The Horrors continue to widen their worldview
A sea of black flows into the Hackney Wick studio where Crack is setting up vintage polaroid equipment in order to go analogue with one of our favourite bands.
How The Horrors have managed to bypass Crack’s pages over the last five years is an anomaly we sought to resolve as the first notes of their self-produced fourth album Luminous passed through our speakers. Time may have sharpened them, but this chiselled, matured band of well-dressed Dalstonists are still British indie rock’s brightest hope.
To the style-obsessed music press, The Horrors’ transition from cartoon goths to arguably the most credible high-profile band in the country has defied all initial expectations. They’ve acquired a breadth, a sense of substance on all levels that will hopefully see them become British music heritage in a decade’s time.
We’d never met Faris Badwan before today. Six feet, five inches, tired eyes and an onstage androgyny that sees him searching out his audience as much as they are digesting him; Badwan’s reputation as brooding frontman is cultivated each time his presence casts its considerable shadow across the live arena. If there is an arrogance to Badwan, it’s born from an attitude to music than matches natural intelligence to unswerving charisma. The image and haircut are still there, but the simplicity and clarity with which Badwan answers our questions feels totally authentic, free from the calculated posturing of yesteryear.
The trump card in the Horrors pack remains a hunger for musical self-improvement at even the most fundamental levels. Guitarist Joshua Hayward’s preoccupation with re-arranging and re-wiring pedals, amps and equipment isn’t something you’d imagine Jake Bugg doing in his spare time. No fucking sir. The Horrors, aside from four albums of experience, have a swagger to match the fact they’ve got a studio rammed full of this shit, and enough unerring confidence to produce an entire record of material with no outside help. All of which, by definition, means they should be able to make an album on a different level to most of their contemporaries. And though it’s been a while in coming – expected release dates have come and gone – with Luminous, they just have.
More psychedelic than previous effort Skying, yet retaining some of the euphoria that made that and its predecessor Primary Colours such engaging records, Luminous takes that soaring sonic blueprint and grounds it in the intimacy of its lyrical content. Opener Chasing Shadows has the same eye-widening impact as Changing The Rain did on the last record, one of many standouts. The trippy grind and zoned-out delivery of Jealous Sun, Falling Star’s colossal climax and the final drones of album closer Sleepwalk all contribute to the wider confirmation that this band have gone beyond their initial period of fruition and become the world-beaters they’d threatened to.
So as the band made themselves at home in the studio, discussing horticultural tips with our photographer, speaking excitedly about supporting the Pixies at Field Day this summer, and generally exuding an unfakeable collective chemistry, we slipped off with Badwan to a nearby cafe to find out how things are looking from his perspective.
Can you explain a little about the record being put back, and the general feeling that it took a lot of time for it to come to fruition?
I guess we were on tour a lot and in total we spent around 15 months on it, which is probably about average for us. But we’re the kind of band that needs to be playing a lot of shows. Especially now. Unless you’re a pop act, playing live has always been essential to the band, because that’s how the songs are written anyway.
So what about the recording process? You’ve always seemed like quite a private band in many ways, and this time around you didn’t even have a producer involved.
I suppose so. It’s quite an immersive world. When you’re making a record in a studio with five people and no producer, it’s a world that has got very little else in it. People have asked me questions recently, like ‘what influence has Dalston had on your record?’. It’s pretty removed, and that’s important. If you take Can records, or Kraftwerk records, they are completely separate from the world.
So as opposed to having your local environment or sense of place, or Dalston as an influence, you have The Horrors’ studio instead?
The move to our own studio definitely changed the way we wrote, and not having to clock off because the producer has kids or things like that has made it more exciting. Josh built all the pre-amps, desk, pedals, all sorts of things, and it all just starts getting a lot closer to what you have in your head.
"There's a confidence in our taste, we don't really feel like we need other people to validate us"
Does Josh’s skill in the hardware department give you an edge over other bands?
I think it just allows more of our personality to come across. If you are tailoring your own instruments it makes things a lot more specific, and fun as well. It’s the whole other side of things you wouldn’t normally have to do when being in a band.
Does this meddling make the process quite fraught or tense?
I think tension can really make a take. Sometimes I wind [band members] up on purpose, I don’t think they’ve realised this yet, but I’m sure they wind me up too. Sometimes we would have never have got those takes without having a fucking huge argument beforehand. Anything you can do to bring out the strongest personality in the song is worthwhile.
So the self-producing approach, is that how it will work from now on?
