BAND of SKULLS
Interview by Alexander Laurence
Band of Skulls are a band from Southampton, England. They formed in 2008.
In the band are Russell Marsden (guitar/vocals), Emma Richardson, and Matt
Hayward (drums). I met them three years ago, when they first came to Los
Angeles. They played a small show to hardly anyone. I caught a few songs and
thought they were promising. Now three years later they have totally changed,
and become a really unique band. I attended a show at the same place,
Spaceland, and it was sold out, and a line around the block. The new album is called
Baby Darling Doll Face Honey (2009). I got to speak to the band recently
about the new music.
AL: You guys are from Southampton?
Emma: It’s where the Titanic left from.
AL: What else is it known for?
Russell: Craig David. The soul singer. The drummer from Coldplay lives
there. And the Titanic. We see all those people around town. Craig David’s dad
is quite a character. He is a musician.
Matt: He comes into the pub where I used to work at. He is quite a local
AL: It seems like there are some other bands from there?
Emma: There is The Delays.
AL: How is the profile of Band of Skulls locally?
Russell: We haven’t been there for a year, so it’s hard to tell.
Emma: Russell lives in London now. Me and Matt still live in Southampton.
We have been traveling a lot, which has been great. We have been in America
for six weeks now.
AL: When did this new band and new record come about?
Russell: A year or so ago we sat down, and we decided to stop messing
around and do this thing properly. We wrote a new set of songs. We had to
re-think it. We aren’t totally changing it. But it was a new way for us.
AL: Those songs from the early EP was just songs that you did when you were
Russell: We weren’t doing the songs six months after the record came out.
That was like an apprenticeship. We wanted to do the real band now.
AL: How does the songwriting happen in the band now?
Matt: It is cut three ways. We all write individually. The idea is not to
finish the song yourself. If you can give it to the other two. If you finish
it yourself, it’s only one person’s song. It’s better when everyone can cont
ribute to the song.
Russell: We are like a team of writers.
AL: As a drummer are you writing words and music too?
Matt: I started out playing guitar. I picked up the drums afterwards. I
have always been writing stuff since I was very young. It’s nice for a drummer,
because sometimes you don’t have that opportunity in a band.
AL: How was the reaction to the new songs?
Emma: We had just progressed from what we were doing before. We were
writing. There was a bunch of songs. We chose a group of songs around the time we
were recording. We are trying out new things.
Russell: There seems to be a lot more space in our music now. Before it was
like music for a rock club.
AL: Earlier on you were building up a song, and now maybe it’s more like
eliminating what is unnecessary?
Emma: As a band you have to be brave enough to have more space.
Russell: When you are younger sometimes you only have a half hour slot in a
club. You do your loudest and best songs, really fast. Now we have more
confidence in what we are doing.
AL: Was there any specific song that you did, where you thought “Hey, we
have turned a corner.”
Russell: Yes. There is one song called “Impossible” which is on our new
record. It’s the song that we end our sets with. It was the first song where
that space arrived. It informed everything we did after that. We started
learning things and not forgetting them. Anything that worked we kept and built
more songs around. We were shooting in the dark. We were writing songs in
all different styles. There was no line through it. Now there is a continuing
line through everything we do.
AL: Are these songs about your personal lives, or they stories you made up
Russell: We started out doing this crazy stuff that was made up. It was
nonsense. More and more we started writing real stories about our lives. You
have to have the bravery to do it. Sometimes we like to steal a catch phrase
and use it in our songs. That is a great thing. But it is a brave thing to
sing about how you feel.
Emma; Then you have to get up onstage and sing, no matter how you are
AL: Many bands today sort of bow out on the irony factor. They are not
Matt: They dismiss themselves quite quickly as a joke band. What is their
AL: Then there are others who wear their influences on their sleeve, with a
Russell: If you listen to a band, and think “This band is a combination of
these three other bands.” There has to be that extra bit that you can’t
work out. There has to be something essential in a new band that makes that
combination of musicians something else.
