"I was bored, so I wrote an album": Meet Skinny Knowledge, who've channelled lockdown frustration into bursts of pop-punk catharsis

Skinny Knowledge group portrait
(Image credit: James Sheppard)

One person’s crisis is another’s opportunity. Or so it proved for the Bournemouth musician known to his friends as Andy Smooth, when he found his regular gigs in local cover bands drying up as the pandemic shut down the live entertainment scene in the spring of 2020. 

While many bands and others in the music industry were forced to press the pause button on their career, Smooth (aka Andy Leslie-Smith) realised the time was right for him to fulfil a long-held ambition to make a self-written record. 

“I was bored,” he says. “So I wrote an album, and kind of made it on my own.” 

The result was the debut album by Skinny Knowledge, Don’t Turn Out The Lights, a refreshingly raw blast of high-octane, melodically charged punk-pop featuring stompers such as I Wonder

“Then as I was putting it together, I thought I’d love to go out and play these songs,” Smooth adds. “So I put a band together.” 

Skinny Knowledge have been gigging for two years now, and have evolved into the current quartet, who have now made an even better follow-up, this time as more of a collective endeavour. Twentytwo (so titled because Smooth sees it as something of a diary of his 2022) is boosted by the more polished performances of guitarist Max Harris, bassist Rab McGowan and drummer Mike Rigler, plus the co-writing contributions of Smooth’s friend Matt Bigland, of Leeds trio Dinosaur Pile-up. 

It’s a heavier affair than Don’t Turn Out The Lights, and opening track I Wanna Rock’n’roll and the equally ebullient, Queens-style rush of Disobey set out the band’s stall, both seeming to express the glorious release of being freed, from lockdown from restrictions, to rock with fresh abandon.

“That first song kind of sums up a theme running through the whole record,” says Smooth. “It’s about going through a heartbreak, and rather than sitting and dwelling on it, you just think: ‘I’m just gonna go out and party.’ And at the same time, lockdown was just lifting, so it was also taking that feeling of breaking free from a situation where we all felt a little bit constricted. Disobey is a similar feeling – about feeling a little bit caged in and then of finally having that release.” 

What Goes Around Comes Around recalls Nirvana in its splenetic attack, while in amusing contrast A Song About Lunch makes rifftastic light of trivial frustrations. Then Too Scared To Live betrays Smooth’s love of Green Day and their talent for turning personal frustrations into positive blasts of raucously tuneful energy. For Smooth, it’s also about putting himself in the position of fans. 

“I want to make big, singalong choruses that stick in your head,” he says. “A lot of the time when I’m writing, I imagine myself at a gig and I think, would I sing along and jump around to this?” 

On the evidence so far, he’d be straight down the front – and so would we.

TwentyTwo is out now

Johnny Sharp

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock