Stockholm based duo I Break Horses are a bit of an anomaly when it comes to talking about themselves in public. Unlike many of their peers, it's something of a rarity to hear either principal songwriter and arranger Maria Linden or musical partner Fredrik Balck speaking about the band, on stage or otherwise. Indeed it's only recently that I Break Horses have taken to performing live on a regular basis, albeit as a four-piece. However, if last year's excellent Hearts long player is anything to go by, awarded an impressive 8/10 by John Calvert on these very pages, the follow-up could be something very special indeed.
Having witnessed their showstopping performance at Barcelona's Primavera Sound festival in May, even the horrible clash with Low couldn't stop us partaking in another dose of the I Break Horses live experience at Latitude a few weeks ago. Afterwards, DiS hijacked their dressing room and found Maria Linden to be a most accommodating interviewee, far more than we'd been led to believe. Just don't label her band "shoegaze"...
DiS: Your show earlier today was quite incredible. How was it for you onstage?
Maria: You know what, we had so many technical problems out there. We were struggling to hear ourselves for most of the set, so I'm glad it sounded OK out front. This is such a beautiful place to play so I wouldn't want people to come away not enjoying our set. It is always difficult playing festivals because the changeover between bands is so fast that it's rare to be given a soundcheck, and with us, so much depends on technology.
DiS: It's interesting you say that because, admittedly for a lot of artists this weekend, the sound on the I Arena stage has been very hit and miss - Wooden Shjips, the band who played directly before you being one example that immediately springs to mind - but it seemed like I Break Horses were the first artists there where everything came together.
Maria: I guess one of the reasons I'm unhappy with the sound is because I'm such a huge control freak! Festivals aren't ideal for me because I really need to have a proper soundcheck to make sure we have everything in order. But at the same time, I love being here in the UK and sometimes I have to let go of the perceived problems on stage.
DiS: I believe this was your first ever appearance at a UK festival?
Maria: Yes it was. We're doing here and End Of The Road.
DiS: You hadn't played many live shows this time last year, whereas this summer you're playing numerous venues and festivals across Europe. The line-up is also extended to a four-piece for the shows. How did this come about?
Maria: I guess when I started making music as I Break Horses, it was pretty much a studio project and nothing more. Then, when the album came out we got asked whether we'd play any live shows, and that's when we recruited the other two guys. The album has a really dense sound running through it, and I have been re-arranging the songs to make them work in a live setting. I'm a bit tired of the album as well. I started writing those songs a good four to five years ago, and I wanted to try and change the arrangements around because I was fed up with how it sounded. I wanted to try something different, give the audience a different experience I suppose. Going to live shows and seeing bands play the album exactly how it sounds on record really bores me. Maybe there should be even more people involved when we play live, but financially we can't really afford to take anyone else out on tour with us. It was mainly because we had a US tour booked that we had to put the live band together so quickly, and as a result the songs have become a lot more electronic based. I kind of like that. That's the direction with which we're going on the new songs as well.
DiS: Will the other two members have any input in the writing and recording process for the new songs, or are they just involved with the live shows?
Maria: They're just here for the live shows, but they're very good so maybe they can play on some of the new songs? As for the writing process that's a categoric "No!" I've been in bands before where the writing process is shared and for me it's difficult because I have such a clear vision of what I want to do. It just simply doesn't work for me. I would maybe like this next album to have a producer but I'm not sure whether I trust anyone enough! I do want the process to be a bit quicker than it was with the first record. On Hearts I constantly changed everything around. I think there were about ten different versions of every song by the time we finished, and listening back now, I really wish I'd just gone with the first demo. I made so many changes and added so many layers, so with this one I want it to be more instinctive. This time I'm just going to go with the first ideas. It will also be a big relief bringing someone else in. It still might not happen of course!
DiS: Have you got anyone in mind?
Maria: I'm thinking of Geoff Barrow from Portishead. I really admire his knowledge of synthesizers. I haven't approached him yet but I think he would be the best person to have working with us. I'm always changing my mind, and I will never be able to just turn everything over to someone else and say, "OK, you can do whatever you want to these tracks." I could never do that, so it would have to be a person that is very responsive and open-minded and takes in what I want to do rather than taking their own single-minded approach. I think it would be good to work with someone else and not make it so long and serious. Go with instinct and actually rely on another person.
DiS: Do you have a timescale or projected release date for the next record?