AL: I was listening to the Pixies on the way over here. They are just so
fresh in the way they approach writing a song and putting all the parts
together. Most bands from the same time always refer to some other period of
music. The Pixies just refer to themselves.
Matt: Yeah. Their records are so different. Each song has its own
personality. It’s never a record of twelve songs that are all the same.
Emma: They take risks as well. It’s not always verse/chorus, verse/chorus.
AL: Do you ever slow things up, or speed things up in songs?
Matt: There are many songs that had different identities before we found
the right way to do it. There is a song called “Honest” which started out as
a melody. We tried to do it as a heavy rock song. But we recorded it as a
quiet acoustic song.
Russell: We did twenty takes, and Matt and Emma left the studio. There was
a black cloud over everything. We came back and did it acoustic and it was
perfect. We needed this moment.
AL: It takes a while to write songs then?
Emma: Some songs take a while and others happen quite quickly.
Russell: The main quality of the band now is the others can tell when one
of us has come up with something really good. We can be jamming for hours,
and then we can look at each other and “Say, what was that bit before?” That
is like quality control, and we can cut all the shit out. We can get to pure
nuggets, that come out being songs.
AL: How many shows have you played?
Emma: Maybe three months of touring altogether? We started out in the UK,
and we have been over here for five or six weeks. We released the record on
iTunes. When we came out to America, nobody really knew who we were. But
people have been showing up to shows more.
AL: There is this label Shangri-La. There is Duke Spirit and Amazing Baby.
It seems like Band of Skulls go well with those two bands.
Russell: I think so. We have played some shows with Amazing Baby, and we
are going to do a show with The Duke Spirit. Those bands like our record.
Everything seems to be going good now.
AL: I didn’t know you were in this band a month ago. I saw you at the
Hammer Museum, and saw you, and thought: “These guys look familiar?”
Russell: The fact that it is going well for us now, just puts things in
perspective. When we met you three years ago, that gave us a taste of what it
would be like. London is such a pressure cooker. There was always this
confusion with our band. For us, it was always going to happen here.
Matt: We have played a few shows in England, but it’s happening for us
quicker for us in America. The London shows have been great. We hope that people
find this music on their own.
AL: What other bands have you played with?
Matt: We did a show at the Wiltern with Metric. We have done about five
shows with Spinnerette, Brody Dalle’s new band. That was good. We got on well
with them. We are playing with Juliette Lewis in a few weeks. She played our
hometown a few months ago. It was really funny. She has great energy.
AL: The record came out today, July 28th. Who did this artwork?
Russell: Emma did the paintings. They were altered.
Emma: I painted a few bass guitars for this company.
AL: You just played this Capitol Hill Block Party. How did that go?
Emma: Really good. Those people really know their music. It was a real
attentive intelligent crowd. It was really great seeing Jesus Lizard. I have
never seen them play before.
Matt: We played at the same time as Spinnerette. It was the only band we
knew there, and we went on at the same time. We have played the Comet, and
Neumo’s, in Seattle.
AL: Are you playing any festivals?
Matt: We will be at Lollapalooza in August 2009. Latitude was our first
festival. It was in countryside above London. We played with Spiritualized and
AL: When people come to shows what should they expect?
Matt: We will be playing the record. We will be doing nearly every song.
Some songs go well together.
AL: Are there any town you look forward to seeing?
Matt: We are going to Vegas.
AL: I like the old part of Vegas.
Matt: It will be good for one day. We will also get married there.
Russell: And divorced in the same night.
AL: All three of you are getting married?
Matt: Just me and Russell.
Russell: I will get married to my guitar. We are going to Europe. We have
never played in Europe. We are going to France. It’s weird. It’s a stone’s
throw away. We have played Japan before, but we want to go back. Kids are
afraid of Emma, because they think she is a giant.
AL: How tall are you?
Emma: Nearly six foot.
AL: You don’t seem so tall today, but at the Hammer Museum, you seemed
really tall there.
Emma; I went into the bathroom in Japan and two kids were so scared of me.
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