I think so, the last two records have been like that.
Did Geoff [Barrow, of Portishead/Beak> and producer of their second album Primary Colours] scare you off?
No I think we scared Geoff off! He’s great. We played football against him. His team are called Bryan Munich.
Every year there’s a Portishead band XI vs Portishead Town XI.
He asked me to play, but I was away on tour. I really wanted to do it. Geoff works in a similar way to how we do, in that he lets things work on their own and they turn into quite a natural thing. He never sits down and tells you exactly what you’re going to do, it just sort of evolves and makes for a lot more interesting results, and in our case I think the best kind of experimentation was in song structures and other things can develop outside of that.
A track like Sea Within A Sea that doesn’t have a distinct chorus or conventional structure. Is that something that was learned from that second album?
Geoff recorded the songs really well, and the deadlines existed before we’d even had the conversation with him and it would be a natural thing to assume that he’d transformed this band from a very rough garage sounding band to something else, but there had been two years between the first and second records and we wanted to develop the whole time. I mean we learned to play music by being in a band. None of us could play. I mean we can barely play now. It’s just playing to your strengths and realising you don’t have be a classically trained musician to make interesting music.
But there’s a real swagger to the band these days, isn’t there?
It’s a confidence in our taste. That’s what I think sets us apart from some bands. We don’t we really feel like we need other people to validate us.
So moving onto the new record, first observations were perhaps it had more of a psychedelic angle than your earlier material, and if the last record had a euphoric edge then this one felt more grounded?
I definitely think the songwriting got better on this album and having had a whole period of time with the studio, we had a lot of ideas to get a hold of. But some of my favourite ever records are completely chaotic and unstructured and I’d be up for doing anything on a record in the future.
Where does the power lie in The Horrors? As a frontman you are quite iconic.
I think we swap, actually, depending on the song. I think it’s quite instinctive. Everyone has different strengths and that has become more apparent the more records we make. What is important is that everyone knows when to step back and step forward.
You mentioned Can earlier, and you’ve spoken about bands like The Fall in previous interviews. In the future do you think The Horrors could be one of those bands that operate outside of standard musical parameters, or are you too big for that now?
I think we are lucky in that we can exist in both those worlds. Even if we had no one coming to our gigs we’d still be making whatever music we liked, though I’m sure a lot of bands say that. It really is all about our personal satisfaction.
But within your success there must be more constraint now?
I don’t even know what that statement really means. I always felt we could exist well with or without large success. It’s by-the-by.
So success is a side-note?
Of course we want it, and anyone who claims to utterly shy away from it would have to either be lacking ambition or lying.
How would you assess your place in British music at the moment?
If you’re really following your own path, the other stuff is not about better or worse, but kind of two steps behind. Earlier you mentioned psychedelia and I almost feel like psychedelia is about experimentation as much as it is rehashing some retro thing, and that’s always how we’ve seen it. But now you have a few bands calling themselves psychedelic… [pauses] I’m not really aware of what’s going on. There’s always good music to be found if you look for it, but you have to look quite a lot harder than you used to.
Do you still manage to set time aside to buy and collect records?
The last record I really loved, that could be called psychedelic or whatever, was the Grouper album. She’s found her own way to record her music that works for her, completely her, in her own world, with no relation to anything else. It sounds amazing and completely immersive and that is the kind of record I really appreciate.
We couldn’t talk to you without asking about the early days, the first NME cover and your image back then. Do you think you were manipulated during this time?
I was 18 when we started and now I’m 27. The one thing about that period was that we were never told to alter our music, but in some of the photos we weren’t perhaps as aware as we could have been. The thing is, we played that first gig and then got booked for another one and by the third we were already starting to talk to labels, so it happened really fast. Faster than we could write songs and faster than we could play them. It was exciting, but that first record was made between touring in very fractured pieces. In some of those older photos we look a lot more styled than we actually were. If you put the New York Dolls in those kinds of photographs it wouldn’t look weird: that’s where it became distorted with us.
It’s hard to think of a band that have had the term ‘style over substance’ levelled at them so heavily, then go so far the other way.
Take a band like The Music Machine, wearing one leather glove or whatever, it is kind of ridiculous, but it’s the gang thing. If you changed a few of the photographers some of those pictures would be more acceptable. If Antonio [Crack’s photographer] who we worked with this afternoon had shot it, it would have been really cool. Now, we’re definitely more aware of how we come across.
Luminous is out now via XL Recordings.