tbt: it's 2007 and we just met the horrors for the first time
"They’ve painted America black, are big in Japan, and have a stranglehold on Europe... it’s 2007 and time that goth went global." As The Horrors return 10 years after their debut, we throwback to our first chat.
The five Horrors -- Faris Badwan; vocals, Tomethy Furse; bass, Spider Webb; keyboards, Joshua Third; guitar and Coffin Joe; drums -- joined forces but two years ago, and since making their pact with devil in the pale moonlight, have been here, there and everywhere - from the cover of the NME and L'Uomo Vogue (shot by Steven Klein no less), to receiving a Chris Cunningham, Samantha Morton starring debut video (for the three minute growling wonder that is Sheena Is a Parasite), to literally bringing down the house at the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch when the ceiling of the pub crashed, due to the over zealous stomping of their winkle picker wearing, un-dead fans.
Fuelled by the lack of people interested in the same obscurities as them, the brilliant young boys formed the band around the idea that maybe, just maybe, they might one day release a 7". Five singles and an album later, things are going rather swimmingly. The noise they produce is something quite special; a combination of five very different influences being brought together and turned into something that could almost, if you really had to, be called Psych Punk. "I'm into girl groups (think Lydia Lunch and The Modettes rather than Girls Aloud), and post-punk", says Faris. "Josh is into weird noises and electronica, whilst Tom, Joe and Spider are into psych and garage. It's the combination of all those different things that take the music into the direction it's going."
In the beginning, The Horrors garnered notoriety for their tighter-than-thou trousers, enormous, gonk style, backcombed hair and meticulously applied eyeliner. You didn't crowbar yourself into clubs like White Heat and Underage Club to hear their melodic tunes; you squeezed in to be part of an overall happening. Nowadays, the experience starts the minute they drag themselves on stage. Coffin Joe's piercing blue eyes cut through you as he perches on his matt black drum stool. Even when you look at the rest of the band, you can feel his eyes slicing through you, making the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Tomethy Furse slinks on stage next to him, silent like a pussycat about to pounce, eyes wide and staring from underneath a neat side parting. Joshua Third strides across a whole five minutes after his hair has entered the building and while you weren't looking, Spider Webb has come on stage, slinking behind his synthesiser, his long thin black arms flailing like a zombie doing the monster mash. They begin. The slow beat of their opening song, Jack the Ripper sounds like a funeral march going through the gates of hell. And then Faris makes his entrance.
Faris Badwan, the 20-year-old singer of The Horrors stands 12ft 6inches in stockinged feet, not including the coiffured height of his giddying hair -- hair that stands so tall and proud, Marie Antoinette would gladly chop off her own head for the chance to wear hers that high and ridonkulous. Draped in a long black cape and carrying his microphone stand with black helium balloons ceremoniously attached, Faris starts the whirring of his incessant moan… "Walking down the streets of London late at niiigghtttt…" He creeps about the stage, hands blackened with paint, touching random foreheads of his disciples, an act which sees him suck in the soul out of his willing victims, all the while narrating a scene from a nightmare set in Dickensian times. They are camp, pretentious, considered, styled within an inch of their lives and brilliant because of it. If you haven't witnessed their massacre, if you haven't bowed down at their matt black alter, or fallen victim to their evil commodity then please do so. NOW. The clock has struck midnight… their time is upon us.
Their first gigs were at the now defunct Southend style and sound petri dish, Junk Club (run by Spider Webb and A Clockwork Orange fanatic Oliver Von Blitzkrieg). Set in The Royal Hotel overlooking the flat pallid sea, Junk also formed contemporaries out of otherworldly no-wave band The Violets and the anti-suburban punk antagonists Xerox Teens and Neils Children. Whilst London's milieu was growing as stale as an old bun, Southend's seaside scene flourished. "The Junk Club was really great - there were so many brilliant bands I think it was a breeding ground for anyone in the area to come together. It was such a breath of fresh air from London. It's such a weird place, with its grey high street and fairground..." Faris drifts off and readjusts his waistcoat. Even before he was in The Horrors, Faris was known for his part in cult underground one-hit-wonder sensations The Rotters purely down to his dress sense. (And the fact he was over a foot and a half taller than the lead singer Dylan). But Junk Club's posse all dressed like this -- a 1960's tight trousered, pointy shoe and a cravat look for him/an A-line dress and heaps of kohl for her. They're suave punk, not caring what anyone else thinks of them, other than their peers.
