Hampshire rockers Band of Skulls BIG INTERVIEW: ‘It blew our minds and opened us up to whole new worlds’

Five albums into their career it’s all-change for Hampshire’s hard-rocking Band of Skulls.

Thursday, 4th April 2019, 8:35 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th April 2019, 8:42 pm
Band of Skulls, 2019. Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson are playing at Central Hall, Southampton on April 11
Band of Skulls, 2019. Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson are playing at Central Hall, Southampton on April 11

Since finishing touring for their last album, By Default, drummer Matt Hayward quit the group in an amicable split, which has left the duo of co-vocalists, bassist Emma Richardson and guitarist Russell Marsden as the only full-time members.

The pair took this as an opportunity to shake things up, and as a result they found themselves working with innovative producer Richard X – best known for working with more pop-oriented acts such as Will Young and Goldfrapp – and being the creative force behind Sugababes’ number one single Freak Like Me.

The resulting album Love Is All You Love, due out a week today, sees a shift from the band’s classic grunge-rock to encompass new elements.

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The group had previously worked with acclaimed producers like Nick Launay and Gil Norton – whose resumes read like a who’s who in rock music – but Emma and Russell deliberately wanted to swerve that route this time out.

‘To start with, we purposefully said we didn’t want to work with someone from the rock world, and Richard’s name came up as a suggestion.

‘We went and met with him at his studio in London, Miloco, and we ended up working together. It was immediately brilliant and easy, and a lot of songs started happening straight away.’

As a trio with three songwriters, the songwriting dynamic shifted this time out. Before they went into the studio with Richard, the pair had already been working on demos at home.

Band of Skulls new album Love Is All You Love, is released on April 12, 2019

‘It was quite exciting just being the two of us, and we were getting quite a lot done quite quickly and agreeing on a lot. We were using more electronic instruments, like programming drums, because of necessity really, and we got hold of a drum kit and started working on mixing electronic and real drums and creating these quite interesting demos and ideas. Working with Richard it seemed like a natural extension to experiment in that world, really.

‘It blew our minds, and opened us up to whole new worlds of sound – it was great.’

‘Collaborating with someone new always throws up exciting and new challenges, so we jumped at the chance to take up that challenge.’

In the sessions for By Default the band holed up in an old church and ultimately wrote more than 100 songs. Did any of those old songs carry over to the new album?

‘We started afresh. There’s always riffs or parts of things that carry over, but song-wise it was a lot of new beginnings. When we finished touring in 2016 and then Matt departed, we were straight back in our studios at home. We had quite a lot of ideas at that point, but they were all quite weird and experimental and different, so it was a strange start – what do we do from here?

‘It was nice to jump on a different thing.’

Since their early days – the band once played at The Fat Fox at Southsea Fest – they have had a formidable reputation as a live act. But with Matt gone, they needed a replacement, so they’ve been working with American drummer Julian Dorio who is an old friend of the band.

‘Julian’s played on the record and he’s coming over for the tour in April, which is really exciting.’

Is he a permanent replacement?

‘He’s definitely working with us for the live shows, we’re just seeing how it goes really, it feels like he’s part of the band. We’ve known him for a good 10 years.

‘He’s in another band called The Whigs who are kind of on hiatus right now, but when we first went out to America in 2009/10, we did a co-headline tour with them, so every night both bands were in healthy competition trying to outdo each other.

‘He saw our post on social media saying Matt had left but that we were carrying on, and he gave us a ring within an hour of seeing the post to say he’d be up for playing with us if we wanted him. It was a no-brainer really.’

They also laid down much of the album in a week at Smoakstack Studios in Nashville.

‘Paul Moak, who owns it, is a bit of a collector and he’s got some amazing gear, so we were spoilt for choice and the live room has a great feel. All the backing tracks, all the drums and the bass and some of the guitars were tracked there so it’s got that great feel and sound of us playing together.

‘We wanted to keep that live Band of Skulls sound happening on the record and I think we captured that.’

With the new material branching out sonically, how  has it been going down live?

‘We’ve been rehearsing them a little bit and hearing the new stuff in the same set up of bass, drums, guitars and two vocals, we do kind of strip everything back, so live-wise it’s the same as it’s always is. The new stuff fits in to the world of the previous songs in that sense – they fit really nicely, there’s space for them. We’ve noticed they’re getting people moving – more dancing and more moshing – which is good!’

They kick the tour off with a hometown show in a new venue, Central Hall in Southampton.

‘We came across it by chance really. We were walking around town trying to find a new venue that would be exciting and maybe get people to see another part of Southampton, it’s always nice to do something new and for the first time.

‘We stumbled across it and asked to have a look around. They told us they were opening it up a bit more so we said: “Can you book us in please?”

‘We were really lucky, then the rest of the tour became about finding all of these different sorts of venues in each city, so we’re playing some interesting places – they all look really beautiful. It’s not just your average rock tour, it’s going to be quite special!’

Band of Skulls are at Central Hall, Southampton, on Thursday, April 11, doors 7pm. Tickets £15. Go to centralhall.org.uk.