UTG INTERVIEW: Band Of Skulls Talk ‘Himalayan’ @ SXSW

BOS feature

Longing — the battle to define rock n’ roll is best described through this word. It’s not tangible, it’s not something that can be put into a group of words and written down on a piece of paper. It’s something you feel, something you hear, something you experience. You know rock n’ roll when it happens…and you embrace it. You fantasize over it, you relish the idea of holding it in your hands, of possessing it. But rock n’ roll is not a possession, not a material item — it’s something thrown into the universe to be shared with all who want to open their arms to it. Rock n’ roll isn’t meant to be put into a box and stored away for convenience, it comes firing at you when you least expect it and takes you to places you have only dreamed of. Rock n’ roll is a lifestyle, a movement…

And if there’s one band dropping a record in 2014 that represents the idea of rock n’ roll, it’s Band Of Skulls. Himalayan, the band’s third studio LP, is just as the name states it is — a rock n’ roll behemoth from a band capturing the idea of something greater than itself. The tracks are dynamic, flourishing at the right moments — grabbing your attention when you least expect it and sending you on a wave of near-flawless musical experimentation.

While at SXSW, Under The Gun Review had a chance to sit down with the trio from Southampton, England to discuss the band’s current touring schedule, the new record, and how the band has progressed since emerging as a rock n’ roll game changer.

UTG: Hi guys. Thanks so much for the time today. What year is this at SXSW for you all?

Russell Marsden (guitar/vocals): It’s number three, album three. The first time was in 2009, maybe 2010, I think; so we’ve had non-consecutive years.

UTG: Do you think you’ve came more prepared each year?

RM: I think the first time you come it’s a real rush. You do feel like it’s your chance to get heard and it’s a different thing; you’re in the fight, you’re in the melee. I think as it’s changed for us, the festival’s also changed, actually.

UTG: How do you think?

RM: Just with the more headline acts that are present here and the amount of bigger acts that are here.

UTG: Do you have any particular thoughts about the bigger names coming to SXSW?

RM: Not particularly, it’s just a different thing. It feels more like a festival. It’s probably better to come here as an audience member. I think that might be better. If you came with a ticket and if you came now rather than five years ago, you might be able to see your favorite band in a small venue that you’d never get to see.

UTG: So you’re playing alongside Soundgarden tonight (Band Of Skulls was direct support for Soundgarden at the iTunes Festival on March 13). Are you excited for this show?

Matt Hayward (drums): Yeah, I hate to say I grew up listening to them, but I did. I went to see them a few months back in London at [the] Brixton Academy and it was a pretty great show. As a drummer, I’m a big fan of Matt Cameron so I’m excited to see him play. It’s going to be a great night, I’m very excited.

UTG: Awesome. So when listening to your first two releases, I felt the band progressed into finding a more defined sound. What do you think the biggest changes between the two were and then how did this translate into what we hear on Himalayan?

RM: I think our first record, like many people’s first record, is a ‘best-of’ before you became well-known. It’s like your greatest hits before you got a record deal and made an album. You choose the best songs you have then and moving on from that you have to move forward and our second album was definitely the transition for us. Rather than focusing down on what the band really is, we explored what we can really do. Our fear was we didn’t want to get cast into one small genre. We didn’t want to be narrowed down. We definitely stuck our elbows out to see what was achievable.

UTG: So what can fans expect from Himalayan?

RM: We’re still existing in the space that we’ve made for ourselves, but I think we know now what is the core sound of our band. You understand a little more about how you write music when you do it more often and I think we’ve written a record with our own voice in mind, rather than not quite knowing what that voice is. It’s definitely us. Hopefully we’ve brought the best elements of what we’ve done in the past and added a few different directions in there as well. It’s not way off the scale of what we’ve done before. I think it sounds like us.

UTG: That’s fantastic. Where did the name of the record derive from? I feel like Himalayan portrays something larger than life.

Emma Richardson (bass/vocals): It started out as a song title and progressed into being the album title. It just summed up the whole record. It was the only thing that captured the sound of the whole thing. It seemed to fit well.

