"If you talk about books you come across as a w***er" - DiS meets The Horrors
Lots of things slip you mind: your keys, a friend’s birthday and on certain less than decadent nights, your own name. For me, last year I forgot that I’d interviewed The Horrors’ Faris Badwan. I know, it’s not something that’s easily forgotten especially when like me you’ve followed the band avidly ever since first being punched by ‘Sheena Is A Parasite’s’ bloodied fist of distortion. But, I did.
The interview itself took place back on a suitably wet and windy day last July. Meeting in Roundhouse café around midday Faris cast an ominous figure towering over the empty tables dressed as expected head-to-toe in black, but surprisingly at first he was anything but polite even offering to take my bag.
Each question was met with an intense owl-like stare that communicated Faris’ distain for the whole process of being interviewed without a need for words. Although, Skying was still one week from release and the band were at the beginning of the press gauntlet Faris was already interview weary.
Talking through the birth of Skying, his involvement in Cat’s Eyes and his work as an artist Faris drew out each word of his answers only becoming animated when talking about being a fan of other people’s music. As the counter slowly ticked forward, it became clear that the moment of reflection after you’ve completed piece of art was not something Faris relished.
Faris once again returned to his former happier demeanour chatting excitedly about experimenting with a light show at the Roundhouse later that afternoon before heading off to buy a vacuum cleaner.
Maybe, I didn’t forget but chose to forget. Interviews can often be exhilarating experiences but they can also be a tough and unsettling ride, especially when it’s a band you admire. With Skying last year nominated as one DiS’s Albums Of The Year at number 28 and one of my favourite album’s of 2011, some things are not meant to be forgotten.
Skying seems to be a continuation from Primary Colours, was that your intention?
What would the alternatives be?
You could’ve done a whole…
Yeah, like how you went from Strange House to Primary Colours and you completely reinvented yourself as band; you had been labelled pop-punk and nobody took you very seriously and then you came out with Primary Colours and you established yourself a career band.
Someone sent me one of the reviews for Strange House the other day and it was like a weird memory lapse thing where people think that the first album got terrible reviews and it didn’t.
I think some people enjoyed it for what it was, I know what you mean. Yeah, I think the whole ‘reinvention’, whatever, we never really saw it as that because it’s two years; you know two years between albums is long enough for anyone to develop substantially it’s like it’s not too much of a bad thing being that weird. I think the only reason it seemed dramatic is because of the misconception in the first place.
Were you nervous about releasing this album after getting such a good reception to Primary Colours?
Not really, we were so excited about having our own studio. I mean, yeah that’s the thing is I don’t wanna go on about being a band that doesn’t care about the world outside of the band, but I think if you’re really passionate and excited about doing something’s that’s new for you then all the others stuff just blurs.
Yeah, we wanted our own studio and we built it and we had something new to mess around with for six months, it’s like you’re just enjoying it. When the enjoyment and spontaneity goes from the group, there’d be a very serious question about whether we’d continue, but not that serious question, I don’t want to overplay everything.
What prompted you to build your own studio?
It was something that we wanted to do for ages and Josh he’d been forcing us to carry around this amp head for like four years and we kept telling him to throw it away, but he refused. Consequently we had to carry this around wherever we went and then he eventually turned it into, he built a synth, and that also shaped the record.
And he actually knows how to build a synth?
That’s quite impressive.
Yeah, it is. I don’t know how he does it; you know a lot of the time he’s in the studio making a mess and covering the whole place with a thin layer of dust and we all complain and then two weeks later he’s got a new machine.
Yeah, but not as bizarre as cheese farming or whatever.
Like, Alex James from Blur. I think that’s something for the latter years.
Yeah, that’s something I could imagine Josh doing. He is a registered farmer; he has a pig.
Ok, why’s he a registered farmer?
Because he has to be to have a pig. A little pig.
Where does he keep it?
He had it in his house and the landlord came round and he had to move.
Ok…you recorded some of the album in the countryside. Why did you abandon recording there?
We didn’t, we went to write and we wrote; we were never going to stay in Devon for six months. We wrote ‘Moving Further Away’, which is one of my favourite tracks on the album; I mean it’s worth it.
