Fugitives from a Tim Burton movie:
The Horrors in their Strange House era.
The Secret Horror of The Horrors
Scott Wood Invades The Horrors' Dressing Room for an Interview, Gets an Invitation to Go Thru their Dirty Laundry - And This is What He Found!
There are a couple of things you cannot do as an interviewer—especially if you are interviewing an opinionated British band. Do not get the song title incorrect. And especially do not do this at the beginning of the interview. Things can quickly go downhill from there.
The Horrors burst on the UK scene in 2007 as noticeable for their fashion as for their music. Not many all-male bands try to anything different with their look. Jeans and ripped t-shirts are the norm in indie rock—and wearing a suit is something extraordinary. The Horrors took it further; they attempted a visual aesthetic that matched their dark, intense music. In all their magazine photoshoots, they looked like characters straight out of a Tim Burton film, sinister and dapper dandies who use cobwebs for handkerchiefs and enough buckles to cinch up the randiest S&M model. This was the band in their Strange House era.
Could things have changed for Primary Colors? Rushing up the stairs of the Commodore Ballroom, I could only think how excited I am to interview them.
I get to their dressing rooms and Tom Cowan and Joshua Hayward are getting clothed for tonight’s show. I expect to see the Crypt Keeper or Elvira on hand for makeup and costuming, but it is just the two guys doing it all themselves. Sorry, I am sworn to secrecy. I am forbidden to tell you, if even their underwear is black.
Next door, lead singer Faris Badwan is being interrogated by Nardwaur, Vancouver’s celebrity interviewer. Nardwaur’s voice is so loud I pick it up on my recording of our chat. It only adds to this awkwardness.
Scott Wood: Hey guys, your song “Sheena is a Leech”—I have read that Sheena was based on someone you really knew. You guys have been away for two years. What happened to Sheena? Do you send her cards?
Joshua Hayward: “Sheena is a Leech?!”
The Horrors stripped down for their Primary Colours album. The buckles
and top hats may be gone, but basic black still rules.
Tom Cowan: I think you’ve got your name wrong.
[Note: The song is correctly titled “Sheena is a Parasite” and the quite memorable video has actress Samantha Morton in a black ballgown with Lovecraftian monster hiding under it, where her privates should be.]
Joshua Hayward: “I think you have your words muddled.”
Scott Wood: Oh! Sorry!
Joshua Hayward: I thought Sheena was a parasite.
Tom Cowan: Yes, she always was a bit of a parasite.
Scott Wood: Uhm—So, how has she changed in the past couple of years?
Joshua Hayward: I dunno man, she was a fictional character. They don’t go much further than the song.
Tom Cowan: We fucking killed her off proper. We want nothing to do with her.
Scott Wood: Oh. Well—
Joshua Hayward: It’s like Harry Potter. It’s done man. Let’s move on.
Scott Wood: Ok—You guys have such a strong visual aesthetic. It makes what you do so much more potent. Not many bands do this. Why is it important for you?
Joshua Hayward: It’s not particularly important, but some people just don’t know how to dress themselves.
Tom Cowan: I think if you look through history, and you find interesting bands who play interesting music, you will find a group of interesting characters and it’s all quite nice and they probably will look appropriately interesting. There seems to be this thing in America where you have to wear jeans and a t-shirt to be in a band that’s taken seriously, which I think is really a shame—no one’s really allowed to express themselves.
Joshua Hayward: Pre-Nirvana was pretty cool. After Nirvana everybody thought not caring was cool. “It’s all about the music.”
Tom Cowan: People don’t really think about anything else at all. And I don’t think getting dressed is something you have to think about that much. Its part and parcel with how you live, isn’t it?
Scott Wood: I guess. You’re saying that lot of bands wear just jeans and a t-shirt and that’s what they just put on—
Daywalkers? Contrary to popular belief, The Horrors can
survive direct contact with sunlight
Joshua Hayward: This is what I just put on.
Scott Wood: Come on!
Joshua Hayward: Well, pretty much.
Tom Cowan: It’s pretty easy to match the colors because they are all the same [black]. It’s just a shirt and trousers. .
Joshua Hayward: Look through my dirty laundry if you want.
Scott Wood: Maybe in a minute. Where I was going with this is for your first album, you guys were criticized a bit for having a distinct look—implying that it was taking away from the music. To come at it from a different way, females in the industry have to have a look to stand out. How do you feel about this?
Tom Cowan: It’s a little sexist.
Joshua Hayward: I think that’s an awful thing to say. Women aren’t that obsessed with their clothes surely.
Scott Wood: No, I am not saying that. I am saying that you guys were criticized for putting a lot of work in your clothes and to use extreme examples Madonna, Lady Gaga or La Roux, just as much emphasis is put on what they wear as much as what they do.
Joshua Hayward: Well, Lady Gaga, she look likes shit. [He starts to laugh.]
Tom Cowan: To be honest, it’s just clothes. And that’s it really.
Scott Wood: Well, it’s more than that, but anyways. I was going to ask you, who does your hair on the tour? [I note that it is the guys themselves.] Instead I’ll ask you this. The salon is often a hub to get the latest gossip. You guys are on tour with The Kills, what is the latest tour gossip?
Joshua Hayward: For a radio station, you don’t really want to talk much about music, do you?
Tom Cowan: Uhm-Hum.
Scott Wood: Well, we can talk about music if you like. Yeah!
Joshua Hayward: That would be better.
Scott Wood: Ok.
Tom Cowan: I’ll give you my lovely anecdote. I’ve actually been cutting everyone’s hair on the tour. I’ve been this tour’s hairdresser.
Joshua Hayward: That’s true actually.
