English rockers Band of Skulls will be bring their crunch-heavy riffs to The Vogue tonight. The band has been touring in support of their album Sweet Sour, released this year. I spoke to Russell Marsden, guitarist and vocalist. When I called he had just settled into a Chicago hotel room, having flown in from Australia. The show starts at 8 p.m.
Russell Marsden: Hello.
NUVO: Hi, is this Russell?
NUVO: My name's Jordan Martich, I'm from NUVO magazine in Indianapolis.
Marsden: How's it going man? How are you?
NUVO: I'm doing well. How are you?
Marsden: I'm good, yeah.
NUVO: All right, I have a few questions for you. Do you mind if I record this?
Marsden: Yeah, no problem.
NUVO: Cool. Before your first studio album, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, the band went through some changes, and you guys changed your name as part of an evolution. Did a similar type of evolution happen from that first album to Sweet Sour?
Marsden: Yeah I think it did. It happened a lot faster because you tend to have a lot more experience and everything's a bit crazier in that time. We'd carried on touring for over two years with the first record so we'd seen a lot and had a lot of experience. When we went back in the studio I don't think we realized how much we had changed but when we got back in a room together and bought the tape, and I think that the second album is a testament to how much we have evolved. It was kind of a stressful period but it was really interesting and we're really proud of the final result. I think next time we go to make a record we'll be at least expecting it to be different than being shocked by the fact that it is.
NUVO: Okay. After playing shows in a break that you guys took from the Sweet Sour sessions I read that you wanted to include some of the mistakes and the live experience in your recordings. Can you talk about that at all?
Marsden: Yeah, I think that's something that we always strive to achieve. This particular time we came out and played Bonnaroo, so that was 2011 I guess?
NUVO: Yeah I think it was.
Marsden: Right. Then we went back in the studio. You know, as usual, people were videoed the show and stuff, and we actually had some people filming the show from the side of the stage. We played some new songs and they sounded great, so we wanted to really recreate everything about that show. One of the things was, Matt was playing the drums so hard that the reverb tanks in the amps, the springs were slapping against the sides and making a great racket when they weren't supposed to be. So we got our producer on top of the Fender amps in the studio and recreated that mistake, if you will, and put that on the beginning of the album just to sort of nod to a particular show and that show was important to us. Yeah, that was fun to do.
NUVO: And you guys are happy with the way those turned out?
Marsden: Well yeah. For us it's like a photograph of a time. Once it's done, it's done. You can't really look back and think how you want to change it. It's time to look forward and to start doing something new. But what you don't know is how it's going to be received by people. That's the one thing we didn't know at the time and that's the one thing we're really pleased with now. We've added a lot of the songs to our show and got back on the road and people really like it. That's the main thing.
NUVO: Cool cool. The egalitarian songwriting process, just all three of you kind of have equal parts in the songwriting process, I think that's really interesting. With two albums under your belt is this a natural thing or is it a process you have to initiate?
Marsden: Yeah it is an interesting thing. I think that's the only way we've really known how to do it and it makes for an interesting final piece of work or song or whatever. It can make things take a little longer and it can get a bit complicated and sometimes a bit brutal, when you know, the piece of music you're working on gets the chorus chopped out of it and replaced. Sometimes that's hard to deal with, but I think that it's for the good of the music in the end. It sort of comes naturally to us, but there is a process. We all have our different underhand techniques of how to influence each other into playing each other's idea. Mine is - I normally have the guitar - is to, around soundchecks, play the new tunes in the background for a few weeks, before I deliver the demo to everybody. So they already know the tune it's like they heard it on the radio. That's my underhand technique, but we all have our different ones.
NUVO: I know that getting bigger and bigger audiences over the years that you guys have been a band, you've changed from Fender guitars to Gretsch now. Are there any other changes in gear that you use at bigger shows?
Marsden: Yeah, I changed guitars. That was sort of by chance, but it definitely shaped what we did with guitars on the new record. Those Gretschs, particularly the Falcons, I've got a couple of them now, it was like upgrading the sound a little bit to be a bit bigger and a bit fuller. Everybody else has done a similar thing. I think we've just upgraded and made our stuff kind of louder. We had to in the end we were playing bigger venues. It's practicality more than anything. And just continuing, one of our things we like to do is see how big of a sound we can make with just the three of us. Equipment can help you do that, but it's mainly ideas, really. It's mainly how you write the music and how you write that space into it. Hopefully it comes across like that too.
