Name: The Horrors
Progress Report: Horrors’ front man Faris Badwan calls from backstage at a festival to talk about the band’s excellent new album, Skying.
The first time I interviewed the Horrors was back in 2007. The band was in town to play a few shows prior to the release of their debut album, Strange House, and I met up with them before their soundcheck at a bar on the lower east side. At that time pretty much everything that had been previously written about the band had to do with their gothy outfits, the fact that Chris Cunningham directed their video (the still-excellent to look at clip for “Sheena Is A Parasite“), or the story that someone hopped onstage during the band’s live New York debut (on Halloween, naturally) and punched lead singer Faris Badwan in the face. Having interviewed my fair share of bratty twentysomething bands from the UK, I went into the interview somehow expecting the worst. So, it was a nice surprise when Badwan turned out to be such a genuinely sweet and unassuming guy (wearing a frilly white shirt with doodles of flying bats all over the sleeves). I remember hoping that the future would be kind to the band, since UK buzz bands with spooky haircuts don’t always fare so well when it comes time to make sophomore albums.
In the years since releasing their first album, the Horrors went on to surprise lots of folks by becoming an increasingly excellent band. Having long-since shed the mod-goth schtick of their “Sheena” days, the band’s second album, Primary Colours, was one of 2009’s most pleasant surprises (as well as Mercury Prize nominee and NME’s pick for album of the year). Next month the band’s third album, Skying, will see release here in the states and it furthers their reputation as one of the UK’s most fantastically evolved rock bands. Moving even further away from the spooky garage rock and shoegazy leanings of previous albums, Skying continues the band’s winning streak. The album plays out like a shimmery meditation on the last three decades of moody English indie rock. In other words, it sounds excellent.
I called up Faris Badwan to discuss how Skying came to be.
STEREOGUM: Where are you?
FARIS BADWAN: I’m at Glastonbury.
STEREOGUM: Let me guess … is it raining?
BADWAN: Yeah. I mean, to say it is raining doesn’t really do it justice.
STEREOGUM: That’s actually one of the few festivals I’ve never been to. It just never seemed desirable to me because everybody just talks about what a gross mess it is.
BADWAN: Gross mess is actually not far from the truth. In fact, I’d say it’s head on.
STEREOGUM: Well, What stage are you playing there?
BADWAN: The John Peel stage.
STEREOGUM: Oh, that’s cool.
BADWAN: Yeah, they have a lot of quotes from his up on the wall.
STEREOGUM: We’ve spoken before, but it was many years ago. At a club on the lower east side. I think it was one of the first time you guys had ever been to the states.
BADWAN: Oh yes. I remember that trip really well. We had a really good time on that one. We sort of stayed a week longer than we thought we would.
STEREOGUM: That seems like forever ago now that I think about it.
BADWAN: It is forever ago considering how long bands stick around.
STEREOGUM: I got a stream of the new record that came with nothing — no press materials or anything. It was nice to just absorb the songs with no context at all, but I don’t know anything at all about how or where the record was made.
BADWAN: Yeah, that was actually planned by us.
STEREOGUM: Well, what can you tell me about the making of Skying? You guys have your own studio now, right?
BADWAN: Yeah. We built one. We’ve been trying to do that for a while, but it took a long time to find somewhere to build it. The building process went quite smoothly. Josh built a lot of the stuff and as a result, it ended up sounding pretty unique.
STEREOGUM: You guys started working on this record almost immediately after the release of Primary Colours, right? I remember reading that.
BADWAN: Yeah, we finished up the last bit of touring we had to do and then we got on it. Because I think, you know, if you tour for two years, you become eager to just start recording again and you want to get on with it, or at least I do. So that’s what we did. I think it is really important.
STEREOGUM: How long did it take to make the record?
BADWAN: Probably six months … five months, I’d say actually recording. Five months of proper recording. But we’ve always used recordings from the actual rehearsals and original writing sessions on the final albums … so the lines are blurred a bit.
STEREOGUM: Compared to the previous albums was this a more difficult record to make? Was the process different this time around?
