By Inma Flor
Ever since they surprised us with their brutal “Sheena Is A Parasite” (remember the video by Chris Cunningham was banned by MTV? We can’t see why, really), The Horrors have not stopped growing, surprising us and living up to all the expectations. This time, they’ve broken the mould once again and managed to record a convincing album, with epic singles, as if “Skying” ( XL Recordings) were destined to become a classic and it were no longer necessary to create a scene to draw the people’s attention.
The Horrors are here with a new effort under their belt. After a garage episode with “Strange House” (2007) and a darker one on “Primary Colours” (2009), “Skying” takes it’s influences from eighties post-punk, electronica and dark-wave, where keyboards are, err, key. They produced it themselves in their recording studio in Dalston, London.
We meet Josh Hayward (guitars) and Rhys Webb (bass and keyboards) on another promo tour. We’re doing the interview in the middle of the street, with a couple of beers, sitting on some folding chairs. Zero glamour, all expectation: where will this lead? We’re surprised to find them without any make-up on, au naturel and relaxed, without losing any of their cool. We miss Faris Badwan, the charismatic band leader, now playing with Cat´s Eyes, his parallel project with Canadian multi-instrumentalist and soprano Rachel Zeffira (their performance of the 7” single “I Knew It Was Over” at St. Peter’s Cathedral in The Vatican is essential viewing).
There’s a change in the sound of “Skying”. In fact, it sounds more relaxed than its predecessors.
Rhys Webb: The new album is very different from the first. It’s because of the dedication, the passion, the need for change, for progression, evolution, for doing different things; all of that, and the five years of playing live with the band, produced a change. It’s important to go ahead and keep creating new music and sounds.
Was there a learning curve, new source of inspiration?
Rhys Webb: I don’t think we have experienced new influences or that there have been bands we’ve been listening to and that have inspired us. I think the biggest influence on this record comes from electronic music and the way that kind of music communicates new ideas, and how you feel when listening to it. The rhythm is the inspiration. The ideas, the adaptation of those ideas, the use of atypical instruments and what you can do with them, that’s what’s important.
Why did you record the album in your own studio? What were you looking for?
Rhys Webb: Geoff Barrow, the producer of “Primary Colours”, loved what we were doing. He took us to lunch one day and he said that next time we should try to do it ourselves. If you have ideas, you don’t need anyone else, he said. Plus, in your own studio you can experiment, dedicate all the time you want to it, get new ideas and be proud of the result.
Why did you choose “Still Life” as the first single? What do you want to tell the world about your new album?
Rhys Webb: Music is important to motivate people and it should make you feel something, you should even be able to lose yourself in it. Those are the reasons we like to write our own tracks, we want to take the people somewhere. I can’t tell you anything about the lyrics or what’s behind them, as Faris is the one who writes them – I don’t know if they’re useful to people or if they help them to make up their minds. But what we want is that the songs sound positive.
How do you usually work?
Josh Hayward: Usually, the music comes to us first. We all work together, at the same time and in the same room. Some small idea comes up, or some sound, and it takes shape as we work on them. It’s not an individual process, it’s a group thing.
You’ve been compared to Joy Division, Bauhaus, Neu!, The Cure and even Kraftwerk. How do you feel about that?
Rhys Webb: In truth, I don’t feel musically identified with Bauhaus or Joy Division. They were great bands and I think we have a similar intensity, apart from the fact we thoroughly enjoy listening to them. But on this album particularly, I don’t feel inspired by those bands exactly. However, Kraftwerk and Neu! have been of great influence. Neu!, with their experimental sounds and rhythms, have created landscapes and have generated ideas with their music, their absolutely hypnotic and if you close your eyes they make you lose yourself, you feel the rhythm, the guitar sounds; it’s very visual music, very atmospheric and that has influenced us a lot. And we feel identified with Kraftwerk mostly because of the way they use melodies.
What music did you grow up with?
Rhys Webb: We have various sources of inspiration and I can’t name one band that has been more important than any other. It’s different for each one of us. We’ve listened to electronic music, psychedelica, house, techno... When I was younger I was very inspired by sixties psychedelica, but I also danced to Spanish bands like Los Salvajes, Los Canarios, Los Bravos, Los Brincos, some pop music and progressive stuff. It was a way to experiment to me, something necessary for my evolution, and it still is today.
What’s it like working with Chris Cunningham?
Rhys Webb: We recorded a couple of tunes with him and now he’s a friend of the band. It was great working with him and seeing how he picked up our ideas and made them into something more. He creates visual music, visual experiences and that’s what we want to do with our music. Right now he’s touring with his videos, mixing them like others mix records. In fact, he’s using “Sheena Is A Parasite”, which is great.
How did you get in touch with him? How did you convince him to record a video when he had gone seven years without doing one?
Rhys Webb: We didn’t convince him, he called us. He said he had heard “Sheena Is A Parasite” and he liked our noisey fast and intense music, and he wanted to work with us.
You’ve got a few parallel projects and you make fanzines, too. What are your intentions with these?
Rhys Webb: With my electronic music project, Spider and The Flies, I do live improvisation. It’s fun to play a different kind of music and it’s a change of air, which is always a good thing. At the end of the day it’s nothing more than continuing to enjoy the music. About the fanzines, what matters is communication, a place to show your ideas to people, share what you like or love with the public. It’s a way of talking to our fans and showing them what interests us. Back when there was no Internet, fanzines were the way to find out what music to listen to or to know the dates of upcoming gigs. Now, with Internet, communication has changed, it’s all much closer and linked. Maybe that’s why we haven’t done any in a couple of years.
Speaking of communication, are you active on any social networks?
Rhys Webb: We’re not big fans of the Internet, we have accounts but we hardly ever use them. Though I understand it’s a way to be in touch with people, I find it weird and offensive. You lose the physical part of things. People don’t put their hearts and minds online. I can’t imagine anything better than going to a record store, searching for records and finding a gem you’ve been looking for years. And we’re losing that.
Josh Hayward: Internet might allow you to enjoy more things, but you don’t enjoy them like before.
With an image so defined, have you ever thought of doing something with fashion?
[Laughter] Josh Hayward: No, I can’t think of anything worse.
Lastly, two short questions: best album of the year?
Josh Hayward: “Forever Dolphin Love” by Connan Mockasin.
And the record or track you would have loved to make?
Josh Hayward: Something by Steve Reich, we’re incapable of achieving something like that.
With “Skying” just out, we speak with The Horrors’ Josh Hayward and Rhys Webb about their new change of sound, the peculiarity of their style and the coming about of their own recording studio in London.
Photo by Oscar L. Tejeda
Review: “ Skying”