Band of Skulls determined to keep things fresh

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Looking back, Emma Richardson never expected to be giving riff-rock disciples a reason to live again with Band of Skulls. Some things happen almost by accident, and the bassist-vocalist signing on with the Southampton, England–based three-piece was one of them.

“I started out as an artist,” Richardson says on the line from a Los Angeles tour stop. “I studied at school and college, and then went on to do a degree in London. Through college I met the guys, and we started playing a lot, rehearsing and doing shows. Gradually the music started to take over—we got the chance to make a record and then go out on tour.”

That record was titled Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, and, loaded with super-fuzzed, radio-ready monsters, it immediately established Band of Skulls as an act to watch, both at home in the U.K. and on these shores.

After wowing SXSW audiences during its first festival appearance in 2009, the group launched a North American tour that led to sell-out shows in cities it had never played before, including Vancouver.

No one had any complaints about the 2010 follow-up, Sweet Sour, which landed Band of Skulls highly coveted support slots on tours by the likes of Muse and Queens of the Stone Age.

Evidently not content to repeat itself, however, the group—which includes singer-guitarist Russell Marsden and drummer Matt Hayward—decided to mix things up for its third and latest outing, Himalayan.

After recording its first two albums in the countryside, Band of Skulls set up shop in bustling London, England, with producer Nick Launay (Arcade Fire, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Nick Cave).

“We came off the tour for the second record, Sweet Sour, pretty much had Christmas off, and then went straight back into the studio to keep the momentum going,” Richardson relates. “We all go a bit crazy when we’re not working and just sitting around idly. So we starting writing in London—the first time we’ve written in our capital city—then started recording with Nick Launay.”

The producer—one of the most sought-after and respected in underground rock—would leave his stamp on Himalayan, which, at its loudest, fuses smoking-shotgun blues with fire-cracker pop and radar-love rock. There are some noticeable sonic diversions this time, though, ranging from the Nancy-Sinatra-goes-spaghetti-western slowburner “Cold Sweat” to the synth-burnished ballad “You Are All That I Am Not”.

“I think it was a case of we turned up with these very precise two- and three-minute pop songs, wanting every one of them to be a single, almost—to have a really immediate effect,” Richardson reports. “Nick was like, ‘Listen, you don’t need 12 singles on the record. You can play around with a few of them, take them down different avenues and elaborate on them.’ So we did some experimenting with him—tore some songs completely apart and did something different. There is a real mixture of stuff on the album.”

Band of Skulls’ determination to keeps things fresh hasn’t stopped with Himalayan; on the day the Straight talks to Richardson, the group is getting ready for a special night in Los Angeles.

“We’re playing a show in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in the Masonic Temple,” she says. “It’s going to be quite interesting, a stripped-down acoustic show with a string quartet. Before we released the record, we did a show in London where we did a similar thing with a string quartet. We wanted to launch the record in an unusual way, rather than just doing a regular, loud gig. It went down really well, so we wanted to do it again.”

Band of Skulls plays the Commodore Ballroom on Wednesday (May 28).

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