We were only there for like two weeks and every weekend we had to go away to Europe, so it wasn’t really as immersive as we’d hope and that was kind of the reason we were thinking we’d go away and write ten songs and we came out with a few. Yeah, the main reason for that was having to pack the gear down every Thursday and return every Monday, that’s two days out of the week to work on it.
Do you feel London is somewhere that you need to be to write and create?
No, not really. I don’t really find London itself that stimulating, you know the studio is a world within itself and what goes on, on the next street, is not that interesting unless you like Turkish restaurants.
You produced the album yourself, how did that come about? Didn’t Geoff Barrow tell you to do it on your own?
See, you’ve got the answer already. Geoff was one of the people that encouraged us and Geoff is someone that we really respect; he heard our demos and he wanted to record them rather than produce them, which you have to have quite a lot of respect for that as so many people want to put their stamp on something regardless of if it makes it any better. He encouraged us to get our own studio, he was just saying: ‘Just do it in a box’. That was his words.
Did you have anyone else into help with mixing it?
We had this guy, Craig Silvey who mixed the last record. I think today you can record anywhere; for this record some of the vocals I just did at home and we used them. If you get the right mixer it gives you so much freedom, you don’t need to be confined anywhere.
How did you feel going to the studio on your own? Did you feel quite terrified or was it freeing in a way?
I think it was quite a big risk, maybe it wasn’t, but I thought it was a risk. It wasn’t terrifying; you know we’ve been recording ourselves for how ever long since before Primary Colours. I like our demos better than any of our recorded output really, on the second record. I think we like the way things sound when we record them, so it was not like it was the first ever attempt.
When you write is it collaborative?
Yeah, we’re five people. Many bands are five people without being five people. It’s us playing together, that’s how the songs are written with the exception of one or two.
Compared to Primary Colours, where there were songs like ‘Three Decades’ that were quite angry and abrasive, Skying is a lot calmer and considered. What was the atmosphere you wanted to create?
Our songs are only ever so considered it’s really more about spontaneity, I think everything about the band has really been; we’ve always put in recordings from our rehearsal and the first spark of when the song idea was produced. We kind of throw things at it and then hammer it all into shape and it’s sort of quite a stressful process but it yields the best results; we’ve tried it other ways and it’s never as good.
I think that’s true of anything creative that you have to get through the bad to produce something good.
That’s the thing you forget every time, you kind of think: “next time there won’t be that middle period”. But, there will always be the time when you’re sort of doubting; every single thing I’ve ever recorded I’ve had that and I’ll have it again as well.
Was this album more difficult to record than any of the others?
No, no I’m saying it’s exactly the same.
Even though you were recording it on your own without a producer?
It gave the best results. You don’t have to deal with battling against someone, but then you have other things that spring up in its place.
What about quality control? If you don’t have a producer to say ‘maybe that’s not a good idea’ or having someone that’s objective there.
Well, we had Craig and when he was mixing he said a few of those things. There were a couple of tracks where he said: ‘you’ve definitely got to finish that one’. That was the all of input we needed.
Although, the album is calmer it’s also quite euphoric, like ‘Dive In’ and ‘Moving Further Away’ that have climatic endings. Do you feel like the album is coming from a happier, positive place?
Yeah, well I think we’ve tried to get people to see our music as euphoric for ages so maybe it’s finally happening, we’ve repeated it enough times. Yeah, there’s a lot of different emotions on the record.
I think from ‘Primary Colours’ it seems more in the lineage of ‘Sea Within In A Sea’ and ‘Scarlet Fields’ rather than ‘Ice Age’. It seems more gentle with each song part of one journey.
I agree with everything you said.
This album’s rhythmically more dense than Primary Colours, did you want to focus more on the beats?
It’s knowing the answers again. Rhythm is important to the group.
The record has drawn comparisons to baggy bands like, The Farm.
That’s because Rhys is wearing a flowery shirt. That’s the thing if I came onstage in a lampshade hat the whole album start to finish is a Britpop album.
The thing I’ve noticed about reading reviews of the album is that each review is like band-bingo as you’re continually compared to other artists, like: the Cocteau Twins, Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs, Suede, My Bloody Valentine...
Yeah, if you get a load of bands that are as disparate as that, then what does the group sound like?
How do you feel about it when people compare you?
