Band of Skulls, a three-piece from Southampton, UK, recently toured through North America and made a stop in Toronto. The blues-rock band is comprised of Russell Marsden (vocals, guitar), Emma Richardson (vocals, bass) and Matt Hayward (drums). Russell and Emma had some time to sit down with me and chat (often finishing one another’s sentences) about the tour, their album Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, how all three members write the songs, their second album plans, and how Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are actually sweet people… er… badasses.
Keep reading for the exclusive RoundLetters Q&A!
RoundLetters: Tell me how you guys got started.
Russell: Okay, well I guess we’re a rock band from England. I often have to remind myself what we are but yeah, yes we are.
Emma: Three piece.
Russell: Three piece… we made one record so far, and are about to make our second one. And we formed sort of in one way, a very long time ago. Matt and I met when we were kids and met Emma when we were in art school. But this album has been our first release under this name almost like our first proper project. We’re kind of old and new at the same time.
RoundLetters: So tell me a bit more about your second album.
Russell: We haven’t started yet.
Emma: At the moment, we all write separately in the band and then kind of end up showing each other ideas that we’ve come up with. At the moment, we’re in the process of everyone writing on their own and then hopefully when we get a bit of time in maybe August, is the next time we get some time off, we’re going to come together and work out the ideas with each other and see which stuff stays and which goes.
Russell: It’s like we have a huge mess of stuff all over the floor that we have to, it’s like a puzzle, we have to put it together.
Emma: Picking out the things that might work.
Russell: Yeah, throwing all the shit ideas away.
RoundLetters: When do you hope to have the album out?
Russell & Emma: Who knows.
Emma: I couldn’t say, hopefully it’s early-ish next year that we’ll be looking at trying to get a release but it all depends on if we can come up with the goods or not. We’ll see!
RoundLetters: This album is already a year-or-so old.
Russell: Yeah, thanks for reminding us!
RoundLetters: Well no that’s a good sign that you’re still able to tour it so much. And you’re still coming up here.
Emma: Yeah, it’s a natural progression from first to second record.
Russell: It feels completely like the right time now. It’s exciting!
Emma: We’re ready to write some new stuff.
RoundLetters: So you all write the music. Tell me a bit about that, is it tricky?
Emma: We end up fighting more than most bands I think because everyone wants their parts heard. It’s more of a situation where you can’t be precious about what you write personally because someone else will have an opinion and it’s kind of for the good of the band so you have to give stuff over.
Russell: It’s just that’s just how we’ve always worked. We didn’t set out and say this is a great way of working or that might take a lot of time, but just that’s how we do it. We’re kind of stuck there now, I guess we sort of have to work that way now.
RoundLetters: So you’re doing the same thing for the next record?
Russell: Yeah, in many ways we’re kind of repeating the process a little bit but also trying to develop ourselves and I think we’re all very competitive. As for writing new material, we spur each other on to be better. So we’re a good influence on each other, I think.
Emma: It’s a competition, you know? Everyone wants to write better than the other person or come up with an as good an idea. It pushes you to do good.
RoundLetters: Who do you think wins?
Russell: Well hopefully …
Emma: It’s so democratic!
Russell: Hopefully people that get a record, I’d say. In the end we had such a great response to our first album, this would be the first time that we’re releasing a record and people are actually waiting to hear it. The first one, we sort of just threw it into a black hole of nothingness. It just gradually has gained a bit of momentum.
RoundLetters: Do you all bring a different kind of sound or different way of writing lyrics?
Russell: Everyone has their strengths. I don’t know what they are really, but what short comings perhaps one of us has is often made up by the other two.
Emma: One of us will step in. An idea gets written, and say we pick a verse or something and someone can’t come up with a chorus part, so we just pass it round and someone will add on and add on and move it round.
Russell: The best ideas win out in the end and that’s how it works. You’ve just got to admit the fact that you’ve been beaten. But again, it’s your song and you had a really terrible chorus and then Emma comes up with a classic chorus of all time and you’re like well great, now my song’s finished. And it’s better for it. I think it makes it interesting as well, and we get to have rests in between singing on stage.
RoundLetters: When you guys started out the band, did you set out to be like, I want to be like a blues rock band?
Russell: What do you mean, “like?”
RoundLetters: Okay, I want to be a blues rock band!