NUVO: Right. That's something that I really enjoy about you guys is that you have the one guitarist and you get such a loud sound, but also a big sound, when you need a big sound. I think that's really interesting. Do you ever have problems trying to get that out or is it something that you know how to do now?
Marsden: It's always difficult. Now and again you stumble across things and you think, "How did come up with that idea? That was really good." You don't want to repeat yourself so a lot of the time it's thinking of a new way to do the same trick. We've done a few things with having the chords move around in a song or sometimes with the delays and the effects like that. But it's often just an original idea, how big can you think on it. Also dynamics, if you can bring the band down to sound intimate and small, and then go to a place which is the extreme difference it's going to hopefully accentuate that experience from the audience's point of view.
NUVO: All right. As a band from the U.K., can you compare at all touring in the states and touring in Europe? Not that one's better than the other, but what are some of the differences?
Marsden: Touring in Europe is a newer thing for us. We definitely started our touring life over here and it was really good grounding because of course the distances are so big. The first couple tours we were small time. It was a guitar amp in a 15-seat passenger van and we saw the whole country that way, it was good. Going back to Europe the distances feel really easy. We were surprised when we got to the next town all the time, "We're here already. Isn't there an overnight stop before we do the rest in the morning?" Over here it was really important for us to do the touring, and especially not just go to the major cities and try and get around the whole country, we've always kept that in mind. I think our style of music sort of lends itself to that. We can play places where, I mean just the fact that we've got traditional rock 'n' roll in our veins, I think it lends us to be able to play not just in the capital cities of anywhere. It translates really well, even through a language barrier. Rock 'n' speaks for itself, which is a good thing.
NUVO: All right. Did you guys just get back into the states?
Marsden: Yeah I just got here last night, from Australia. So I'm feeling slightly weird.
NUVO: Is there anything you guys are looking to do this tour of the states that you didn't get to do last time?
Marsden: We're back in Chicago right now for our second Lollapalooza. That's going to be interesting. We'll probably play some of the songs on the new record that we didn't last time. We've been playing a song called "Navigate" quite recently and that sounds really good. We're definitely trying to bring that to some of the shows, especially the headline shows. Yeah, and just carry on really. Mainly we'll be taking this experience into the studio and putting into our third album. It's a trip of getting inspired for what we do next.
NUVO: What are the band's plans for the rest of this year and for the future?
Marsden: This trip, apart from doing our own shows, we're going out with Jane's Addiction to do a few gigs, which is obviously very exciting. Then we're going back to Europe for a little while and touring back at home. We're doing another show with The Black Keys over in Ireland. Then we're coming back to the states for a bit more touring and we're going to do some dates with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which is a band that we all were very much influenced by when we were younger so that's really exciting. By the end of the year we're going to be really thinking about making a record and we've got lots of ideas already. I think the general idea is to have a bit of a quicker turnaround than last time and starting to write whilst we're still out on the road is going to help towards that goal of getting a record out as soon as we can.
NUVO: Right. Because you guys wrote Sweet Sour a lot on the road.
Marsden: I think we tried to, but a lot of it was done when we stopped. It was in two halves and there were lots of gaps we had to write into. Whereas this time I think it's going to be more like going into the studio with the songs that we want to do. Even the stuff we've been playing at soundcheck and stuff is really exciting. I think it's going to really add to the bunch of songs and records that we've already got.
NUVO: All right. Is there anybody in particular that you're excited for at Lollapalooza this year?
Marsden: Well, I don't want to jinx it because whenever I say this we never get to do it because we always have to do something. Of course, Ozzy. I saw Jack White's new show and new band down in Australia, in Melbourne, but I'd like to see that again. I saw the girl backing group so it'll be quite good to see the boys. And The Black Keys are going to be in town, and the Chili Peppers really. Yeah, there's lots of rock music at festivals for a change which seems to be getting rarer now and again.
NUVO: All right. Thanks for talking to me today.
Marsden: No worries man, my pleasure.
NUVO: Have a good day.
Marsden: Thanks again. Bye.