The MusicNerd Q&A With Band Of Skulls

Photo by Andy Cotterille
Photo by Andy Cotterille

With their fourth full-length record, U.K. power trio Band of Skulls prove they are out for blood. Produced by Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters), there are hints of guitar-fueled spontaneity sprinkled throughout By Default’s dozen tracks. From the ferocious attack of “Killer” through the T-Rex inspired “Back of Beyond,” By Default is a solid addition to the group’s quickly expanding catalogue.

Last week, we had the opportunity to chat with Band of Skulls drummer Matt Hayward on the eve of the group’s North American tour, the dates for which are included below.

I had the opportunity to see you guys play an amazing set at Shaky Knees in Atlanta back in 2014. I think a lot of folks don’t necessarily feel festival culture is quite the same in North America as it is in Europe, however. As a performer that has played festivals on both sides of the Atlantic, is there a significant difference? 

Shaky Knees was amazing; that was a great show. Typically, the atmosphere is very much the same in that you’ve got people coming together to see a bunch of great bands. I think the only significant difference between festivals is the weather. In Europe, we usually have to cope with mud and rain, but in North America, people are dressed for a night out in L.A. [laughs]

Since your 2009 debut, Band of Skulls worked at a seemingly relentless pace of releasing a record, going on tour and then heading right back into the studio to do all it over again. I believe the time between [2014’s] Himalayan and By Default was probably the longest span of time between releases for the group. Was it important to take a little bit of time to regroup? 

It wasn’t a long stretch of time that we took, but yeah, it was the most amount of time we’ve taken since the first record, which amounted to about two months [laughs]. It was very important for us to take a bit of a breather though. We’ve been working at a pretty relentless pace since our debut.

Any idea how many shows the band averaged over each of the last seven years? 

We’ve got it written down somewhere, but I’ll just say that we played more shows than we didn’t play every year because that was what we knew. We also wanted to be sure we kept striking while the iron was hot.

There were changes happening behind the scenes as well, though. You guys landed yourself a new label deal. 

Yeah, this album is a new beginning in some ways. We are working with a different group of people and just trying to find our way around. It’s been interesting but also very rewarding.

Listening to the new record, I hear the spirit of your debut album [2009’s Baby Darling Doll Face Honey] in these songs more than the two albums that came before it. Was that a conscious move on the band’s part?

With each of our previous albums, we’ve gone into the studio with upwards of 50 songs, whittled it down to 11-12 tracks and then carried some of the leftovers forward to the next album. The big difference this time around is that we started with a completely clean slate; we didn’t take anything that was left from before. That in itself proved to be invigorating; we had upwards of 100 songs to choose from when it came time to go into the studio.

You recorded By Default in a church in your hometown of Southampton. What drew you to the building?

We didn’t just record the album there, all of the songs were written in there as well. There are some nice rehearsal spaces in London with very nice equipment, but they are all really quite sterile. It was actually [bassist] Emma [Richardson] that suggested the church as a possibility. They do a lot of great things for the community: they run a soup kitchen and also have a program that sees them feed the community’s police officers one day a week. The church is a staple of the community, but they are self-funded and are always looking for ways to keep the church moving forward.

You didn’t get the hairy eyeball from anybody at any point? 

[laughs] No! Quite the opposite. The reverend didn’t know our work but came by every morning with a lovely tea trolley. It was a wonderful experience. We couldn’t help but be respectful of the space. We had a swear jar and everything.

There is a live feeling in a lot of the songs, something that isn’t always easy to replicate when the recording light switches on. 

Being in the church played a bit part in shaping the sound of the record, because churches are designed to carry music into all corners of the room. These songs were written for that room because we learned how to play the room, but Gil [Norton] played a big role in the sound of the record as well. We grew up listening to records he made, so many of which taught us about being a band. We’ve never been a smoke and mirrors kind of group. I think that’s captured on this new album.

September 6—Boston, MA—Royale
September 7—Montreal, QC—Corona Theatre
September 8—Toronto, ON—The Opera House
September 9—Columbus, OH—Skully’s Music Diner
September 10—Chicago, IL—Metro
September 11—Minneapolis, MN—Fine Line Music Café
September 13—Denver, CO—Gothic Theatre
September 14—Salt Lake City, UT—Urban Lounge
September 15-18—Victoria, BC—Rifflandia
September 16—Vancouver, BC—The Vogue Theatre
September 18—Seattle, WA—The Showbox
September 19—Portland, OR—Revolution Hall
September 21—San Francisco, CA—Fillmore
September 23—Los Angeles, CA—Wiltern
September 23-25—Las Vegas, NV—Life is Beautiful
September 24—Solana Beach, CA—Belly Up
September 26—Tucson, AZ—Rialto Theatre
September 28—Austin, TX—Antone’s
September 29—Dallas, TX—Trees
September 30—Memphis, TN—Minglewood Hall
October 1—Nashville, TN—Exit/In
October 2—Atlanta, GA—Terminal West
October 3—Durham, NC—Motorco Music Hall
October 4—Washington D.C.—Black Cat
October 6—New York, NY—Terminal 5
October 7—Philadelphia, PA—Union Transfer