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Witchcraft and Whiskey Prayers: The Horseskull Interview




The Horseskull Interview

by Juleigh Howard-Hobson


Horseskull comes out of North Carolina packing some heavy murky outlaw arcane doom. Anthony Staton (vocals and guitar), Michael Avery (guitar and effects), Robb Hewlett (bass and effects), and Steve Smith (drums) put out gut-felt music with a no-holds-barred quality and the attitude to match. Occult, dark, intelligent, and swampy: There’s nothing else quite like the way they rock and roll.

I tracked them down after listening to their first album on repeat for a week straight:


Heathen Harvest: Horseskull has been around now for about five years. How did you come together? Some members were together in the bands Soulpreacher and Orobourus, right?

Anthony Staton: Jesus. Five years, huh? Robb Hewlett (bass), Mike Avery (guitar), and myself were all in Soulpreacher. After Mike came back from school, he had the rock ‘n’ roll bug and formed Orobourus. In the time that Orobourus was going on, Mike, Joe Pautz, Eric Billig, and myself were doing Friday Night Doom Jams. Horseskull evolved from those holy doom rituals. The doom was leading us. [laughs]

Michael Avery: Orobourus was my attempt at “radio friendly” rock which also featured former Horseskull drummer Eric Billig.  I’m proud of what we created in that band, but when the opportunity to “turn up, tune down, and DOOM OUT” came along, I was more than ready to resume the kind of music I had left in Soulpreacher.  Jamming with Anthony and Robb was a return to something natural.  I consider Anthony, Robb, and Steve Smith to be my brothers.

HH: It’s been said that the name, Horseskull, just came to Anthony one day. It’s a pretty heavy name, with its Heathen Nidstang connotations, not to mention the whole death and outlaw / apocalypse thing. How does a name like this just come to someone? And why did it instantly stick?

AS: It’s really just one of those really good names that stuck; there were no other name choices thrown in the hat. Death rides a pale horse, and in the end, we all ride with Death.  The whole outlaw thing just comes from bein’ on this ride for many years and not bowing down to anyone or any trends. Witchcraft and whiskey prayers.

MA: The Friday Night Doom Jams were originally just supposed to be a gathering of friends making heavy noise in Orobourus’s practice space.  We kept saying, “It’s not a band until it has a name.”  One night, Anthony came in and said, “I’ve got the name: Horseskull.”  From that moment on, we were a band.



HH: Geographically, you’ve got some deep historic/artistic Southern shadows laying down all around you. Lyrics such as “everybody knows I’m the devil’s friend” (from the track “The Devil”) and images like the inverted pentagram on the cover of your self-titled premier album seemingly point to even deeper arcane shades of Southern Gothic sentiment. Is that is an influence on your music? Does being a band out of Raleigh, North Carolina have a direct influence on what Horseskull is or on its outlook? Or, would you say that environment isn’t as important to Horseskull as other things are?

AS: We all love the South and are big fans of seventies southern rock. Southern music to me has more blues and feeling to it; we are not afraid to slow it down a little bit.  Some of my favorite doom/sludge bands are from the South: Eyehategod, Beaten Pack to Pure, Down, etc.  As far as the Raleigh scene goes, we are loved/hated by many, but we kick ass every time.

MA: Raleigh is like an island of new surrounded by an ocean of old.  Living in the South definitely has an effect on its musicians, including Horseskull.  I believe you can hear and feel a common thread within true southern music, regardless of genre.

HH: Horseskull has earned a “fuck the world” reputation. Any comments on how that’s come about? Does it matter? Have you changed fundamentally over time since that reputation started?

AS: Absolutely. Fuck the world—I want no part of it. You should build the world you want, not lament about how awful things are. Fuck their world. Fuck the pigs. Fuck the system.  I wake up every day with hate in my heart that I use to create a positive change within myself and those that I care about. Music, art, witchcraft and brotherhood keep me going.

MA: Soulpreacher had its roots in not giving a shit.  If you liked us, great—if you didn’t, fuck off, we didn’t want or need you.  We’ve all grown since those days, but it’s undeniable that feeling transcends into Horseskull.

HH: You’ve got a distinct sound—the distorted bass, heavy down-tuned guitars with psychedelics, grunge, fuzz, blues, and doom… Who writes Horseskull’s material? Do the songs evolve within the band?  Does the band evolve as more work is produced?

