Published Apr 28, 2009In England, when you look like the Horrors (Victorian Goths at the mercy of Vivienne Westwood) and sound like the Horrors did on their debut album (manic swamp rock psychedelia, equal parts the Cramps and Birthday Party), well, the frenzied press over there will have a field day either building you up or tearing you down. Although the London-based five-piece tasted both sides of the coin, they could never truly live up to the hype that came with album Strange House, and so once they finished with it, they found a new label and reconvened for a sonic overhaul. Managing to attract the skills of Portishead's Geoff Barrow and scary leftfield filmmaker Chris Cunningham, not to mention Craig Silvey (the Coral, the Magic Numbers), the results are found in Primary Colours, a tremendous return - or comeback if you will - that demonstrates the Horrors' ability to channel other influences and discover a sound that expands far beyond anyone's expectations.
Exclaim! caught up with front-man Faris Badwan who was en route to the next stop on the band's tour with the Kills.
Where abouts are you at the moment?
Just at a Wal-Mart... outside of a Wal-Mart.
What are you doing at a Wal-Mart?
It's a lot easier buying Polaroid film in this country so that's what we're doing when we can.
How's the tour going with the Kills?
We've only done two shows so far. We've still got a long way to go, another five weeks on the road.
How is the reaction to the new material going down?
It's good. It's just a different thing, isn't it? There's a greater dynamic instead of a barrage. So yeah, it's going really well. A lot of them seem to have heard it already, which is really weird.
Yeah... I think that's because it leaked online a few weeks ago.
. Uh huh.
Primary Colours has a lot of different textures and is more expansive, and a bit toned down. What brought on the change in the band's sound?
Well, I don't think "toned down" are the right words because it's still intense but in a different way. It's sort of about learning how to express yourself better. The first album is a bunch of kids in a band for the first time and really enjoying it... Sorry, my concentration is really, really poor. Especially on tour sometimes, I find it quite difficult to finish sentences. I dunno how much of the States you've seen, but touring in the States is much different from touring the UK, as in it's so much more enjoyable. Touring England is shit. England is shit. The country is shit. Every town is the same. Every fucking town has the same shops. There's nothing to see.
Does it seem like much of a departure to the band or was it an obvious evolution?
If you think about it, it was two years ago when we did the last album, so it is weird that, because when people hear one album to the next they don't think about what has gone on in between. For us, it's just been a gradual progression and we arrived at this point totally naturally. It feels right. But for anyone not working inside the band, well, yeah, it seems like a big leap. I can understand that. To be honest, there are a lot of the same influences as there were on the last album, it's just that different ones are more evident to different degrees or extremities.
I know he produced "Sheena Is A Parasite," your first video, but how on earth did you get Chris Cunningham involved in producing the album?
He produced "Three Decades" and "Primary Colours." I dunno, he just has a very cinematic approach to producing music. I think the album would have been very different had he the chance to do the whole thing, but he's writing two features at the moment and if we wanted him to work on the whole album we would have had to wait. We'd written and arranged all of the songs and knew how we wanted them to sound, so we pushed ahead with it. He definitely would have done something good with them though.
What kind of influence did he have, considering he's known more as a filmmaker?
He said that what he liked about our music in the first place was that it has that visual, cinematic element; it's got the noise sections and just interesting sounds. I find music exciting when you try something different with the instruments, push what they're capable of. The Kills do that as well, which is what I like about them. Jamie [Hince] has the guitar like a rhythm instrument, and I'm really into that.
And how did Geoff Barrow become involved in the recording?
Well Geoff and Portishead curated ATP and asked us to play; it was such a good line-up with Sunn O))), Thurston Moore, Silver Apples. We met him there, but we actually knew him through a mutual friend. It was there that we saw them perform Third and we just realized how much he could bring to our album. We sort of expected "the Horrors + Portishead," but it actually ended up being him wanting to capture our demos; like I said, all of the songs had already been arranged when he too came on board. It was really him just making sure that we totally captured what we already had, which was kind of unexpected.
You were on the Loog label for your first album. How did you end up on XL?
Basically, Loog is part of Universal, so unless you're a big pop band it's not going to work for you. Although Universal had never actually told us what to do, it had got to the point where we felt it was like, "you've got to start writing radio songs or it's not going to work." We've always said we don't want to compromise, so we knew we had to find a new label. And we were only without a label for a week.
With XL it's just better for us in the long term. Unless you are a big pop band and you make money fast, you have to just tour and really work hard, which is plenty fine with us because we'd be doing this anyway whether we had a record deal or not. We're really just doing this because we love it. And if any of us stopped loving it we'd just leave. It really is that simple.
Was there ever a point where you questioned yourselves? The UK press really blew you out of proportion, and I can imagine that put some pressure on you.
Yeah, we got hyped, but we also got dismissed as much for the same reasons. It helped us as much as it hindered us, all that hype. Personally I just don't think it matters, because the mark of a band shows ten years after they've released something. So it's really hard to tell how much impact we've had.
The one sheet press release calls the Strange House period controversial. Looking back on that album and the touring and promo that followed it, did it feel like you were a controversial band? I mean, there was that one incident in Boston...
Well, there have been many incidents playing live. We used to get into fights all the time. And we never even really started any of them. The Boston show was weird because I went to pick up the Elvis bust, not to smash it just because I thought it was really funny. And one of the guys, the fucking security at the venue, tackled me from behind and knocked me down [laughs]. I fell on top of it... to me it was really funny and quite unexpected.
To me, if you play music with high intensity then it pisses off people. It's funny to see some of the reactions you get. We never set out to make any sort of controversy. It's just a natural reaction to being in that sort of environment, there's always going to be some sort of aggression. For the same reasons why football players have fights on the pitch.
The band's image has always been a point of interest. It seems a bit subdued than it did when you guys first appeared. Was that a conscious decision?
To be honest, we've never thought about anything like that. The way you look is just a reflection of the music you like. People generally do look different two years later, and we might look even more different two years from now. I dunno, we never thought about it. I don't want to say bands should have an image, they should dress like what comes naturally to them. People just find it hard to believe that we dress like this all the time [laughs].