Story by Christopher Norton
Photography by Nikki Turner
It’s a cold world Band of Skulls was born into. The psychedelic blues rockers are the latest U.K. exports to wage their classically skuzzy assault on the land of the free and the brave, starting with New York City. Which is surprising given the band’s former appellation, as guitarist and sometime frontman Russell Marsden told us in a recent conversation.
Marsden and drummer Matt Hayward have known and played music with each other since childhood, but the band which listeners will discover today didn’t take shape until Marsden and bassist-to-be Emma Richardson met in art school. The three originally played under the name Fleeing New York, but as other members came and went the body of songs that make up new full-length Baby Darling Doll Face Honey began to coalesce—especially lead single “I Know Who I Am”—and the core trio decided it was time for a change.
“It’s really weird because it’s felt like we’re a different band,” Marsden said. “It’s like we did our apprenticeship, and this is the real deal.” All three of the members contribute songs—even Matt, who when he’s not behind the kit is “like a singing acoustic troubadour,” according to Marsden. “We have to amplify his parts.”
“It’s been a long process getting this album together without one songwriter who comes in and says, ‘These are the songs, these are the chords’,” Marsden said of the group’s democratic creative dynamic. “It’s like a TV show.”
The undeniable standout at the band’s recent Bowery Ballroom spot opening for Brody Dalle’s new band Spinnerette was “Impossible,” a deep album track that showcased Band of Skulls’ recent emphasis on collaborative songwriting and closed the set with a My Bloody Valentine style noise bliss-out. “We were trying to make a more spacious sound, and that was the song that came out of it,” Marsden recalled. “I think we’re continuing to go down that path because it worked so well.”
Of course, it’s a tough road ahead for any straightforward power trio on a one-species-under-a-groove kind of globe, where the tunes getting the most attention tend to break down cultural barriers, not the sound barrier. Marsden knows it’s a challenge, but has faith in his group to summon the concerted intensity necessary to stand out from the huddled masses. Their raw, stripped-down sound is “the curse and the best thing, because you do have a pure and essential sound, but if you end up being super busy, you just become madly busy. I’m relieved when the show’s over because it feels like I’m operating some dangerous machine. There’s no chance for anyone to stop and take a drink, check their text messages.” This furious pace was set during the very recording of Baby Darling Doll Face Honey as the band rushed to capitalize on the buzz generated by “I Know What I Am.”
“The song had already been picked up by a few people, including iTunes, and that had to get organized while we finished the album,” said Marsden. “It was kind of terrifying, but necessary. You could say, no, it’s not ready yet, but that would be a silly thing to do because you won’t get that opportunity again.”
And he hopes to build on that opportunity with an ace-in-the-hole live show. “It’s a pleasant surprise; we have a lot of curious people coming to check us out and hopefully they’ll be converted to the cause. Although it’s a new record, it’s not a new band that’s just been together for a few months,” he claimed. “We’ve got some loud records and some really delicate music as well. You’re going to like something that we do.”