Skull Crackers: Band of Skulls

Rising U.K. heroes kick out Tucson debut

There's a line in "Back of Beyond," one of the standout songs on new Band of Skulls album By Default, where frontman-guitarist Russell Marsden sings, "I've seen the good go bad, I've seen the right go wrong, from the middle of the city to the back of beyond."

For a trio that, since forming 12 years ago has played just about everywhere, gradually clawing its way from obscurity and into the sightlines of prickly (and picky) indie fans, this seems mighty autobiographical.

By Default is the Southampton, England band's fourth LP and, as has become the band's norm, it marks a clear progression from their previous effort, Himalayan, in the darkish, garage-by-way-of-the-American-south rock 'n' roll for which the band is known. The lyrics are smarter, the melodies snappier, and the harmonies sweeter. More, The Skulls have mastered the art of sweet subtext, disguising deeper subject matter—from death to relationships—in sugary tunes, in that foot-tapping way that recalls The Toadies or even The Replacements.

"We try to break new ground as a band and not try to repeat ourselves musically," Marsden says. "To keep it exciting, to try and pioneer new territory for yourself as a musician, and as a songwriter. We're always moving in several directions at once. I think, on this album especially, we've explored some limits of what's possible for us."

While Marsden says the band tries to shut out external musical influences when writing and recording so as not to "accidentally rewrite a TV advertisement," the singer says a person has got to exercise emotions from his system.

"Some songs will be angry and pissed off," he says. "Other days, you're feeling different and you write a song with that mood. You never want to be one-dimensional with it. The human condition is big, so it's good to have different moods, and different music to reflect them."

We'll get to sample those tunes when the band makes their Old Pueblo debut, though they have spent time in the state. Marsden has shares some memories.

"The heat in Phoenix," he says, "and the sprinkler systems in the sidewalk. I went to Fender Guitar HQ down in Scottsdale as well. We love having another pin in the map so to speak, and we'll be proud to put a show on for you guys. It's surreal to us that it's another part of the world that our songs have journeyed to before we have."

While reluctant to give away much, Marsden says the band is playing the longest set of its career, and they change it up each night. With four good albums (yes, they're all good) to pull from, the arsenal's stocked. Whatever Tucson gets as it welcomes Band of Skulls, the show'll likely be something. But then, it all depends on what mood we catch them in.

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