BADWAN: I don’t know. In terms of direction I guess … it went very smoothly. We didn’t plan anything. I don’t think our band is capable of planning things. We just sort of get on with it and things just happen the way they happen. It usually means we write a lot of songs that we don’t like and a lot of songs that we do like and then we just pick the best. We just write loads and then pick.
STEREOGUM: This record has a very specific production style. Was that super premeditated?
BADWAN: No, not at all really. Because there’s five of us and we all listen to a lot of music and spend a lot of time checking out music that we like and talking about it, the influences are all over the place. We tend to release a record and people will come up with a consensus of about three bands that we’re supposed to have been clearly influenced by … and it’s never really been that way. The comparisons this time around have made us laugh because it is the complete opposite end of the spectrum than we were expecting.
STEREOGUM: Really? How so?
BADWAN: I guess somebody thought we planned to make a pop record.
STEREOGUM: What kind of comparisons were you expecting?
BADWAN: I mean, I think that we’re quite a British band. I think a lot of the stuff we make is … I think there is an identity that’s rooted in British pop and a lot of ’60s British pop maybe. I don’t know actually. No one can really see the thing we’re closest too.
STEREOGUM: You guys have had such an interesting trajectory as a band. In beginning it was all about you being a bunch of goths…
BADWAN: Yeah … I can’t work out if people have the same brains or if they just read other people’s articles.
STEREOGUM: People were really attached to the visual aesthetic of the band early on. Was it hard to shake that or to get people to stop talking about that and focus on the music you were making?
BADWAN: If you ignore something for long enough it eventually just goes away. We’re not really a band that spends a great deal of time doing anything but listening to music and making music. That’s all there is to it I guess.
STEREOGUM: I know you guys are playing All Tomorrows Parties with Aphex Twin, which sounds amazing. Will the rest of this year be touring for you?
BADWAN: I suppose so. We’re probably going to be touring for the next three years. I want to try and write again soon. I’ve been enjoying writing so much at the moment. I don’t really feel I’m out of ideas and I think you should always capitalize on that when you can. I don’t know. I’m going to try and write on the road I think, which is something I’ve never done before.
STEREOGUM: You were also busy this year doing stuff with your other band, Cat’s Eyes. How was that experience?
BADWAN: It was healthy for me. I can’t speak for other people but it’s healthy to do new things because I don’t want to ever be told by a touring schedule when I can make music. I want to do it when I want to do it and I feel like I can. I mean, for me, it’s a massive help.
STEREOGUM: Will you guys be playing a lot of these new songs today at Glastonbury?
BADWAN: Yeah, I think so. No one wants to hear us just play Primary Colours again. Or, the thing is … they probably do. Why do people want to see the same show again? I think the older stuff should be a part of the set but the future is more important. I think the future should always be more important. Unless you’re the Rolling Stones.
STEREOGUM: Yeah…and that’s what you don’t want to be. How is it playing these new songs? The sound of some of them is so big and so layered. Is it hard to work out playing them live?
BADWAN: I don’t know. It’s been pretty easy. They’ve slipped into the live setting quite smoothly.
STEREOGUM: When was the last time the Horrors played the states?
BADWAN: I have no idea actually. It’s been a long time. I guess the last time was at Webster Hall or something.
STEREOGUM: Do people still ask you about playing your first show here and being attacked by an audience member?
BADWAN: That story’s been so warped beyond all recognition. The guy kept grabbing the mic. It was so long ago … there were a couple of different incidents … I got into a fight with that guy and then some other guy ran onstage and then I don’t know. It was weird. Someone told me that I had been knocked out and I was shocked to discover this.
STEREOGUM: Best of luck with the new record. I’ve been listening to it pretty relentlessly, and it seems like the early buzz about the record is very positive. People are into it.
BADWAN: I don’t know what I’d do if we made a record and someone didn’t have that reaction. I think we have been kind of spoiled. People have seemed to like it. When we make an average record I’ll be really pissed off. But then I guess we wouldn’t release it. I would rather spend five years away than release a record that was just sort of ok. But I do think this record is a good one. I’m really proud of it to be honest.
Skying is out via XL now in the UK and 8/9 in the US.