Ska Twigs are an English alternative rock band from London, formed in 2003. The band currently consists of lead vocalist and pianist Ben Bruce, guitarist David Steele, bassist Matt Johnson and drummer Alex Pattinson. They have released five studio albums and two extended plays, and have opened for bands such as The Fratellis, Foals and The Vaccines.
While we await the band’s forthcoming seventh album, they are currently serving their sixth straight week on the UK Albums Chart, with their latest EP, Life in the Bubble, debuting at No. 19. After initially being rejected by numerous record labels, the band found success with young Londoners, leading to the creation of a special edition of their sixth album, Love+Damage, released only in the UK.
Ska Twigs are one of a kind. While other bands might write a verse for a song and leave it at that, Ska Twigs go wholeheartedly into their art, using their music to explore the human condition in all its glorious messiness. The contrast between their upbeat nature and often satirical lyrics is immediately apparent. This is most notably seen in songs like ‘The Dark Times’, where they address the mental health problems that often afflict musicians: “I can’t help wishing that someone would listen/ And tell me there’s something wrong with how I feel”. In the same song, they comment on society’s general apathy toward the mentally ill: “Paralysed by fear, we watch as our leaders make fools of themselves.”
The Making Of The EP
The band started out as a quartet; in 2007, they released their debut EP, Young For Choice, which had gone platinum two years earlier in Australia with its lead single ‘Bold As Love’. The band has cited the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blondie and The Breeders as influencing their music.
The five-song EP explores various themes such as heartache, as in the sombre piano-led ‘Black And Blue’ or the title track, ‘Young For Choice’, which evokes a sense of desperation with its lyrics: “I’m young and I’m in love – / What am I supposed to do?” The question is posed in such a way that it could be applied to almost any situation, not just the dilemma of being a young, in-love person.
The following year, they released their second EP, Summer Days; the title track was inspired by a photo taken of the band’s drummer, Ben, at a gig in Belgium. The album was preceded by the release of a single, ‘We Met At A Music Festival’, and this song specifically references the photograph that inspired it, showing the band’s drummer, Pattinson, sitting with his legs sprawled out in front of him, his arms around his knees, gazing upward with a blissful expression. The song is a celebration of people watching and being in a band, a sentiment that could be applied to any situation that provides an opportunity for creative expression.
Life In The Bubble
Ska Twigs’ sixth album, Love+Damage, was recorded in a week at London’s iconic Rakel Studios and was produced by the band themselves. The album title is taken from a real-life incident where a fan threw a coconut at singer Ben Bruce while he was performing with the band in Brazil. The coconut missed its mark and smashed into another fan’s face. The album was released in November 2019 to coincide with the band’s UK tour, which saw them play some of the tracks from the record. The album’s lead single, ‘Rough Justice’, was released in October and made the Top 40 of the UK Singles Chart.
“We wanted to make an album that was a love letter to music, the place where we find our passion and our inspiration,” the band said in a statement. “We’re incredibly proud of this album and its message – that music can be both beautiful and dark, and that we should be grateful for the things it gives us, even when they’re painful.”
Life In The Bubble (2019)
Released in 2019, Ska Twigs’ sixth album, Love+Damage, explores the themes of love and revenge, the latter of which is a recurring theme in the band’s work. Song titles such as ‘The Only Way I Know’ and ‘Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold’ indicate that they aren’t afraid to tackle heavy subjects matter-of-factly.
“There’s a difference between love and lust, and it’s important to be able to identify that, especially when you’re in the middle of a storm,” the band’s Ben explains. “I think that love can make you do irrational things, whereas lust just makes you do irrational things. So it’s important to be able to tell the difference.”
This is a sentiment echoed by guitarist David Steele, who feels that bands like Metallica and Alice in Chains have helped to shape the band’s sound: “The thing that’s most influential to us is melody and the heaviness of our guitars. We’ve always tried to write songs that everyone can sing along to. At the same time, we’ve also tried to write songs that have an impact and speak to people.”
The Dark Times
“I can’t help wishing that someone would listen/ And tell me there’s something wrong with how I feel”, says Ska Twigs on their 2008 song ‘The Dark Times’, one of the highlights from their debut album, Young For Choice. It’s an ode to the depressive episode that many a musician, writer and artist have succumbed to. The line between genius and madness is a very thin one; in a 2009 interview, guitarist David Steele cited the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever as an important song in helping him to understand his own experience of depression. “I think that ‘The Dark Times’ is one of the greatest songs ever written about depression,” he said. “It’s one of those songs that you just know – as soon as you hear it, you know exactly what it’s about. You can’t not feel that connection to the song when you hear it.”
The Fratellis, Foals and The Vaccines are among the bands that Ska Twigs have opened for, with The Vaccines’ Russell taking note of their work, saying: “Ska Twigs are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. They bring the magic every time. I saw them a few months back and they blew me away. I can’t even begin to describe how incredible they are – such energy!” Guitarist David Steele had this to say about the appeal of the band’s live shows: “I think that being in a band that is still discovering its identity is what makes us so exciting as a live band. We have such a variety of music that nobody who sees us live has seen before. Even when we play old songs, they’re always different from what people are used to, which is pretty neat.”
One of Ska Twigs’ most famous songs is ‘Fame’, which they released in 2013. The song is about the perils of stardom and the way that fame can consume you. It was co-written after drummer Ben Pattinson was spotted by a member of the public outside of London’s famous Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. After taking a photo with the fan, Pattinson went inside and played him a few of the band’s songs. When the fan expressed an interest in seeing the band play live, Pattinson knew that this was going to put a serious dent in his day-to-day life. “I didn’t want to say no, but I knew that it was going to be difficult to find the time to fit everything in,” he said.
“I’d like to say that we wrote ‘Fame’ while on tour,” Ska Twigs frontman Ben Bruce said in a statement. “We were in Germany when we heard that Richard, one of our fans, had been spotted by a member of the public. We were very happy to help out and wrote the song the next day. Fame can be a very isolating experience, especially when you start to notice that everyone around you is wanting something from you.”
The song’s video, which was directed by Luke Turner, centres around a dystopian vision of London, featuring scenes of the band performing and in-your-face advertising. The video won the Best Alternative Video award at the UK Music Video Awards in 2014.