Emma: Not really. I don’t know, do many bands do that? It just happens naturally, or it happened naturally for us anyway. Russell and Matt have been playing blues and rock ‘n’ roll together for a while and they had started it and I just joined and kind of added the bass.
Russell: *Laughs* kind of added the bass! I think when we were younger, that whole vibe of music is what came naturally to us and it wasn’t forced, we didn’t just sort of sit down and study and learn to play in that style, it’s just when we picked up guitars, that’s what came out. I think it’s the root of our sound but I don’t think it’s … we’re not sort of tied into it so much that we wouldn’t do anything else. It’s the core of the feel of what we do.
Emma: It’s what we grew up listening to, our parents’ record collections and mixtures of blues and rock ‘n’ roll.
RoundLetters: What do you hear about what people think of your sound?
Russell: Yeah, it’s interesting when people come up with things. Sometimes, it’s weird when people say you sound like bands you’ve never heard before. They assume you’ve been inspired or in other words nicked an idea. I’m like that’s funny, I’ve never listened…
RoundLetters: I see you guys get the Dead Weather comparison a lot.
Russell: Oh yeah, I’ve heard them. Yeah, I think people might… it’s good for people to have a rough idea but yeah I think if someone likes the Dead Weather, then they’ll probably quite like us. But hopefully can see the differences.
RoundLetters: So how’s the tour been going so far?
Emma: It’s been great. This is strange, though, because we’ve been doing it in sections of meeting up with other bands and leaving them. We started off supporting Black Rebel Motorcycle Club for about 10 shows and that was great to see another great rock ‘n’ roll band playing amazingly every night. Then we ended up leaving them, which was quite sad to say goodbye and then going on tour with a band called the Whigs who are another three-piece rock ‘n’ roll band…
Russell: Who left us and then are reuniting with us tonight.
Emma: Also a band from the UK called the 22 20s who are another great band, four-piece, from the UK. They did a few shows with us and had to leave and they’re carrying on doing their own thing in the US.
Russell: This is a complete shout out! And also a band from LA called Saint Motel joined us and they’re very good. And then more recently, Silver Starling from Montreal. It’s been this sort of traveling circus because us is the only constant. It’s been really good and we’ve covered so much ground and I feel like we’ve really wrapped up the touring of this record over this side of the Atlantic.
Emma: It’s quite sad, we’ve got three days left and then we go home for a while.
Russell: Yeah, I guess we are never going to tour our debut album like this again, so it is like the end of an era. I’m getting quite reflective about it, really.
RoundLetters: What have you guys seen and loved of Canada?
Russell: Well, we had a rare night off last night so we had a rare steak. In the end, when you’re touring, it’s like food… our delicate British palette sometimes struggle to survive in some of the more…
Emma: Basically, fast food really kills us.
Russell: And we have to eat it sometimes just because we have to get to the next place.
Emma: Canada … it’s been amazing. The countryside is beautiful, driving the long drives and seeing a bit of the scenery, it’s like wow. You realize how huge it is and luckily we took a few flights to get across the country in the middle section.
Russell: We’ve been to Calgary before, and we had a great time as well, it’s just the time in the end. We’ve only got so much time to get to a show.
Emma: It’s a beautiful country.
Russell: I enjoyed … we got the boat from Seattle to Victoria and then from Victoria back up to Vancouver, so the fact that we used a boat during the tour, I thought that was very cool.
RoundLetters: Very badass. A lot different from touring in England!
Emma: Yeah, UK and Europe… it’s like two hours to each city.
Russell: I think it’s made us realize that we never really toured before in England really, and it showed us how easy it kind of could have been. It changed our idea of what long distance was.
RoundLetters: I lived in London last year, and it was just like wow, I can just go over to this city!
Emma: Yeah, people don’t travel to gigs in the UK, either. They do, but not so much as in the US it seems like you meet a lot of people who come to the shows and Canada and just saying they’ve driven five hours to come. We had a couple who came from…
Russell: Saskatoon to Edmonton!
Emma: And there’s just no limit.
Russell: People who come from the States back up to Canada just to catch us one more time before we go home! It’s great! We’re very…
Russell: Yeah, we’re uh, we’re very fortunate. *Laughs* It makes us really happy when people are that kind to us. I feel bad like, why, you must be so tired, why have you done it?! I feel terrible.
Emma: It’s worth it.
