Step back and grab those shades people
Here Comes The Dawn - The Horrors

Stepping out the shadows with 2009’s acclaimed ‘Primary Colours’, The Horrors now look upwards with experimental third outing ‘Skying’. Step back and grab those shades people.

Two years ago five lads from Southend taught the world to never judge a book by its cover, especially if said book was clad in black and had a feathercut. Drastically departing from the ballsy ’60s devoted garage sound that made them stars with ‘Strange House’, The Horrors emerged with a sophisticated slab of post-punk revival as their follow-up.

Since then they’ve been seen sailing the seas of acclaim and laughing in the face of the ‘difficult second album’ tag, the group now return with their most eagerly anticipated album yet - a fact that doesn’t seem to be bothering them too much.

Read on for the full transcript of Clash's interview with The Horrors.

You made that ‘difficult’ second album look easy. How did you approach the third?

Rhys Webb: Pretty much in the same way actually. With us it’s pretty much about just getting together and playing and being directed by the music, rather than trying to push it in any direction. That’s how we’ve worked since the beginning really.

Tom Cowan: It’s about responding to your instruments, your surroundings and each other.

Rhys Webb: With Primary Colours people were going, ‘how are you finding the difficult second album? But really it was kind of refreshing to get back into the studio. We recorded Strange House after just six months playing together, which was exciting- something we thrive on. The spontaneity. Then we toured that album for a year, more than double the time we had had together and so much happened to us, the band become a lot stronger. When we got to working on Primary Colours it was really exciting, we had no concerns. With Skying, it’s the same. The idea of taking Primary Colours on the road and this time touring over a year. We work best as a group rather than one main songwriter so when we regroup it’s really refreshing.

What was the most surprising element you encountered as a band with ‘Skying’.

Tom Cowan: I suppose, while not too surprising, is how liberating having your own studio is. It felt so completely natural to us as a group. It took ages for us to get this really great space so to be without it would feel very unnatural. The thing that comes out of that is to be able to spend hours and hours doing what you want and not having to worry about time.

What did you learn from your time making Primary Colours with Geoff Barrow? What did you want to improve upon?

Rhys Webb: I think one of the best things about working with Geoff was he basically gave us the confidence to record this record on our own, in fact it was him who suggested it. When we initially met Geoff we came to him with a complete album, Primary Colours in rough demo form, yet at this point we were already experimenting with recording techniques and electronics, how to treat to the vocals. Tracks like ‘Sea Within A Sea’ were already in place in this complete idea. The best thing about working with him was he wanted to complete this stuff that had already happened really. We initially expected that the songs might take different forms that he might want to impose sonic direction, take then to different places. The best thing about working with Geoff and I think we’re quite similar in our attack of writing is that idea of experimentation, giving it a go a seeing what it sounds like. That’s very much how he’s worked since the early days of Portishead. At the end of it he just said ‘You know what you guys, next time you should just go about recording it yourself.

Tom Cowan: That was the plan from that day on. It was so reassuring, he’s made three great albums while being involved in bunch of other stuff so to hear that from him ‘you guys are more than capable’ was really reassuring.

Rhys Webb: He works in a similar way to us and I think he picked up on that. That idea of just turning up in a faceless studio…

Tom Cowan: And giving up your songs to some producer and no longer having free reign over them. Which I think a lot of bands do and one of the reasons Geoff just want ‘Go do it yourselves’, your not looking for someone to hold your hand and take control of your record. Your just looking for someone to help make it sound good. Which now is not even necessary.

Your not going to stamp your identity on it if you just hand it over are you?

Tom Cowan: It’s definitely more you, the final product.

Rhys Webb: I think that’s the great thing about Skying, the thing we really did learn as a band. To do the things we like to do, work the way we want to work and that’s what we learnt from Primary Colours. It’s five individuals bring their personalities to the track, and that’s something really key to The Horrors sound. It’s a complete set of individual ideas. When we regrouped to make Skying we really knew what we could do and how we wanted to do it, even in a communicating way. It was pretty exciting and having our own space to it made that even better. Sometimes we would stay here till three or four in the morning and just be creating sound.

Tom Cowan: You can end up with a much more esoteric sound that way. If you go into a studio most places will have the same standard stuff that everyone uses and as a result your sonic qualities are similar. For us we got the mad stuff we got.

Rhys Webb: Are space is cool because it’s true to our garage roots, the way we’ve done it. It’s certainly not a conventional studio set up in any way, it’s our hang out really.

Your new album sounds fresh, you can tell you’ve put the time into it. Did you use any vintage gear?

Faris: We’ve been collecting gear ever since we’ve been a band. Now we have a place to put it. I guess that meant that we could get more stuff.

