"It’s lean and mean and it’s a f***ing ass shaking machine..." Sky Valley Mistress talk their debut album Faithless Rituals...
When you're growing up in the shadow of Manchester, the deserts of Californian and the mythical studio of Rancho de la Luna seem an impossibly long way away.
But, for newcomers, Sky Valley Mistress, it's now where they recorded their debut album...
Rancho de la Luna is a legendary studio. Deep in the desert, it's where Queens Of The Stone Age recorded their debut, it's where Arctic Monkeys made Humbug and it's where Josh Homme has taken a varying band of musicians out to record his Desert Sessions series.
But somehow, after a chance meeting with studio owner Dave Catching while he was on tour with Eagles Of Death Metal, the foursome were able to go there to work.
What they recorded, their debut LP Faithless Rituals, arrives in stores from today (March 20th) and is available to purchase here from hmv's online store.
The album is a swaggering, confident and groove-laden collection, steeped in the tradition of Kyuss, Mastodon and Queens Of The Stone Age
We spoke to drummer Max Newsome about working with Catching, recording in the Californian desert and why their bassist's phone number was almost the album's title...
When did the opportunity to go and record in California with Dave Catching come about? Did you reach out directly?
"We went to see Eagles of Death Metal on Halloween a few years back in Leeds dressed as all their stage names. So like you had Queen B, J. Devil, Boots Electric and the King S**t of F**k Mountain, so you can imagine how wild we all looked. Then we used the fact we were all in costume to get backstage after the show like on a cartoon where they walk past the security guards whistling if you know what I mean?"
"Once we were there we hung with the band who all loved the outfits and we got talking to Dave about our band. He’d already heard of us which was insane and when he heard we were getting ready to do our first album, he invited us out to the desert to do it at his place. None of us believed him for a second, but a year after that he was stood at the door of the studio inviting us in for Tequila."
What was it like working at Rancho de la Luna? Is it an amazing place?
"Honestly, you just have to go to really understand how special it is. All the gear he’s got there is so unique and most of it only works in a really specific way because it’s full of sand or whatever. Then you’ve got the amazing views the place is surrounded by and all the cool people that come and go whilst you’re there. It doesn’t feel like a recording studio at all. It really is like nowhere else in the world."
What did Dave Catching give you as a producer?
"He was the most humble and amazing host. He’d obviously give us his opinion on how things were sounding and he laid some of the meanest guitar licks on 'Skull & Pistons' as well as doing the opening speech on the record. But it was how he did everything he could to make sure we were in the right vibe to record some kick-ass jams that really made this record what it is. There was always food and drinks around and he invited the Arctic Monkeys and some other friends to come and hang one night for a barbeque, he really went out of his way to make sure our time there was special."
"I think the main thing he taught us all though is that when you’re in the studio and you’re about to hit record and play, that’s when you’ve got to relax and have fun because you’ve already done all the hard work to get the song ready for that moment and if you’re not in that headspace the music will never sound as good as it could no matter how hard you try."
Were you ever overawed by the place? So many great records have been made there…
"Definitely in the first day or two. Seeing all the original tapes of Kyuss on the shelves in the bedroom and picking up guitars you know Queens Of The Stone Age have used can make you almost feel like there’s a legacy to fill. Once we really started recording our perspective changed completely."
"We had put a lot of hours into pre-production so once we got going and played how we know we can, that pressure we’d put on ourselves wore off quickly. That’s where Dave would be there to make sure we were cool and he gave us a lot of confidence because he genuinely dug the music we were playing."
That must have been such a boost...
"I remember sitting around discussing parts and we all had guitars in our hands and Dave was like “Wait, so the bassist knows how to play all of the guitar parts and your drummer can play the bass parts of your songs too?!” And we were naively like “Yeah we wanted to make sure we’re tight on everything” and he thought it was so cool that we had no idea that other bands didn’t really do that."
"It was around then that we really felt like we deserved to be there but either way, Rancho isn’t about that kind of thing, it’s just about making music with friends and having a great time and we were definitely doing that too."
It’s an eight-track record, did you always intend to keep things lean and mean or is that just how things worked out?
"We did record a couple more tracks there that didn’t make it onto the record. There was a tracklisting for a while but then we found out it was too long to fit on a vinyl record when New Heavy Sounds signed us and said they wanted to put it out for us. I think that was the best problem they could have given us, like who’s gonna be mad you’ve got to work out a way so you can get your debut album pressed on coloured vinyl in a gatefold sleeve."
"The only thing that made it kind of difficult was fitting 'Blue Desert' on there which is just shy of 11 minutes long. We had to cut two songs and switch some stuff around, but we all agree that tailoring this record for a vinyl release was the best thing we could have asked for. That’s the format it belongs on and like you said it’s lean and mean and it’s a f***ing ass shaking machine."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
"They’re just a collection of personal stories that we’ve tried to write in a way people can interpret and take whatever they want from. Like one song is about a car crash, another is about crowd surfing at a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club show and then there’s one about tinnitus. It’s weird though because it wasn’t until we’d changed the tracklisting and I saw all the lyrics together that I realised that because of the way the songs are written they all tie in with 'Blue Desert'."
"'Blue Desert' is the only song that doesn’t have any meaning because those lyrics sort of wrote themselves. So you could say the album loosely has a theme that connects it together. I’m sure someone else could definitely interpret it like that anyway. I don't know, maybe in 30 years when we’ve got delusions of grandeur, we’ll claim that it was a concept record all along..."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right? And which came together most quickly?
"I’m pretty sure 'You Got Nothin’ was the quickest to get the initial idea down. I remember showing the band to the riff and everyone looking at me like “Is that it? What about the rest of the song?” and explaining to them “THAT IS IT!” It probably took longer convincing them it was finished than actually writing it!"
What about the longest?
"The longest song to complete was definitely 'Punk Song'. Russell (Russell, bassist) had a bag of riffs that took so long to piece together with a melody that we ended up with a corkboard of ideas, structures, time changes and solos that it started to look like we were planning to rob a bank."
When did you decide on Faithless Rituals for the album title? Were any other titles in contention?
"We’ve had that name for a while. If you look at the back of our last EP Rivals, Hounds & Rebel Sisters though, underneath the credits it says “Please play this without distraction and experience it as an individual. We believe listening to a record should be a faithless ritual". It was either going to be Faithless Rituals or we were just going to use Russell’s actual phone number, but I can’t remember why we decided to stick with the former..."
What are your plans to take the album out live? Coronavirus permitting...
"We’ve got a ton of UK shows booked throughout spring and summer that we’re still waiting to confirm. If they don’t happen, we’ll just have to play loud enough from where we are so everyone can hear us anyway..."