Band of Skulls: ‘Australians are very loyal to the bands that they like.’

Rollicking UK trio Band of Skulls are set to return to Australia next year after delighting fans along the East Coast of the country in 2014. I spoke to the band’s drummer, Matt Hayward, ahead of their highly anticipated visit.

You’re coming back to Australia so soon! I saw you guys when you came to Brisbane in June. Do you expect a different kind of tour next year?

I guess so; it’s going to be a little different from our own tour. We’ve got Bluesfest in Byron Bay and then we’re doing some shows with The Black Keys, which should be fun. We love going to Australia, so we’re happy to play any kind of show there.

We love having you! You’re visiting two of the country’s premier wineries. Do you think you’ll have time to unwind and sample some wine?

I fucking hope so! We saw that the tour with The Black Keys was coming up and then they were saying about the kind of shows they’re going to do at these wineries. For me personally that’s about as good as it gets, really: a vineyard and a rock ‘n’ roll show. I’m a happy man.

You mentioned that you’re also here for Bluesfest. You’ve played Splendour in the Grass in the past; how do Australian festivals compare to others you’ve played at?

I think [at] Australian shows, in general, people are very loyal to the bands that they like. There’s a real love of rock ‘n’ roll music in Australia, from what we’ve seen. I think people are just up having a good time, you know? I don’t think people worry too much about what they’re doing and how they act; they just enjoy being in the outdoors with a load of mates and a load of alcohol and jumping around to some rock ‘n’ roll music, which I think is what it’s all about.

You’ve toured with The Black Keys before, of course. They’re a band at the forefront of rock music, but would you say they’ve been an influence for Band of Skulls?

Yeah, we toured with them a couple of years ago and they were great. They’re very lovely people and I think the way they’ve seen out their career has been incredible; they’ve been a really hard-working band that’s toured relentlessly. They deserve everything they’re getting now and they’re very inspiring to a band like us. We’re a lot earlier in our career but that’s how we’ve been doing things; we’ve been making a record, spending a year and a half, two years touring and then going straight back and making the next one. To speak to them about it is really encouraging, because they can sort of point you in the right direction with certain things.

Obviously The Black Keys have quite an extensive back catalogue, but it seems as if it’s just been the last couple of albums that have received a lot of attention. I wonder if that’s because they’ve been fine-tuning their sound or trying to find a sound that would gain them that attention. Do you ever think about – when you’re producing an album – what sort of sound you think is going to grab people’s attention, or is it a more personal process? Are you just producing the music you want to hear?

I think that if you’re a real rock ‘n’ roll band, or a real artist in any respect, you can only do what feels good to you and not try and chase a sound or a theme that might be going on at a particular time. I think the reason The Black Keys have done so well – and they’ve done it in the right way – is because they’ve done it in that old school, word of mouth type way, where they’ve just played fantastic shows relentlessly all around the world. At a certain point – I guess with the last two records – it tipped over an edge, so now they can be playing big wineries and big arenas. I think there’s an air of people appreciating that and appreciating what they’ve done before, they way they’ve worked to that. It’s very just, I think, the position they’re in now. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that, really, whether you’re a fan or not. They’re just quite honest to what they are, and as long as you stick to that, you know… here’s hoping you get to that stage too.

I totally agree; they deserve everything they’ve had come their way. Interestingly, on the radio over here, we tend to hear Dan Auerbach’s reworking of Hoochie Coochie, rather than the original. What do you think of his arrangement?

I quite like it! It’s a really funny thing, because it was put to us if we wanted to do that and we didn’t speak about it at all. Russell [Marsden] put it a really good way – it was like a ‘disembodied jam’. We sent the track to him and then he sent it back, with very much his guitar style and flavour to it. It was like we had a band practice without actually having a band practice. It wasn’t like one of those remixes where you can barely recognise your own song in it and there’s this big dance beat behind it or anything. It was kind of like a peppering of Dan on top of the record, which I really liked.

I first discovered you guys when iTunes had I Know What I Am as Single of the Week. Do you think many people found about you that way?

I think a lot of people did. We were completely, one hundred percent unknown until that happened. I think it was the first time iTunes had ever done Single of the Week worldwide. I remember really vividly – me and Russell talk about this – we were sat somewhere in a bar and I think [the single] was going to be put out that night. We were both sat there like, right… this is it. No one’s heard this, nobody knows who we are at all. From this moment on, it’s going to be a free download on iTunes, which is a big deal for any band, but at the time we literally had not a single person that would come to our gig. So from that moment on, everything sort of snowballed, I guess. I think it all sort of stemmed from that moment.

That’s a pretty interesting way to start out, having that support from iTunes.

Yeah, I guess every band has a different history and a different path to where they get to. I’m not saying that was the beginning of our band, but that was definitely, in terms of a worldwide scale, the first time we’d experienced something going out to so many different people. Everyone could have just turned around and said, ‘This is fucking horrible.’ [Laughs]. But the response was really good, and it was a great platform to build on.

You’ve had a while to reflect on Himalayan; is there anything you’d change about it, if you could?

No, not at all. The way we see a record is it’s like a photograph of a particular time you’re at with the band that you are. It’s a snapshot and that’s where we were at; we were a hundred percent proud of the record. I don’t listen to things and go back on them and think, oh, I wish the cymbals were a bit louder, or Russell’s guitar was a bit better. Touring it has been a lot of fun this year. We’ve managed to cover lots of ground and people seem to really appreciate it, so we’re really happy and looking on to the next one.

In term of touring, which do you find more rewarding: homecoming shows or performing to big crowds overseas?

It’s a really different thing. We recently played in our home town, Southampton, and it was really great, but I think when you’re overseas… you don’t know anyone there. You’re in a town you don’t particularly know that well. I don’t know if it’s easier,  but when you play your hometown there’s a hell of a lot of people there that know you really well, from all walks of life. There’s a lovely side to that, but there’s also a nerve-racking bit. When you’re in a different country, you’re an alien in that place. They know you as a band, and the music, which is the most important part. But when you’re in your hometown it’s like, oh yeah, there’s that guy that gets really drunk in that pub [laughs].

2015 National Tour

Tickets on sale now

Fri 3 Apr Bluesfest Byron Bay NSW

Sun 5 Apr Rochford Wines Yarra Valley VIC
Supporting The Black Keys

Tue 7 Apr The Corner Melbourne VIC

Thu 9 Apr Oxford Art Factory Sydney NSW

Sat 11 Apr Bimbadgen Hunter Valley NSW
Supporting The Black Keys

Sat 18 Apr CBS Arena Christchurch NZ
Supporting The Black Keys

Sun 19 Apr Vector Arena Auckland NZ
Supporting The Black Keys