The Horrors have never made the same record twice.
From their hairspray-fuelled garage rock fetish to electronic exploration, punk fury to gothic waves of shoegaze sound, the band have built a career out of up-ending expectations.
It goes without saying that new album 'V' is, well, something of a surprise. In terms of sheer attack it comes closer than ever to the physicality of their live sound, while the industrial elements further fuse the men with their machines.
Out now, 'V' is an imposing return, the sound of one of the best bands in the country taking further risks, continually gambling on new sounds and a fresh approach.
Clash catches up with Faris Badwan to find out more.
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So: V For Victory, V For Vengeance, and ‘V’ for your fifth record…
All of those things! There’s a lot of good v-words.
It’s a hugely different record from previous album ‘Luminous’ - is that progressive step a natural one, or pre-meditated?
To be honest, we’ve never really been able to do anything consciously. We’ve never been able to sit down and discuss anything and then try and do it deliberately, it’s just not how we work. But to me, I just think it’s weird when it doesn’t happen for bands like that because I would just think that when you’re making something, when you’re being creative… Usually it takes about a year to make a record, and if you’re going through a period of time like that doing something creative you would think that naturally things are going to change.
And for us, they do. It just happens to be that what appeals to us each time tends to be the unfamiliar, and if it feels like we’ve done something before we just naturally steer away from it.
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We’ve never been able to sit down and discuss anything...
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Lead single ‘Machine’ has this industrial heaviness to it where did that come from?
I mean, I guess there is an industrial element to it but I don’t really know how that happened. I would say that on this, Josh always builds a lot of our equipment, and we had our own studio for about seven years and he was building a lot of that – he built the pre-amps and the mixing desk. But then for this record we got rid of the studio because we felt like we had exhausted its creative potential. Writing in any one place is really difficult for a year, let alone seven.
So we moved. We moved to Paul Epworth’s studio at The Church, and I guess the focus for Josh became more on guitar than actually building stuff. So I think in that sense that influenced the sound of the record, because we wanted to get more guitar that sounded like guitar on this record.
I think we definitely wanted more aggression, and more power, I think. We’ve always had intensity, regardless of the style of song, but I think we wanted a bit more aggression and power behind the songs.
Sonically that power is really evident on the record, do you think that aesthetic extends to the lyrics as well?
I think naturally I write the lyrics after the music is made. Or at the same time. And I think that I would say I tried to write… I always write really personally but in some ways I wanted things to be more clear. I’ve always written about really personal things but maybe in a more abstract way, and I think… It’s hard to say, really. I find negative things a lot easier to write about.
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I’ve always written about really personal things...
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Was this an open-ended process, then?
Again, I don’t know how most bands do records. I don’t know if they normally write them all and then record them but we tend to be organic, and ongoing. So we were writing and recording at the same time.
A lot of the time… It’s more spontaneous than that. Say, when you’re writing a song. We would always record as we’re writing, so often the recordings from the original session when you’re first coming up with an idea, we’ll often include those on the actual finished thing. So it’s a bit more organic than that, I guess.
How many songs would you estimate were written for the record?
Oh man, there’s so many. Some of them weren’t finished songs, they were rough ideas and sketches. There were about 50 or 60.
That’s incredible! Do the band, well, jam? To use a tortuous phrase…!
We do, yeah. It can definitely be a tortuous process, as well! We do play a lot. And this time we did try writing in lots of different ways, and sometimes that was one person trying ideas at home and bringing them in, or two people. But it only becomes The Horrors when we all work together as a band.
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I think he was really good at making us stick to things and work on them.
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Paul Epworth has a huge variety of experience, what did he bring to the process?
Well, we’ve never really had a producer for the whole time. We’ve never had one producer for a whole album, working almost as a member of the band. And that’s what he was, really. How so? It wasn’t like he was a member, playing one instrument. He was almost a member in the sense that he was another voice in the discussion.
I guess what he was really good at was saying ‘Yes!’ to things. We know each other so well that we often chuck ideas out before they’ve really formed. And I think he was really good at making us stick to things and work on them. When you’re being creative – and this is something that I think we get wrong quite a lot – you have to suspend judgement for a while.
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Having an outside voice must be incredibly beneficial.
