Photo by Stephen Rag And Bone Photography
Bassist, Emma Richardson has not only been providing the low-end frequencies in Band Of Skulls since 2004, but her harmony rock vocal blend with the band’s guitarist-vocalist Russell Marsden is also a joy in itself. I catch up with Emma as she takes a break from recording the band’s new album:
“It’s taken a year to put together,” says Emma. “And we are now in the final recording stages, at the moment it just has the working title of ‘Album 5’ and features our new drummer Julian Dorio who lives in Nashville, USA.
Julian also works with a band called The Whigs in the USA, so we are crossing continents with our line up at the moment. We got to know Julian way back when we toured the USA with The Whigs promoting our first album ‘Baby Darling Doll Face Honey’ released in ’09.
When our previous drummer Matt Hayward said he didn’t want to play anymore, Julian called us up within ten minutes of us posting online asking if he could join. He was aware of all our music and was the ideal drummer to fill Matt’s position. He’s flying in for a special one-off gig at the brand new Nuffield Theatre in Southampton on April 21st. We’ve rearranged a lot of our popular tracks to perform with The Space Between Orchestra and the content will tip its hat towards musicians from the area. Southampton is our home town.”
The Band Of Skulls songs are full of energy and renowned for memorable hook-line choruses and close harmonies, is it hard for you to come up with a corker every time?
“Russell and I have written together since I first joined the band in our college days, some 14 or more years ago, so we both know each other’s capabilities and limitations, we can use whatever we bring to the table to full effect. In a three-piece rock band, we need to sound as big as possible. Sure, we’re pretty loud, but by using both male and female voices to the full effect, we have a lot of scopes to write songs with dual vocals and harmonies, this adds strength to the three-piece sound.
Album 5, which is being recorded both in the USA and the UK follows suit, with memorable lyrics and big riffs throughout, and produced this time by Richard X. We’ve worked with a different producer for each album, it’s kind of exciting to work with new people each time not only for our own inspiration but to see how they visualise and record our music.
I have very similar musical influences to Russell, we both love harmony bands from the ’60s, The Beach Boys, The Beatles and The Everly Brothers are all great examples of superbly delivered close harmonies. My influences also go way back to my parent’s record collection which had a lot of singer-songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. But when my uncle played me a Bonnie Raitt album one Christmas, it blew my mind, after hearing her powerful bluesy voice and playing a mean slide guitar, I thought I’d love to be able to do that.
Raitt opened the door to a lot of blues music for me, and also early female jazz singers, including Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday who I still listen to a lot. I was also knocked out when I first saw a video of Sister Rosetta Tharpe with an electric guitar singing her heart out way back in the 1940s. She was such an inspiration for so many future artists and guitar players like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
My dad played in a band when he was younger, so I was hand’s on with a couple of acoustic guitars lying around the house. I wrote so many songs on just a few chords that he taught me, I just felt it was a waste of time learning other peoples’ songs.
My first electric guitar was a black Strat which my dad actually bought for himself, but by then he didn’t get a look in. I also had a little Watson guitar amp with an overdrive button and I’d be up in my room experimenting with screaming feedback, along with the accompanying ‘turn it down’ commands from downstairs.
I also worked in a record store for a while when I was at University and discovered Sly and The Family Stone, the classic Motown records and the studio techniques and production styles of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry who was a pioneer of dub reggae back in the ’70s. I was playing guitar in a band at Uni when I was approached by Band Of Skulls to help out on bass. It worked really well so I ended up switching bands, or you could say I was poached.”
It’s been said that you look the archetypal female rock bassist on stage wearing a low slung Fender bass, how do you feel about that?
“I take that as a compliment, although the band’s sound and performance come way before that. A Fender Precision bass is still my number one choice for both live and studio work. I love the way they look, how they hang on my shoulder and of course the huge low end, which is a big contribution to the band’s sound. At the moment I have four, the model with the Antigua finish is my first choice, it’s a bit more lively thanks to the maple fingerboard. I have been experimenting with a 60’s Gibson EB2 bass which I may introduce to the band later. It effortlessly delivers a big, warm natural sound which I prefer as I play with my fingers. I may use a plectrum sometimes, but that little piece of plastic just makes me feel detached from the characteristics of the bass itself.
The Precision basses are quite long in themselves but they fit perfectly in my Fusion Urban bass gig bag. There are so many cool features within the design, like the neck and headstock support and the removable padded collar that can be moulded to the body shape is great. It’s a very sturdy design and yet lightweight and the fact that there’s so much protection for the instrument is very reassuring, along with a host of useful pockets and compartments which make life on the road so much easier.
I’m also drawn towards Fender Bassman amps to complete the sonic equation which I use for both live and studio work. On the floor, I have a Hot Cake distortion pedal, an octave pedal and splitter made by Mike Hill. This allows me to send a separate signal from the bass guitar, onward to a Fender Deville guitar combo via a few guitar effects along the way, so I can also become a rhythm guitarist which fills a hole when Russell takes a solo. I can also create some interesting effects with the guitar and bass guitar frequencies.”
You always look so relaxed on stage, is there anything during a live performance that challenges you?
“It’s usually having to play new and complicated bass lines whilst singing my vocal parts, it's only practising until it all falls into place. I relish this challenge as it expands my ability as a vocalist and a bass player. We try and push ourselves all the time when writing, to blend intricate bass and guitar lines with harmonies and lead vocals.”
It’s an uphill task for any live band to find their audience and resonate with them, so how does it feel when you play the other side of the world and the audience is already singing the lyrics to your recently released material?
“It still amazes us”, says Emma. “Thanks to the internet, new music is instantly available anywhere in the world, but we have complete control over our social media, so as soon as we announce a tour people have an immediate connection with the band’s movements and new recordings. It’s mind-blowing to play in a far-flung country just after we release new material and the audience is singing the lyrics word-perfect.
It doesn’t seem to matter where we are, the USA, Australia or Europe, the audience has their favourite album or individual songs. Even down in Buenos Aires, Argentina at a rock festival where we were sandwiched between Whitesnake and Aerosmith, the fans were singing along to the title track ‘Baby Darling Doll Face Honey’ and ‘Death By Diamonds’ from the 2009 album which is always a favourite. We are looking forward to touring there again to promote Album 5…right now, we just need a title.”
Interview by Lars Mullen
About the Author
With over 30 years in the music business, Lars Mullen does indeed wear many hats, as a writer, journalist, photographer, press person for his own company Music Media Announcements. As an extensive traveller, he's a familiar figure reporting from music trade shows around the world. Spending many years touring as a professional guitarist, Lars has also interviewed a host of top bands and artists, continues to write articles for magazines globally and still finds time to track down Fusion artists for our Artist Spotlight column.