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The Skull

The Skull just released their second album: 'The Endless Road Turns Dark' is massive and each time you listen to it, it is like a sledgehammer hitting you harder and harder until it brings you down to your knees. With this record, The Skull put down another milestone on the endless and darkening road of doom metal. We interviewed singer Eric Wagner and bassist Ron Holzner, both also known for their work in Trouble, about history and inspiration.

By: Bart M. | Archive under doom metal

With 'The Endless Road Turns Dark' you have created another really great doom album. It sounds both very familiar and refreshing, which I think is exactly what fans of this music like. How do you go about the process of writing new and interesting music?
Eric: I don't know. I mean we never really try to write a certain way, it's just whatever comes out. The guys come up with the riffs and it keeps evolving till we all feel we have a song. For me writing the lyrics it's how I feel or what I see at the particular moment in time. From the beginning it's been all one life.

Ron: We try not to listen to any other music while we are writing a new record, at least me personally. I do not listen to Doom or anything close to that anyways. I like Motown, Soul, and heavy Rock. The same shit I've always listened to. If you listen to similar music to what you are writing, it dumbs down the process and effects negatively what should be coming from your soul. I wake up, have some coffee, and play my acoustic guitar for my cats. If they don’t like it then it’s not heavy enough, Ha! Cats are evil and have a good sense for things like that. I will record the riffs and eventually will sit with Lothar Keller (our lead guitarist and fellow founding member) at my kitchen table over some good beer (beer is important to the process) and go over our riffs we have accumulated and come up with songs. We then send the songs to Eric for him to do his magic on.

The title of the album is quite foreboding and instills a sense of unavoidable dread. What (events, experience, thoughts) inspires a title like that, and what does it mean to you?
Eric: There comes a point in everyone's life when you come to the end of whatever road you have been on and you must decide which way to turn. You must choose wisely; you can take the easy way and go down the hill, or you can take to the road less traveled by which carries the greater reward.

Ron: Life! It's gloomy and hard. It's an endless journey through Hell.

As doom veterans, how would you define the doom genre? I don't mean musically per se, although you are very welcome to do that as well, but what are key components of any kind of doom music?
Eric: I'm not really sure, I mean we never heard that word before up until a few years ago. I don't listen to a lot of music when I'm writing and if I do it's usually something completely different. I just love the heaviness of the sound, I guess it's just where my soul lives. You know people ask me all the time how do you write a good doom record. My answer is don't listen to doom.

Ron: I really don’t know. We have always played heavy Rock. That moniker "Doom" came years later. What we do is Heavy with Dark over tones about life and death. I don't listen to Doom and only really hear it on tour from the support bands. Define the Doom genre: fat pot smoking bearded guys with SG guitars who dress like plumbers and tractor repairmen. Ha, just joking!! The Doom genre is family!!

The genre has many interesting topics, some of them being really personal like loss, unrequited love and various kinds of hard times that people have gone through. What are the topics The Skull mostly sings about and (how) are they drawn from your personal lives?
Eric: Yes, I've always written about how I feel or what I see. If you start with 'The Tempter' on the very first Trouble record and listen to everything I've done all the way to the end of the new Skull record, you will find that it is all one life.

One of the things I really like, and I think Sabbath started, is how this music often takes on a neutral perspective towards God, Satan and the bible. I like how neither side is being favored. With The Skull it seems to be the same, but it's not always very clear - and of course, it doesn't need to be clear. What is your view on this?
Eric: I know that both sides exist and as for me I'm on God's side. As for the Bible, that book has been translated so many times to benefit the translator that it's hard to tell what is truth and what is not. But it is a good guideline. We all know the difference between right and wrong and it is up to us to do the best we can to make the right decisions. And if we don't, just forgive ourselves and move on, after all we are only human.

Ron: We learned from the best!!