It is and we haven’t had that for a long time. Really, we produced the last three records ourselves.
What led to the decision to bring a producer in, and particularly someone like Paul Epworth?
We worked with him on one song from the last record. Paul… people know him recently from his big pop successes but he’s someone who’s been around and is someone who is very much from the same world of music that we inhabit. He’s into the same records that we’re into, and it just felt like… It’s the same as having our own studio, we just felt like we needed to alter the conditions. We made the last two records under the same conditions, and I guess we just wanted to shake things up, really.
I think it’s so important when you’re making a new record to change how it’s being made. Naturally, the end product is going to be different.
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I guess we just wanted to shake things up, really.
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It’s been a fairly lengthy process, it seems, but was the actual recording of the album fairly succinct?
It just took time to get right. With every record you work towards it with everyone having different ideas about how it’s going to sound, you don’t really discuss them as a band. We don’t go: OK, we’re going to make a punk record or whatever. I think you work on things until you get to this unspoken point where everyone knows where it’s going and you’ve all got a shared goal in mind. It’s kind of just waiting for that to happen with each record. You work until there is this common ground that you’re all heading towards.
With the lyrical process coming afterwards do you write to the finished music? Or does it tend to be a silent, solitary endeavour?
Well, I do shut myself away. It’s pretty intense, at some points. I spent – without exaggeration – two weeks in front of a computer on one line. And not even an important line. Just a line that was after one of the choruses in ‘Point Of No Reply’. I spent two weeks trying to figure out what the line should be. You get into this weird loop of not really getting anywhere.
And then in the end me and Rhys went to Iceland to finish the lyrics, which sounds excessive but it was actually great for writing – it broke the loop I was in. Iceland is an inspiration in itself. We’d actually never been! It’s one of the few places we haven’t played. On the last night we got to see the Northern Lights, which was pretty amazing.
It tends to inspire creative people.
It’s amazing. It’s really alien, but somehow also industrial as well. Like nature’s version of industrial. We were in the middle of nowhere, in this cabin, and there was really nothing else to do apart from work on the music.
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Iceland is an inspiration in itself.
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Does the album assume it’s own form after a certain point?
It actually is a bit like that. And you never know when it’s going to happen, and it’ll be quite stressful until that point. You don’t know where the record’s coming from. We’ve done this for 11 or 12 years now, and writing songs is difficult. Writing a song you’d actually like is hard. You don’t really know… I never know what they’re going to sound like or where they’re going to come from. It’s not as if it feels like luck but definitely when you start writing you never know where things are going to go.
Is that partly why you embrace uncertainty in your music, do you think?
Well that’s why I can’t understand why some bands make the same record several times, because for me, personally, that would actually be really difficult. I just feel like every time it’s naturally going to be different, even down to things in your life being different. And if what you’re making is so informed by what’s around you, then things change – especially over a period of two years or something.
The sheer amount of touring The Horrors undertake must prompt a kind of evolution of its own, as well.
For sure. We’re lucky in a sense that while we’re not playing stadiums anywhere, we’re not a massive band in any one country we do get to play all over the world, and we get to play to decent crowds across all the continents. We’re lucky in that sense. I’ve been to Mexico on two separate occasions in the last month.
Well, you played the Olympic Stadium just the other week, Faris…
(Laughs) Well, yeah. We did. And it was cool, actually. We’ve played stadium tours with different bands before – and I don’t always enjoy them – but I really enjoyed the Depeche Mode tour, the crowd were really receptive. I don’t always like doing those tours but this one was fun.
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Things change – especially over a period of two years...
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‘V’ feels like it will be an incredible, visceral live experience.
Oh definitely. Live, our shows have always been a bit more aggressive than the actual records themselves. But I think with this one it’ll be even more so. We’ve been playing about four of the new songs live already and it just feels really natural more than anything. It feels so natural to play.
And what’s been weird is releasing a song like ‘Something To Remember Me By’ - before anyone had even heard it playing it live was really interesting because from an audience point of view it felt like you were playing a song that people already knew really well. It had that connection, which is quite rare, I think, to have a song that an audience has never heard but immediately will get.
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'V' is out now.
For tickets to the latest shows from The Horrors click HERE.
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