HORRORS BUSINESS “With Skying, we wanted to explore the idea of opening up, pulling apart these ideas, finding the space within the track,” says Rhys Webb (third from left).
Near the end of my conversation with Rhys Webb, bassist for Southend-on-Sea quintet the Horrors, I begin to sense the exasperation in his voice. After all, he's been volleying back and forth with me while patiently explaining his band's arc, and placing it in the context of their fascination with pure sound. That grasping reach has often found the band fiddling with the knobs of rock's past, and Webb begins getting irked that I'm even raising the issue. Finally, the exclamation: "Look, we just do whatever we want, so it doesn't really matter!" His voice flips from boisterous proclamation to shifty confidence. "We've always done exactly what pleased us, and we've not given any thought whatsoever for what anyone else might think of it."
Hear, hear. Because the Horrors are one of modern rock's most inventive acts, making albums that defy neat categorization. They burst onto the UK consciousness six years ago as big-haired garage terrorists with the foreboding Strange House, a frenetic hall of mirrors full of garish organs and screaming, directionless aggression all pinned down by the sonorous tenor of lanky vocalist Faris Badwan (especially in the single "Sheena Is a Parasite"). Strange House was furious and creepy, as was the band's assault on the UK music scene in the record's build-up and wake. When it subsided, the music world looked to move on from this gang of over-hyped garage-goth cartoons.
But when the band emerged from their chrysalis in 2009, gone were the crazy haircuts and calliope "96 Tears" organs, replaced with a subdued demeanor and a sound that mixed a lysergic stompbox swirl with tight Krautrock beats.
"With Primary Colours," Webb explains of Strange House's follow-up, "we were layering up sound, a wall of noise, guitars and synthesizers working together to create this heavy, warm disorientation." The disorientation wasn't just because of the music's heady push-and-pull. Many who had written the band off as garage clowns scratched their heads thinking, "Is this the same band?"
"It's strange that it's a challenging idea for a band to evolve or grow up between records," says Webb, "because the idea of just doing the same thing over and over again has no creative possibilities." This restlessness shows with their latest, Skying (XL), only this time instead of adding more, the band make more from less, peeling off the layers of sound to air out the song within. "Still Life" is a revelation, a slow-motion traipse across the heavens that is both light as the æther and jarringly powerful, like a suddenly remembered dream put to music.
"With the last record, we got really into painting pictures with sound," Webb says. "With Skying, we wanted to explore the idea of opening up, pulling apart these ideas, finding the space within the track."
Of course, this restless exploration in pursuit of their muse has found the band pegged as musos, dudes with better record collections than song collections, pilfering from the past to fuck the future with their pastiche-rock.