Sun-kissed Australian Punks: The Music of Skegss

by | Nov 12, 2022 | METAL / PUNK / THRASH, MUSIC, VENUE NEWS

I was decidedly nervous to interview Ben Reed, the lead singer and guitar player of the Australian band Skegss. Not only had I become over the last few weeks an enormous fan of their music, but I had never spoken one on one with a member of a band that had achieved such monumental success. Although popular in their native Australia, Skeggs have found themselves touring internationally progressively more and more over the last few years doing legs in Europe and in the United States, but for the first time they are coming to Richmond, Virginia to play The Camel on Sunday November 13th.

The members of Skegss: Toby Cregan (left), John Lani (center), and Ben Reed (right).

Scheduling was tricky as Reed and the rest of Skeggs were prepping on the east coast of Australia for a tour that would take them to the other side of the world, meanwhile being 15 hours ahead of where I sat in Richmond at the time. When Reed got on the Zoom call I had a drink in hand gearing up for what was, for me, a laid back evening meeting, and the time difference only occurred to me in the seconds after Reed picked up the phone pouring himself a cup of coffee – realizing in that moment that for him it was 9 AM the next day. I had miscalculated. Reed looked up from his cup of coffee and greeted me with a smile and a “cheers,” to which my response was an equally regionally colloquial: “howdy!” After a bit of small talk we got down to brass tacks.

A brief history of Skegss: the band formed in Byron Bay on the east coast of Australia just south of Brisbane in New South Wales by friends Ben Reed, Tobey Cregan, and John Lani. Although briefly joined for a few gigs by friend Noa Dean, his brief tenure with the band was halted by an advance in his professional surfing career. The band’s first single “L.S.D.” was released in the Summer of 2014, and quickly became a success leading to a number of performances in Australia. In 2015 the band got into a little tiff with Americans rappers Reese Laflare and Lil ‘Yachty after it appeared that they stole the cover art created by artist Jack Irvine of Skegss’ EP 50 Push Ups For A Dollar for their collaborative effort “Do It.” Reed claims this was “blown up in the media,” but it still proves to be an interesting chapter in their history. What followed was a series of EPs and singles of increasing popularity until the band released their first studio record My Own Mess in September of 2018. Succeeding the acclaim of that initial album led to a series of international tours and making new music, releasing an assortment of unrelated EPs and singles eventually culminating in the group releasing their second studio album Rehearsal in the Spring of 2021.

Skegss’ 2021 Album (Rehearsal)

The band has been attempting to build an even grander international audience, having just this year played Coachella billing with superstars like Doja Cat, and Harry Styles. Reed spoke about the anxieties surrounding playing internationally, as opposed to playing a show in their native scene surrounded by a built-in crowd of familiar faces. “You just never know who’s gonna show up,” said Reed. Despite this, he seemed unconcerned about their music being able to appeal to a wider audience besides the coastal beach scene that they are often associated with, saying, “Melbourne was one of our favorite places to go and play because the crowd was so good, and it’s not much of a surfing city… Since Australia is permanently on the coast, everyone is gonna [attract] that sort of crowd no matter what music you play.”

The music of Skegss often gets classified as surf rock, and there’s no doubt that the culture is pervasive and has influenced the group; quite a number of their songs have lyrics directly referencing the beach. A particular example can be found in the track “My Face” on their EP Everyone Is Good At Something: “Today, I’m gonna try not to complain // Go swimming down at the beach // But I’m scared of sharks, will it come get me // I like the sand, I fall to my feet.” However, it is hard to deny the intensity defining their sound that evokes more traditional punk sensibilities with the band being a far cry from the likes of Dick Dale and the Beach Boys, early definers of the surf genre.

The most avid surfer of the group, I asked Reed about how much surfing has influenced his lifestyle and music. To that Reed very simply answered, “I reckon it’s probably a whole lot.” He recounted to me a story of a Christmas when he was a teenager and his sister gifted him a movie centered around the surfer Dane Reynolds. The soundtrack of the film featured a number of smaller California based artists, including one called Deepocalypse. “I went down that rabbithole,” said Reed, and he spoke about how much the music that surrounded that lifestyle was always attractive and interesting. “He makes all these sick riffs while he’s playing, but then what he’s singing about has some depth to it,” said Reed. 

The member of Skegss: Ben Reed (left), Toby Cregan (center), John Lani (right).

Indeed the music of Skegss has much the same ethos with three or four slightly distorted chords chugging on a guitar underneath a simple riff that gives the song that consistent character indicative of the classic punk sound. That’s not to say that they are one-note, far from it, with many songs on Rehearsal such as “Wake-Up” and their closing track “Lucky” featuring nothing much more than an acoustic guitar, Reed’s voice, and a piano and harmonica respectively. However, no matter what they sound like, Skegss, through their lyrics, express youthful cries of turmoil shouted with an impassioned energy. This can be molded to match anything that might be on their mind; a scream of existential dread, or a romantic heart in a period of pain and growth.

This is perhaps best exemplified in two songs on their new record, “Bush TV” and “Under The Thunder.” In an interview with Cregan recounted how the track “Bush TV” speaks to his being on tour and his girlfriend finding him more appealing, with the lack of access making the heart grow stronger. “No one wants to be around the same person every day // And if they do that’s ok but that person is not me // It’s not that if I stay we can’t get along // It’s that if I go it will make us more strong.” This romantic anguish is then juxtaposed just two tracks later by Reed with a self-deprecating pronouncement of something a bit more ethereal and spiritual in the song “Under The Thunder.” “I’ve got many things to learn // I’ve got energy to burn // I’ve got forgiveness to earn // My business is none of your concern.” Here Skegss seem to acknowledge the limitations that come with being a young man in the modern world, however in the chorus they express wonderment, yet at the same time still fear, of the possibilities that life offers with the lines, “Well under the thunder // There’s no hiding from the lightning // Well this world makes me wonder // Yeah it all seems so exciting.”

While listening to the music of Skegss one thing becomes shockingly clear; they are uncomplicated. With Skegss, what you see is what you get, and what you see are three friends playing music about being young on the coast of Australia. Through the trials and tribulations of founding and maintaining a band – and surviving COVID – they have made a name for themselves, and they are bringing their laid back Australian attitude to the American east coast and midwest this November. Check out their future tour dates here in case you miss them in Richmond on Sunday November 12th at The Camel, and go have fun with a rowdy group of sun-kissed Australian punks.

Andrew Bonieskie

Andrew Bonieskie

The Weekend Editor of RVA Magazine, Andrew Bonieskie is a writer and composer living in Richmond, Virginia. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in music and a minor in creative writing Bonieskie has gone on to score feature and short films, released a book of poetry, and frequently performs lead vocals with the band Pebbles Palace.

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