British trio Band of Skulls' sophomore record Sweet Sour is one of our 25 Winter Albums You Gotta Hear, and though it's officially dropping next week (Feb. 7), now you can listen to the album in its entirety, exclusively right here, right now! We talked to singer/guitarist Russell Marsden about the process of stepping up the Skulls' game, chugging along until they got it done, and of course, about the bad-ass kung fu that goes on in the video for the record's second single, the delightfully for-White-Stripes-fans "Devil Takes Care of His Own."
"Through touring with the songs from the first record [Baby Darling Doll Face Honey], the sound of the band started to change," recalls Marsden. "It got a little bigger, a little more dynamic. We wanted to bring that evolution into the studio."
"The most important thing we learned from the last record is that songs can have a life of their own," he added. (Most likely you know Band of Skulls from their ubiquitous licensing deals; the songs "The Light of the Morning" and "I Know What I Am" have appeared in commercials for Ford Mustang and Apple, and who could forget that tricksy New Moon soundtrack?) "If a song gets picked up by a brand or a film, that can open up a whole new set of doors for a band, so each song needs to be good in its own right. We know someone might find just one track of ours."
Check out our track-by-track interview with Marsden — as well as the full album stream:
"Sweet Sour" (Starburst is gonna want that synched immediately)
"Yeah, there've been jokes about that. We gotta be careful about that, cause you never know who's gonna come knocking on your door. The idea for the song actually came from the end of our recording the first record. We wanted to do a sort of dynamic, classic rock thing. It does its job as the announcement of the new record."
"This was actually a bit of an older song that we used to play when we were younger, but it was one of those songs that, once you write them, you can't move on until you finish it. The song was the last song we finished on the record, the "champagne track." Now, the song reminds me of that relief of finishing the album."
"Wanderluster is just a strange song because we wrote it in a weird time signature; it's a real technical song, and it shows that we're not going to rest on our laurels. My favorite bands in current times are ones where it's like, how the hell are they doing that? We'd been away from home and all of our friends for I can't remember how long now. There were different versions of it because we wanted to create the right homesick, lost sort of atmosphere."
"Devil Takes Care of His Own"
" "Devil Takes Care" is really the bridge between the first record and the second record. I've been really surprised at how people have reacted to the video. The alternative treatment was, "You can stand in a cold wet field and look all moody." Been there, done that. "Do you wanna do some kung fu?" Yeah!"
"Lay My Head Down"
"The idea was to have a song that comes across as slightly softer, a more beautiful song but has a big explosion in the middle. You can't play it at dinner parties, but we thought, "Let's put a surprise in the middle!" It's really dynamic."
"You're Not Pretty But You Got it Going On"
"For this song, we said, let's do the fastest, most obsessive thing we can do. So that was the idea for the music. We're always contradictions really. First, we said, "Let's just make it like a romance, but then we're like, "Wait, let's not do that. Let's make it like an insult!" I've been messing around with the concept of what counts as a compliment. What's the least you can say? "
"This song was like a massive puzzle we didn't know how to solve. We had the idea for the song two years ago, and we spent months on it; we didn't want to fuck it up. We literally have 1,000 versions of it on my iPod. The coda for "Navigate" is perfectly symmetrical. If you drew a picture of it, it would look good. If you wrote it down it would look neat. We get quite weird. If something actually matches up and it's neat and symmetrical, we know, musically, it works."
"This song sounds very sweet, at first. It comes across as a sweet little ballad, but it's still undefeated. It's masquerading as a little love song."
"This was the first song that we finished on the new record. I think it set the tone. Emma does the lead vocals, but the vocals are quite arranged. We had millions of takes and verses for this song, but we edited down the song [on purpose]. If you can do something and edit it down into its purer source, it's minimal."
"Close to Nowhere"
"This is a strange song, because when I listen to it now it sounds like one person's written it, but actually, it was the perfect collaboration. At first, I had no idea what I wanted to do for the lyrics. I was really getting upset because the end of the album was approaching, and it was looking like it wasn't going to get finished. Then Emma [Richardson, bass/vocals] came in and said, "I've done it." We all read it and it was beautiful. It was heartbreaking. Then we had a lovely lullaby ending; it was nice to end the album with a good little feeling."