Interview with Skeletal Family: ‘If All The Technology We Currently Use Ceased To Exist We Could Still Make Great Music’

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Skeletal Family is a band ‘older’ readers and fans of Dark-Wave / Post-Punk are familiar with. Set up in the early 80s this British formation gained instant success with both debut albums “Burning Oil” (1984) and “Futile Combat” (1985). The band went through different line-up changes and splits but always came back. They this year released their newest opus “Light From The Dark” by Chapter 22. The songs are still driven by good-old Dark-Wave influences but still featuring a darker Rock approach. The band is still featuring core members Roger ‘Trotwood’ Nowell (bass guitar), Stan Greenwood (guitar) and Ian ‘Karl Heinz’ Taylor (keyboard & saxophone) plus later member  Adrian Osadzenko (drums) and new singer Anneka Latta. I talked about the past and the present with Trotwood, Stan, Karl Heinz and Anneka.

(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)

Q: Skeletal Family saw the daylight more than forty years ago now. Can you briefly draw up the balance sheet of this incredible career and story? 

Trotwood: The history of the band is well documented, in brief 6 albums; “Burning Oil” topped the Indie charts, “Futile Combat” was top 5. 6 Radio One session countless tours around  the world

Stan: A difficult question; it’s being a most enjoyable journey for me personally. I could rant on for hours regarding the hurdles and obstacles we encountered getting here but it is easily found out by a quick Google search:-

Q: It however was a tumultuous career featuring numerous line-up changes while the band disbanded several times. How do you look back at these facts which I guess must have impacted the creativity and global career of Skeletal Family? 

Trotwood: Line-up changes come from various reasons, people don’t want be in the band because of work, disagreements or they think leaving to do something else will be a short cut to more success. In the early days Stan, Karl, myself were the main writers. When Katrina joined, she did more of the lyrics and contributed musically as well.

Stan: I think the fact that three of the musicians who formed Skeletal Family (and the embryonic precursor to them, The Elements in 1979) ie Roger, Karl Heinz and myself have been playing together and writing both the music and the majority of the lyrics (until recently) for over forty years has been the most stabilising factor in the bands continued success. 

Karl Heinz: I think everyone who has been in the band has had an influence on the band. I think a stable line-up would have led to a more static musical output with less development and possibly creative stagnation.

Q: The 80s have been for sure the most successful period of Skeletal Family. I think we might affirm the 80s were very special years when it comes to music but also to historical events like cold war, Falklands war, the fall of Berliner wall etc… What did you keep in mind from this decade and what has been the impact on your music and lyrics? 

Trotwood: We were young in the 80’s the days of tomorrow never comes. We didn’t have families or responsibilities. We wrote about our life, loves etc. Didn’t really write much politically. Maybe “Burning Oil”. They were exciting times, we were learning our trade so to speak.

Stan: We lived in that era and one can only assume we absorbed the vibe and feel of the times. Obviously the feel of our music and lyrics reflected that. Was pretty bleak in the early 80’s but there was also a lot of optimism out there if you wanted it and searched for it..

Karl Heinz: To be honest the spirit of the 70s is more important musically to me a mix of Prog/Glam and Punk is what really influenced me along with my classical music education. 

Q: Skeletal Family reformed during the past few years but here again different singers -featuring original singer Anne Marie Hurst, joined in and left again till Anneka Latta became the new singer. How did you get in touch and what have been her input to the new album? 

Trotwood:  We have had 5 singers in our time. All with different qualities. Anne Marie visually, Anneka both visual and musical. After Anne Marie left in 2018 we auditioned 3 or 4 singers without success. We then got Hannah Small, who was exciting,  good to work with, we probably did more in the year with Hannah than the previous 10. Karl had re-joined on keys too. We wrote around 10 new songs and did a handful of dates. We had half an album. Then Hannah left. She moved out of the area. We knew Anneka, she had been in a band that had opened for us a few years ago. So I called and asked if she fancied helping us to finish the album. Then take things from there. We wrote around 10 more songs with Anneka, we also gave Anneka the instrumental versions of the songs already done. So she came up with her take on the songs. All done at Black Barn.

Stan: Anneka had actually supported Skeletal Family on a mini-tour we undertook around 2013 / 14 when she was fronting the rock band Exoterik. When we were looking for a vocalist to sing on our new songs and demos in 2020, she was one of the first people who came to mind. She did a great job on the demos so we decided to ask her to join the band!!

Q: Tell us a bit more about “Light From The Dark”. What kind of album did you’ve in mind and how did it see the daylight? 

Anneka: With “Light From The Dark” being the first Skeletal Family-album in over a decade and of course, with myself as a new singer, it was clear to us all that this album was going to be something a little different. We still wanted to keep the iconic Skeletal Family sound but we also wanted it to sound new and exciting. Hence why we decided upon the name “Light From The Dark”.  

Stan: We started writing songs with an intention to releasing them as a complete album around mid 2019. There were plenty of ideas floating around and we just started putting them all together. By around 2020 we had ten songs complete with vocalist Hannah who we were working with at the time but the COVID epidemic screwed everything up. 

Hannah moved away from our vicinity which made it difficult to complete the album both due to traveling logistics and the COVID isolation rules. Thankfully we approached Anneka who lived locally (the band she was fronting, Exoterik had actually supported Skeletal Family on a tour we had undertaken in 2013) who seemed really interested in doing something with them.

