The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world






HEATHEN SKULLS is committed to bringing out music to Australia that otherwise you might not get to hear. Part boutique record label, part touring agency, and now Backline Hire business it's overseen by Robert MacManus from Melbourne, Australia.

If you want to open your mind to some of the great music out there and aren't afriad to step out of your 'genre specific' comfort zone we suggest you check out their webpage and get that hand in the pocket to support a business that isn't afraid to do things differently.


With the committed vision of releasing records for, and touring, new and interesting artists that mainly lean towards the experimental, outsider, noisier, darker, heavier, and stoner rock and psychic sound of the underground it will be an experience to remember.


We spoke to Robert about his vision and what he has in store for us over the next twelve months...




You’re best known for HEATHEN SKULLS but let’s start off with your band GREY DATURAS who played their last show in 2010 – you played both drums and guitar, when did you take up the drums and how would you summarise those years?


I was one of three founding members of Grey Daturas, the other two being Bonnie Mercer and Robert Mayson; we were a band 9 years (2001 – 2010). As far as summarising those years in a few words go, all that I can say are those were some of the greatest years of my life, I got to travel the World many times over playing guitar and drums with two of my oldest friends. I’ve been playing drums since I was 13, and guitar since I was 19.


Where’s the best place to start if we wanted to check out the GREY DATURAS back catalogue?


The crowning achievement in our back catalogue for me is our 2nd album Dead In The Woods (2004), I’m incredible proud of that album. I also like out 3rd album, which was out last, Return to Disruption. In between those albums we also release a string of great EP’s and Split releases, which I love also.


You also play solo as BLACK WIDOW what’s it like being up there on your own – just you and the audience as opposed to the dynamic of a band?


There was a time when I went under that name, now I just go under my own name, when I play live that is, which is something I very rarely do these days. Playing solo is a lot of fun, it really makes you focus sonically, suddenly you have no one else rely on, it’s all about you, so when you mess up, you have no one else to blame but yourself.


You’re still active as an artist playing with bands like Sludge/Doomsters Monarch!, and we’ve seen you on the drum stool at some of the Heathen Skulls shows, do you still get a lot out of performing?


I haven’t played in Monarch in nearly three years, I’ve dabbled with various jam bands over the years since then, played with a bunch of other people in different groups, but nothing has felt right, that and I’m so busy with Heathen Skulls these days that I rarely find the time to even practice at home anymore.




Are you looking to release any projects you’re playing with in the near future? 


I’d love to start a new band, record, tour as a musician, do all of that again, but as mentioned, I guess I just haven’t found the right musicians, or more importantly, the time to make it happen.  I’m trying to be a lot more proactive about that these days, find the time to practice more and jam with different people, but it’s still a slow process.


Your business Heathen Skulls grew out of the Black Mountain Label /Agency and operates as a Label, Touring Agency and now also offers backline hire. Tell us a little about how it involved and where it is today?


Yea Heathen Skulls used to be called Black Mountain, which I named after the experimental University in the US from the 50’s, I later found out there was a popular Canadian band of the same name. Heathen Skulls started as a necessity, to facilitate Grey Daturas, an avenue to book shows, tours, and in the end to release our recordings. From there it naturally progressed, things got busier, once Grey Daturas ended in 2010, that’s when I decided to make it my full time job.


Tell us about the future vision for the company and where it’s headed?


Heathen Skulls started out as a booking agency, then became a record label, from there it became a touring agency, now after years of touring International bands, it’s now branched out into a backline rental company, which I’m incredible excited about.


From here, all that I can say is who’s knows when, how, or why? I’d love to own a second hand musical instrument store and start a music venue that has a rehearsal studios / rooms in it, that would be a lot of fun. But yea, those are long-term plans that require a lot of money, let’s just say.





Over the years you’ve brought over some great bands particularly from the US and proved that there’s an audience out there for music that no one was really bringing out to us previously  – is that a fundamental part of the Heathen Skulls mission?


My reasoning for touring bands is purely self-motivated; the driving force is that of a music fan, me being that music fan. These are the kinds of bands I want to see and work with, so the way I see it, if no one else is going to tour them, then I will. These are the kinds of shows I want to attend. In the process I’m trying to make a living out of it so that I don’t have to get a real job.


Unlike some promoters out there you always make an effort to bring bands out to South and Western Australia, are you ever tempted to take the easy option and just hit the East Coast?


The easy option always looks lucrative and easy, especially when you have large entourages and complex tours to present, or worse, tours that lose you a lot of money. Maybe this is being ignorant, but money isn’t my driving force behind why I tour bands, I tour bands because I want to see them as many times as possible, and I want to take them to as many different Cities / Towns, that’s the only way to build a bands profile and fan base from the ground up, plus it’s fun.


What would be your ultimate tour to bring over? Who would be on the line up?


