Renewed, refreshed, and with a sound hell-bent on crushing every head in the underground, classic Trouble (makers) Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson & Ron Holzner teamed up with Lothar Keller & Matt Goldsborough to form The Skull. The band (sadly without Matt as he was unable to participate) kindly took a few minutes to talk riffs, beer, and the evolution of their brand of rock: Past, Present and Future.
I appreciate you taking some time to answer some questions for The Sleeping Shaman. You all have such a rich history in the heavy music scene and have influenced and inspired countless acts. And with The Skull, you’re trailblazing again. How does it feel?
Eric: It feels like I’m meant to do this. I can’t imagine doing anything else, so it just feels like me. It’s not what I do… its part of who I am.
Jeff: It feels great! I’ve been interviewing a lot of musicians lately on my radio show (Heady Metal with Jeff Olson) who have said that they were influenced by me; one of those musicians’ is drummer and vocalist Chris Reifert of Autopsy. That blew me away, because he is an awesome drummer! I’m looking forward to see some of these musicians I’ve interviewed at festivals with The Skull. It’s not just about playing live. It’s about meeting cool people, fans and bands alike.
Ron: Never Say Die man!! It feels great to be able to play music and have longevity. It really does. Life has a way of getting in the way of it much of the time. I truly feel blessed, honored, and humbled to influence other musicians with my playing and within the bands I have played with. Many have influenced me on the way and I am happy to carry the torch. Keeping the Rock Alive!!! I do have to say it is amazing to write, record and play with the guys in The Skull… and to think we are just getting started. Damn! The future looks bright, so we better get the sunglasses.
Some may (incorrectly) simplify The Skull as a classic Trouble reunion but it’s obvious you guys have a lot more in store for us. How did the idea to form the band come about?
Ron: This whole thing has evolved very quickly. It started simple enough with Eric, Oly, and myself getting together at The Days of The Doomed Fest in Wisconsin for a little Trouble jam since our other bands were all playing there… Blackfinger, Retro Grave, and Earthen Grave. The fans really wanted to hear the three of us play some Trouble tunes and they still do. I guess the promoters do as well since we got booked onto a few European festivals soon after; so we started the band to have some fun, play some Trouble tunes, and give the fans what they want. We relive the past a little bit, drink some beer, and get our “YaYa’s” out you know? Now with Lothar and Matt… damn man, we are writing, recording and setting up tours. We are a real band and shit!
The new EP (singles) is a rocker. The band’s a well-oiled machine and the chemistry is undeniable. There’s ease and natural flow to your playing style that only comes from experience. Was it a seamless process from rehearsal to recording?
Ron: It’s never seamless. The experienced, good bands make it look that way… (laughs). No, it has been pretty smooth I’d have to say.
Lothar: For me, a lot really weighs on the chemistry. Being that I have a degree in audio production, the recording process is second nature. However, if you don’t have the right formula then it becomes more of an issue. I love the studio environment because of how it allows me to rebuild a song from the ground up. In a rehearsal setting, it’s all about arrangement. Once that’s down, that’s when the magic can really come together. Rehearsal time is very limited due to band members living in different states, so we have to get creative with how we write. The Internet has become a very strong tool for us.
Billy Anderson’s at the production helm on this latest. How was it working with him?
Ron: Actually, Billy only recorded the tracks. We produced it. Billy is amazing to work with and is a damn good producer and friend. I wish we had more time to work with him. We were on tour and only had a couple days to work with him. When Billy produces, he likes to be there from pre-production thru the mixing. We just didn’t have the time to do that (this time). What he did on this recording is great and helped shape the final result.
Lothar: Yeah, placing me and Billy in the same room is probably the equivalent of putting a bunch of Star Trek fans in a 10×10 room… engineering talk if you dig (laughs) We had a blast working with him!
Lyrically ‘Sometime Yesterday Mourning’ suggests new beginnings, bittersweet nostalgia and the complex emotions associated with burning the past to make room for the future. But at the same time it’s apparent you value the past for the perspective it gives. How has age and a more mature perspective impacted your writing style?
