[5 October 2011]
Whatever you do, do not call them modern. Joshua Third (or Joshua von Grimm as he used to call himself) is clear that the Horrors are anything but. “I don’t like the word modern. We’re futuristic. That’s where our focus is; on the future.”
The British post-punk band recently released their third album, ambitiously entitled Skying, resonant of reaching new heights, and—in the case of the Horrors—new sounds as well.
“Skying is that feeling of being elevated; like you’re constantly moving upwards”, says Third.
Skying is experimental by nature, with plenty of melodies and synthesised beats to cement its place as essential indie listening. It’s a far cry from the band’s black-as-tar goth-punk days.
The Horrors broke ground with their debut, Strange House, in 2007. The album was a locomotive steam engine of punk revivalism, with the band members (all in matching stovepipe pants) sporting names like Farris Rotter, Joshua Von Grimm and Coffin Joe. The album was symbolic of the British goth subculture of the moment, and as a debut, was as near as iconic as any band from Southend-on-Sea could hope for.
Strange House was a tribute to ‘70s British punk, but Third insists that the band has its eyes firmly set on the future, not the past. This was already apparent in the group’s second album, Primary Colours, in 2009, which was a little more experimental but was still safely goth enough so that the Horrors never lost that edge that set them apart from their contemporaries. The Horrors’ trump card has always been Faris Badwan’s smoky gothic vocals, which kept them from veering off into no-man’s land: the indie scene.
But it seems the training wheels are off. The Horrors have re-invented themselves as post-punk, with an album that essentially contains no punk at all. “We were very young when we made Strange House”, says Third. “It was representative of where we were then. We got older, we dress differently, see ourselves differently and wanted to do something different. Our music is constantly evolving as we grow.”
They’ve also ditched Portishead producer Geoff Barrow in favour of a custom-built studio and a do-it-yourself attitude. “There was no producer this time so we’ve had more time to experiment. We’re at the point in our career where we can do it ourselves, so we produced the album ourselves. We know what we wanted and how we wanted to do it. We wanted to strip it back and make it our own.”
Third explains that as an experimental album, Skying was influenced by everything, but is hesitant to go into specifics. He’s also unwilling to put a label on the new sound. A major characteristic of Strange House was that it was quintessentially British. The same can’t be said about Skying. It’s almost a universal sound, without place or time. “No one is doing what we’re doing. Not many people can”, he says decisively. “Skying is about freedom; the freedom of knowing that we can do anything.”
One quick Internet search reveals that a lot of fans are still hanging on the band’s old dark image tooth and nail. When Skying was released one fan even Tweeted that “There’s too much sing-song and not enough grr argh”. There are still clear British influences like Joy Division and Suede, and some songs, such as “You Said” and “Still Life”, seem to be clearly influenced by the Cure’s 413: Dream. But that said, as a vocalist Badwan has abandoned his shouty lyric style in favour of balladry.
Third is quick to defend the band’s need to re-invent. “I hate it when a band I love doesn’t change and the sound just stays the same album after album. It’s annoying, and our fans feel the same way. As we grow, our fans grow with us and we attract new listeners as we go.”
The Horrors are currently touring the United States, and if their early shows have been any indication, the US fans have taken to the new sound with relish. “I was worried to be honest, but it seems to be going down well”, says Third. The fashionable stovepipe pants may be gone, but the Horrors can rest assured that no matter what they produce, there will be a hungry audience waiting on the other side.
Skying is a total reinvention of a band that had already found perfection with their debut and sought greater heights. While Strange House could be described as the distinct wintriness of London, Skying is the summer of a future city; one unhindered by rules. With Skying, The Horrors have become their own band.
Third hints that the fourth album, which the group should start recording in the new year, will be just as experimental. “It’s going to massively heavy and no one is going to be prepared for it”, he says.