Skunk Anansie: how we made Weak

‘It was a vulnerable moment that turned into a moment of strength. It was basically me saying: I am never going to be hit by anyone ever again’

Skin, vocals/co-writer

Weak was written about an experience I’d had a few years earlier. I was dating a guy I shouldn’t have been going out with in the first place: he was older, he wanted to get married and all these things, but he didn’t ask me, he just decided. Back then, I was so meek and mild. My friends would say: “Your boyfriend is so controlling. You have to stick up for yourself.”

I wanted to enter a dance competition but my boyfriend said: “You’re not going.” I told him: “I can do what I want.” So he drove me to some desolate car park and punched me right in the face. Then he did it again. I was so shocked and angry, I didn’t even feel the pain. I went into survival mode. Driving home, I jumped out at a traffic lights and ran. But I was standing at a bus stop when he pulled up and dragged me into the car. Nobody said or did a thing.

Once we got to his house, he started weeping, saying: “I’ll never do it again.” I could see my whole life in front of me, like, a housewife with five million kids. And then to be a battered wife as well? No fucking way. The relationship, from that second, was over. I remember feeling scared but also quite strong, because I knew I would never put myself in a position like that again.

One night, years later, during preproduction for our debut album Paranoid & Sunburnt, I was practising chords on the acoustic guitar I’d bought with my record deal money. Just playing E minor, D and C, over and over. Then I started singing along: “Lost in time, I can’t count the words.” Weak is a song about being vulnerable but strong and brave at the same time. The chorus – “Weak as I am, no tears for you” – is like I was crying, but not for him. I was basically saying: “I am never going to be hit by anyone ever again.”

The whole song is those three chords, with a fourth in the chorus. When I took it to the band, I told them: “I’ve got this B-side.” But we all worked on it, and put in the middle-eight, and that’s how the song was born. The boys gave Weak its groove, sexiness and power. So it was a vulnerable moment that turned into a moment of strength.

There were some amazing bands in the early years of Britpop, but when it all got bloated, like a fish gasping for breath on the beach, Skunk Anansie became quite a nice antidote. I’ll always remember singing Weak when we headlined Glastonbury in 1999. That horrible situation – I actually turned it into something positive. I got a good song out of that punch.

Cass Lewis, bass/co-writer

I always know where Skin’s head and heart are at by listening to the songs she’s writing. When I heard her lyric to Weak, I thought it was incredible. It’s very human. She’s accepting her own weaknesses, but then she’s saying: “You’re not going to get the better of me.” I think that’s a beautiful place to come from. It’s like: weak as I am, I’m stronger than you.

I knew Weak came from a vile experience. There was another time, when Skin was followed home by some random guy, and she was so scared. But then she just turned around and started shouting at the guy. After that, whenever she got frightened, she attacked. That’s how she found her voice on a song like Weak and got to the place where no one can fuck with her.

We recorded it at Great Linford Manor in Milton Keynes with Sylvia Massy producing. She had just the right energy for us. When we were recording it, we made a kind of “battle zone” in the studio for Skin, with all these banners and placards all over the place. She’d put on war paint when she was singing. Maybe I take her vocals for granted, because I’ve been around her so long. But on Weak, she’d sing a line and her vocal would build up – and all of a sudden it’s overwhelming you.

Weak wasn’t Britpop – Skin called our genre “clit rock” – but it got lots of accolades and it got into the UK Top 20. Rod Stewart even covered it. But it’s only dawned on me recently how big that song really was. Last year, we played to three-quarters of a million people in Poland. When you hear that many people singing your song back at you – it can almost stop you playing.

• Skin’s autobiography, It Takes Blood and Guts, is out in paperback on 16 September, published by Simon & Schuster.

• In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via www.befrienders.org

Contributor

Interview by Henry Yates

The GuardianTramp

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