Tom Cowan: We used all sorts of equipment really. We use a lot of vintage equipment not just older equipment. There’s a lot of newer stuff as well, digital technology.

Rhys Webb: I think our approach has always been whatever sounds best work and we wouldn’t necessarily use an old piece of kit just for the sake of it. If there was something that was bought last year and it did the job then that’s what’s going to be used on the final record. But you find a lot of the analogue stuff is absolutely perfect and sometimes you can’t beat that sound no matter how much you try to recreate it.

Tom Cowan: You get a lot back from different instruments. We, well, I got pretty cutting edge. But grounding that with some dirty old bit of equipment that doesn’t actually work properly can be fantastic.

Rhys Webb: Each piece of equipment can have it’s own personality from the way it’s built and the way it’s made to work. Tom and I have…there’s a synth part in mine that…you have to try out every instrument because even if it’s made by the same copany it can have a really different personality in the sound it makes.

Tom Cowan: And depending on who plays it you can get a lot of combinations.

How long did it take to get all those sounds?

Tom Cowan: Some of them would be the first sound that comes up, it would sound perfect.

Rhys Webb: That was the other great thing about having all that time to do it. We got that studio set up in September, Josh pretty much single handily set up the space. He was building compressors, pre-amps, soldering all the leads together.

Tom Cowan: Three hundred meters of cable.

Rhys Webb: He wanted to do it and he set that up for us.

Tom Cowan: We cleaned the place! Three bloody days. We had a wall built in there, so there was all this cement dust, and then Josh built a drum cage so there was all this sawdust and we moved all our equipment in. All our keyboards all our everything just covered in this thick layer of cement and wood.

Rhys Webb: Anyone else would leave their gear somewhere safe locked up clean and ready to be used, then move it. Our attack was no! Get it in their, then knock the wall down.

Tom Cowan: We have a studio, we have to get it in there! Most other people would pay someone to do it. We like the ‘hands on’.

Did you find any down sides producing it yourself?

Tom Cowan: It’s very hard.

Rhys Webb: The biggest thing we missed was having a figure of authority just to tell you now is the time to move on. It’s a complete learning curve and that’s half the fun. We may spend two days working on a guitar part but the thing is if it’s not working in a few hours it’s properly not going to. Time to move on and come back fresh rather than go at things for a long time. It can be stressful.

Tom Cowan: It can feel like your in Groundhog Day or something. “I’ve been working on this keyboard part for three days!” That is the thing, not having somebody there to st least speak to outside of the five of us. We’re very democratic. In less we are all in agreement it’s very hard to move forward. And there are five…strong headed young men.

Rhys Webb: At the end of the day that’s what makes the end result. Hard work and craft.

Tom Cowan: I don’t trust those people who say “It was a joy to make this album”

Rhys Webb: You have the up’s and downs. The overall mood of the record is a very positive and relaxed one. The times when we were working at our best were just hugely exciting, liberating and fresh.

Tom Cowan: You would either leave the studio in a really good mood or really bad mood.

Have you got any plans to work with Chris Cunningham again?

Tom Cowan: We don’t make plans.

Rhys Webb: Chris is a friend of the band because he did the first video. The thing we share is a real interest in visual communication, and he works with visuals intensely but also there’s always an important sonic side when working with a band or an artist. The people he works with are very similar to the visuals he creates. It’s something were very interested in, visual communication. With Primary Colours we had the soundscapes, something that’s also very important to ‘Skying’.

Tom Cowan: The idea of trying to communicate something visual with sound. Somebody once drew a picture of a rocket flying through the stratosphere to sum up the other record.

Rhys Webb: I think Josh said that Primary Colours was kind of like being on top of a hill, taking a couple of E’s, lifting your feet from the bike and just shooting down at ridiculous speed. I think this one is doing it in the opposite direction and being prepared skywards.

I think this album and Primary Colours does stick visuals in your head.

Tom Cowan: It should make you feel a certain way. People will get different things out of it but as long as people take something from it, some emotion, that’s what are music is about…to elevate.

Rhys Webb: It’s built from our love of music. When you listen to music as a child it’s all just sound, then you understand a little bit more, you work out the instruments. Then you start to make it and you understand how music can evoke emotion.

How do you feel you’ve changed as a live act over the past five years?

Tom Cowan: We’ve improved.

What was it like playing America with Nine Inch Nails?

Rhys Webb: They had lot of modular synths they would break out for fun.

Tom Cowan: They don’t use them on stage. Trent’s got a couple of hours to kill let’s get out the modulators!

Rhys Webb: He (Reznor) has always been a big supporter of new music. When we got offered to do those dates we were like why not? We played to a whole new audience, the people we met were really positive. It was good fun.