The two bands I would love to tour most of all would be Neurosis and Electric Wizard, as for bands that no longer exist, Bon Scott era AC/DC, Syd Barret era Pink Floyd, late 60’s era Blue Cheer, 60’s era Frank Zappa’s & Mothers of Invention, early 60’s era John Coltrane Quartet, and um, maybe late 70’s era This Heat.


What’s your best advice to young bands out there wanting to get heard?


Tour, rehearse, and record as much as you can, refine your skills as a musician and build your own fan base, create your own scene, that’s what makes you attractive as a band. By keeping the quality control in check and working hard, even if you don’t make it, you’ll have something that’ll be proud of.


Technology has changed so much over the last decade especially from an artist’s perspective it’s easier to record and get music out there, but on the down side there is just so much music available it seems to also have contributed to diluting what we discover individually. What’s you take?


Downloading or streaming music is a great way to be heard, you can definitely use it to your advantage and build a quick fan base out of it, it allows people to hear your music almost immediately, they can instantly make a decision as to whether they like your band or not, whether or not they want to spend money seeing you live and buying your merchandise at your shows. Once you accept the fact that the recorded music industry is dead and there’s no money to be make out of record sale, you suddenly realise that technology has now allowed you the opportunity to have your music heard by the World, for FREE! If there’s enough people out there that like your band, maybe may be you can tour the World.





Your taste in music must be very broad, are you constantly discovering and listening out for new bands?  


Yea definitely, I’m always discovering new music. There’s so much good music out there, so many good bands, and so many incredible genres. I love everything from free jazz to exotica to the blues to grind core, death metal, avant-guard, you name it.


What was the first band you ever listened to that made a real lasting impact on you?


AC/DC, they were the first band that made me realise that music has the ability to change your life, and they’re still changing my life, I love that band more than any other. 2nd to them is Pink Floyd, they also changed my life, and continue to.


Are there any particular styles of music you can’t listen to or feel completely nonplussed by?


Modern R & B and super commercial pre-fabricated Pop Singers, that shit is the worst. I don’t care what style of music it is, just give me something that’s authentic sounding and played from the heart. Weather that be NWA or ZZ Top, they’re both incredible; I’ll take either or any day of the week.


What’s your take on the State of music locally at the minute?


Some of it’s great, some of it’s good, and of course, some of it’s just plain bad, in-between all of that you have stuff. The trick is to dig through all the shit and find the gold, the bands that matter.


What bands should we be trying to get out and see?


Any and every band that Heathen Skulls tours and endorses.


I think the first Heathen Skulls show I saw was Black Cobra back in 2009 and 2009 was also when you started putting on a lot more shows is that when you feel things shifted a gear?


Yea that was a great tour, I love that band. But yea, 2009 is when I realised that Grey Daturas was coming to an end, so I started gearing up Heathen Skulls, upping the ante for greater things.


One of my favourite shows you’ve put on was the Baizley/Kelly tour – as a fan of both of their bands it was a privilege to see those guys up there acoustically  - you must have had some favourites over the years too?


Yea that tour was a lot of fun, touring Earthless and Dead Meadow is always awesome, and Earth, Saint Vitus and Eyehategod were all amazing tours also.


One of the most eye-opening shows for me was Russian Circles and Eagle Twin – it’s music that has to be heard!  


Yea those two bands are fucking incredible, they’re both absolute masters of their crafts.





This year we’ve caught Unida, Isaiah Mitchell (of Earthless who you’ve also had over in the past) and Bardo Pond – all amazing shows and quite different experiences that we thoroughly recommend. You’ve certainly managed to broaden my horizons – do you find the public in general in Australia willing to get out there and try something new or can it be a hard sell? What’s holding us back from getting out and experiencing something a little different Downunder? 


I only tours bands and artists that I’m 100% into, that I want to see live, so if that means touring a black metal band one Month and a minimal instrumental band the next Month, then so be it. I’m trying not to pigeon hole myself as a metal promoter, hence why I try and keep things broad and varied, as that’s what my record collection looks like.


Who have you got coming up over the rest of the year? And what plans do you have for 2014?


I have a lot of great tours, like Enslaved, Kadavar, Blues Pills, Scott Kelly, Jarboe, Earthless, Kylesa. Next year I have a LOT of incredible tours, some of my biggest tours ever!


Who would you say is your most enduring influence – the one who really started you off and you’ve not grown apart from over the years?


That’s a really hard question, Pig Destroyer was one of the first bands that I toured, who I still really like, and plan to tour again.


If you could have been a fly on the wall to eavesdrop on the recording of any album or piece of music in the history of rock what would it be for you and why?


Pink Floyd’s first album Pipers at the Gates of Dawn, because I’m a huge Syd Barret fan.


What is the meaning of life?


To live free, happy, and on your own terms.




Robert spoke to Mark Diggins October 2013





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