Eric: We’ve done this a million times. It’s too late in the day to be making mistakes now. If you learn your lessons then you can move on to the next chapter. That’s what we are doing with The Skull.
Lothar: Experience and wisdom are something to be valued. That’s not to say that a ten year old can’t write a masterpiece, musically that is. But, there is something to say about how life experience can really contribute to how you write. Sometimes you have to go through great times and hard times to change your perspective on things. Writing music is something that comes from the soul, and what you feel is how you write.
On that note, tell us a little about your writing process.
Eric: My best lyrics are written in the morning when I first get up and my brain is empty. I’m doing well until the world starts infiltrating.
Ron: Everyone has brought something to the table on this.
Lothar: Riffs, riffs, and more riffs… My phone is full of ideas that haven’t even been used yet (laughs). I have written in so many different ways that it really gets down to what started the particular song. Sometimes all it takes is one riff and lyric idea to start the idea. Like with ‘Sometime Yesterday Mourning’, we actually went through several part changes and moving around arrangements before we were done with it. Hell, we were making changes while we were tracking in the studio (laughs).
There’s a great deal of symbolism in the themes and choice of tracks for the EP; the arc of past, present and future is clearly evident. The EP’s (singles) release marks the 30th anniversary of The Last Judgement’s appearance on the ‘Metal Massacre IV’ compilation. How did it feel to give a fresh take on an old classic?
Eric: It was a lot of fun doing that song, because we have not done it in so long. A wise man once told me that you sometimes have to go through your past to get to your future, which is exactly what The Skull is doing.
Jeff: It felt great. Billy Anderson set up a kit in the studio for me to use during the recording that belongs to the drummer of Witch Mountain (Nathan Carson). I kicked up my bass drums and toms, which allowed us to hear my drumming style better. I liked that.
The full length is in the works. Are the singles a nice snapshot of things to come?
Jeff: Yes, the singles were the second achievement in this group; the first were live performances. The third will be a game changer. We’ve had two very chilled pre-productions for the debut album. This band writes well with each other and plays well with each other…. We’ll have one more writing and practicing session before we record the album.
Ron: Oh yes, it will be the same, but different. It will be familiar sounding, but new and fresh. Warm and fuzzy, but heavy as hell.
Lothar: It is, but I have to say that once its all said and done that the full album is gonna’ exceed expectations. Our last writing session went so well that I can say with confidence that The Skull will definitely have its own identity. The sound that is being created is huge!!
Throughout your career, you all have been cited as a primary influence for so many past and current heavy rock/doom metal outfits. What bands/musicians have influenced you the most?
Jeff: Let’s not just talk about bands. Let’s talk art. I’m influenced by composers, painters, poets, sculptures, architects, performing artists, and DCI – like Santa Clara Vanguard, The Blue Stars (my former corps), The Blue Devils, and The Bridgeman, just to name a few.
Ron: Sabbath, Priest, Grand Funk, The Who, and Zeppelin.
In terms of sound and aesthetic, where do you see The Skull’s evolution?
Jeff: Cutting edge, because we are an old school and a new school band.
Ron: It has been evolving since day one and has not stopped yet. We shall come into our own on this new record.
What are your touring plans for the remainder of the year and into 2015?
Ron: Dates are being booked as we speak. A US tour and individual dates. As far as Europe, it looks like October will be “Roctober” for us with a couple festival dates and some club shows as well. Follow us on Facebook for updates and announcements. We will do a few tours of Europe in 2015 along with many festival shows. It’s going to be busy!
Any parting words or final thoughts?
Ron: Beer is good!
Lothar: We are very pleased from all of the great response and support from all of the great fans out there! We can’t wait to get out there and share the experience with you. Our music is your music so just embrace it and come along for the ride. It’s going to be a good one!
Jeff: Beer is good, come along for the ride, and enjoy the show!
Interviewed by: Jeremy Moore
Photo Credit: Ty Klingsick (promo)