In a music industry saturated with teeny-boppers and terms like “emo-hop”, it seems production value has gone up, while music quality has gone way, way down. But fear not friend. All is not lost. Hope rises in the form of a slack jawed skull. Band of Skulls is made up of a guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Simple. Rock ‘n roll you can try to wrap your arms around, but it’ll thrash out whether you like it or not. The band has a new record out February 21st but I was lucky enough to catch some of their new tracks live at South Paw last Thursday night, and it left a beautiful ringing in my ears all weekend long. This isn’t alt. This isn’t indie. It’s not French-electro-synth-ethnic-kudos-drums–‘n-bass. Band of Skulls is a rock ‘n roll band and one that should be taken seriously.
I caught up with the band, consisting of Russell Marsden (vocal/guitar), Emma Richardson (vocal/bass) and Matt Hayward (drums) at the Standard Hotel. They waited in the lounge, sipping Pils’, all dressed in black, Russell with sunglasses on. “We went to Hogs ‘N Heffers after the show last night,” Russell tells me. “One of the patrons got on the bar and started dancing. Took her top off.”
“She added it to the line of bras already in that place,” Emma says. I have a crush on Emma, as does every single male that has seen the band play. She’s strikingly cool in a black-bangs, blue-eyed way.
Matt seems disappointed. He was out for a smoke when the aforementioned tits got on the bar. “It’s too bad,” Russel says. “She was a looker.”
NYPRESS: You guys are about to go back on tour, right?
EMMA: A whole year of it. We’re very excited about it.
RUSSELL: We’re dysfunctional when we’re not touring, so it’s a relief. We’re breaking for Christmas. We had a month off, which is now a week off. It gradually gets eaten on both ends.
What was it like recording the new album?
MATT: It was great. The writing was kind of stressful because we had just gotten off two years of touring. And straight away went into the studio to write the next one. We were all tired. We were all going through our own things. The pressure of having to write a new record in six weeks… We’d never done anything like that before. It was tough, but then we took a break, came back. Went back to our little studio. The recording process was one of the nicest times I’ve ever had.
R: Yeah, it was sort of healing.
M: The studio is in the Welsh countryside. Queen used to record there.
E: It’s the oldest residential studio in the UK.
R: Black Sabbath, Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” was recorded there.
Got it. So really conducive to small underground acts?
R: Totally! Total unknowns.
M: It hasn’t been decorated since it was opened. It’s very peaceful. The best four weeks ever.
The new album is titled “Sweet Sour,” after one of your new singles. How did you decide that would be the album name?
R: We didn’t know what to call the record. It’s really kind of a minefield naming a record. It’s like naming a child. It’s a very weird thing.
E: It’s like coming up with a pseudonym.
R: It can get a bit pretentious. “Sweet Sour,” just made sense. The beginning of the recording process was sour and the end was pretty sweet. It’s good and bad. Two sides of the coin. The yin and the yang.
M: You’re the yin to my yang.
What’s the dynamic of the band?
R: Emma and two stupid boys. [The band laughs] Me and Matt – our brains work separately. Matt’s a big cross word worker, and the only words I can ever get on the crossword are the ones he can’t get.
Sounds like a nice little bromance.
R: Oh lord.
E: If you’re not mates with the people you’re in a band with, you probably won’t last long. You’re in such close proximity to each other all the time. You’ve got to be able to understand each other.
M: We’re the only other people that understand what we’re doing. You can’t explain this process to an outsider. If something’s getting me down, the only people that really understand are Russell and Emma.
How did Band of Skulls come to be?
R: It was a final realization of us lot being a band and playing music. We had bands before, with other people and it was all very formative. At one point we were doing club nights, involved in our local scene. It was enjoyable but it wasn’t every focused. So at one point we said, “Let’s stop doing all this other stuff and write some songs and do a defining sound. Let’s do an album.” And things really started to fall in place. We got the support to record it. The first session was on a couple days off. Second session we recorded three more songs, Matt quit his job.
M: Greatest day ever.
R: Then a couple weeks later we went back in and finished the rest of the songs. We all quit our jobs. It was a leap of faith, everyone thought we were mental. We literally had this album and thought fuck all else.
