Cool enough for hipsters, heavy enough for metal heads, smart enough for muso snobs, Band of Skulls succeed in striking that oft-elusive aural sweet spot for fans of all stripes….including the folks at the mayonnaise-alternative Miracle Whip, who use a crunchy riff from the band’s 2012 song “The Devil Takes Care Of His Own” to push their creamy concoction.
Bassist/singer Emma Richardson laughs. “Soundtracks, commercials… it helps fund the band to do what we need to do, and sometimes it’s the best way to get your music heard by loads of people,” she observes. “Times have changed. Adverts aren’t sneered at anymore. You’re not selling out–it’s a way to survive, as people aren’t buying records anymore.”
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In a perfect world–and hopefully in this one–Band of Skulls, a trio formed in Southampton, England and rounded out by vocalist/guitarist Russell Marsden and drummer Matt Hayward, will be bigger than Miracle Whip. Sonically like-minded bands including the Black Keys, Queens of the Stone Age, the Dead Weather and Muse have shepherded Band of Skulls on tour, and 2014 finds the threesome on a headlining European jaunt before returning to the States later in the year in support of their stunning new album Himalayan.
Produced by Nick Launay (Arcade Fire, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) Himalayan, Band of Skulls’ third album, features a dozen songs with the potential to comprise a career-making record. From the moody, sonorous strains of the timeless “Cold Sweat,” with Richardson’s vocals redolent of a dusky chanteuse, to the onomatopoeic T. Rex-influenced glam-swing of “Hoochie Coochie” to the U2-but-cooler “Nightmares,” every song has earworm potential.
Previously, Band of Skulls retreated to pastoral regions in Wales for an immersive recording experience. This outing, they opted for civilization: State of the Ark studios near the London Bridge. “I think it’s really important to take on where you’re at when you’re writing,” believes Richardson. “Being able to carry on our regular lives and having a daily meet-up was healthy. We were commuting in every day to write. We got to go and have a drink and talk about what we were doing, then go home and have separation, then come back and carry on. It did happen more naturally and quicker, having that contemplation time.”
Sweet Sour came out in 2012, and provided some initial impetus for Himalayan, as Richardson explains: “We always have riffs and songs that have been hanging around for years. The bridge between the last record and this one was the song ‘You Are All That I Am Not,’ which wasn’t finished in time for the last record. Also, ‘Asleep at the Wheel’ holds your hand between Sweet Sour and Himalayan.” Additionally, this is the rare case where you can judge a CD by its cover: Band of Skulls wanted something that “looks like the record sounds,” so to that end, used the album’s own sound waves to create a sculptural representation. And, as Richardson aptly notes, the resultant computer-generated image “looks like a gold and silver treasure that you’d find in some Indiana Jones film.” And, with any luck, it will yield a gold-selling treasure for its clever creators.
Band of Skulls play Thursday, March 20, 8 p.m. at Warsaw, Brooklyn.