We basically stripped the original vocals off the tracks and Anneka came up with brand new lyrics and melodies which we then embellished with more overdubs.

In addition to this we also recorded another ten or so totally new songs which we all wrote as a team, ultimately picking our favourite ten out of them all for the finished album..

Karl Heinz: Personally I didn’t feel we had a plan, we just set out to make songs we liked and were proud of.

Q: What inspired you in the title- and lyrical themes of the album? And is there still a connection with the early, lyrical, themes of the band? 

Anneka: Many of the classic Skeletal Family song lyrics were penned by  Trotwood but when I joined the band in 2021, they allowed me free reign over the lyrics. Looking back at the lyrical content and knowing it was written during the global pandemic, the themes touch upon the rollercoaster of emotions that I’m sure everyone will feel all too familiar with but throughout it all, as the title of the album suggests, we created light from the dark.  

Stan: We discussed quite a few different album titles before deciding on the current one. It seemed a pretty apt title considering the depressing nature of the COVID lockdown and the optimism we all felt when all that was lifted and the album was ready to release.

We had already commissioned quite a few photo sessions for the band and the album title was already agreed upon. We gave Matt, who designed the cover, the working title and photos and left it up to him to complete. Apart from a few minor tweaks he presented us with the sleeve for the commercial release which we were all well pleased with.

Trotwood: Lyrics for this album are all by Anneka, so I doubt if there is any connection with the past. We like to keep moving forward. I tend to find links to the past frustrating because I feel we have so much more to offer. In the last 10 years we were held back in the writing process for different reasons. 

Q: “Light From The Dark” has been recorded and mixed in Paul Weller’s studio. What’s the connection with Paul Weller and how did the recording happened? 

Trotwood: I’m Paul’s guitar technician, have been with him for 22 years. So I have a good relationship with him. He is good at helping bands in general.

Q: Studio equipment and recordings techniques became that different from the 80s. How do you perceive these evolutions and modern technology versus internet, social media, streaming platforms etc? 

Anneka: I think it’s important to always keep in mind where you’ve come from and to appreciate the hard work, skill and challenges that we all face as musicians throughout the years but it’s also important to embrace technology. A lot has changed since the band first started recording in the early 80’s, from the limitations with studio technology right through to the use of internet and the ease of having music at our fingertips. It’s a great time to be alive, making music. 

Trotwood: Things are very different today from the 80’s. On a whole a lot better and easier. Social media is a necessary evil. The internet and computers have made things a lot easier, playback PA systems amps guitar pedals all things that are evolving.

Stan: There have been massive changes in both, how a band records and the way they can access press and social media to promote themselves. I’ve never being a retro kind of person and totally embrace the means and technology available. 

Karl Heinz: It makes life easier. Data can be transferred digitally you can record parts at home and add them to the master tracks. You don’t have to remember settings for each song when playing live as you can program everything in advance. I’ve used computers to create music since the mid 80s. One thing is certain if all the technology we currently use ceased to exist we could still make great music .

Internet and social media are great for getting information and contacting people but can be addictive. You can get obsessed with the number of ‘likes ‘ you get.

Q: I think there was a real kind of 80s spirit but how is it today? Do you still see similitudes? 

Trotwood: There’s a lot of people who want to keep the spirit of the 80’s going. Personally I like to keep moving forward. 

Karl Heinz: 80 is a number I just want to make music like I did then. The year of decade is unimportant..

Q: Are you interested in contemporary music industry and underground scene? Do you sometimes recognize yourself in the global approach and spirit of ‘younger’ bands? 

Trotwood: Yes interested in all kinds of music, good to hear good young bands. We have seen one or two younger bands covering our songs which is good.

Stan: I am still hugely interested in the current ‘scene’. There are some great new bands out there which I am getting into. I find it really humbling that we get younger bands coming up on the scene mentioning that we are / were one of their favourite bands and our music was a great influence on them!

Q: Live shows remain an important and essential side of the band. How do you see Skeletal Family as a live band and how did you see the band evolving throughout the years and new line-ups? 

Trotwood: Skeletal Family are very much a live band who will get better and better. This is probably the best line up we have had.

Stan:Maybe I sound a bit harsh, but realistically band members do come and go over the years but I feel we have always kept the nucleus of the three founder members to keep the ship sailing on the right course so to speak, hence the guitar, keyboards/saxaphone and bass retain the classic Skeletal Family ‘sound’. 

We always actively encouraged new members to be proactive in doing their own thing whilst playing in the band, that way it never gets stale and is always exciting and interesting to reinterpret the a live scenario!!

Karl Heinz: I hope people will still find us exciting live. I know I do. My old bones still have a bit of a pogo on stage.

Q: What are the further plans of the band right now? 

Anneka: We’re looking forward to taking the new album out on the road and sharing the experience with those who come to see us. It’s great to feel connected with our audience so meeting people at gigs and playing our music live is a lot of fun for us all. We also have lots of ideas for new music too so we hope to start writing and recording these as soon as we can. 

Trotwood: I’d like to see more albums and tours. Could be shows in the US later in the year. Though I think next year will be busier on the live side of things.

Stan: We are already having a great year. The new album is already receiving great reviews and feedback. Gig wise we are booked to play a few high profile festivals in UK and hopefully more on Europe, plus a week long North American tour is currently being scheduled for October/ November 2023.

We are already writing new material for the next album. The future is looking bright!

Karl Heinz: More songs, more shows. Not a complex mission statement but it works for me. 

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Inferno Sound Diaries

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