RoundLetters: Tell me a bit about how you guys play live. Any tactics you have.
Russell: Tactics! *Laughs*
Emma: Try and stay in tune and play the right notes, really.
Russell: It’s been really our first proper headlining tour. I’m not lumping Canada into America, but when we tour here we always do them together. So North America… this continent… oh God! Yeah, so we’ve had a bigger show and the songs have sort of evolved and the record and we even like to play them a little longer sometimes, people like it. The best thing is if we feel like we can, we’re not tied down to a real strict technology, it’s just us, a rock ‘n’ roll band. It’s been fun, the show has sort of evolved over the tour so I guess almost now is the best time to see it.
RoundLetters: How has it evolved?
Russell: Just, you write a song and then you record it and then you play it 100 times. I think you just make more adjustments with time and I guess they improve.
Emma: It just seems like everyone’s gotten a little bit better at playing them since we recorded them and it feels like more of a natural… it happens far more easier than… yeah.
RoundLetters: Kind of like practice.
Emma: Yeah. To be able to play them and not worry so much about it.
Russell: You feel more at home and at ease and they become sort of, you don’t think about it, you enjoy it.
RoundLetters: Any goals for your live show in the future? Bright lights?
Russell: That sounds expensive.
Emma: Yeah, if we can afford it, it would be amazing to have a great light show. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club had a really good light show. Lots of strobing.
Russell: We’ve played with people like Black Rebel and Metric and stuff and it’s great, you get to have a proper learning curve. I guess when it comes that time when we can afford it, we’ve seen some people using it to great effect so, we can be like yeah I like that. I think right now, our production extends to Matt has a fan to keep him cool so maybe next time…
Emma: If the venue has a smoke machine, usually it gets put on.
Russell: Oh and the most under-rated effect of rock ‘n’ roll – the mirror ball.
Russell: I love the mirror ball.
RoundLetters: The disco ball?
Russell: Yeah. And apparently invented in the 1920s or ‘30s. It was! I’m bringing it back.
Emma: I like the curtains in front of the stage… they get pulled back when we’re on stage and we’re like “We’re ready!”
Russell: Yeah I always get the giggles when I see that. Hilarious
RoundLetters: *Laughs* It just opens and you’re laughing?
Russell: Yeah, sniggering like this is funny!
RoundLetters: Yeah, I remember seeing Black Rebel and they start out with just light and Peter comes out and he’s smoking.
Russell: They are badass, and also very lovely. They’re the kindest people. I should maybe not say that. They’re badasses.
RoundLetters: I’ve read some things about you guys and it seems that you’re very oh my God, so much is happening right now…
Russell: *Laughs* Is that how we come across?
RoundLetters: No, but like it’s a good thing, you’re like “well thank you!”
Emma: It’s just surprising, a couple of years ago, I was working at a bar and so was our drummer, Matt and we just… we wanted something like this to happen but we never envisioned it happening on such a big scale as being able to still tour and there still be a demand for us to play live and we feel quite grateful to be honest.
Russell: It’s just a privilege. We feel like, oh my God, we feel like we’re in a privileged position. If you’re lucky enough to be given the opportunity and you don’t mind doing the work or the touring, I think we’re really excited about making a record. It’s nice, I feel like we’re sharing another thing. It’s really nice.
RoundLetters: Kind of like advice to all of those bands who are working in bars now as well.
Emma: Yeah, exactly.
Russell: Just don’t give up. Give up your day job if you can.
Russell: It’s tough nowadays for bands to break through and we know that because it took us a long time to do it, so I guess if you really do have the passion for it, you’ll find where you want to be and what you want to play, whatever.
RoundLetters: So what else is next, besides just writing?
Emma: I think we might get a week off at some point.
Russell: Really exciting.
Emma: Just a week off so we’re just going to go and disappear.
Russell: I’m going to find myself in India! I’ve heard I’m there! *Laughs* We’re doing a tour over in Australia as well and we’re doing a festival in Japan. That would be the final last trip of this album and then we’ll go into the studio.
Emma: This will be the first kind of run of dates over there. We’ve heard they’ve been playing us on the radio and it’s just crazy, it’s like the most furthest away place you could probably play.
Russell: *In Australian accent* Band of Skulls? Band of Skulls? … So we’re looking forward to that and back in time for Christmas… and then who knows, buy our mothers some lovely gifts. That’s probably our plan.