Action Skull’s principals – John Cowsill, Bill Mumy, Vicki Peterson, and Rick Rosas – each have extensive show business resumes. Cowsill began his music career in his family’s eponymous band, played with Dwight Twilley and Tommy Tutone, and plays drums as part of the Beach Boys touring band. Mumy started out in television and film before breaking into the music industry with Barnes & Barnes, worked with America and Rick Springfield, and records solo albums. Peterson rose to fame with the Bangles, and subsequently played with the Continental Drifters and Psycho Sisters alongside her sister-in-law Susan Cowsill. Rosas, who passed away in 2014, was a sought-after Los Angeles studio musician who played with Neil Young (including reunions of Crazy Horse, CSN&Y, and Buffalo Springfield), Joe Walsh, Johnny Rivers, and others.
The band’s genesis dates to 2013, when Cowsill, Peterson, and Mumy met and sang together at a party. Mumy introduced Rosas into the mix a few days later, and quickly began writing new material for the quartet. Collaboration and demos were soon followed by live sessions at ReadyMix Music, a studio that has hosted Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, and other L.A. luminaries. The group describes their music as “canyon rock,” and that '70s vibe rings through the psych-tinged guitars and three-part harmonies, but their sound isn’t nostalgic. Rosas' death in November 2014 put the eight finished tracks on the back burner as the three remaining Skulls returned to their individual careers. But they knew they had something, and they knew that Rosas' performances should be heard. So they recorded three more tracks with Mumy and John Cowsill’s son Will on bass.
The finished collection includes both solo and group vocals, often swapping within a song, and songwriting collaborations that give the album variety, but with a real group sound. The album opens with the Revolver-ish “Mainstream,” with each vocalist taking a turn up front and banding together on harmonies. Several of the songs wander into imagined worlds. “In the Future” wonders what our bad habits will look like in hindsight, and “If I See You in Another World” ponders the strength of a relationship freed of its current context. Relationships figure into many songs, as the album considers physical and hypothetical separation with warm looks homeward and lonely gazes outward. Whether this is a one-off or turns into an on-going project, it’s a terrific artifact of four accomplished artists coming together to make music.