I think it’s good as people are almost arguing about what it sounds like and if no-one can pin it down then we’re getting closer to sounding like ourselves. There’s enough music that’s happened to be able compare anything to something, you can make something original but still you’re going to be able to be compared to something that’s happened.
To a degree, you can’t be original as when bands start off they have to feed off something and eventually they find their own feet.
Exactly. Yeah. I’d rather have a band writing songs with sort of conventional structures, but with interesting ideas within those parameters than someone sounding like a fucking typewriter. Music has been rooted in conventional ideas since it began; melody’s what connects with people, actually rhythm before melody you’re not going to suddenly just dispense with that just to be original.
I think what ideally I would like with each record is that it becomes more apparent is that The Horrors are not the sum of three bands, you know it’s not just add up your favourite band and then make a new one. I’m not just saying that we’re fucking on the peak of a wave or whatever, I think all I can say is that we’re really exciting about what we’re doing and for us it’s something new as we’re doing it for the first time and with each record we feel like we’re doing something new for ourselves; it’s spontaneous, it’s exciting and we want to keep doing it.
With everyone always comparing you other bands, what would you say your influences are?
This is five people listening to music over a year it’s quite possible we that we could each listen to a hundred different records. The things I was listening to over the course of the record would probably be totally different to Rhys’ or Josh’s or whoever’s. I think I can list you a load of bands I like, but I think enough has been said about how much I like music and then it’s like rubbing it in your face about being a record collector and that’s equally stupid. It’s a minefield.
With the record you’ve introduced brass for the first time. Did you get a full brass band in?
On ‘Still Life’, ‘Monica Gems’; quite a few of them.
What made you decide to use brass?
I think it was right for the song and usually we let the songs decide what they need. The same reason anyone would introduce anything.
Did you experiment with any other instruments?
Guitar, synth. I think a lot of people think that there’s no guitars on this record, or maybe they don’t? I often get things into my head that have no basis in fact…there’s a lot of guitars on this record, anyway. Some of them don’t sound like guitars.
Was Josh experimenting with effects?
He had his thing, I don’t know what he’s called it he has different names for it.
I read in an interview that he’s called it ‘sexy’.
I think that might’ve been, I don’t know if that’s true.
It was in an interview with The Quietus
Do the Quietus normally research their facts?
I don’t know.
Maybe he does call it that. We don’t question what Josh does in his own time. Anyway, the machine he put a whole track through it, ‘Monica Gems’ you can hear a lot of it on that. I haven’t heard anything that sounds like that. It was a joke for a while because it made everything sound like a blocked drain and then after a while it gradually became more refined.
It makes him sound like a weird scientist.
I’m doing my best to paint him in that light.
Lyrically, it seems there’s lots of imagery of the sea running through the album. The front cover of the album has an image of the ocean and then there’s the song titles: ‘Endless Blue’, Changing The Rain’, and ‘Ocean’s Burning’. Where did that come from?
I don’t know really.
Was it from anything you were reading?
If you talk about books you come across as a wanker even if they’re really important to you.
I think people are always intrigued to know where ideas originate from and then if you’re really into a band you can go and discover those influences for yourself.
I suppose, it makes us quite hard to pin-down.
As well as the sea the video for ‘Still Life’ draws on images of nature. At the start of the video you’re separate from nature’s separate and then by the end you’re merged as one. Was that deliberate?
Not really, it’s not deliberate as in “we’re going to make a nature record”. But, then Skying I don’t think any of this was planned-out it was allowed to happen naturally and we felt ‘skying’ summed-up the mood of parts of the record. It’s hard to put something to words when you’ve spent the whole process not doing that, you’ve spent the whole process sort of reacting to things naturally and doing it through being excited about.
Was there anything going on in your own life that factored into the making of the album?
Yeah, I think everything that goes on in your own life impacts everything. Have you ever read an interview with any musician where you come away thinking more of their music after you’ve read them discussing it?
Well, I’m glad you admit it.
Unless you’re a musician’s magazine that gets into the real nuts and bolts of recording an album, most music journalism is about the narrative around the band and them making the record.
I almost feel like when people discuss the lyrics they come across as really self-congratulatory and that’s why I find interviews difficult, actually, as I find it really hard not to come across like everything has more gravity than it does or that you feel that everything’s really important. For us, it really does go back to the fact that we’re really passionate about what we’re doing. I don’t know about discussing lyrics, it’s difficult.
