The Horrors are moored somewhere along the Thames and the band’s sometime bassist, sometime keyboard player and all-round Timotei convert Rhys -Spider’ Webb has wandered up on deck to talk to State. ‘We’re playing a gig on a boat, there’s no mobile reception below deck,’ he explains before ruining his nautical knowledge faÃ§ade by telling us, ‘I’m not sure what kind of boat it is, just a boat really, it has a bar anyway.’ With that awkward shipping-based conversation out of the way he begins to talk about what’s been a fantastic few months to be a Horror.
One of the surprise packages of the year thus far, the band’s second album – Primary Colours – has been absolutely drenched in praise since its release and is deserving of every bit of it. Having been pretty much written off as a one-note pop punk band after their debut release Strange House, their latest offering finds them keeping some of their garage rock instincts but melding them into warped krautrock mixed with My Bloody Valentine levels of sonic ambition. With tracks produced by Portishead brainbox Geoff Barrow and acclaimed video director Chris Cunningham, Primary Colours is a cinematic, idea-filled, addictive record that you should already own.
Primary Colours is quite different to the first record, was there anything you wanted to get away from?
Not get away from anything as such but yeah completely it’s a shift from the first record’¦ there was a point when’¦ well when we were writing it we were never really thinking too much about anything but writing and having fun doing it. We went off into our own little world a bit, it wasn’t until the whole thing complete that suddenly we remembered that no one else had heard this and no one’s gonna quite expect it’¦ but, then again, who knows what they’re going to expect because it’s two years since our last record.
Did you ever think the Horrors faithful may be put off by the new sound?
There’s always a little bit of that but, a lot of things happened for us in the last year or so, working and writing, doing things differently basically’¦ and yeah, suddenly it was -shit what will our fans think’ but we played one gig in London before we went away on tour (in the USA with The Kills) and I think that was the most difficult one, difficult in that it was the first time we’d played the new material live and the album hadn’t come out. The first single (-Sea Within a Sea’) came out a few days beforehand but what we heard back was really positive and it’s stayed that way since.
Was recording the album the first time the band has had a chance to stop and take things in considering how fast things happened with Strange House?
Yeah and it was needed. I mean, we weren’t a band who were touring for three years before the first single or anything so we’re a bit off the beaten track anyway. A lot of bands have two years of playing live, doing the groundwork and then getting the chance to bring that to a label. With us, firstly we weren’t interested in deals or anything it was just getting a band together to play, that’s all we were concerned about. But, before we knew about it we had a single out, and recording the first single was just about us being a band and in our first year together, it was really a reflection of our live shows, the energy and excitement we had, and wanting to communicate with an audience, everything else to do with being in a band is boring as hell to be honest. Strange House was a primitive form of punk but a lot of our favourite bands, a lot of our favourite records are that kind of thing. I think two years later, it makes perfects sense to’¦ to, I dunno, I mean some people seem to be telling us they can’t believe this massive change in direction, thinking it must’ve been so considered, to me it makes perfect sense that two years into a band’s career they can organically grow and change their sound to give more depth to what they’re doing. It’s a simple story. Evolution.
How did you get Chris Cunningham come on board?
The thing with Chris is that he’s been a really close friend of the band since our first single (-Sheena Is A Parasite’) which he did the video for. He felt that what we were doing musically was very much a reflection of the intensity of the way that he likes to work and we were very much into the whole garage and -60s punk thing but there was always this kind of driving rhythm that we were interested in which is almost like psychotic dance music. We were just kind of tweaking around with sounds, trying to get to that point but he could really hear that, he’s one of these people who could recognise it.
He was one of the guys who, while we were writing we’d play stuff to, we kind of felt that we had similar inspirations and ways of working, he’s obviously worked with visuals and we liked the idea of visual communication in music and that kind of visceral attack is something that he’¦ well for us it was just us working with a friend and someone who completely understood what we wanted to do sonically.
Geoff Barrow of Portishead is also listed as a producer, so that’s dark, brooding influence number two then.
(Laughing) Yeah, that’s fair. The thing with wanting Geoff to come on board was that we started to work and record a lot of the stuff ourselves and we found that we were starting to mess around with things like mixing and putting tracks together in quite a crude way and we didn’t want to work with a producer who every single day did the same job on the same desk pulling the same tricks and using the same gear, we wanted to work with someone who thought about things differently and a more -let’s try anything’ punk approach in production. With Geoff, all the projects he works in he doesn’t really think about what’s right or wrong or what technique people use, it’s what sounds good, so for us that was a reason to work together. It was a similar mindset, musically we’re quite different yeah, but we have a lot of similar interests and it worked well together, that’s the best thing about it.
Is Spider & The Flies (Rhys’ side project with Horrors bass player Tom Cowan) a good outlet for experimentation?
For us it’s just another part of the band moving forward and taking steps in different directions, I wanted to work on that project to explore and play on different instruments. It was really just a complete freak out. At the same time we were exploring with synths, drum machines and things like that and the more you play the more it seeps into The Horrors. Experimentation was definitely a part of it and this time round in the studio that world was open for us to use and I think continuing it is going to become more important as well.
A lot of Primary Colours sounds like it was the result of jams more than traditional songwriting methods that were evident on Strange House, what was the general songwriting ethos for this record?
Well, and I know I’m going completely away from the question here but stick with me, we found that we were working in the summer on the album and we hadn’t been playing live for a while, we’d just been writing and for us what usually happens is that we set up a studio and we have it for as long as we want with 24-hour access to it, it’s only a small place about 10 minutes up the road from where we all live. It was just a really good working environment and it’s just a great time of the year and living in London, it was an inspiring place. Basically it was just the first time we’d got to play and write in our own space, what’ll usually happen is that someone will start with an idea and we’ll play through it.
What we found with the record is that what we wanted people to feel with the record the same way we felt when we were recording. That’s what we were trying to communicate and we’d be playing all night, just having such a great time doing it, experimenting with different sounds and then putting the songs together so we definitely work better together rather than writing songs in different rooms and bringing them in complete’¦ Jamming is a reasonable idea of what happened yeah, so many things happen within that studio space, the ideas tend to flow when we’re working as a group.
While touring Strange House you often produced fanzines to hand out at gigs, including mix CDs, guides to dancing the -beat step’, making skinny jeans and more. Is that possible nowadays?
We really wanted to carry on doing that, connecting and talking about things that we like, that’s one of the reasons we were in a band in the first place. We haven’t had a chance to do that for a while though, and the plan is that whereas we used to print out hard copies and give them out at gigs, basically now we want to turn our site into our own working fanzine, uploading mixes, talking about things we’re doing, constantly updating as we go along’¦ we want it to be a lot more than just a blog, we’ll see how it develops but it’s something we love bringing to fans.
Is it easy walking around Southend looking like -A Horror’?
Hmmm’¦ I dunno, well, I haven’t lived in Southend in a few years but when I did live there I looked pretty much exactly the same as I do now. I think it’s like any big town, there’s always arseholes and always people who see things differently. The best thing about there was a club night I used to do down there called the Junk Club and it used to attract every freak in a 30-mile radius which was amazing. I love doing those nights though, we do a club night called the Cave Club in London, we try to do one every month and that’s a continuing thing with some live bands as well. Freaks everywhere, it’s great.
The Horrors play O2 Stage on Sunday