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The Horrors on “V”

Tear It Down and Build Anew

Dec 20, 2017 Photography by James Loveday (for Under the Radar) The Horrors
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“With this record we realized thatindividually, in some ways more than collectivelywe had to come away from it feeling like we were able to express ourselves creatively within The Horrors,” says Faris Badwan. “If we came out of the record maybe thinking that we didn’t feel creatively satisfied, then we probably would have split up. You know, we’d made four records. We did pretty well. We’d been a band for 10 years. We could have easily quit and been happy with what we achieved.”

Fortunately, quit they did not. The Horrors responded to their brief crisis of self-doubt with V, the English rockers’ fittingly titled fifth album. The bandsinger Badwan, bassist Rhys Webb, guitarist Joshua Hayward, drummer Joe Spurgeon, and Tom Furse on keyboardsassembled at The Church Studios in London to cut back, refine, and lay down the results of the band’s most prolific songwriting process.

“When we started working on this record, we started having a good time,” says Badwan. “It made the whole purpose of the band clear, and it felt like there was a reason for being in The Horrors; that it’s something we should continue, and was worth continuing.”

V is noticeably the band’s most hard-edged record since their 2007 debut, far more up front and confrontational than the expansive, neo-psychedelic sounds that have won them the large fanbase that’s only grown with each record since their breakthrough Primary Colours in 2009.

“In some ways, I think we were better able to capture the spirit of the band on this record,” say Badwan. “The last record, although it had some good songs on it, I think lost a little bit of what made The Horrors good, and a little bit of our personality was somehow dulled or flattened. I think this [new] record sums up The Horrors pretty well.”

The record he refers to, 2014’s Luminous, was a strong seller and critical darlingwe gave it a very admirable 8.5/10and so not a failure by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, the stagnation the band perceived in it compelled them to experiment with new methods in their songwriting. (“We tried writing with acoustic guitars just because that’s, you know, the classic songwriting thing,” Badwan says, laughing. “It’s kind of stupid that we never tried it before, and even more stupid when we were surprised that it worked.”) Even more distinctive still is the album’s aural aesthetic: V‘s distorted guitars, bassline crunch, and experimental excursions instill the record with an unexpectedly dark, denser sound.

“We can be quite intense,” Badwan concurs. “Not all the time, but to be honest we’ve always been more like that than maybe some of our records suggest. That’s why when we play live, the shows are often a lot more aggressive than some of the records.”

It turns out their apparent decision to head back to their roots wasn’t a decision at all.

“We’re not plannerswe’ve never been very good at that,” says Badwan. “We also realized one of the strengths of the band is when we work instinctively. It’s about the human connection, and when we lose the human connection, we lose a raw kind of expression. Not only does it not sound like The Horrors, but it loses all charm. So, we’ve accepted that there’s no need to try and plan things.”

The most conscious decision they made for the album was to significantly alter the conditions under which they recorded it: V is the first record The Horrors have made with the assistance of a single producer. (The last three were primarily produced by the band themselves; their debut, Strange House, employed six different producers, as the band recorded its tracks at different times and between tours.) Here, Badwan and company turned to Paul Epworth. The London-based producer is currently one of pop music’s most high-profile producershe’s done records for Adele, Coldplay, Bruno Mars, Lana Del Rey, and Lordebut also has an ear fine-tuned for indie rock, as evidenced by his recent work with Glass Animals, Thurston Moore, and London Grammar. His influence can certainly be heard in the record’s crisp production, but for The Horrors Epworth’s most valuable contribution was as a guiding hand. As Badwan puts it, “the main function of Paul, as a producer, was to help us not say ‘no’ to things.” He continues to explain how the band is prone to be overly critical of ideas, and quick to throw songs away; Epworth would stop them from doing so, and force them to re-assess a track or look at it from a different angle. Epworth encouraged The Horrors to add a chorus to “Machine,” transforming it from a half-formed industrial track to the record’s lead single; “Something to Remember Me By,” V‘s second single and deliriously good closer, was another such demo that Epworth rescued from the proverbial trash bin.

“We weren’t going to do it, and thought nothing about it,” says Badwan. “But we needed one more song for the record, and I was going through songs on my computer to see what we had and playing things at random…. He heard ‘Something to Remember Me By’ and said it should be a single. If we were to chop that one, it would have never gone anywhere. It would have been forgotten, which is weird, because it’s probably one of the best songs on the record.”

Not every misfit song idea was so gallantly rescued. More than 60 fledgling tracks were left on the cutting room floor, which Badwan estimates is probably twice what the band had ever tossed from a record before.

“That’s not an exaggeration,” he says. “We had so many. They weren’t, like, finished songs, but you could hear where they were going and know if they were any good.” He laughs. “They weren’t all good…. Some of it was fucking awful.”

The record’s title, V, not only refers to the Roman numeral representing its sequence in the band’s discography, but makes cheeky reference to a particular rude gesture prevalent through the United Kingdom. For American readers, it’s roughly equivalent to a middle finger salute. The Horrors aren’t necessarily pointing this insult at anyone in particular.

“You know, ‘fuck you’s’ are sometimes directed internally,” Badwan explains. “Sometime you’re just talking to yourself. You’re like, ‘fuck you for not believing in yourself.’”

From an outsider’s perspective, it sounds like this entire process of writing, purging, and recording was revitalizing for the band, and restored much of what they felt they’d lost on prior albums. The resulting V, Badwan feels, is The Horrors’ most accessible LP yet.

“When I say accessible, what I really mean is that I feel the songs are successful,” he clarifies. “No matter what you’re doing, or whatever genre of music you’re making, if the songs are good, it kind of transcends borders. It gets past a lot of that stuff. Even if you’re making, like, a drone missile record. If the songs are written well, it’s easier for people to grasp…. I feel like our songwriting is better on this record, and I feel like it will come across.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Fall 2017 Issue (October/November 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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December 30th 2017

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