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Band of Skulls makes headway at Mr. Smalls

Jack Fordyce
| Friday, May 2, 2014, 4:31 p.m.

Touring in support of their newly released third album, “Himalayan,” British blues-rock trio Band of Skulls are gaining mileage on the road to a well deserved recognition.

Chances are you've already heard them before you've heard of them: The band's popularity has spread to use in TV shows and commercials, including a few film and video game soundtracks.

For the past few years the Southampton trio has played supporting roles to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queens of the Stone Age, The Black Keys and have made appearances at the South by Southwest, Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo music festivals.

This time around they're headlining their own international tour, performing Thursday at Mr. Smalls theater in Millvale.

Opening the show with “Asleep at the Wheel,” frontman guitarist Russell Marsden wastes no time captivating the front row audience, playing point blank on the edge of the stage.

Following with the title track of the new album, partnering vocalist and bass player Emma Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward trade off resounding the final fading notes with Marsden, “Himalayan, Himalayan, Himalayan.”

Throughout the two hour set, the songs alternated between new tracks and the standout songs from the band's first two albums, highlighted by teasing out an encore showcasing “Sweet Sour,” “Light of the Morning,” and closing with “Diamonds and Pearls.”

While on a break in London after finishing up the European leg of the tour, drummer Hayward took a moment to talk about the new album and the progress of the band through nearly a decade non-stop recording and touring.

“Since we recorded the first album we haven't really stopped to this point. We made our first record and toured that for two years pretty solidly, then went straight into the studio to start work on the next one and then it was very much the same thing for the second record until we've had time to put this one together.”

As an independent band not signed to a record label, the group has complete creative control, a rarity in the industry that Hayward says carries a certain amount of risk but pays off with the reward and freedom of their artistic direction. Building off the foundation laid by their 2009 debut “Baby Darling Doll Face Honey,” and 2012 follow up “Sweet Sour,” the group has mostly kept to their rock roots on “Himalayan,” playing bluesy riffs and pulsing bass lines powered by Hayward's thundering drum work, combined with the vocal harmony of Marsden and Richardson.

“We're constantly working on new things and coming up with new ideas,” said Hayward, “When you get back into the studio it's sort of like a rebirth, you start working on new material and you're a new band again. The albums have been sort of photographs of what was going on at that moment so it's just about trying to capture whatever is happening.” The notion of capturing the moment can be applied in a literal sense to the artwork on the album cover, which Hayward described as being created from a 3D image of a sound wave from the song “Himalayan.”

Resembling a gold and silver Rorschach inkblot test, the idea is that the listener deciphers their own meaning and makes up their own mind about what it's saying to them, which Hayward says is reflected in the songs on the album.

With an extensive tour set to go throughout the rest of the year, playing live is really what this band does best in terms of getting exposure and building on their fan base. “We've always been very much a live band but we're not a band that tries to recreate the record live, that way the songs evolve naturally as we play them and that keeps it fun,” Hayward said.

Performing at Brixton Academy in London and playing the big outdoor festivals in the US have been a few of the mile markers for the band in gaining recognition throughout their relentless touring. “In the states we constantly hear from some guy in every city that he saw our show at Bonnaroo,” Hayward laughs, “And we love that guy.”

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