Features
08.07.2009, Words by Charlie Jones

The Horrors: “We never compromised. Then again, we never had to.”

Since they came out, it’s become really standard to slag off THE HORRORS. I mean, I’ve heard people who like Fan Death come down on them for being style-over-substance, for fuck’s sake. Anyway, it wasn’t until the release of Sea Within A Sea , the motorik-referencing, cinematic lead single from their second album, ‘Primary Colours’, that a lot of people started to get what THE HORRORS are all about. Suddenly, the band were more than tight black waistcoats and the vaguely moody garage of ‘Strange House’ – they were about something more.

I’m still not totally sure what that something more is, but there is something so ruthlessly ambitious about the sounds on ‘Primary Colours’, and something so shamelessly Rockstar! about their live show that they’re – well – irresistible. When I saw them last, at the Electric Ballroom, I saw five men fueled by a deep, deep love of the game, the thrill of the chase and sheer, mindbending possibilities of sound. If anything, it was weird how Faris “Rotter” Badwan (the very tall singer who looks great in photos) wandered the stage, lost in the sound, as if the headlining-grabbing glamour of ‘Strange House’ had become subsumed by the waves of noise and the effort of the sonics.

I totally think that they’re actually one of the most interesting bands around, so, a few days ago, I chatted to the guitarist Rhys “Spider” Webb over the phone. Turns out he’s bright, forthright, surprising humble and really pretty nice. It’s pretty standard for any band that happen to be really handsome and well-dressed to come out swinging at “pretty-boy” accusations, but talking with him, there was something affecting about the way that he talked about his love of sound, and his confusion at the fact that his band were sometimes seen as posers. When he says “we loose ourselves in sound” and “nothing else matters” I really think he means it.

Very good music journalist Kev Kharas once wrote that THE HORRORS were a threat to hipster complacency , and that’s totally what they are. This band are a kick in the balls to effete standoffishness, smarmy disingenuous and churlish, po-faced mediocrity. I mean, Jesus – there are some songs on ‘Primary Colours’ that are just so… extraordinary. They are true thugs, born and bred. Give up, give in, and don’t ever turn your backs on THE HORRORS.

Hey Rhys!

Hey.

So, are we good to talk for a bit?

Sure, I’m just in London Fields, just finished doing a radio show, so yeah.

Cool. So, first off, how bored do you feel when people ask you about the change in sound on the new album?

Yeah, really bored in fact! It seems to be the main point that people bring up. The interviewer just now kept on hammering on about How has the music changed? Why? as if it’s the most confusing thing in the world. To us, it’s pretty obvious – the first album was made a few years ago. There’s no long-winded explanation, and I don’t understand the confusion. Over two years, our sound developed.

I suppose it might seem – on the surface – that you’re taking an entirely new palate of influences, from 60s garage to 70s kraut. But I suppose that underlying both is a focus on the actual sound. I mean, they’re both very studio-lead albums.

Yeah, I suppose. We are hung up on just creating the most dynamic sounds in studio. And seeing how we can communicate different ideas. It’s as simple as seeing how we can loose ourselves, and loose ourselves in the electronics, and this different world of sound. You know, we’re in there for six months…

What changed in your personal lives during the recording of the album? Did it affect the music?

So much happened! It made recording the album a really exciting prospect. There was a real element of pushing forward. When we were writing we were trying to explore what was possible as musicians, pushing and limits and interested in exploring sound sonically. It’s not as straightforward as playing – it’s more melting, disintegrating.

Are you quite into the isolation of the studio?

Basically, we just worked nonstop in this studio, staying up all day and all night. Time didn’t matter – it didn’t even exist in that space. Sound exists, but time didn’t.

Do you think you’re quite an insular band?

Well, y’know, we know what we like, and we know what we don’t, and I don’t see any reason to cross that line. We’re not a product of what’s happening around us, if that’s what you mean. There’s no history to us, no bloodline, and there’s definitely a world out there that we have nothing to do with. It’s not that we’re insular, just that there’s stuff that doesn’t really enter our world.

The lyrics are a lot more personal this time round. Do you think the music is, too?

Definitely. I can’t really speak about Faris’ lyrics, but definitely, the music is a lot more personal for all of us. We’re definitely playing emotionally now. When we started, it was just about playing a fast, loud din. What it communicated was ferocity and intensity – we were just a punk band really, losing ourselves in our instruments. But now we’re exploring a personal, interior world. I mean, loads changed during the recording of the album. When we started, we were just punks playing as loud and as fast as we could, not really thinking about what we wanted. As we’ve grown up, a few more years older and wiser, we want to explore stuff, which is just a natural part of existence, I think. It’s just the way things are. I mean, I don’t know… there’s so much to communicate and so many ways into the music, it’s sometimes difficult to explain why you do what you do.

