Band of Skulls: "Rock 'n' Roll Is Back in the Hands of the People That Love It"
In rock music's current, tepid state, there are a few distinct groups that have taken on the burden of carrying the torch for true, piss and vinegar fueled rock music for a new generation. Band of Skulls is one such band, a member of an illustrious peer group that includes former tour mates Queens of the Stone Age and the Dead Weather, a band that fights to avoid the novelty that rock has become for so many, and a band that's still seeing its star ascend.
The group recently released its critically acclaimed third full length, Himalayan, and is currently on the road supporting the album. Produced by heavy-hitter Nick Launay, the record displays a marked bit of newfound maturity amid the bashing and blues riddled mayhem the group earned its stripes purveying. By most accounts, Band of Skulls absolutely annihilated the crowd at Fort Lauderdale's Revolution Live last week, and we took the time to catch up with the band's singer, guitarist, and songwriter Russell Marsden about life with a new record and the state of rock music.
New Times:Are you enjoying playing the new record on the road?
Russell Marsden: Yeah! For us, we always sit down when we make a record and say, "What's possible here?" and "What can we do to change it?" and almost have bigger ideas than are possible at the time and then try to grow into those ideas. A lot of the songs were quite challenging to realize live and they're still being developed now, but that's what makes it exciting for us as musicians, to get our chops around it.
I have found that most organic rock 'n' roll bands see their songs develop into different animals live in the first couple of months of touring them. Is this the case for Band of Skulls?
Yeah, which is always a fascinating process. I wish we could record all of the songs as they are now, but it definitely is two different art forms -- making records and making the show -- and I think it may a bit overblown to have these almost more powerful versions on record. It's almost as if the songs are being born, that's when they're recorded, in their early stages, and the live show is always a bit more, which is probably the right way around.
Does that way of thinking open up the possibility of another live album from the group in the future?
Yeah, I think so, because we've changed as a band and I think every record we make gives us another element. I mean, making a live record for us really is no different than doing a show, we just go on stage and play the show. It's just picking the right venue and the right moment to do it. But yeah, I think it might be a good idea to do that. It might be a nice way to round off this whole chapter before we move on to something different, yeah?
Nick Launay has such an intense resume under his belt. Do you feel like the band got what it was looking for out of working with him on the album?
Yeah, what we wanted, really, truthfully, was just the opportunity to work with someone different and live in that challenge -- to see what we were bringing to the table as a band -- almost to take a calculated risk in bringing in someone new in and seeing what they can bring.
Nick, like you said has a great back catalog, but that wasn't the main reason we chose him. He did the mix on Sweet Sour, so we loved his kind of bravery. He was like "You're going to put this guitar break in, just slam it in as loud as possible!" and you're like "Oh, my God, that's kind of wrong!" But it works, and he works with a gut feeling and lots of confidence, and I think he pulled it out then, and I think we all came out of this session really on a high, and it was a really special experience, so I guess we got out what we wanted of it.
While there are certainly plenty of those stark, jarring moments, the album does display a newfound refinement in the band's sound. Was that a conscious change?
Well, I guess you can't help learning. You can't help but learn when you make records and you do get better at some elements. As for the jarring, that's something that we're quite proud of. For us, when we were first a band, before we even started making records, every song we had sounded like a different band. So for us, it was a process of trying to get it all into center view to be a band now. Doing different styles has never been a problem, it was somehow condensing it into a sound that is something understandable. We love playing around with different things and our idea is we like to be always opening doors and not closing doors, we don't want to typecast ourselves. So, if we can do a song like "Cold Sweat" on the record, that makes us happy to surprise people.
Absolutely. And I think the key for great rock bands at this point in time is to avoid genre boundaries while having a musical personality that carries over it all.
Yeah, well I'd agree! Personality is everything. My favorite bands, I know who the players are and I can hear their influence more so on this track, less so on this track, and that's what you buy into when you get into a band. It's almost like being a part of a gang: You know the people, you know the situation, and the music is where it clicks. I think we're a collaboration as a band, and I think that's a really fascinating way of working. It's not necessarily the easiest way of working, but I think it offers up the most varied and interesting results. I think like lots of great bands, we strive to keep that even element in there, and the more even the better, basically.
As a band that's toured with the cream of the crop of millennial bands, how do you feel about the state of rock 'n' roll in general?
I mean, it's an interesting time for sure. I've had moments of ignoring those sort of headlines, and I've had moments of really thinking about it, because for us, it's a nearer situation. But then, going out on the road with some of the greatest bands of the last ten, fifteen years, there is a high which you can get with rock music that is because of that personal, human element that is not really present in dance music. It's a different kind of high. I like electronic music as well, but there is something human and personal about songs, and I think that's what will save it.
The problem now is not that there is a lack of bands, but it's a lack of support for bands. It's almost ten years now, and there's going to be this dead air between the next great rock 'n' roll band. The arena bands now are in another hurry. They've got up to this level now, but there is a gap. Even all of the bands that you're mentioning now, The Dead Weather and the Black Keys are probably the only bands that have come out of the last ten years that have got to that level. It's going to be slim pickings quite soon, and we're going to need more and more bands stepping forward into the genre. I think it will come, things move in ways and I think the next thing will be a reaction and a counterbalance.
The medium sized bands can then step into the shoes that someone like Queens of the Stone Age might have vacated, that's great. Then of course you need lots of other bands to step into the shoes of the medium sized bands. As long as it stays healthy. In a way, I think it being less commercial is a good thing. Rock 'n' roll is back in the hands of the people that love it. If you're playing rock 'n' roll music now, it's because you love it, and fans know that, too. And that almost makes it more special at the moment, and if we can be a part of that, fantastic!