You’ve also been working on a side-project with Cat’s Eyes as well. Has that fed into the album in anyway or are they two distinct projects?
They’re very distinct in the way they’re written and worked on, but I learnt a massive amount working on Cat’s Eyes and it did make a difference, not directly, as directly as everything I think we do creatively. You’re going to learn something and I learnt a lot.
What did Cat’s Eyes teach you?
I learnt more about songwriting. It’s not like I can list the things I learnt from Cat’s Eyes, if I made a folk record tomorrow I’d learn, it’s just the overall experience of being in a studio every time you’re in a studio you pick up something boring, like how a compressor works.
I suppose it’s the experience of working differently and getting another perspective…
And, yeah not working with five people. I think the way of working was so different with Cat’s Eyes it wasn’t like I was suddenly going to come in with a new Horrors’ song. It inspired me and made me excited about a lot of other things that I brought in, I guess.
Do you think Cat’s Eyes improved you vocally as there does seem to be a marked difference between Primary Colours and this album?
Yeah, but it’s two years…I’ve been in a band for a least five years, so if I hadn’t developed as a singer I think there was something seriously wrong with me. If anyone does the same thing for five years ..
Yeah, but some singers have a very distinct vocal style that’ll they stick with. On you’re debut you were quite shouty and were accused of not being able to sing whereas on Primary Colours you can hear a clear progression.
I think half of it’s a reaction to music and lyrics as well spontaneity has always been important to the band, and often I write the lyrics right as I’m about to record. If every other instrument is trying new ways of playing it seems silly for me to be doing the same thing over and over again.
Going back to Cat’s Eyes, would you do projects with anyone else or are you looking to?
I think my plate’s a little full at the moment. Cat’s Eyes, we’re sort of half-way through writing the next record. I just want to do another Cat’s Eyes record really as The Horrors only ever write when we’re all five in a room; I like to produce stuff all the time and we’re going to be touring for so long. I don’t know, there’s a lot of people I like but I think it so often becomes a vanity project when people just find someone in a band they enjoy.
Do you think you’d work with Geoff again?
Yeah, but not in that way. I really like Geoff I would like to work with him but I’d rather play with him, I’ve kind of thought about doing that. I’d like to work with him again, but probably not with The Horrors.
You had an art exhibition last year at the Book Club in east London. Are you still continuing with your art?
Yeah, it’s not ever really something I’ve thought about. If you leave me with a book for six month I’ll have enough for an exhibition at the end of it; I don’t think I really plan anything, I don’t think through, I don’t really wonder if I have time for things, I sort of jump into things without considering anything or considering the repercussions.
How did you feel about the exhibition last year? Did you enjoy it?
It was just something that happened, I suppose. It’s almost that by the time it comes to show the stuff it’s already happened so long ago….
When you like art or music, you like to believe everything is premeditated.
Yeah, that’s the thing none of it has been written out in a dissertation before it’s presented.
Sometimes I’m tempted to ask bands to describe their album in their own words rather than asking pointed questions to find out the real story.
In some ways we’d get more from it if I asked you the questions, it is more about the listener’s response than anything I’ve got to say, that’s way more important. The same with the lyrics that’s why there’s no point me discussing them; when I was a kid, probably like many other kids, I’d right out the lyrics to songs from bands completely wrong and always enjoy what I’d written out more than what the reality was and I always do that with The Horrors lyrics as well after I’ve finished them and thankfully, because I mumble a lot, there’s quite a lot of room for interpretation it usually twists it in a way that makes me enjoy it more and it seems more spontaneous and less conscious.
A lot of the tracks on the record seem like they could be singles, so in hindsight it seems strange that ‘Still Life’ was released as the first single as it’s not as immediate as some of the other tracks.
With each record there’s been a song that didn’t sum-up the rest of the tracks, but it happened at the beginning of the process that sort of pointed the way, I guess. The first one was ‘Sheena’ and the second one was ‘Three Decades’ and the third one was ‘Still life’. It felt like it was more of a beginning than a summer-up.
Do you get annoyed by people saying it sounds like Simple Minds?
I find it funny as it’s such a name out of a hat thing, such an unexpected rabbit.