Until this week, hardly anyone knew Action Skulls existed. But what began at a Christmas party in 2013 has finally blossomed into a debut full-length album from an all-star group of L.A. musicians: The Bangles' Vicki Peterson (whom we recently declared one of L.A.'s all-time greatest guitarists), Cowsills/Beach Boys drummer (and Peterson's husband) John Cowsill, multi-instrumentalist Bill Mumy of America and legendary comedy-rock duo Barnes & Barnes, and in-demand touring/session bassist Rick Rosas (Neil Young, Joe Walsh, Buffalo Springfield).
At that party, hosted by Mumy's Lost in Space castmate Angela Cartwright, Mumy, Cowsill and Peterson found themselves gathered around a piano singing old Beatles and Beach Boys tunes, and realized by the end of the night that they had discovered something special. "We had an interesting blend of three very different-sounding voices," Peterson remembers.
Mumy, whom you might remember from such offbeat Barnes & Barnes classics as "Fish Heads," was so inspired that he began cranking out songs for the fledgling project. “They must’ve thought I was insane,” he says of the number of unfinished tunes he sent to Cowsill and Peterson.
With Rosas on board, they recorded eight songs in early 2014, then went back to their other projects — Cowsill touring with The Beach Boys, Peterson with The Bangles, Mumy producing other projects and working on a film, Rosas touring with Neil Young and Crazy Horse and playing Meryl Streep's bassist in Ricki and the Flash. They were set to resume work on Action Skulls at the end of the year — but then Rosas died suddenly in November.
“It stunned us into being frozen for a while,” says Mumy. “It took quite a while to get back on the horse.” Even though he was the last member to join, and the only non-singing Action Skull, Rosas’ impact on the project was immediate, according his bandmates. "He’d play the unexpected, and it sounded as if that part was meant to be there and the song was now complete," Peterson says.
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Finally, Peterson, Mumy and Cowsill were able to reconvene and record three more tracks, enough for an album. With a cover fittingly designed by Cartwright, their host at that fateful Christmas party, Angels Hear will be independently released on Sept. 29.
L.A. Weekly is happy to premiere the album's lead track, "Mainstream," below. As you'll hear, though traces of each members' other projects are clearly present, as Action Skulls they have forged something new, a sound Peterson calls "canyon rock" after its echoes of classic Laurel Canyon folk-rock (and the fact that all three members live in the canyons of Los Angeles).
Says Mumy of the track, "‘Mainstream' is a rock song with a contagious riff that addresses the state of the music business, the fact that there's little room for talent of a certain vintage to succeed and the attitude of art for art's sake. ... It was written by all three Action Skulls and has a rough jangle."