“I’m Writing As A Kind Of Exorcism” Wunderhorse Interviewed

“A bit more naked, a bit more technical...”

Whatever he may tell you otherwise, Jacob Slater will always be punk. He may have “simmered down” and chosen a more subtle and reflective approach to life and to music as Wunderhorse, but there’s still something of the punk spirit that resides in the way he speaks, growls even. It’s in the attitude, unforgiving and metallic.

This month, Slater releases his third single ‘17’ in a string of releases under his new project, Wunderhorse, which he says is “a bit more naked, a bit more technical.” He teases a throaty full-length record is somewhere in their near future, but for now he’s content to linger on old emotions and stories, letting them breathe for a while. He’s also been surfing a lot, he says, angling the camera upwards to give a clear view of his row of surfboards and their washed-out underbellies. “It might sound silly to people who don’t know much about surfing – I mean, why would you? – but if you get to a point where you’re really good, it becomes almost a form of self-expression, almost like improvising on an instrument, or like watching someone play jazz. ”They’re almost ahead of time.”

He’s calling from his home in Newquay, a quiet seaside town that could easily be on the edge of the world. “When I was in London, I thought it was the whole world,” he says, looking back on his own time in the London music circuit with deference. “Every Friday night, every band playing in a pub somewhere…everything mattered, which it does in a way, but I got a bit lost in all of that. Music isn’t life in its entirety. Actually, if you pay attention to other things that have nothing to do with music, and you remind yourself that music isn’t the whole world, the music actually benefits because you’re feeding it with other things.”

Slater was a teenage runaway when he first started in the music scene. He rolls his eyes at the cliché, him, a father’s nightmare or a daughter’s boyish daydream. Those years were a time of short-sightedness that saw only the next band playing in the next crowded pub, his best mate’s couch that he’d crash on later, nights spent sounding off and spewing beer in front of the crowd that would come to see his own band. Dead Pretties they were called. Reaching some form of adulthood has led Slater to seek more elemental pleasures: sea air, a good paperback, time experienced at an unbounded pace, music made with more texture.

At twenty-four, Slater sees himself as more of a wallflower and a natural observer, parallel to the calm disposition of Paul Cook, drummer of the Sex Pistols, who he plays in the upcoming FX miniseries set to release this spring. Amid all the chaos, the push and pull of being part of a band famed for saying in their first ever NME interview: “Actually, we’re not into music, we’re into chaos,” Slater describes Paul Cook as just a guy who “just fucking wanted to play music.”

Here, Jacob Slater gives us a look into what makes him tick creatively, his strange dreams, and a theory on why the Sex Pistols are mythologised as punk royalty.

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We’re here to talk about your latest single ‘17,’ the follow-up to releases ‘Teal’ and ‘Poppy’. What made you want to release this track you wrote at seventeen as part of your newer playbook?

It was the oldest song that we kept playing live for some reason. I went to record it and it felt like a natural process. The fact that it’s really old is by-the-by. It was a way of getting it some air-time after so many years. I feel like I owe it to the song, to release it into the world. It’s been banging around in my head for way too long.

Do you keep an archive of songs that you wrote from that age, or is this a one off?

The archive is disappearing slowly. It’s becoming awfully muddled. There are some other songs that are that old, but we don’t really play them. Sometimes I’ll pick them up and try to reshape them into new ideas, but mostly I’ll just leave them alone.

Have you discovered anything new about yourself at twenty-four by revisiting yourself at seventeen?

When you’re seventeen, you just put words down because that’s how you feel, and you let it all fall out. I did actually try to change the words a few times to make it about something more specific, but every time I tried to do that, it felt jarred. Those song lyrics are so ingrained in me. I couldn’t let it go. It was what I was feeling at that time. I’ve definitely changed since that age.

How would you say you’ve changed?

I’ve simmered down. I was a full-on rogue. I wanted to do everything at once. There was no patience for anything. I missed out on a lot of stuff because I had such a tunnel vision on doing exactly what I wanted to fucking do. There were always other things on the table, but I wasn’t looking at them.

On ‘Teal’ there’s the lyric where you growl, ‘I’m just a kid, I’ve got so much to live for, so much to give.’ Have you ever felt as if you were compromising on some parts of your youth trying to make it as a musician?

