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The Horrors are an English outfit who play a kind of stadium-sized, synthesized psychedelia. When they arrived, in 2006, the band were hysterically hyped by the British music press right from their first ever show. Their debut album, 2007's Strange House, played snarling garage-rock heavily influenced by the Birthday Party, but by 2009's Primary Colours The Horrors no longer resembled a novelty band at all, playing a progressive psychedelia obviously influenced by shoegaze and krautrock. By 2011's Skying, The Horrors had grown into a grown-up band: the record would enter the UK charts in the Top 5. Before its release, keyboardist Tom Cowan discussed it.

Interview: 20 June 2011

Is it true that you once wrote a fanzine about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop?
"It is true. It was part of a Horrors fanzine we were giving out at our first run of shows. It was just about stuff we were interested in, things we were listening to, it had a CD with it. I think the first one was like my Top 6 garage 45s, and I wrote a little thing about the Radiophonic Workshop, and my favorite tracks from that little laboratory."

I know your singles were long denied chart placings due to having stuff like stickers in them. Have you long harbored a love of hiving stuff away?
"We really liked sharing our interests with people. I think there were a lot of things written about us in haste, early on, based on first impressions, that weren't accurate. It was nice, for us, to be able to show people our actual influences, and get kids interested in them. It's nice to be able to influence someone's life beyond just making a record and them enjoying it; being able to turn them onto a whole new bunch of sound is amazing."

What was written about you in haste? What misperceptions are you talking about, specifically?
"There was a lot —a lot— written about the way we looked, based on the assumption that we really cared about the way we looked. But it wasn't a contrived thing, at all. One of the reasons we became friends was because we saw each other at clubs, and thought 'hey, that guy, he looks a bit like me.' For us it was less an attempt to have this crazy, weird look, and more just a natural expression of our own aesthetics, and the music we were into at the time. There was way too much written about that, I guess in the absence of any history. We were a very young band: we only had two rehearsals before we started playing shows, and almost straight away people were writing about us. We seemed to induce quite a strong reaction from people, mostly it was positive, but a vocal minority was very negative. People seem to just be remembering the negative, now, though, when they write about our early days, like we were this hated band."

Have you given your brother (Freddie Cowan of The Vaccines) advice on dealing with hype?
"The best way to deal with it is just to get on and do what you're doing, and just don't worry about it. You have to just persist with what you're doing, to the point where you've actually done more than had things written about you. You get to a point where reviews become irrelevant, eventually, anyway. At the time, when the record comes out, the reviews are important; they influence what people think about a record, whether they want to listen to it, buy it, etc. But once three or four years have passed, they're not relevant anymore. People don’t go looking up the reviews of an album that's ten years old, they go straight to the record and just listen to what it sounds like."

When you appeared on The Mighty Boosh it actually seemed like a telling, symbolic moment to me. Showing that you could laugh about yourselves —that you could both play up to and tear down the public perception of you— displayed this keen kind of self-awareness.
"I'd like to think that that isn't too much of a significant event in our lives, really, and would hope that what is important to people is the records that we make, not the TV shows we appeared on. But we did it because we love that show, and we thought it'd be a laugh. When Noel [Fielding] told us his idea for what we wanted to do, it was really funny: it was playing up this caricature of what people thought we were like. I think being able to laugh at yourself is important. If you take yourself too seriously is wrong; it's very dishonest. You laugh in life all the time, to pretend you don't do that is a band would be weird."

It seems strange your first record was only four years ago; it feels like forever ago.
"All three records that we've made have been a real snapshot of the point in which they were made. That first album was a band that had only been together for not even a year. We were so lucky in the way things just blew us along so quickly, and we just took advantage of that to make a record. We were still beginners at the time; we weren't accomplished musicians or accomplished songwriters. But it doesn't feel so different as to be distant: I still remember the ideas we had, and the passion of it, is still very much the same as what we have now. For us, we just move on all the time. The past is an exciting place to visit sometimes, but it's not somewhere that you'd ever want to stay. The future is a much more interesting place to look towards."

Is change something you hope to define yourself by?
"It would be very unnatural for us to sound the same on two records. To stay in one place would be really weird for us. We don't set out to make records that are completely different, that's just the way that it occurs. It's not as contrived or conceived that we are going to be different, or how are we going to be different, that's just the way it is. The next record that we make will sound different whether we want it to or not."

What changes did you hope to implement on this LP?
"The one thing we did talk about a bit was bringing down the tempo a bit, and exploring simpler rhythms to anything we'd ever done before. A bit more percussion. Making more space for the vocals. And a whole bunch of abstract ideas that weren’t connected to a sound, but were notions we wanted to try out. The most important thing was just to carry on with the feeling we started to feel with some of the songs on Primary Colours: this very uplifting sense about that. Things that just make us feel good to play, jump up and down and pump our fist about in the studio."

There seems to be this really intended sense of 'uplift' in the album, something that the title, Skying.
"Someone said that the new Horrors album sounds like 'this': and it was a picture of a space shuttle shooting through the atmosphere. I thought that was so great, that someone heard our music and felt that, because that's just the kind of thing that we want to capture in our music: that feeling of elevation and propulsion."

That sense of propulsion seems, to me, to speak of the influence of Neu!.
"Whenever anyone says 'I can hear this' or 'I can hear that' about your music, it's strange. Like, I love Neu!; I went to see Michel Rother play at the Barbican last year and it was just brilliant. That music was incredibly inspiring to us when we first heard it: the way these simple melodies and repetitive playing just made you feel really great. But, it's so hard to pin that down as having a specific influence on this or that. With this album, it really felt like we would just play a chord or hit a beat, and from there just see where that took you."

Where did that Spider and the Flies EP (2009's Something Clockwork This Way Comes) fit into the development of The Horrors?
"That was right before we were about to make Primary Colours. We had a week downtime where we weren't doing anything, and our friend Barry 7 from Add N to [X] was running a Mute subsidiary label, and he invited us into the studio for a week. We went in with all our keyboards, and we wanted to make an exclusively electronic album. I suppose it, in some ways, influenced what we then did on that next Horrors album, but I think everything you've ever done in your life influences what music you make. For that project, we definitely wanted it to have some of the spirit of the Radiophonic Workshop. Something that felt like the music told the story."

What was the story?
"Funnily enough, it was about space. The first track was the space launch, then the second was heading out into space, and then each song thereafter was about the different planets that we encountered. There was the jungle planet, for example, and we'd imagine this visual aspect to it and did the music: like, 'this sound is the lion, this is the monkey, this is the tribe.' It was an album of our outer-space adventures."


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