"Our default setting is no rules! Leave the cliches to the imitators" - hmv.com talks to Band Of Skulls
As they release their fourth album By Default (you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of the page), we chatted with Band Of Skulls' frontman Russell Marsden to find out how it came together...
When did you start work on By Default?
"At the end of the Himalayan world tour I guess. We played the Hammersmith Apollo which was the top of that particular mountain. Then it was just us alone in a church, a very surreal moment."
How did you want the album to move on from Himalayan?
"Every record is a document of the time you're in. After two years away you change, see the world in a different light. Naturally the way you write evolves too. We never want to double back on ourselves, we don't look at previous work for guidance. We create new surroundings to work in and allow that to inspire what we do next. The church was integral to that. The sound we got in there dictated the direction of the record."
This is your first album for BMG, why you decide to partner up with them for this album?
"We're very excited to be releasing this record with BMG. The set up we had before ran its course and this felt like the right direction. We met BMG before we started writing this record. They have a very personal touch for a big label. They believe in the artists they represent and that was what appealed to us the most. They also gave us the space to create with little interference, you hear horror stories of labels getting so involved in the writing process which wouldn't work for us. Perhaps it works for some, but it's never been that way in our history."
Has the way you write songs changed in your years as a band? Or do you write in the much same way you did when you started?
"It has remained the same for the most part. We all go away, start coming up with ideas, themes, and put them into the pot. Then they are there to be interpreted, scrutinised by the rest of the band. We have a very free and open creative process. We don't limit ourselves to our 'go to' instruments, or specific styles of music. Bouncing ideas back and forth can be incredibly hard work, frustrating at times, but the reward is huge when something connects. It's a very up and down period, not always the happiest but that's just the way it works. You have to jump on for the ride."
Do you tend to write lots of songs and then pick the best? Or be more selective in which songs get finished?
"This time round we wrote close to 100 songs. It's the most material we've come with for any record. Then it was a process of whittling it down. With previous records, we've started the writing process with bits and pieces left over from the sessions before. This time we started anew. It was like a first release. There was a sense of it being a fresh start and new chapter."
You worked on the album with Gil Norton, how did you find working with him? Was he someone you’ve always wanted to work with?
"Working with Gil was a completely new experience and a great pleasure. We had obviously known of his work and are great admirers. He's produced records that have played massive parts in our lives. We were excited and humbled that he was keen to work with us. We met in London, hit it off and within two weeks we were in the studio laying it down. Gil works in a different way to anything we'd tried before, it was a true test but an incredibly rewarding one."
You worked down at Rockfield Studios, what was that like? Some pretty legendary albums have been recorded there...
"Rockfield is a pretty magical place. The people that run it are incredible. They are so passionate about the role they play in the music that gets made there. It's completely tranquil, you're away from everything, in Welsh countryside, so you can focus on what you're there to do. We made our second record at Rockfield so it was a little strange returning for the first time after all that's happened. It wasn't long before it felt we'd never left."
Which of the songs on the album took the most work to get right? And which came together most instantly?
"Some of the tracks truly fall from the sky. Others have to go round the houses to figure out what they are trying to say. In terms the recording Gil likes to spend a lot of time in pre production to fine tune everything before pressing the red button. That way we can move quickly and keep the energy of the record up. 'This Is My Fix' went through a massive journey and a song like 'Something' fell out of a guitar. It's the way it goes. When they're falling you just have be ready to catch."
What’s the song on the album that you’re most proud of?
"I don't have favourites. I'm proud of the whole thing. What we went through to make it happen was a massive task, so to come out the other side with By Default is something that I'm very proud of. It would be wrong to single out any particular track."
Which song are you most looking forward to playing live?
"We just played our first few shows and one of the greatest things is to see fans react to brand new music. It's magic! There's a track called 'Tropical Disease' which is a mountain of a song that has all these twists and turns. It's amazing to here people singing along to 'Killer', and 'in love by default' is a real daring song to play live. It's all a great experience."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Does it have a unifying theme?
"I think you learn about the themes of the lyrics as you take them around the world and see what they do, how they come across. It almost feels a bit raw to be analysing them at this point. There's obviously certain lyrics that have a particularly personal connection to each of us but we keep that to ourselves. It's observations of the experiences of the last couple of years. It's for others to interpret and make into their own."
When did you decide on the title of By Default? Were there any other titles in contention?
"It was our last week at home, we got together to name it. It's like naming a baby. Of course there's often a long list of ideas but only one makes it. We like the the playfulness of it. People might think our default setting is blues rock, or heavy or whatever. Well it's not, our default setting is no rules! Leave the cliches to the imitators."
What are your plans to take the album out live?
"We're already playing and it's going well, we've got some surprises in the show, and the songs always develop and grow as we tour them."
You’ve got four albums now, how will you go about choosing a set? Or will they just get longer?
"It's a real problem! It does become more difficult but we take great care in choosing the right set for the night. It will get more random as the year goes on so don't think you can guess what's next. It's all killer!"