Yeah, I imagine. Do you like playing live?

Yeah, we love it. We love playing live, and we love the experience of taking the music out onto the road – you know, it’s that communication thing again. It’s amazing to be one person playing music to another. Nothing beats it. It’s hypnotic, and it should give you an idea of how powerful the sounds can be. Nothing else matters when you’re up there.

What about life on the road – is that a pain?

I mean, yeah, travelling is exhausting, there’s no denying it. And not to go on, but our schedule can be so, so full that you never really stop. But once you get out on stage, it really… vanishes. All the shit is just forgotten. Yeah, it’s gruelling, day in day out. But it’s just incredible, totally. I think there’s a power in the music, which we’re passionate about listening to and exploring and communicating. It’s interesting to make the listener feel a certain way.

You know, a lot of the criticism levelled at you in the early days seemed to centre on the way you looked and stuff. That must have surprised you, given how much of a fuck you give about the music.

Yeah… I suppose we do have something special as a band, we’re not like every other band, we don’t look like every other band. The thing that bothered me more – ‘bothered’ is the wrong word, ‘surprised’ is closer – was the way that people would imply that we did things disingenuously. I never think that someone doesn’t mean what they say, but there was a real suspicion that we didn’t believe what we were saying – which is simply something I never thought of. You know, you go into it thinking If I do this, people will like it or they won’t…. It’s another thing entirely to think that you’re doing what you’re doing for the wrong reasons. That’s not something you expect.

Were you naïve when you started out?

Yeah, maybe. When we started, we weren’t thinking about the music, we never had any training or “This Is How You Write A Song” stuff. We were thinking about just getting out and playing the music. And I do think we had something that other bands didn’t have. And there’s so much about the clothes, but it’s just what we wore walking down the street … But yeah, there are those shoots… I can understand how it might seem – from the outside – a little over the top! But the important thing is that it didn’t feeling strange or forced. It was just – we’re five guys who dress and think in a certain way, we’d grown up playing weird records to each other and set up the Junk Club, and now we’re doing music, and making something that wasn’t there before. Luckily, Universal looked beyond all the cosmetic shit and saw that, and trusted us. We never compromised, which I’m proud to say. Then again, we never had to.

How do you respond to the criticism that you’re just a pastiche band? Is there any band that isn’t?

Yeah, Jesus, I hate that. I think that throughout the history of music, the biggest myth is that of the original artist. I mean, right from the earliest blues musicians, people were learning and understanding music from different sources. Take Joy Division – who we’re sometimes compared to – and listen to Neu! and see where they got a lot of their ideas. It’s all there – and it doesn’t make Joy Division any less of an amazing band. Same with fucking My Bloody Valentine. I mean, the music is amazing, but it’s so naive to think that it’s original. Or, equally, to think that we’re copying them. Yeah, I love My Bloody Valentine, ‘Loveless’, it’s amazing, but it’s ridiculous to think that we’re doing anything like that – such a thing is impossible.

Yeah, I mean, we’re so fixated by this idea of the “lone artist” and we take music out of the scenes from whence it came. It’s quite a “rock” idea, isn’t it?

Yeah, like the whole idea of Detroit techno. You know I’m listening to a lot of Carl Craig’s stuff at the moment, and yeah, it’s amazing, but that’s the product of a scene, a product of people’s combined ideas and influences.

You’ve mentioned a couple of times that the Horrors have “something special.” Might sound like a weird question, but what do you think that is?

I genuinely don’t think that there’s any band like us out there. We have great music, and most bands out there have fucking nothing to say. There’s a lot more to say. I mean, 99 per cent of bands out there are fucking boring. I find it so disillusioning to be grouped in with bland shit. Like, why are we swamped by so much shit? I’m not being offensive, but most guitar music is abysmal. What makes the Horrors special is that… I really do think there’s a spark – it’s in the heads of the five people in the band. It’s the same thing that makes anything great – it’s not something that is easy to sum up. But there is something there. I mean, I don’t want to be all like My band is soooo good… and be arrogant… But, yeah, my band is really good.

The Horrors’ myspace

The Horrors are playing Field Day on the 1st August. An edited version of this article will appear in the programme.

For more on indie elder statesmen coping with 2nd LP syndrome, read this Bloc Party interview from the archive.

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