Angels Hear is the long-awaited debut album from Action Skulls. Although you may not recognize the group’s name, you certainly know the band members: Vicki Peterson (The Bangles, Continental Drifters), her husband John Cowsill (The Cowsills and currently part of the Beach Boys touring band) and Bill Mumy, co-founder of the cult duo Barnes & Barnes and veteran of the band America as well as an Emmy-nominated composer.
Fueled by the trio’s rich, infectious vocal harmony, Angels Hear is an eclectic swirl of moods and musical styles with echoes of the bands they made famous as well as elements of the Beatles, Kingston Trio and more. Rockers like “Mainstream” and “The Luckiest Man Alive” tastefully intermingle with the more melancholic “If I See You in Another World”, while the noirish “Standing on the Mountain” fits in effortlessly with the modified Bo Diddley-beat stomper, “In the Future”.
Angels Hear by Action Skulls will be released on Friday, Sept 29.
AXS recently spoke with Vicki Peterson about Actions Skulls and more in this new interview.
AXS: How would you describe the new album, Angels Hear in terms of its sound and as it relates to some of your previous work?
Vicki Peterson: Every project I’ve ever been involved with involved multiple writers and singers. It’s very collaborative. There’s also something about the album that feels very much like The Continental Drifters in that it exists for its own sake. We started making music together on a fluke. It was almost like kids in a garage going "Hey! Let’s be in a band!" [laughs]. We wear our influences proudly on our sleeve and this record is a celebration of why we make music. It reminds of us of other artists and songs that we love. That’s why there’s references to bands like Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Kingston Trio. Then of course, there’s some Beatles and Beach Boys in there as well as Cowsills and Bangles.
AXS: How did Action Skulls come together?
VP: The whole thing came together at a Christmas party at Angela Cartwright’s house. John and I were there and everyone was singing Beatles songs around the piano for hours. I remember looking at these two guys [Bill and John], who sonically sounded so different and realizing that the three of us created this interesting and beautiful harmonic sound. There was an energy that felt young and exciting. That sold me. After that night, Bill was completely inspired and started sending us demos and videos. That's when we started working.
AXS: What was the writing and recording process like?
VP: As far as writing, most of this record started with Bill. He was writing a lot of songs. There were a few that were semi-finished and others where he was open to collaborative process. Then Rick Rosas became the fourth Action Skull and threw his hat into the ring. He’s a phenomenal bass player and has known John and Bill for years. The recording process was very much live without a lot of conscious thought or planning behind it. The idea was, whatever you feel just do it. That's how the sound happened.
AXS: Let’s discuss a few tracks from Angels Hear, beginning with “Mainstream”
VP: That was one of the ones that started with this great “Beatle-esque” guitar riff that Bill had. Originally, it didn’t have a verse so John and I added one. It’s also one of several examples on the record of how we swap vocals in the same song.
AXS: “In The Future.”
VP: The idea behind that song was Bill thinking about how people in the future will be looking back on us when we're not really behaving ourselves regarding our interpersonal relationships or the planet.
AXS: “The Luckiest Man Alive.”
VP: That was a song Bill wrote specifically for John. John travels year-round with The Beach Boys and his schedule is insane. He’s gone a lot but always says that he has the best seat in the house playing the best American music. This was Bill putting himself in John’s shoes thinking about how he would feel if he had to be away from his loved ones so much.
AXS: “If I See You In Another World.”
VP: That was one where I rewrote the chorus melody. To me, it casts thoughts of another reality and things that could or should be. The way the track ended up is very romantic.
AXS: “Standing On The Mountain.”
VP: I really like the feel and the herky-jerky, almost carnival like rhythm of that track. It's very playful and was written by Bill when he was up in his garden and letting his imagination run wild.
AXS: Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?
VP: I have a few writing projects I’m doing that are bubbling and doing some more songwriting for myself as well. As far as The Bangles go, this has been a quiet year as we've been working on other projects. We may do another end of the year show but we haven’t solidified anything yet. We also have a few other ideas we're playing around with right now so stay tuned.
AXS: Are there any highlights of your career with The Bangles that stand out to you as memorable?
VP: The early tours are sometimes the most memorable because they were such a departure from playing the L.A. clubs. I have a lot of fond memories of touring with The English Beat. It was our first real tour and a time when I actually got to say the words, “I'm quitting my day job to go on the road.” It was a tough tour in a lot of ways. We jumped on at the last minute and played a lot of dates where they didn't even know we were coming. We weren’t on the bill or marquee or any of the advertisements. So, we had a lot of pissed off punk rockers who had to sit through an all-girl band before they got to see The Beat. But that experience taught us a lot about how to deal with the crowd—especially an unhappy one [laughs]! It may be a weird thing to pick as a highlight but I have a lot of fondness when I look back at that. The band and crew were so nice and so sweet to us. It was a really nice way to get your feet wet into the touring world.