It might seem like Band of Skulls, the latest U.K. rock group to make waves in North America, came out of nowhere — they played their first gig in 2008 — but this trio has actually been making music together for years.
The group formed more than four and a half years ago, playing under the name Fleeing New York. And while they released some music and toured England, they could never catch a real break.
“We always believed our work was good enough, but it was hard to get that chance,” says lead singer Russell Marsden. “But that was the band we used to be, we ended up making the band we were always going to be.”
Becoming that band, however, didn’t happen over night. Marsden, drummer Matthew Hayward and bassist Emma Richardson had to redefine their sound, fire their manager and, basically, start from scratch.
That might seem silly, especially since their previous outfit was starting to build a following, but Marsden says changing direction was liberating.
“For a while we were just writing under no name,” he explains. “It just felt right and gave us a feeling of a new beginning, of freedom, of being able to do anything we wanted.”
What Band of Skulls did was create Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, a sludgy blues rock album that sounds similar to The Dead Weather, or at least a new Jack White side project. “I’m not a devotee,” says Marsden about White, “but I love his rawness and I we’re probably into lots of the same bands.”
The singer and guitarist explains that in making this record the group “simplified things. We got back to the reason we started playing music, for the fun of it.” And while the music sounds sparse — it’s mostly big riffs and bluesy vocals — they leave the right amount of space and mess around with their guitars just enough to make this much more than a White copycat. “We want a challenge, so we write beyond our abilities and then try to get better.”
Writing complex music isn’t the only reason why the threesome has finally made a name for themselves — their chemistry is evident on their debut.
Still, despite working together for years, Marsden says Band of Skulls feels like a new band. “All those early shows were great experiences,” he says. “But it does feel new. We have an album out that people can actually own. It’s strange to go to a new town where people know all about you.”
Band of Skulls play
Calgary: The Den at MacEwan Hall – Friday, September 4
Edmonton: Brixx Bar & Grill – Saturday, September 5
Toronto: Opera House – Friday, September 11