Band Of Skulls
UK / USA Tour
July – August 2009
Questionnaire: Steve Bateman

Meeting at college and forming in Southampton in 2008 – where the three-piece took their name from a sign outside the live music venue, Talking Heads (a sign which represents Hamlet by showing a hand holding a skull). Band Of Skulls have become somewhat of a word of mouth phenomenon, which even led to iTunes naming one of their songs, I Know What I Am, as their prestigious and much coveted ‘Single Of The Week’ in early March 2009.

Entrenched with a hailstorm of grinding / rampant riffs and tranquil acoustic laments, anchored by a pair of male and female singers who have heart-tugging gravitas in their unforgettable voices. One review spumed: “This gritty English trio craft bluesy and ballsy slabs of atmospheric indie rock that echo the work of contemporaries like The Kills, The Duke Spirit and The Black Keys.” Band Of Skulls are also musicians who allow their organic songs space to breathe and masterfully plough a furrow between commerciality + credibility, helping the group to not only carve out a signature sound that fits them like a glove, but also, enabling them to create music which will ensure that they have staying power!

Comprised of Russell Marsden (guitar / vocals), Emma Richardson (bass / vocals) and Matt Hayward (drums), they “quickly discovered that having two lead singers and three songwriters in a band, was always going to present unlimited possibilities.” A rare working relationship amongst many of today’s groups, their bio continues, “With their creative process and sonic path fully intact, the band quickly established themselves in the music and art community with a series of culturally inspired club nights in Southampton, London and further afield in Moscow and Tokyo.”

Their first long player, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey (You Are Here), was produced by Ian Davenport (Supergrass, Badly Drawn Boy), who recorded the tracks at Radiohead's Courtyard Studios in Oxfordshire, then mixed them at the House Of Blues Studio in Los Angeles.Rush-released digitally on March 20 – due to their erstwhile iTunes success and popularity – at the time, the group’s bio stated: “Music fans around the world will get the first taste of the band's driving guitar force, heartbreaking duets and sun-kissed, Wall Of Sound harmonies of their powerful debut album. It has been an extraordinary and heady last few months for the band, and the swift turnaround of the digital album, is surely a taster of the way the modern digital world is now driving the changing landscape of an industry undergoing radical changes. It also means that an unknown band are being thrust into the limelight with very little known about them.”

The LP is finally issued physically in record stores at the end of July, and just before the trio perform at Latitude Festival and then head off to the USA for a 3-week tour, Russell has generously completed a Questionnaire for me.

With a melange of classic Americana, blues, folk and good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll permeating many of the group’s soulful and seductive songs + plenty of treasures waiting to be uncovered. The wonderfully titled Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, is easy to fall in love with and will most certainly be a worthy addition to your record collection, not to mention, finding a special place in your heart…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.When Band Of Skulls first began, did you all have a common goal, and what was it that you took from the artists / bands that you most admired?
“Our goal has always been the same, to be the best band at the level we are at. From best band in our school, to best in our hometown... The bar just keeps getting higher... The challenge is still there.”

2.If you were asked to travel the world as part of an NME ‘New Music Tour Package’ – which 3 artists / bands would you most like to join you?
“This might be difficult, as most of the artists we like are dead. Let's see, Pete & The Pirates, The Dead Weather? I told you it would be hard.”

3.For you personally, what have been some of the most important albums from the last 50 years, and if you had to pick a favourite Decade for music, which one would it be?
“Anything which spawns a thousand imitations is an important album to me. Elvis Presley from 1956 has to be there, Revolver, Dark Side Of The Moon, Thriller, OK Computer – proper bits of work! Matt and I are big 70's heads… Zeppelin, The Floyd etc. I'd say it was the Decade where records sounded their best – unlimited budgets, private jets and vinyl pressings, as important records go.”