I grew up at a slightly different rate to some of the other people who I knew when I was younger. I don’t really keep in contact with many, unfortunately. I was one of those clichéd home-runaways when I was seventeen. That age keeps coming up. There’s a lack of maturity at that age. You think you’re dealing with all these adult situations that you’ve thrown yourself into, but you’re not actually dealing with them that well, you’re fucking up. But I guess that’s how you learn.

In a recent interview, you touch on the place of rage you were writing from when you were younger. What emotional place do you write from now?

A lot of the songs I’ve written are making sense of things that happened to me up to this point. Maybe that sounds self-indulgent, but I’ve been writing about things that have happened or people I’ve known, that I haven’t properly examined yet. Songs are a way of making sense of that. During those years when I was writing from a place of rage and wanting to get into people’s faces, a lot of that just passed me by because I had tunnel vision. A lot of the songs that will make up what will eventually be this first record, are looking back and examining some of the things that I missed. I’m writing from a reflective place, rather than trying to make some big point and get into people’s faces. I’m writing as a kind of an exorcism.

From what I’ve read, your writing process on ‘Poppy’ was more of a vivid recall of a time and place in your life, which sounds like an interesting space to inhabit, creatively. Do you ever write down your dreams?

Yeah, sometimes. If it’s worthy of note, I’ll wake up and if I’m together enough, I’ll pull up notes on my phone or scribble it down on a piece of paper by bed. Afterwards I’ll come back to it. Quite often, it’s really fragmented. This might be all in my head, but I always seem to have an easier day when I’ve written down my dreams. I feel sort of in-touch with everything. Maybe that’s just because I’ve written something down. People say that’s quite a cathartic thing, if you wake up and write.

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How did you channel the push and pull of being part of a band when playing Paul Cook in the upcoming FX series Pistol? I read somewhere that you described the experience as a “baptism of fire”…

I meant that in a good way! Almost everyone who was in that project had acted before, or had some long standing ambition to be an actor. I had always loved watching good acting, but I never thought I’d be the one to do it.

Oh, they definitely work you. It was a very full-on schedule over quite a long period of time. Because I didn’t have nearly as much experience as almost everyone there, I felt like it was a bit touch and go at times. But I had to just trust that I could do it. I’ve been given the chance, so it was about finding that faith. Everyone involved was an absolute master of their craft. Except me. I’m nervous-slash-excited to see the final product.

Aside from the obvious: that you’re both musicians, both part of the punk scene, both familiar with onstage antics, did you do anything physically or mentally to prepare for the role?

I studied Paul [Cook] as in depth as I could. I got to meet him a couple of times. He’s a total gem. He’s a really calm, collected guy. He’s in the middle of all of this chaos, but he’s come out of it seemingly unscathed. He’s maybe not what you would expect from a Sex Pistol. I studied his physical mannerisms, and tried to work out what made him tick. The rest of it, I just bounced off the other actors.

And did you ever find out what makes him tick?

I probably didn’t. I came up with what I thought might have made him tick… The thing that struck me about Paul was that he always seemed to be more of an observer. Paul was there because he just fucking wanted to play music. He watched all of this stuff, that wasn’t to do with the music, like the battle of the egos, just unfold.

Talking about the Sex Pistols, you say “If you make [the band] into Gods in your head, you’re never going to do them justice.” Why do you think the Sex Pistols were mythologised in this way?

They live out the fantasies of everyone else. They represent that thing that lives in a lot of young people, that makes them feel that they want to do whatever the fuck they want, without caring about the consequences. They are the young people who look to tear up the rule-book, to give two fingers up to everything, and not just musically, but culturally. There is that part in the human spirit that is near the surface, and apparent at that adolescent age, that aspires to that.

You’re confused about life, you don’t want any responsibility, you’re not really sure what’s going on but you know you didn’t ask for it. You think, right, I’m going to jump on that slightly destructive bandwagon.

The sad thing is that that way of thinking and that way of being has claimed a lot of lives. You can’t keep that up in its rawest form, forever. I can’t remember my chemistry, but you know those elements that burn super bright? They have to morph into something else in order to survive.

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Catch Wunderhorse at London's Lexington venue on March 10th.

Words: Jessica Fynn
Photo Credit: Helen Whitaker

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