UK trio Band of Skulls returned this spring with their fourth LP, By Default, and just like the band itself, the album is hard-hitting, dynamic, and chock full of swagger. In advance of their September 23 show at The Wiltern, I got a chance to chat with bassist/vocalist Emma Richardson about Band of Skulls’ recording process, Los Angeles, and the influence of her background as an art student on the band’s album covers.
Having lived in LA for 10 years, I can admit that sometimes an LA crowd can appear reserved compared to audiences in other cities. How has your experience been playing in LA?
LA has always been very supportive of us. We started playing in 2008 or 2009. We played gigs at The Viper Room, Spaceland, and Three Clubs, and the crowd has always been very vocal. We also played three nights at Staples Center opening for Muse, so that was amazing, and we were able to watch their [headlining] sets.
If given time off while on the road in LA, how do you like to spend it?
It is rare to have time off, but if we do, we try to get to Santa Monica or Venice Beach and have a proper diner meal. Or go to Amoeba Music and catch up with friends who live in town.
Your first three albums have been dubbed a sort of “trilogy” (by guitarist and vocalist Russell Marsden). Was this intentional? Is By Default an intentional departure from that?
The first three albums came quickly in succession because we were touring in between with no time off. It was a bit of a roller coaster ride. This time, we were between labels and took a couple months to write. We rented a church in our hometown to record, and it had incredible reverb, so we were able to have a more minimal and stripped-back sound that is different from the first three albums.
When Band of Skulls records, do you listen to other artists for inspiration, or do you prefer not to?
We do not listen to other artists when writing to try to concentrate on what we are making. But we did try to incorporate certain rhythmic ideas into this record. In “Tropical Disease,” there is a samba feel, and in “By Default,” there’s a bit of a hip-hop influence.
Do you think By Default will be the start of a new trilogy?
We recorded almost 100 songs during the session. Those that made it on the album were chosen to open new doors for our next chapter. We are constantly writing, and we will see which songs will be used on the next one.
My introduction to Band of Skulls came when I was drawn in by the album art for Sweet Sour. Your art was used for Baby Darling Doll Faced Honey. Has your art been used for all 4 albums?
For the first album [Baby Darling…], we used my painting, added a bit of reflection and other elements. For Sweet Sour, what you see was based on a painting, but we hired glass sculptors to collaborate and create a sort of exploding glass heart. For Himalayan, the third album, we commissioned an artist to create an image that was generated from the sound waves of the title track. For By Default, we took a photo of the church where we recorded. Although not a painting, like the first three, it is also symmetrical.
Do you make art on the road?
I have a studio at home, and I love painting. I make large pieces and work with oil paints, so I am not sure that it would be possible on the bus. But I bring sketchbooks on the road.
Given your background and education in art, do you find that you are the de facto art director of the band or is it collaborative?
We make those decisions all together.
Have you seen any acts or heard any albums lately that you would recommend to fellow music lovers?
I really love Dev Hynes’ new Blood Orange record [Freetown Sound]. It has such amazing lyrical content.
What can be expected from your upcoming show at The Wiltern on September 23? With the new approach in the studio, has the Band of Skulls live show changed?
There is a bit of a new feel. We have added Milo Fitzpatrick [of Portico Quartet] to the live band. He adds keys, percussion, and some samples that we weren’t able to play live on the other records. Also, now we are able to play selections from all four of our albums.