to film their 1st music video for the title track “Sleepwalkers”. The video was released to fans world-wide on March 9th 2014.
Although “SKINNER” has only been in existence for a few years they have already established a solid reputation as one of the premier Metal acts in the San Francisco \ Bay Area.