Interview: Band of Skulls

On May 27th, we were lucky enough to talk to Matt Hayward, drummer of Southampton rock band Band of Skulls on the release date of their new album ‘By Default’. We discussed the new songs and how the band prepared for the album by rehearsing in an old Baptist church.

First things first, your new album ‘By Default’ came out today – how would you say it differs in sound from your previous three albums?

Well I think the biggest change we had with it was that when we went to write it, we went to a church in our hometown of Southampton. When we started off we thought we’d strip everything back because after quite a few years of touring you build up all this equipment, and your live show gear is quite big and set for a big stage. We just thought we’d just strip everything away and come back to the complete basics. So we had a very tiny drum kit and really small little amps, and we just started from there. The sound of the church was so incredible, playing in there for the first time was kind of phenomenal, and that was probably one of the biggest influences on the sound of the record really. The church really started to dictate the writing a bit, and we wrote sort of for the church you know? We used the church as a bit of an instrument really, and then when we went to record we were trying to recreate that, either [by] sampling reverb from that church or recreating it in the studio.

So was there a much more of a raw sound in the church?

Yeah, yeah, very much so.

Were there any particular influences from artists going into it?

When we’re writing and recording we’re on a bit of a lockdown I guess on new music and new things that are coming out around you. [So we’re] not to be influenced too heavily, even if subconsciously [by] what’s around at the moment. I sort of go in with a concept of what kind of thing I want to be doing and then I come up with an idea and write within that realm, but try not to be too aware of what’s around me.

I’m guessing that the church is what inspired the album cover [pictured below]?

Yeah we were sat round thinking about what we’d like to have and it felt like a completely honest photograph. That’s exactly the sort of place where the record was dreamt up and it’s sort of like an unveiling of the process, it’s that simple. We thought it’d be a nice thing to share with people.

So I’ve been lucky enough to listen to the record before the release, and I thought this was definitely one of the tightest records you guys have released so far, especially in terms of background production. Are there any issues recreating the sound live?

[It’s] been quite interesting as we’ve started to play our first few shows now [and] we brought a friend of ours along with us, a guy called Milo who’s an old friend from back here at home. He’s coming out on tour with us now to be able to honour the record, as we never go to the studio and limit ourselves by thinking about how we can do this live. The idea is to make the best record we possibly can and then we’ll work out the live thing afterwards. But we started rehearsing and we just felt that now was the time to bring in this other element to do the songs justice.

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So he’s helping to recreate all the little nuances?

Yeah all the little ‘finesse-y’ bits on the top, he’s doing all that. He’s sort of the magic dust over the top.

It seems you are experimenting a lot more with different sounds throughout the album. Were you worried about how the fans might react to this?

It’s something you think about perhaps, but we have to stay true to what we do and what we’ve done in the past. We have to evolve, we can’t stop in one place, or look back to things we’ve done before and go ‘we need to do that again’. As long as what we’re writing and coming up with is a very true and honest thing from us then it’ll go in whatever direction it does. You can never please everybody and it’s impossible to go back and recreate something that’s already happened. We have to be 100% proud of what we come up with and create, otherwise what’s the point?

And Gil Norton also produced the record, which I’m sure you’re aware of, but what made you go with him as the producer?

Obviously we’re massive fans of his career, it’s undeniable these are records that soundtrack your life growing up, you know? He got in touch with us actually, he heard that we were about to put together a record and he got in touch. We met him in London for a beer, and we’d given him a few demos to listen to and he immediately understood what we were trying to do with the songs we’d written. He completely got on board with the whole church ethos and the sounds that we were getting in there and we just sort of hit it off. Within two weeks of going for that beer we were in the studio making the record! I really like it when the process goes quickly, there’s so much waiting around in this business, so when you’re excited and the iron’s hot you go for it. So we got in the studio [and] it was a fast moving process.

It must have been pretty crazy being approached by Gil being fans of his work.

Well yeah, we’re just this band from Southampton England, it’s incredibly humbling. And he couldn’t be a nicer guy, he works you so hard in the studio but couldn’t be more lovely about it.

How was your experience with Gil compared to other producers, did he bring anything new to the table?

Yeah, certain records we did with Ian Davenport but then we were keen to have the freedom to be able to work with various different people of all kinds of backgrounds and gain experience from them. Every producer brings their own flavour to how they go about doing things. Gil has a certain way of working which we’d never done before [and] we enjoyed the challenge and to learn something new. Gil’s being doing this for such a long time now, he’s such an experienced guy. It’s good for us to feel we can do this, we can work with different people and create different things, not just stick to one formula and do it over and over again.

I suppose it really helps with the evolution of the band in a sense?

Yeah, for us it has to be different and has to feel like a progression as opposed to going back on yourself, we can feel like we’re moving forward.

So you guys are on tour at the moment, how’s that going?

Yeah, it’s going pretty amazing, we’ve done little short bursts of runs. We played Paris which was really fun, then we played Amsterdam which was brilliant. Then I think we’re playing Liverpool tomorrow, so we’re darting about all over the place.

How are the new songs going down? They being received pretty well?

Yeah really, really good. It’s always quite a nerve wracking prospect to play [them], because we’ve lived with these songs now for a year I guess. To play them out for the first time, there’s always that apprehension.

Do you reckon you have a favourite new song to play live?

Nah, it keeps chopping and changing really, it’s interesting on what people pick up on. I don’t think there’s any one in particular that I’d pick above the others.

And how do you decide when making the setlist how many new songs to play balanced with the old ones?

Well it’s a really lovely problem to have at the moment, we’ve got four records and we have a wealth of stuff to put in there. We’re so keen to play as much of the new stuff as we can. We’re putting in as much of it as we feel we can and then chopping and changing older songs. As the years roll on we’ll chop and change the new ones out and play different ones from the record. It’s just a big old sort of mesh of greatness.

One last question, if you had to shout out one smaller band that you think deserves more attention who would you go for?

There’s a really great band you should look out for called ‘Bones’. We’re actually gonna play some shows with them in the UK in the autumn time I think, but they’re definitely worth checking out.

‘By Default’ is available to buy now.

Interview by Matt Austin

The Verse Staff

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