What was it like selling the first album?
R: At the end of our first session, we were asked to be the “Single of the Week” for iTunes and that sped things up for us. They wanted the whole album to coincide with it, but we hadn’t finished. So we had to think about whether we were going to cram the recording sessions into the next few nights, and we did. We took the chance and it paid off.
M: It was a great platform to start from.
E: It went out worldwide. It was amazing seeing the reaction. We had no real international exposure before that.
How’d it feel going from complete obscurity to the front page of iTunes Apple Store?
R: Terrifying. We went from only us and our producer hearing it – maybe Matt’s dad on a ride home. Then one morning, click, there are streams of comments.
M: Half a million people heard it.
R: Baptism through fire. We read ten comments, thought that’s a good approximation of it, and dropped it there.
M: We learned very quickly not to pay attention to comments.
How’s it different touring in America, Europe, all over the world?
E: It’s all a different atmosphere, but luckily it’s been really cool. Some places take a bit longer, need to go back a few more times. It’s about proving yourself.
M: We’ve all been very surprised and proud that it seems to work on a global scale. It’s not like it just works in the UK or the US.
R: We have a very similar response everywhere we go. It freaks us out. A certain part of a certain song, every crowd will respond the same way. I think America is the most vocal. They let you know if they’re not having a good time, which we appreciate, because we want you to leave content.
So you’ve learned how to perform for the audience?
R: I guess so. Our audience spans ages, looks, etc.
What do fans like talking to you about?
M: Me. [Laughs]
E: My fringe.
R: You mean your bangs.
Yeah, fringe doesn’t mean bangs in America…
M: It’s funny, when we perform I’m in the back and I look in the front, on one side there are this group of guys just standing by Emma. Then on the other side there’s a group of girls by Russell. Then in the middle there are just a group of little boys interested in drums, staring at me.
Any horror stories from the road?
E: There are the venues without a stage. Sometimes you get electrocuted. There was, like, a week where I got electrocuted everywhere. I had these velvet pants, that might’ve been the problem. I was like, “Fuck! Every time.”
M: There was one show, fairly into the tour, couple thousand people. We were hanging out side stage, getting ready to walk out. I was drinking some red wine. This was a defining moment because it changed our pre-show ritual. We go on to walk out – Russ walks out first and I walk behind him, and for some reason Russell just stops.
R: I was terrified, it was a huge audience.
M: And I just walked right into him, red wine was all over me. I think I was wearing a white shirt, and I thought, “Well this is real cool.” I looked moronic. “What the fuck are you doing? Hello 2,000 people.”
R: From now on, I go out last.
Emma, you did the first albums cover, you’re doing this one as well. What’s it going to look like?
E: I did a set of four rather large oil paintings. We got some glass blowers involved and they made a 3D sculpture inspired by my paintings. It looks cool. They built this sort of big exploding meat mass, and took photos of it and messed around with it on the computer. It carries on the symmetry from the first record, that sort of Rorschach look. I’ve always wanted to do sculpture myself.
Where do you see the music industry now? There’s a lot of overproduction and not a whole lot of real rock ‘n roll.
M: It’s really gotten to a stage now where people want to hear something real. Back in England you watch those awful talent TV shows and it’s becoming a joke. We’re sorry about Simon Cowell…
We don’t accept your apology.
M: It always works in cycles.
R: We are the antidote to that.
E: There’s something about hearing a live band, guitar, bass drums, it’s simple and it cuts through.
R: What’s surprised us, touring, is how many acts use tricks and it’s not a very honest performance. It makes the show better, sure, but it’s not honest. It’s a rip off.
E: A rock ‘n roll show should be dangerous.
R: No safety nets. Things go wrong. With us, if things go pear shaped it can get fucked up. There are three of us.
How has the music changed from the first album to the second?
R: I think focus is probably a good word.
E: We’ve skimmed off the fat a bit.
M: There’s a nice balance of the songs. The heavier songs are heavier and the quieter songs are quieter, but they’ve got a balance. There are some really heavy rock tracks. It’s really exciting.
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