Band of Skulls Interview
Southampton three-piece Band Of Skulls may be fairly familiar to some of you, having initially formed some four-and-a-bit years ago as Fleeing New York. Despite attracting a modicum of media attention, their potential remained undiscovered, so armed with a new batch of songs, the trio of Russell Marsden (vocals & guitar), Emma Richardson (vocals & bass) and Matt Hayward (drums) went back to the drawing board, embarked upon a slight change of identity and hey presto, Band Of Skulls were born.
Earlier this year they released their first full length album, 'Baby Darling Doll Face Honey' on the Shangri-La label, and look set to spend the rest of 2009 touring round Europe and the States until they drop.literally.
Contact caught up with them straight after their incendiary performance on the Sunrise stage at this year's Latitude Festival, where their early Saturday afternoon set proved to be one of the weekend's understated highlights.
How did the band first get together?
Matt: Me and Russell (Marsden) first met at school many years ago. We were good friends right from being small children. My dad was also a musician and it seemed logical that I would eventually follow in his footsteps so that's pretty much how we started out.
Emma: They asked me to join after I met them at Art College. They were already a two-piece at the time and they'd auditioned other people who hadn't worked out for one reason or another.
You were initially called Fleeing New York when you started. What made you decide to change the name to Band Of Skulls?
Russell: I think we'd evolved an awful lot from when we started, so much so that it actually felt like we'd become a different band.
Emma: We just felt uncomfortable that we were still called Fleeing New York when we were writing completely new material that sounded nothing like the songs we had with the old band.
Russell: It felt like it shouldn't go under the same name, and with the songs on 'Baby Darling Doll Face Honey' and the name Band Of Skulls, everything instantly seems to make more sense.
What was the catalyst behind the change in direction with your newer songs?
Russell: I think there has to be a balance between writing songs with the intention to make a record and just bashing out songs in a live environment. We always wanted to make an album as Band Of Skulls rather than just the occasional batch of songs, which is how we'd approached songwriting as Fleeing New York.
Emma: Its almost like a different work ethic as well because you've more time to reflect on what you're doing, put songs into place, and make them fit rather than just playing for half an hour to an audience. I think that's the main reason behind the change, in that we really wanted to take the band seriously - wanted other people to as well - and the ultimate goal was to put together an album's worth of solid, flowing material in the process.
Russell: At the same time, I think our live show has evolved as a result too. There's nothing worse than going to see a band and just getting a token run through of the record.
Emma: I think even some of our recorded output is constantly evolving when we play it live. We almost see it as a challenge to ourselves really, a way of ensuring we never become stale.
Your album 'Baby Darling Doll Face Honey' has received many positive reviews so far. Were you surprised by the reaction?
Matt: Definitely. I don't think we expected anything to be honest. We were just grateful to be given the opportunity to record it, so it's an added bonus that people have been saying nice things about it as well.
Russell: In a lot of ways I think word of mouth has played a big part too.
It's interesting you say that as it was Spiritualized guitarist Doggen who first made us aware of you guys.
Russell: Really? That's awesome!
Bearing in mind the deliberate planning you've taken in putting the album together, would you say 'Baby Darling Doll Face Honey' is a concept album?
Emma: It depends what you mean by concept album really. I'd say the songs themselves all developed naturally but anything that didn't fit the tone of how we intended the record to sound was discarded at an early stage, so I suppose in that sense it could be I guess.
Russell: There was definitely a deliberate attempt to create a group of songs that would work together. Our producer Ian Davenport inspired us to think in that way, rather than just putting out half-formed ideas.
What were the main musical influences behind the songs?
Matt: I don't think we could pinpoint any one particular group or band.
Russell: No, it's more about different individual tracks, or periods by artists really.
Matt: It's more of a subconscious thing in that we all like different things. The hardest part can be pulling them all together under one roof, so to speak.
Emma: I think it's hard to make specific reference points about our music.
Russell: If you were to ask all three of us to describe our band I think you'd actually get descriptions for three very different bands!
Your live show has quite a lot going on, in particular the huge sound which is perhaps unexpected of a three piece.
Russell: That's precisely one of the reasons why we're so different now to when we were Fleeing New York back in the day.
Emma: We sounded pretty much how you'd expect us to back then.an indie-rock college band, whereas now I think we've outgrown that whole demeanour, and I think that's even more evident when you see us play live.
What are the future plans for Band Of Skulls?
Russell: We're playing Lollapalooza in a couple of weeks time, and then we're on tour pretty much straight through until the middle of October.
Matt: I mustn't forget the current single, 'Fires', as well, which came out this week.
Does the record label have any expectations regarding 'Fires'?
Matt: Not really. I think one of the reasons why its been chosen as a single though is because it focuses on a totally different side to the band, as opposed to the all-out rock you'd associate with the majority of our songs.
Russell: I think it could open us up to a whole new audience. It's certainly the most diverse track on 'Baby Darling Doll Face Honey' anyway.
Who has the final say on what singles you release?
Emma: It's a mixture really. We might suggest something to the record label and vice versa, but generally there've been no major disagreements so far.
Russell: To be honest, I'd be quite comfortable with any of our songs being released as singles. If I didn't think these songs were good enough, I wouldn't have recorded them with the intention of putting them out to a wider audience in the first place.
'Baby Darling Doll Face Honey' took nearly eighteen months in the making, so to you, these songs must seem quite old now. Have you started writing and recording newer material with maybe the follow-up album in mind?
Matt: We're working on the second record now. We've got a load of demos that weren't finished in time for 'Baby Darling.' so they've been carried over now as working projects for the next one.
Russell: We've just got to try and find the time now to start recording in-between all the touring we're scheduled to be doing for the rest of this year.