Back in April this year on Record Store Day, a sizeable crowd in Southsea’s Castle Road got to see Band of Skulls debut a few new songs from there as then unreleased fourth album, By Default.
As singer and guitarist Russell Marsden recalls: ‘It was a weird one, but it was an unusual scenario.
‘Pie and Vinyl invited us, and we were like, yeah, we’d love to do it. When we last played Record Store Day a couple of years ago we did a few songs in the front of the shop and I must admit, we expected to go there, have a cup of tea, have a pie and play in the shop again.
‘But it was amazing. Between us and the shop, we agreed that we’d play in the middle of the day and let someone else go on later as we weren’t in that mode yet, that full live production thing. We weren’t ready to be honest,’ he laughs, ‘it was mis-timing, but it turned out great, and previewing the songs in their not-finished form was great.’
And he praised the whole Castle Road fair, which saw more than a dozen bands play in the street over the weekend.
‘It’s something Southsea should be proud of, it would be nice if more places had something like that – they’ve really set the bar high. It’s inspiring.’
There’s no point in doing what we’ve done already. For us, the fourth album is breaking new groundRussell Marsden, Band of Skulls
The hard-rocking trio, completed by Emma Richardson on bass and vocals and Matt Hayward on drums, released By Default in May, but wrote the new album in a church in their home city of Southampton, a process Russell reveals yielded them some 100 songs.
‘We just write and work in different places and change it up a little bit. It turns out there all these amazing spaces that sound awesome and are mostly empty during the week. We only stopped for local elections and a funeral.
‘We’re all songwriters. It’s a competitive environment. We share everything and we act as equals. It’s not like a songwriter with some musicians, we’re the kind of band where we all pitch in with ideas and try to get them through to the end
‘We’ve got too many ideas really, it’s trying to find the right ones to do at a certain time.
‘We’ve done everything we wanted to do on the last three records. It was almost like the first record again, what shall we do, what shall we present to the world?’
‘There’s no point in doing what we’ve done already. For us, the fourth album is breaking new ground.
‘Some of the songs – you go in there and turn the microphone on and you’ve changed, things have changed. It’s healthy to grow and try new things, it would be wrong if we looked backwards, we try to look forwards. I think this record particularly is a bridge, it’s giving us more options for the future. We’re looking at the next record already.’
And Russell reveals that the album could have turned out very differently, as they’ve still got all those other songs they could have picked from their sessions in the church. They took those 100 to producer Gil Norton and began the process of whittling them down to the dozen on By Default.
‘There’s more extremes in the songs we haven’t used – we’ve opened a few doors. There’s some clues on the record, but at one point Matt sat me down and said: “I don’t think the world’s ready for that yet”, and I listen to Matt, he doesn’t mince his words.’
Working with Norton, famed for his work with the likes of Pixies and Foo Fighters, also helped test themselves.
‘It was great, we were just finishing up in the church and put word out that were looking for a producer and he called us. We went for a pint with Gil and two weeks later we were in the studio, it was all very fast.
‘He basically worked us the hardest we’ve ever worked. We were broken, but his reputation is for that, he’s a real stickler and perfectionist. He makes you play until you beg for mercy, basically!’
With the new album featuring a sound that reaches beyond the basic drum/bass/guitar trio, their live set-up is bolstered by a fourth musician, and one with a rather fine musical pedigree at that.
‘Milo (Fitzpatrick) is another homeboy from Southampton, he went to school with Matt, so we’ve known him for ages. He’s had his own career, he was in Portico Quartet and they did really well.
‘Luckily he’s got a bit of time, so we’ve smuggled him in there – he’s definitely overqualified. Where we’re playing bigger shows now, we want to make it good enough for the bigger venues, we want to bring a bit of some of those sounds on the record to the show, but we’re still rocking out – it’s still all live. We’re not faking it!’
Engine Rooms, Southampton
Thursday, November 17