4.In terms of songwriting, a lot of musicians talk about “The thrill of the chase” – where they’re constantly trying to write the perfect song. Is this the same for you, and what are the main themes of your lyrics?
“Often, music seems to be gifted to us, it’s just having your mind open to it – that's the difficult part. To switch off from the chaos and tune into it, it’s quite eerie sometimes how these things get written. Trying too hard will take you to musical dead ends, we try to leave some parts to chance. Writing lyrics can be a similar process, our lyrics normally come after the music is started and you soon get a feel of where the singing should happen on a song. We are in the process of trying to be a lot more direct and honest with our lyrics, because in the past, we quite enjoyed hiding behind a million double meanings and coded stuff. It’s going to be interesting to see where we end up, emotionally drained I imagine.”

5.One of the most outstanding aspects of Band Of Skulls’ music, is the way in which your fine voices compliment each other’s – but which vocalists do you find inspiring?
“Emma and I are always listening to all the great jazz singers and crooners. Before rock ‘n’ roll, popular music was a different animal – I still spend hours trying to work out how some of those records were put together, especially when it comes to close harmony singing. Singing and harmonising have always been important parts of our work, it seems to be a dying art in some respects, with things like Auto Tune in the studio, singers don't have to be so accurate these days.”

6.Is there anybody that you would love to have a jam with?
“I'd be terrified to play guitar with anyone I've been influenced by, but there's plenty of people that I love to hear; Scotty Moore (Elvis), Hendrix, Gilmour, Jonny Greenwood and Tom Morello.”

7.Band Of Skulls have become very popular in America through radio airplay and touring, but what are some of your favourite things about the country?

“We have just done our first tour there and what struck us, is the hunger to hear new music and how knowledgeable everyone is. I think sometimes in England, we take for granted just how musically rich we really are. Other than that, Matt and I have a second calling as burger connoisseurs.”

8.When you do have some free time to yourselves, how do you like to spend it?
“It's been a long time since we had some time off, but when we do, I guess we'll be itching to get in the studio and start work on our second record. We're an obsessive lot.”

9.Why the LP title, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey?

“The album title came from a text message sent to Emma from our good friend Toby. It went, ‘baby darling doll face honey, when am I gonna see you in the big bad city?’ At the time, I stole it for the song Fires, but at the meeting to decide the album title, Matt quipped in with it half-joking and the record label were like, ‘YES!’”

10.Continuing with this train of thought, I read that Emma is also a visual artist and painted the beautiful picture on the sleeve of your debut album. So, as artwork is so important to you, what are some of your favourite record sleeves of all-time?
“Emma and I met at art school and she is a great painter… The paintings used for our album are really incredible and vast. It just seemed right to wrap our new record in her weird imaginings, she collaborated with Vincent Wong on the cover and it turned out really well. Best ever sleeve… Electric Ladyland (when it still had ladies on it).”

11.How do you go about discovering + buying new music, and what’s the one back catalogue that everyone should investigate?

“We listen to a lot of radio when we're on tour, and like to check out the band we are billed with. At home, it’s more word of mouth, gigs or digging for records. And what’s the one back catalogue that everyone should investigate? Etta James.”

12.As a Club DJ, what would be your killer ‘End Of Night Anthem’?

“Not too long ago, we were running our night ‘Club Skulls’, so I can draw on experience... It was probably Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime, or something by Prince.”

13.John Lennon once said that his “musical decisions were always driven by emotional truth, never by the beauty of form.” Is this something that you think about when making music?

“It boils down to this, if the music you make comes from the heart, it is beautiful… It can be jazz or noise core, but people can tell if you mean it, or not.”

14.What are your biggest hopes for Band Of Skulls long-term?
“To keep developing and make a body of work we are proud of.”

15.Lastly, chips or cream buns?
“Chips, as I'm tired of having to order thick-cut Cajun curly fries with sour cream and salsa dip – for cheese, add $2 etc. etc.”

A very special thanks to Russell, and to Jade @ Media Junction, for all of their time and help.

“You gotta be honest, you gotta be guarded”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?