AS: The songs usually evolve from a jam, then we hack it up and reform it. Lyrics usually come last. Our latest material is doom and rock ‘n’ roll at its finest. Yeah, our songs have grown more complex. We now have a nineteen-minute song called “Lost all I had then lost again” that really pushed our evolution as a band. I also have to mention that when we got Steve “The Hammer” Smith on drums, we really started to crush souls and break hearts! What a fuckin’ powerhouse!

MA: Robb and I are both gear whores, always on the lookout for the next piece of noise-making magic.  Inevitably, those new sounds make it into our music.  I’ve begun incorporating theremin into our sound, both live and on the new recordings.



HH: There’s a dreamlike euphoric quality to your song “:AR:A:HARI:.” What inspired this particular track?

AS: “Gibur (X rune-gebo) is the eternal in human hearts. Gibur Arahari! = Man, be one with God!—or—Give us primal power, Soul of the Sun, Arahari!” That’s taken from S. A. Kummer’s book Rune Magic, from 1932. I’m very much into solar magic and solar occult wisdom, and this passage resonated heavily for me. But to answer your question, the song was born out of our love for spacey jams and spacey plants, dig?

MA: Drugs.  We wanted to have a closer for the shows—something that took the listener to different places, unsure of when the ride was going to end. But really: drugs.

HH: The recording label, Headspin, ends its description of you with the words: “Turn up, tune down, and DOOM OUT.”  Who came up with that?

AS: Mike came up with that, I think. And it’s true:  loud, riff-driven doom is total therapy.

MA: It’s been in use for so long, I can’t recall where it came from, or if it was me; again, drugs.

HH: Even before any of you were in any bands, what was it about music that inspired each of you to get into this scene?

AS: I was always moved by the raw emotion that good music conveys, whether it’s Joy Division, Johnny Winter, Danzig, Black Sabbath, Townes Van Zandt, or Portishead. Real emotion and fire can’t be faked or brushed aside. That’s why I hold the doom label so close to my heart; it’s important that your music not be fake or weak. Any jackass can get a wall of amplifiers, play slow, and be called “heavy” by the mainstream. Doom is emotion.

MA: Hearing Eyehategod for the first time was life-changing for me.  It opened me up to a whole world of new ideas.  I was a kid of the eighties—hair bands, shredding guitars, (mostly) meaningless lyrics—and I thought being a guitarist meant being like Satriani and the like.  Doom and sludge made me realize there was a place in music for me too.

HH: You’ve just finished recording a new album—would you tell us a little about what to expect from it?

AS: It’s the best shit we’ve ever done! The sound is huge, and I can’t wait for the final mix and mastering. Psychedelic and heavy as Hel. We are working with Greg Elkins at Pershing Sound, and it’s been a great experience. My vocals are on fire and all the instruments sound top-notch.



HH: Horseskull has played at Ulfheim in Lynchburg, Virginia, and there are YouTube videos of the set. Are you members of Wolves of Vinland, collectively or individually?

AS: I am a brother in the Wolves of Vinland. It’s an honor and a privilege to stand in strength among their numbers. HTW/FTW  :13:  :92:

MA: I’m not a member of the Wolves of Vinland; however, I can say that they have been nothing but welcoming and hospitable whenever Horseskull has come to play a show.  Respect.

HH: Are there any tours on the books? What would the ideal Horseskull tour be (touring with, and where)?

AS: We will tour with anybody who ain’t square, and we are down to rock ‘n’ roll wherever!

HH: What are you working on right now? Any side projects, individually?

AS: When I was set up for it, I was involved in various dark ambient projects in the style of Cold Meat Industry, but lately I’m concentrating on acoustic country/blues.

MA: Steve is also in Slow End, featuring former members of the mighty Confessor.  Robb has an alt indie electro pseudo hip-hop project called Crackers wit Cheeze.  I’m down with the CWC, but I’m not sure if I’m either cracker or cheezy enough for Robb.

HH: Lucky 13: Where do you think Horseskull will be—artistically, geographically, economically, whatever—thirteen years from now?

AS: I’ll still be playin’ the blues…

May the music of Cladonia Rangiferina and Nate NJAL Dickinson live forever.

MA: Anthony, Robb, and I have known each other for more than half our lives.  I suspect we’ll all be playing music in some shape or form until our last breaths.

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