Interview: Band Of Skulls

Band Of Skulls

Words: Elena Katrina

Photos: Sara Harvey

Band of Skulls-Sara HarveyIt’s an exciting time right now if you’re a fan of Band Of Skulls, or indeed are one of the three awesome people in Band Of Skulls – at least I think so. With album number four, By Default,  done and dusted and sat waiting to be unleashed upon the public this week, the three piece recently played two low key shows ahead of both album release and their mammoth string of festival appearances this summer. To which, they’ll now top off with a tour of bigger venues come autumn.

That’s one hard working band right there but it’s always been this way for Band Of Skulls. They’ve always worked hard and paid attention and even on a Friday afternoon, having sat crunched up in a tour van for over 6 hours, with queues of unmoving traffic on the M6, they still made time to sit down with a blog for an interview and were happier still, to be paraded around outside the venue and have a camera pointed at them, minutes before sound check. Not exactly how I’d like to spend my time after such a horrible journey, I can tell you. Yet they were professional and charming beyond words.

Stoke-On-Trent isn’t perhaps well known for it’s music scene, though it does have one, and if you’re a music fan, perhaps it’s best known for it’s long standing music venue; The Sugarmill. A venue which has hosted some of the best bands around for 20 years and was this night hosting Southampton’s Band Of Skulls. The venue has a capacity of a mere 400 people and is as dark and dank as it’s always been. It’s got the perfect vibe for a rock n roll band be they new (we saw Blossoms here a few months ago) or for a warm up show for a bigger more well known act, such as BOS. I knew I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to see them play this kind of venue, or to try and catch up with the band, and that’s how we came to congregate here, at Stoke’s musical landmark.

It was in the darkest, quietest, corner of the upstairs dressing room where I was invited to take a seat and question this somewhat alarmingly present band. There is something to be said about a band who ooze confidence, subtlety and cool all at once.  It can be quite unnerving but yet they soon made me feel at ease with their calm chatter and their eagerness to get their point across.

Band of Skulls-sara harveyIt’s often the case that I’m interviewing new bands, with a whole lot of background and eagerness to please and tell people about themselves, rather than a band who are very well established and have done a gazillion and one interviews. The two things are very different. So I proposed that the band were brand new, ones to watch, now for 2016 and asked them how they’d approach things now, given the ever changing industry.

Russell was keen to jump straight in on this one “absolutely the same as we did it, no different”. His answer came with nodding approval from both Emma and Matt, who were sat aside him listening attentively. This kind of behaviour continues throughout the time we spent with them. Considering they’d just spent, what to some might feel like, an eternity in a small confined space, it’s pretty clear to see that their ease with each other is no doubt a contributing factor as to how they are still feeling like a fresh exciting new band.

So how did they do it the first time around?

“Just sort of blind faith… just get out there and do it I think. I think that put your self out there and take risks and um risk failing. I think that’s the best way of describing it” And the biggest risks being for Band Of Skulls they saw as anything that “goes against the grain and playing your own style of music and not going with what’s at fashion at that time that is a risk and that’s the thing you have to do and if you can do it and sustain it that becomes your niche. So if this was our first gig or our first record we’d be worried that what we were doing wasn’t on trend, which, you know..”

Did they think then that by having done things this way is what has given the band longevity? Reaching a fourth album in this fickle industry of fashion and fad is indeed no mean feat in itself. Matt reflected: ” It gives us freedom. We don’t have to stick to anything really we can move in whatever which way or direction we want to.”

In full agreement Russell added “and perhaps in doing that in being bold, like you say, gives us longevity yeah – over the records. We think we’re a new band each day, we go out there with the same (mindset).. we don’t get lazy with it.”

Ahead of the interview I’d been lucky enough to have spent some time listing to the brand new album, By Default, and while it certainly still sounds like Band Of Skulls, there’s still that slight shift in direction. So I wondered how they’d approached this one and if there’d been any changes in the band’s dynamics.