Tom Cowan: It’s a good way of giving back to the tour community.
Scott Wood: Ok.
Tom Cowan: I’m not joking.
Joshua Hayward: It’s true actually.
Tom Cowan: I cut Jamie’s hair last night.
Joshua Hayward: He cut Alison’s [from The Kills] later.
Tom Cowan: I cut Alison’s later. Nick needs his done. Theresa needs her ends redone.
Joshua Hayward: Does she?
Tom Cowan: Yeah! They all need smartening up.
Scott Wood [this interview has completely gone off the rails]: Ok. Primary Colors is your current record. I was reading a quote that you guys wanted to stay in England when you were doing it, rather than go to Berlin, because you wanted to keep some Englishness to the music. So I was wondering if you could talk about what on the record has “Englishness” to it.
Joshua Hayward: I think it’s just an English sound. It’s just like when you listen to music from Russia or Africa, it’s just got a distinctive feel to it. I think this one’s just got a distinctive British feel to it.
Tom Cowan: With British bands, there’s always been a great tradition of sonic innovators. It just kind of goes along with that really.
Scott Wood: It’s been two years since your last record, Strange House. How has the music industry changed since you left it?
Joshua Hayward: Oh. The music industry is fucked.
Tom Cowan: Yeah. Pretty much.
Joshua Hayward: I mean you now have a generation of kids who believe that you don’t have to pay for music. They should have it for free. “It’s information! It’s like a library, you should get it for free! All the time!”
The record companies aren’t making any money. The engineers can’t make money anymore. It’s a crying shame cuz they’re like amazing brilliant people, and they can’t make any money because we don’t make any money at all.
Tom Cowan: No.
Joshua Hayward: I guess only big bands make money out of touring which is quite a shame really. Studios will close down and people will be less inspired to work in sound. Records will get boring. It’s a shame really.
Tom Cowan: It’s a bit of a joke really—the whole thing. There are definitely people doing what a record company is supposed to do, but actually at the end of day, its run by incompetent people and don’t really know what they are doing. Or they let it go, not knowing how lucky they are to have it.
Scott Wood: That a pretty bleak picture you are painting.
Joshua Hayward: Our label is amazing.
Tom Cowan: Yeah, XL.
Joshua Hayward: XL are brilliant. When we signed to them, they sat down and said, “Write the next Horrors record. See you in six months.” And we came back in 6 months and it was brilliant.
Tom Cowan: And that was all the interference we had, which was pretty cool.
Scott Wood: I was reading an interview with one of you guys and you dissed The Kooks, saying how current bands don’t go far enough back for their musical depth and inspiration. Is it important for modern bands to be equal parts historian and band?
Joshua Hayward: What do you mean to be a historian?
If you’re doing things, you should have an interest in it and want to learn about it. You shouldn’t want to, I don ‘t know, reading a fucking magazine and hear ten bands that all sound the same and then try and make the same album as them because that’s all you’ve been inspired by. Fucking stupid!
Tom Cowan: Yeah, to be honest, in order to understand something, you need to really understand where something is coming from. As far as really knowing what you are doing, if you really care about it, you should probably know where it came from.
Scott Wood: A lot people have called you revivalists of the US 60s garage band sounds. You have moved away from that a bit in Primary Colors—
Tom Cowan: Well, we were never really there in the first place—
Joshua Hayward: There are a lot of bands that are actually doing that and have been doing that for 20 years. This is what’s kind of annoying. One person says that, from a record company or press or a magazine, then everyone starts kind of believing it and people don’t really understand where the music comes from in, the first place, or where our music comes from, in the first place, and that’s all they think it is.
Tom Cowan: I have no interest in repeating. I don’t want to recreate something, I want to make something new really.
Joshua Hayward: Let’s harken back to the old days!
Tom Cowan: It’s about tomorrow.
Scott Wood: It is about tomorrow. But do you really need to know about the past to make something new? How much of art (or music) is expression and how much is context? To take the painter example, many people do that with no knowledge or Pollack or Caravaggio—is what they do art? Or just expression?
Joshua Hayward: Really? You’re painting a picture [he laughs] of someone who is completely unskilled in what they do and just taking a stab at something. People who paint like that are children. For example, children paint like that, and child art is really interesting, and that’s a really great thing, but, at the end of the day, I would rather look at something a little more thought out than a five-year-old’s painting.
Scott Wood: Fair enough. There’s always that cliché that Picasso worked his whole life to get back to the purity of expression of a child. Where does expression play into—
Tom Cowan: But to be fair, some people are born with amazing talents and some people are born genius and they can probably paint amazing pictures without knowing much about it—
Joshua Hayward: No, no! That is never the fucking case. Think about all these fucking amazing singers where people say, “She’s such a fucking amazing talent. She’s 17 and she can just sing. This is brilliant!” Then you find out that she went to church every fucking Sunday for her entire life, sang in the choir, her mum sang to her at home. Her mum would have her on her lap on front of the piano. “Yeah! She’s never been taught anything! Fuck! How can she just do this?” It’s because she has done it her entire life. And she’s been learning about it her entire life. I don’t think things ever just happen.
Tom Cowan: Some people are just lead into that.
Joshua Hayward: Yeah.
Tune in to the interview show with host Scott Wood for more interviews with your favourite indie acts. Find us at www.cjsf.ca (Vancouver, BC, Mondays @4:30pm), www.radiocfxu.ca (Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Fridays @11pm-12am), www.cfru.ca (Guelph, ON, Tuesdays @3pm) and www.umfm.com (Winnipeg Winnipeg’s Hit Free Radio, Tuesdays @8am). You can also listen to and download both new and old shows at www.winniecooper.net.