Maria: Not really but I'm thinking I want it to be released at the latest by March of next year.
DiS: Are most of the songs written for the record?
Maria: I do have songs for it, but once again, I may also go back and create new songs. Change things around. I'm so excited about the idea of releasing new music and do honestly feel that it will be a better record than Hearts.
DiS: Going back to Hearts, were you surprised at the reaction it received? It got unanimous praise from almost every publication that reviewed the record.
Maria: It's amazing because I was dreading seeing any reviews after it first came out. I always tend to think the worst, so I was thrilled by the response. I just wish people could have heard the first demos that were even better than the versions on the record.
DiS: Did the guys at your label, Bella Union, hear the first demos?
Maria: No. These were scrapped before I sent the songs to any label.
DiS: Is there any pressure from the label to capitalise on the success of Hearts, and have they set you any targets in terms of projected sales figures etc?
Maria: No, not at all. They give their artists so much freedom to develop and find their way of making music. It's only my own pressure in wanting to release something new because I'm excited and bored of the old songs.
DiS: It must be quite surreal that songs off Hearts, which are four to five years old for you are seen as new songs by a lot of audiences that may not have been aware of the band before the record came out last year or even seeing you live for the first time after that.
Maria: I re-arranged the songs so it would feel better for me because otherwise I wouldn't be able to perform them. I think if I'd just left them how they are on the record I'd be very depressed! By re-arranging them, they've become more like how we're sounding as a band now, not only live but also in the studio with the new songs that are taking shape. They feel new to me as well which is why I feel so good about performing them live. That's why it doesn't feel so strange, because those re-arranged versions are new to me too.
DiS: The way 'Winter Beats' builds and builds into this euphoric climax at the end of the set almost reminds me of being at a warehouse rave party back in the day. Was that your intention?
Maria: I don't think I ever have any deliberate intentions when I write music. It just happens. It wasn't meant to mirror any specific event or scenario. It came from when I went to record the album in Poland. It didn't really turn out that great, although I did find some really good synthesizers. 'Winter Beats' wasn't even written before we went into the studio. It just happened on this Russian synthesizer that sounded awesome. We spent most of our time there recording the other songs because, at first, we didn't think it sounded right, but then I became obsessed with it and came up with this hook which became 'Winter Beats'. It was really funny because we had this German technician recording everything and he was not into the songs that much. He found it very monotone and weird! I was playing with this one chord for about twenty minutes, making tiny tweaks here and there, and he just turned the volume down when I was standing back and listening to it. I was so tired of the whole recording process at that point, and 'Winter Beats' kind of ended up being made out of frustration. Looking back, I guess that's the one good thing that came out of that trip to Poland.
DiS: One of the main facets about I Break Horses is your ability to transcend several musical genres and boundaries, sometimes during the course of one song.
Maria: Definitely, although I get tired of us being labelled mainly as a shoegaze band because I listen to so much other music as well. If a song has some kind of melancholy than I know I will enjoy it fully. I've never been influenced by any one specific genre. I'm influenced by sounds. I guess that would have come via Loveless, obviously, because up to then I'd only really listen to Radio One. I remember buying that record and playing it for the first time. I really froze on the spot. I don't know why but it was just so beautiful. It was a very important record for me in terms of discovering new sounds, new ways of making music. That was definitely a turning point. I guess Hearts sounds more shoegaze orientated as an album than it does when played live. Maybe that was down to Loveless, I don't know? The impact that record had on me kind of meant I had to get a similar kind of record out of my system first, maybe?
DiS: Now the band are playing more live shows, will there be a full tour, hopefully with some UK dates to coincide with the second record?
Maria: I hope so. We'll do everything we possibly can to make that happen.
DiS: Are there any other bands or artists in Stockholm you think we should be focusing on?
Maria: Yeah, Loney Dear for starters. Also Faye.
DiS: Finally, being as we're at a festival, if you could choose any three artists past or present to headline your own three-day event, who would it be?
Maria: Three? Oh that's so difficult! This will take forever for me to answer! I would like to see Suicide headlining one of the days. There are so many bands that are great. Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine as well maybe, but then I'd have them both playing on the same day, so only one can headline! John Maus maybe? This is actually quite stressful! I'd have a rock day actually with Guns'n'Roses and Judas Priest. There, that's three I think!
The album Hearts is available now on Bella Union.
For more information on I Break Horses visit their official website.