How Skunkhour nailed funk, rock and hip hop over ten years

The story of Sydney rock and jazz fusion act Skunkhour is so intense, it quite literally makes you laugh and cry. 

The band’s ten-year career spanned four acclaimed albums and spawned three hit songs that time-stamped their phases: ‘Up To Our Necks In It’ (1995) marked hip hop fusion, ‘Weightlessness’ (1997) funk, and 1999’s ‘Home’ stamped the rock phase. Yet there was one ever-present aspect of Skunkhour’s music, and that was tension. So it seems appropriate that a battle between two warring sets of brothers sparked the formation of the band in 1992.

“I knew Michael [Sutherland] from knocking around Mossman, we were chasing the same girl,” says Aya Larkin, one-half of the Larkin brothers whom would eventually join forces with the Sutherlands. “I had even jammed with him in our late teens that lead to me organising for him to drum for me at a gig I had organised. He had failed to turn up which turned me against him. 

“A couple of years later I bumped into him and he said ‘I’m about to launch this band called Skunk with my brother who is the best bass player in Australia.’ I was still pissed about the no-show,  so sceptically I turn up to this gig basically to not like it, but then they started playing immediately I was like ‘fuck me, these guys are insanely good’.”

After that gig Skunk, which consisted of Warwick Scott (lead guitar), Dean Sutherland (bass) and Michael Sutherland (drums), was joined by two vocalists in brothers Aya and Del Larkin. Thus, Skunkhour was born.

“Del was such a point of difference for us,” Aya says. “But it also put us in a niche and a lot of people that back then didn’t ‘get rap’.”

With the omnipresence of rap and hip hop across the alternative and mainstream in 2018, it’s difficult to imagine having a rapper being a point of ostracisation for a band. But to put it in perspective, when Skunkhour formed in 1991 it was less than a decade since Grand Master Flash has released The Message (1982).

Whilst this sound intrigued the more adventurous music fans, it wasn’t the hook that saw the band signed to Sony Records’ subsidiary Mercury in 1994. The hook was Aya’s rich yet mellow vocals that appealed to fans of all different tastes, the rigid square of what was accepted as popular music. But it was when preparing to record their second album that Del made a choice that would push the band into the realm of music pioneering.

“Del had an Americanisation in his lyrics for that first album and then in Melbourne we were exposed to a band called IQ that was two MCs, Jason and Mika. They had the full Aussie, the ‘strayan’, in their rapping and after hearing it a light seemed to switch on in Del’s head.”

This revelation for the young Sydney rapper resulted in the song ‘Up To Our Necks In It’, the lead single from the band’s major label debut Feed (1995), which saw the Australian music scene quickly cast their attention to Skunkhour. 

However, a year later Del left Skunkhour, and the result was a more dancefloor-orientated sound for the band and led to the recording of their certified banger ‘Weightlessness’. But that wasn’t enough for Sony, who parted ways with Skunkhour after the label insipidly released the album Chin Chin in 1996. “It was just not a priority, we had people screaming for it to be released in Europe but the label had other priorities.”

Having toughed it out for this long Skunkhour were not going to end their career on someone else’s terms, so the band kept writing and when they took the song ‘Home’ to Universal in 1999, by 2001 they had released their fourth and final album, The Go.

Skunkhour will celebrate the 25th Anniversary of their debut album at The Prince Bandroom on Friday November 23. Tickets via Oztix.