Himalayan Band Of Skulls Interview

UTG: I had the great opportunity to catch your live show for the first time last night and it was fantastic. Truly energetic and natural. Where do you pull this energy from? Being a three-piece I feel as though a lot of bands lose their sound when playing live, but your show sounded full for the entire set.

RM: Last night was just pure energy. It was one of those pop-up guerrilla-style gigs that you need — you’re living in your wits, really. We’re a band that takes every show as it is and we have the ability to do that. We don’t use any tricks or smoke and mirrors, so we can play for the audience that is there. So whether it’s a prestigious venue or like last night — a dirty punk-rock show. It keeps it interesting. If it became the same thing every night, like really the same thing — automated in a sense — I think we’d lose interest. Hopefully we’re engaged. If it looks like hard work than we’re definitely enjoying ourselves.

UTG: Well you guys we’re definitely sweating last night. You touched on a fascinating thing there — there’s so much digitization in the industry today, yet you guys maintain the rock n’ roll enthusiasm that the genre was built on. What is the importance of maintaing that in your live show and on the record?

RM: We’re not like over-the-top about it. It’s not like we can’t do anything. We all use modern technology. If it’s an easier way to get your ideas across, then let’s just do it. It’s not like we have a set rule where we’re only going to use tape from the 1920s. And with social media, our first record spread by word of mouth so we owe what’s happened in the last five years, we owe everything to it. We can’t be sniffy about it. But with saying that, we don’t want it to run us, we don’t want it to be operating our music, we want to be a part of it. We don’t want to be working for the band.

MH: I think the key to it is keeping the human element very prominent in the whole thing, whether that’s recording or even with social media. Especially when writing and recording; you can use all of this fantastic technology, but the important thing for us is keeping the human element of what we started as — which is a band that likes to play music together. You can get lost in the technology side and you become sort of a robot, in a way. You allow it to take over what you started out doing.

RM: It’s got to have soul.

ER: Yeah, it’s got to have feeling and it’s got to be real.

RM: If you’re singing about something that means a lot to you, especially. If you’re writing a song and it’s something and it’s real…it’s a style and it’s a thing that happened to you. It would be weird to sanitize it so much that you’re making a distance between you and your emotion.

MH: As long as we retain that, then everything else is fun to use and it’s fine. It’s a great way of communicating. What a luxury; to be able to take a picture of what we’re up to and send it to billions of people, what a lovely thing to do. But, it has to be real and it has to be honest.

UTG: Have you guys ever talked about recording on tape before?

MH: We’ve done it.

RM: Yeah, we’ve done it. We like to use a mix of everything. Whatever’s best for the record.

MH: We’ll record on tape and then use Pro Tools as an aid to splice things up and stuff, but we definitely don’t use anything that takes away from the human element.

UTG: Being from the UK, what do you think the biggest difference in the industry is between there and the US?

RM: It’s definitely a lesson in difference. I think when we first made records and went on tour, we were thinking in a more all-encompassing way, a more around-the-world kind of way. As soon as you make a record, you put it out on iTunes. It’s so easy to find American bands the week before the record comes out, whereas it might of taken a few years for them to get over [to England] before.

ER: It’s instantly worldwide.

UTG: So now that the record’s coming out, what’s the rest of the year look like for you guys?

MH: This is it, we’re on tour. This is the start of the tour. It’s pretty much all year, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. We’re going back to the UK, we’ve got a few shows in the States, then back to the UK and Europe, then back to States and then to Australia and Europe. We’ll go anywhere that will have us, basically. We’re open to offers. It’s one of the greatest things about what we do, it’s such a pleasure and it’s lovely to get invited to play a country you’ve never been to. We went to South America for the first time at the end of last year, we played in Argentina.

UTG: What’s it like to go to countries and see them singing along, when it’s not even their native language?

MH: We’ve never been there before, it’s weird! They know who you are [laughs]. It’s very bizarre, but a beautiful thing, really.


Pre-order Himalayan today. The new record is out March 31 in the UK and April 1 in the US.

Interview written by Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt).

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