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February 2021

The Horrors: "It could have been the end"

A new Horrors album is always an exciting prospect. What will Farris and co. have come up with this time? The frontman lifts the lid on ‘V’.
Published: 8:38 am, September 20, 2017
The Horrors: "It could have been the end"
Faris Badwan may be severely jet-lagged, having just returned from a festival performance in Tokyo, but the forthright frontman speaks with conviction when he considers just how much was riding on his band's new album, 'V'.

"If this record hadn't turned out right it could easily have been the end of the band. We could easily have quit, for sure."

Even for a group as self-destructive as The Horrors, drawing a line under a decade in which they have successfully mutated from a bunch of oddball goth rockers to one of the most exciting British guitar bands around today sounds, on the face of it, a tad dramatic.

But Faris and his bandmates simply don't do safe. At any cost. Even if that cost is the very thing holding them together.

"The fact is we've been in the band for eleven years, have been releasing records for ten - I guess the thing I'm most proud of is, firstly, that we're still releasing records at all and, secondly, that I still feel creatively inspired," Faris says.

"With this record, it had to feel like we could all be creatively fulfilled at the end of it. If I was in a band where I thought what I was making was getting repetitive I would hate it. I wouldn't be able to do it."

He adds: "When you've been working together with the same people for that amount of time it's hard to keep things exciting and fun. I think if I felt like I wasn't having fun I would probably just quit. We all felt like that."

This restless, do or die attitude towards making music together has been burning away under the surface ever since The Horrors came screeching onto the scene in 2007 with their debut album, 'Strange House'. It just hasn't burned quite so fiercely before.

In the four years after 'Strange House', the Southend-on-Sea quintet took huge strides towards indie rock's big league by shifting their taut, lo-fi garage punk sound of their first record to the more expansive and diverse palette of 'Primary Colours' in 2009, before releasing the lush, melodic psych of 'Skying' two years later.

Both albums received much praise from the critics, but it was the latter, with its stand-out single 'Still Life', which really moved the band into unchartered waters.

Suddenly, this group of big-haired misfits had found themselves at Number 5 in the UK Albums Chart, on Radio 1's A list and were being mentioned in pretty much everyone's album of the year list.

So when it came around to making 2014's 'Luminous', all eyes were on Faris and co. like never before.

What followed was a solid, well-produced collection of songs which managed to solidify their position but without accelerating it in the same way its predecessors managed to.

The album peaked at Number 6 and received a generally positive response, but it felt like there was something missing.

Drummer Joe Spurgeon referred to 'Luminous' as their "plateau", and Faris now admits the record was missing some of the "accidents" which made their earlier albums sparkle. So, were they simply guilty of playing it a little too safe?

"At the time it didn't really feel like that," Faris replies. "It was almost like we didn't play to our strengths. There are a number of reasons. This is something I find really difficult now - the way a record is presented is such a big part of it, and I find it really difficult…"

"pull" text="It makes me sounds a bit like an angry teenager.

The frontman pauses and picks over his words carefully. "It's not like I feel there was anything particularly wrong with the way we recorded, I just think that we didn't have enough of the accidents that we normally do have."

He adds: "We never plan things - we're not really capable of it.

"With this record, we had no preconceptions of what it should sound like, but the biggest thing was that we wanted to keep some of the spontaneity when you first come up with an idea for a song.

"When you first come up with a melody, you get that initial spark and enthusiasm, you play it in a loose way, and there are accidents. We always used to put that stuff in our records.

"We always used to put in the incidental noises from recording a demo. On the last record, we didn't really do that. We kind of cleaned up the writing and recording process.

"I think with this new record, the main thing we were conscious of was keeping things a little more raw and keeping those instinctive bits on the record."

In urgent need of "shaking up our working methods" for their fifth album, The Horrors turned to none other than Paul Epworth, producer of pop giants Adele, Rihanna and Coldplay.

Epworth and The Horrors had already become acquainted when the producers helped out on the recording of 'Luminous'' album track, 'Falling Star'.

Armed with a bunch of demos, the band headed to the producer's Church Studio in London's Crouch Hill in early 2015 to begin work on what would become 'V'.

"By working with Paul, I think it just gave us complete freedom. He knows that there's no need for us to play it safe and to make a really safe pop record," Faris says.

"He was aware that it was good for us to make something that pushes us a bit more. He's really gifted when it comes to sonic ideas and experimentation. He was the perfect producer for us really."

And while Faris admits that it "took quite a while to feel like there was a direction" before the recording process, Epworth's approach in the studio encouraged the band to let loose and chase their own imagination.

"He is really good at not judging ideas before they're fully formed and at forcing us and to carry on with things which maybe in the past we would have got rid of," the frontman says.

"The pressure we feel at the start of a record very much comes from ourselves. The pressure is to make something that feels different, at least to us."

Faris adds: "Because we're a diplomatic band and you're asking a whole load of different people for their input, it's hard to get anything done when you make something creative.

"If you're not careful, when people don't know when to step back or step forward, you can end up with something which is so diluted and so safe because there's only a thin area of space where everyone is willing to go.

"We found a better way of compromising with different people's opinions. We had the right amount of danger in it at different points."

"pull" text="It doesn't feel like we have anything to prove.

The results of those recording sessions first surfaced in June this year when The Horrors released the album's first single, Machine - a dark, mechanical psych rocker which sounds like nothing the band have produced in the past decade.

And it was soon followed by their shamelessly euphoric second single, 'Something To Remember Me By'. With its dancefloor-friendly drums and swooning synths, it was another bolt out of the blue for a band who sounded like they had recaptured their element of surprise.

Bassist Rhys Webb said in the lead-up to the album's release: "When we started we had a very clear idea of what we wanted to do, which was to make as furious a noise as possible, a fast and violent racket.

"But even though we started with this punky garage sound there was always this real spirit of wanting to experiment and explore."

Aside from the music, one of the most striking aspects of 'V' is its artwork; a disturbing amalgamation of human heads conjured up by the mind of talented VFX artist and director Erik Ferguson, who is known for his abstract and intriguing creative vision. It was followed by an equally unnerving CGI music video for 'Machine'.

Faris can explain.

"It's the idea of simulation and the uncanny valley phenomenon, the idea of when things imitate human life they kind of become grotesque," he says.

"There's themes of imitation and simulation running through the whole record. I like the fact it's very different to any of our other artwork. The 3D head scan was something I always wanted to do."

Then there's the album name itself. Faris recently suggested that the 'V' symbolised a two-finger salute to everyone.

"To be honest, most of the things I say are quite flippant. I did say it was a ‘fuck you' to the world, but it makes me sounds a bit like an angry teenager," he says.

"I don't really feel hard done by or anything. It just doesn't really feel like we have anything to prove.

"I think it's probably our strongest record. It's hard to be objective about what's stronger than something, but I definitely feel proud of it. It's the most diverse record."

Faris went to bed this morning at 11am and woke up at 4pm. He admits he's still on "Japanese time". The brief visit to Tokyo sounds worth the jet lag, though.

"It's just such a fun place to go. Everything seems quite reserved, but then they've got this intense, weird side underneath," he says.

With a trip to Mexico just a few days away, an exciting new album around the corner and a UK tour to follow in October, it seems The Horrors are right back into the swing of things. He couldn't really give all this up, could he?

"[After 'Luminous'] it felt like we had come to the natural end of a period of time and of writing songs in a certain style," he says.

And now?

"It feels like the beginning, rather than the end."

Taken from the October issue of Dork, out now. The Horrors' album 'V' is out 22nd September.

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