Band of Skulls-sara harveyEmma stepped in to fill me in a bit: “We um.. we try and write in different places every time we start writing for a new record. This time we rented a big church space to write in and use and that really kind of set the tone for the record I think. So yeah that was a new place, new fresh kind of surroundings that always helps. That was really inspiring and that’s, you know, that’s where it started really. So yeah that was a big change.”

How does the band draw inspiration for their music as they go along though? Have those things changed much? Do they try and separate themselves from the journey and try and look at things from a different perspective?

Russell: “We try, well to just write music. I was saying the other day that often a year later you realise what you were writing about. You must write songs in more of a stream of consciousness kind of a way and then after a year you think ‘oh yeah I hit the nail on the head with that’ but it’s hard, when you’re so close in, to see what you’re writing about. And sometimes we’re all writing a song together and all adding parts in and it doesn’t really make sense in that moment but when you look back on it it makes perfect sense.”

I wondered then if they felt their albums all had some kind of cohesion between them, what with the fresh approach to each and the way they don’t necessarily know in the moment what it is they’re writing about. I then also came to wonder if they say each album as an entirely different beast, or child, and if so which was their favourite child. And as all good parents do, they managed to slightly dodge the last part of that question – Don’t think I didn’t notice – good work!

Russell continued: “They’re all us you know, so it’s cohesive in that sense. Matt will often say it’s like a snapshot, it’s like taking a photograph.” And right on cue you can hear our Sara grabbing a snap, which makes us all chuckle. Oh the timing.

“You know, maybe in the future people will just put out more records; a song every week, you know. And that would be like you get more of a snap shot of it, where as records every couple of years it sort of shows where the band is at that point.

Matt: “It is, kind of documenting us for four years, well longer than that, four records, and for us it’s a very personal thing and we can actually remember times when we were recording certain bits and writing certain bits and it’s been pretty full on 6, 7 years.

Emma: “It soundtracks our lives. You write it and they all hold memories and then you tour it. The places you visit, the people you meet. The experiences you have it’s all involved in the music and the songs.”

Band of Skulls-sara harveyAt this point in time, when the interview was taking place, Band Of Skulls had literally only showcased any of the new material live, once. The night before in Guildford’s The Boiler Room, and naturally I has been eager, ahead of the show, to know how the new material had translated to the crowd.

Emma: “It’s always interesting to see the response from the crowd to a brand new song because you never expect people to know the words already and know it and we played the majority of the new record last night and everyone seemed really into it and paying attention and also they got it. You felt like they got it you know. They understood what we were doing.”

Is their audience understanding them important to them?

Russell: “Of course Yeah, because you wanna move, change, evolve as a band but if you go too quickly you will loose people along the way. It’s great if you can retain everyone and keep the gang together and bring more people to the party sort of thing.”

I went on and voiced my outsiders perspective – that in my opinion they were definitely bringing more people to the party as they go.  Just by looking at the festivals they’re playing this year it started out with one and them boom, an absolute shed load and I see them playing bigger stages than before too, even after being away for a while. Do they see things the same way from their side?

Matt: “It’s funny, because when you’re inside it you don’t really think of it like that at all and you don’t realise and we’re always conscious of like… is anyone gonna care that we have another record coming out. You know, all those people who have been supporting us before….”

Russell: “…Is anyone gonna show up? It’s still like now. I walked in and though – I hope some people are coming down tonight. When you’re a young man and you put on gigs, there’s a feeling of ‘I hope this goes well’ and that doesn’t ever leave you even if you’re doing a really big festival or gig. It’s still ‘I hope this is cool’.”

It was a sold out show so I think we all knew deep down it was going to be a great night. Even if the crowd took a little time to warm up, by the end of it there was absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that people do care that there’s a new record out and they absolutely are willing to turn up and show that support. This band feels like a band of siblings, eager and willing to please but always on their own terms and never to fit in with fashions and fads.

By Default is out on May 27th and you can catch Band Of Skulls at many festivals and their autumn tour, live dates can be found on Facebook.


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    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

    All articles written by Elena Katrina unless otherwise stated.

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