Some music is put into very specific "genres". Personally I don't agree with this because, especially with metal, I think it is wrong to create an atmosphere where you feel as though you need to meet certain prerequisites before being allowed to listen to this or that music. Your music has been called white metal by some. What do you think of this term? And what do you think of this kind of niche-thinking.
Eric: I hate it. Metal Blade put that on us. I sing probably just as many Satan's and Lucifer's as the next band except I always have a positive twist on it so they wanted to differentiate us from the other bands. Which I thought was a mistake. Let people make up their own minds as to what it is and if they like it or not. Back when I was growing up music was just music.

Ron: I thought our music was called Doom Metal! Ha!! I prefer Heavy Rock, but I really do not care what people call it. It started out as a marketing tool to reach certain audiences, but I think the labeling is getting out of hand. I'm a Metal kid at heart, so anytime Metal is mentioned, I feel good!!! In the words of Ozzy: "It's all fuckin' Rock and Roll man!"

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I am very curious about the origins of The Skull. Of course, plenty of information can be found online nowadays, but it is not easy to filter the rumors from the facts, so what better way of learning this than through the band itself? What happened back then, when Trouble was still Trouble, that made you decide to leave?
Eric: It was just time, at that moment I was just tired of touring and playing the same songs night after night and I wanted to try new things. I ended up taking a couple years off to do nothing. Then all of a sudden I just started writing again. These last few years have been a very creative period for me and I am happy doing what I am doing and wish them nothing but the best.

Eventually you and other people formed The Skull. I won't ask how all you guys met, because obviously you are all into music, but what I am interested in is why these people decided to form a band together and rock like never before?
Eric: Well as the story goes Ron, Oly and I were all playing Milwaukee Days Of The Doomed Fest with our other bands and they both came up with me and we did a few Trouble songs. It felt really good those songs again. So I e-mailed them the next day asking if they wanted to start a tribute band with me, a tribute to Trouble since they looked exactly like the bass player and drummer and I sounded just like the singer. So we decided it would be fun to go out and just play the old songs, since they never did anymore and it would set us apart from them. People started asking us if we were going to write our own music. So we did and I guess the rest is history.

The name The Skull I take it is based on Trouble's second album by that name. What was the idea behind such an obvious reference? And how are relations between these two bands?
Eric: Actually we took our name from the 1965 horror film called The Skull, haha. If I remember right that was like the first name for the band that came up and we all thought it was perfect and never really considered anything else.

Since you have been in the music scene for so long already, are there any bands that (still) make you go "Wow!"? And if so, can you name a few of them and tell us a bit about why they are awesome.
Eric: I listen a lot to acoustic type music these days, people like the White Buffalo and Ray Lamontagne. I love their voices and their lyrics. It's like they are old souls and play music because they have to.

Here, in 2018, things are a lot different than from what they used to be back in the seventies and eighties. One of the things that changed is that it is now very easy for people and bands to reach out and make contact. To promote themselves, if you will. I see that you are on Facebook and Instagram, for instance, and my question is: was it hard or easy to go along with these changes?
Eric: It's easy, especially when you have other people to do it for you.

You're going on tour through Europe very soon, I think we're all looking forward to that a lot. How about you, what are some of the more memorable things that happened on previous (European) tours?
Eric: I can't wait, I love going over there, been doing since I was kid. Honestly every time I've gone has been memorable there's been so many, it's too much to just come up with one. The 10th anniversary Dynamo in 1995 is one that comes to mind.

And what does your setlist look like? Do you choose to play only The Skull, or have you incorporated songs or medleys from other bands any of you play(ed) in as well?
Eric: People are never going to let me get away with not doing any Trouble songs so, well, always a couple. We have two albums out so for the most part it is time to be The Skull.

Aside from the changes in technology, what would you say is the biggest difference between the musical climate (this includes how different bands treat each other) now and back in the seventies/eighties?
Eric: The biggest difference is the internet. Bands are usually cool with each other because we are on the same side. We know what it's like to be in a band, and it's hard sometimes, especially when people download the music for free or just listen to it. It's not fair, I understand if you are poor but for the most people get paid for the job they do and I'm not asking for the world, but I do need to eat once in a while.

To finish the interview I want to thank you for taking the time and effort to answer these questions. Anything you want to add or say?
Eric: You are welcome, kind sir. Really the only thing I'd like to say is that everything will be alright. I promise.

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