Band of Skulls- Feature Article, Disorder Magazine

There is something paradoxical about Band of Skulls. First that name. Like Spinal Tap. All leather and mullets and soft focus. A motorbike pulling onto the stage maybe. Pyrotechnics and huge, meandering guitar solos. Or buffoon mullets, all perm and fringe.

Except they’re not.

Then the actual sound of the band. All swagger and dirty Rock and Roll. Chugging bass, fat guitar riffs and attitude. Lip curling, foot stamping southern rock with a filthy swagger. Full of feedback and wah wah. Cut off jeans and a click of cowboy boots. The most American of rock. To be heard in a Mustang on Route 66. Or in a slow-mo bullet-fest in a Robert Rodriguez film. American through and through.

Except they’re not.

Old school. The sort of music that should be played at a drink and cocaine fuelled party in the seventies. A band born from the sweat of bars and the college tour. The endless road. Cheap presses and hand written fliers stuck under the windscreen wipers of dirty student cars. 

A band grown out of the sticky floors and condensation dripping ceilings.

Except they’re not.

In reality Band of Skulls are an incredibly tight, confident rock band from Southampton, whose recent big break came from the most modern of music distributors. Chosen by the Itunes team as the free download of the week, “I know what I am” was downloaded over 400,000 times. Unsurprisingly. It is a big, dirty record. Somewhere between White Stripes and Led Zeppelin. It is refreshing and familiar at the same time. Again the paradox.

When I spoke to Russell, lead singer and guitarist, the band were making their way up from Seattle to Vancouver, our phone conversation was cut short by the distance and a dodgy signal, and for me this has only added to their mystique. It seemed right that they faded from view mid-sentence. Mysterious. Enigmatic. Paradoxical. Lost in static somewhere on the American border.

Before he faded I put the Itunes thing to him.

It seems ironic that a band that are in many ways are from an era could end up being defined by something that is so very much of this one. Something traditional being launched by something so digital.

“We don’t want it to end up being the focus”, he said. “But it was a good shot in the arm”

What this instant success meant was that there was an existing platform to build the band on very quickly. In marketing terms there was a large demographic who had already expressed an interest in the band, ready and waiting to be sold to. This sort of surety of audience is rare in a band before a debut album, without a ridiculous marketing budget and heavy Radio 1 and MTV rotation.

So Band of Skulls found themselves in the studio with a two week deadline to finish the album. The resulting “Baby Darling Doll Face Honey” again demonstrates the contrary nature of the band. The name comes from a text message sent to band member Emma, “when am I going to see you in the big bad city, baby, darling, doll face, honey?”,

which then snuck into the lyrics for next single “Fire” and seemed big enough for the album title. Recorded digitally, the sound is crisp and modern, yet the music harks back to the golden era of seventies rock music and is deceptively loose and free. It is a deceptively tight piece of music, as a band they seem very comfortable with each other and the bluesy/rock sound of the music is neatly accomplished without being showy. It has an edge to it, almost something discordant, but at the same time has a pop-sensibility that caused 400,000 people to download it. The harmonies between Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson are an effective counterpoint to the beefy guitar riffs that can veer from the Rock and Roll self-assuredness of the Black Crowes to the self-conscious art-rock of Franz Ferdinand in the space of one song. As I said contradictory, but never schizophrenic.

I like the idea of them out there in America, like the early pioneers leaving Southampton to the find the Promised Land. There seems something of the pilgrim about them as a band, something about the way the accidentally stormed Itunes that brings to mind the adventurers of the past.

“We like it here”, says Russell. “There’s a bigger scale, more conviction almost and you get a sense of the musical history. I don’t know, you feel like you are following in big footsteps.”

And there they go, the Band of Skulls.

I imagine them in a soft-top Mustang somewhere in North America. The sun is shining, the wind is whistling. On the stereo is a track that is familiar. Through the crackle and the sunshine and the dust, the sunlight on the rims of a pair of aviators. In front of them is a wide-open road. It’s long and straight and it focuses to an arrow point in the place where the horizon meets the sky. A long, long way behind them, somewhere way, way back is Southampton.