Tom Cowan: It’s always nice to get feedback from your peers, especially those who’ve been around for a while. People tend to get very cynical and it’s nice to hear good stuff from someone who’s made music for twenty years.

If you could go out on a heavy night out with any historic figure, who would you choose?

Tom Cowan: Ghandi

Rhys Webb: There’s too many, were in a time now were rock n roll has been in existence for sixty years and it’s made constant steps and progress and created many a personality. We’ve been lucky enough to meet some great people, Iggy Pop and the Ashton brothers from The Stooges being someone who most of us our massive fans of. Faris actually interviewed him a few years ago, and to hear him talk you just realise what a great personality he is. How clever he is, really interesting. We definitely appreciate the wild side, people having a good time. Actually thinking about it maybe with Bowie and Iggy in Berlin, bumping into Kraftwork. Coffee shop earlier in the day before moving on to harder stuff substances in the evening sounds like a nice night out.

Tom Cowan: They didn’t have our kind of hard stuff back then.

Rhys Webb: Our preferred weapon of choice is euphorics. I bet David Bowie must have taken E’s at some point

Tom Cowan: And Iggy Pop.

Faris: I would like to be in Bowie’s car while he drives around the car park.

Do you think you’ll ever return to the more aggressive garage rock sound?

Rhys Webb: I think there is still intensity and aggression in the music but you just got to keep on moving as a band. It’s about moving forward and not looking backwards for us a band.

Tom Cowan: It doesn’t make any sense. It’s all about all the things we’ve done coming out in a very lateral way. To return to that garage rock sound would be weird. There is no way we could make music as straight up as that now, there has to be so much more to it now by default.

Rhys Webb: If you think about it tracks like Endless Blue and I Can See Through You have that raw power, they’re nice and fuzzy and frantic and that’s our attack now. It has the same spirit, and that’s what matter. As much as we love The Sonics and The Seeds we won’t be covering them again. It’s a worry as band when so many years down the line acts try and ‘return’ to older sounds.

Tom Cowan: You would have to be very contrived as a band to do that. ‘Oh that worked a few years ago’. That is forcing it.

Rhys Webb: We’re in an exciting position as we are completely focused in evolving a progressing. We will attack something completely new. We’ve never been concerned about any outside influence, certainly when it comes down to outside expectations.

Why the title Skying?

Faris: I felt it captured the mood. It’s what phasing use to be called, it’s something we used and something that stuck with us. It pulled the whole thing together.

‘Monica Gems’ is a pretty interesting title, what’s the story behind that?

Faris: It’s a nod to British psychedelic pop. It was quite a hard track to pin down, it was a weird one on the record.

You guys bonded over a love of obscure vinyl. How do you feel about the increased sales and interest in vinyl recently?

Faris: I dunno. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I don’t really care if people pay for music to be honest, I still download stuff all the time, I just think things are the way they are. You either go with it or waste your energy. The less people that buy records the more records I can buy.

What did you learn from your time making Primary Colours?

Faris: You learn something from everywhere. We didn’t learn anything from Primary Colours we didn’t learn on the last one. Every record you learn the same lessons then forget them again. You want to create a world that documents a point in time- all three of our records have been just that. We’ve always tried to get as much of our personality in the music by using demos. It’s really important, not having something sterile.

There’s some nice acoustic guitar on closer ‘Oceans Burning’. Would The Horror’s consider doing a more stripped down album in the future?

Faris. You never know. That’s my favourite track on the album, it was the last one that we recorded, I was writing the vocals as we were recording them. For me that one sounds the most spontaneous and organic and you always want things to sound natural.

The Tone Shift in Endless Blue is great. The ethereal to heavy guitar change. How did you go about writing that track?

Faris: Even if the earliest demo’s sounded pretty similar. It’s hard to talk about how a song came about. I know what you mean, you listen to a song you like and you wanna know more about it. There’s things that can’t really be explained. They just develop from the first note. The process is never defined by talking.

Are you ever afraid of alienating your fan base with bold stylistic departures.

Faris: I don’t know who are fan base is, is t really one time of person? It’s hard to pin down, like the band and that’s a good thing. I think you can alienate just as many people by repeating yourself.

Faris, did your time making the Cat’s Eyes album help bring anything vocally to Skying?

Faris: I think everything I’ve ever recorded has taught me something. Making Primary Colours brought a lot to Skying. I think I’m a more natural singer now compared to when we started the band. I thought I would have learnt something in six years or fucking hell there’s something wrong with me.

Words by Sam Walker-Smart
Photo by Nick Dorey


This feature appears in Clash magazine issue 64, find out more about the issue HERE.

Buy this issue of Clash magazine HERE.

Read Clash's review of The Horrors' 'Skying' album HERE.

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