New York, NY (Top40 Charts)
Angels Hear is the long-in-the-works CD that you didn't know you were waiting for from a band you probably weren't aware of. This album is the debut offering from the group Action Skulls. The band name may not be familiar but the members' names are â€” Vicki Peterson of the Bangles, her husband John Cowsill from the beloved family band the Cowsills and currently part of the Beach Boys
touring band, and Bill Mumy, the musician/actor/producer who co-founded the cult duo Barnes & Barnes, is a veteran of the band America
and is an Emmy-nominated composer.
You may hear elements of their past work on Angels Hear, but what the three have conjured up as Action Skulls is a slightly darker version of the sunny Southern California sound. It is music that Vicki describes as "Canyon Rock" â€” partially because they all live in the canyons of Los Angeles but also because the songs reflect influences of the classic '70s Laurel Canyon scene.
Angels Hear also holds a swirl of styles and moods that suggests music echoing through the canyons with the sun peeking through storm clouds. Driving rockers like "The Luckiest Man Alive," "The Beast and the Best" and "Mainstream" intermingle with the more melancholic "If I See You in Another World" and the haunting, acoustic-based "Map of the World." The noirish "Standing on the Mountain" fits in effortlessly with bluesy ramble "Feed My Hungry Heart" and the modified Bo Diddley-beat stomper "In the Future," and everything gets tied together with the trio's gorgeous vocal arrangements.
It was a bit of serendipitous singing that brought Action Skulls together. The three found themselves at a Christmas party in 2013 hosted by Bill's Lost in Space "sister," Angela Cartwright. They wound up around a piano having a wonderful time singing Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys
and other classics into the early morning â€” and a spark was lit. "It was clear to me from the first night," Vicki recalls, "that we had an interesting blend of three very different-sounding voices." They quickly agreed to see what would happen if they worked together with original material.
A few days later, Bill happened to have a gig with Rick Rosas. Affectionately known as "Rick the Bass Player," the in-demand sideman had worked with Neil Young, Joe Walsh, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ron Wood, and the latter-day incarnations of Buffalo Springfield and CSN&Y. Rick, who'd also played with John before, got excited hearing about this new project and wanted in.
So, their rather unique collaboration started. Bill, instantly inspired by this band idea, started writing songs like a fiend. He would send his semi-finished tunes â€” and there were a lot of them â€” to Vicki and John. "They must've thought I was insane," he admits about how many song ideas he sent to the couple. After fleshing out, or finishing, the songs, Vicki and John would rendezvous at Bill's house where the trio would work on the songs and then send the demos to Rick. Creating these rough demos was so much fun, Vicki reveals, "that it was obvious the music-making part of the enterprise was gonna be a blast."
In January 2014, they booked time at ReadyMix Music, the fabled Southern California studio where Jackson Browne
Feat had worked. The vintage '70s vibe there appealed to them. They recorded old-school â€” no vocals at first, just the four playing together live in the same room. This session quickly yielded three tracks: "Standing on a Mountain," "The Beast and the Best" and "Feed My Hungry Heart." Vicki says that "Hungry Heart" still reminds her of the fresh surprise she felt over how great they sounded together.
The vocals, along with some additional instrumental tracks, were added later at Bill's home studio, Lumania. Considering it was a night of singing together that brought them together, it's not surprising that their vocals stand out as a core quality of their music. Inspired by groups like the Band, the Traveling Wilburys, and the Kingston Trio (a personal fave of Bill's) that often divvied up lead vocals on a song, the three frequently shared lead vocals on the verses and sang three-part harmonies on the chorus. The arrangements, Vicki observes, "seemed to just fall into place, once we decided if there was going to be a single â€” or group â€” lead vocal."
2014 proved to be a busy year for all four Skullers. John was on the road with the Beach Boys. Bill worked on producing projects and making a film. Vicki had a Bangles
tour, while Rick went to Europe
with Neil Young
and Crazy Horse as well as acting in the Meryl Streep
film Ricki and the Flash (he played the bassist in her band). Still, the four remained committed to Action Skulls. They carved out the time to do three more sessions that year. Bill notes that even when they weren't in the same city, or state, or even country, they continued to work on the album via text and email conversations. They followed a mantra Rick had: "You can't erase it if you don't record it!"
changed, however, when Rick passed away suddenly on November 6, 2014. The death understandably hit the rest of the band hard. "It stunned us into being frozen for a while," Bill admits. "It took quite a while to get back on the horse." Although Rick was the last to join Action Skulls, he had immediately locked in playing with the other three. Vicki marvels over how "he'd play the unexpected and it sounded as if that part was meant to be there and the song was now complete."
Even as John, Vicki, and Bill moved on to their individual commitments, the eight Action Skulls songs haunted them. Creating that music had been such a great time that they wanted to share the songs with the world, and honor Rick's work on them too. The trio got together and recorded three more songs â€” "Faith Waltz," "Belle of the Ball," and Vicki's "Map of the World" John's son Will Cowsill and Bill filled in on bass duties. With 11 tracks finished and their album finally done, they added one more fitting touch â€” having Angela Cartwright design the cover art.
Much like the happenstance of their formation, where Action Skulls goes from here remains uncharted. Although they would love to perform their songs live, all three members have their own busy careers. Whatever
the future brings, however, they still have delivered the exquisite music of Angels Hear for the world to hear â€” as well as a line from "Belle of the Ball" for all to keep in mind: "Let's not fuck around. Let's have some fun!"