"We're definitely not Goth, it's ridiculous when people say that. The name came from something we all had in common -- our Grandparents calling us 'little horrors'," Faris divulges. The Horrors have complete power over the kids; they are creating a catharsis from the everyday crap that teenagers put up with, same style as original punk, but with less zits and spit. "You get fed all this stuff about how you're supposed to make music and reach a certain position in the charts, but these goals aren't really important," states Faris from behind his shaded brown eyes. "What is relevant is that we started out making music for us and maybe that's why kids like it, because it makes them want to do it too." It's true. Early recordings might not be note perfect and crystal clear, but because they are so DIY, it makes you feel like buying a 50p organ from a burglar's boot fair and start pressing the keys in quick succession.
Their album, Strange House merges that DIY approach with a distinctly polished edge. It covers a lot of musical ground, and you can hear each Horror's different influence coming through. There's a definite Suicide vibe happening in some of the tracks, a lot of 1960s weird twangs, 'oooooooooohwaaaaaas' as well as references to bands like Screaming Lord Sutch, The Jesus and Mary Chain, psychedelic lynchpins Silver Apples and The Ramones. Sheena Is a Parasite picks up where The Ramones left off 30 years ago. Sheena, the original punk rock chick, has now become a leathery old hag; sick of living in America she's trying to work her way onto the scene in the UK, where she is very much not wanted. Other songs pull more directly from influences such as UFO-obsessed producer Joe Meek.
Meek, who made his artists record in the bathroom, stairwell and kitchen of his flat, was one of the first British producers to use compression and reverb on his recordings and pioneered the way for songs having a unique sonic signature at a time when most recordings sounded like the same old jazz. Tracks like Little Victories and Draw Japan have the Meek inspired swirling screech of the organ (Vox Continental, same kind they use when the zombies come back from the dead in old horror films, fact fans), as well as enough Jesus and Mary Chain distortion to give Bobbie Gillespie a heart flutter. The overall sound is clammy, thick and heavy, but as shiny as a silver bullet.
It's what you would expect the 11 tracks to sound like having been produced by Jim Sclavunous, the man who played with Sonic Youth and Nick Cave, and is notorious for helping igniting New York's No-Wave movement back in the day. Of their debut - well, Faris seems pleased with it - "We went into the studio with ten songs written and came out with another eight songs, all in a week. It was like, 'Wow, this is what we can do if we actually had the time'. Everybody had their own ideas. When we first started we didn't really know about anything, but that wasn't a bad thing. We were completely pure in the sense that we didn't know how songs were put together so we were just bashing it out and seeing what happened, now we have a clearer idea of exactly what we are doing."
Basically The Horrors are a complete package, from artwork, videos, and song titles to dress sense. If they were a meal there would be no missing ingredient, no more seasoning required. It seems fair that of their contemporaries, it's Klaxons who have managed an assault of similar awe-inspiring effect. But where Klaxons champion colour and the future, Horrors are strictly monochrome in sensibility, five stinking, skinny malignant children of the damned, forever banished to remain chained up in the catacombs of hell. The question remains… dare you follow them there? Their well-dressed nonchalance galvanises the kids into action. In places like Dublin, Dundee, Humberside, there's panic on the streets when they come to town. Younger audiences go mental because they get it, and cause mayhem at every gig. "It's all about people seeing us and feeling like they're part of it. We're the sort of band that will tour forever. It's a weird way of living, but I really enjoy it; I love playing," states Big F, "One of the weirdest gigs happened in LA. I wouldn't have thought there would be much of a scene in LA for a band like us," he murmurs, "but we arrived and the kids went crazy; they knew all the words to all the songs. I was blown away by that."
When they played London's Underage Club in the dark winter months of last year, the floor was trembling under the pitter-patter of tiny stampeding hooves and the speakers looked as if they were about to topple. There were children as young as six doing a bit of a sly backcomb, and the whole place was so full of excitement, energy and teen-frustration that you knew it was going to be one of those 'I was there' moments, like the Sex Pistols playing at St Martins. Everyone was there too... apparently. Each and every time The Horrors play a gig, they issue a free fanzine to all the fans. Each member of the band contributes something different to the editorial content. Spider is all about the music, (he's obsessed with music, and compiles a CD of inspirational rarities). Josh likes building things and making weird sounds and gives a diagram of how he makes distortion pedals. There are stills from the Sheena video and an explanation of weird noises by Tomethy. Joe sheds some light on his favourite dance steps whilst Faris' complex and inky illustrations string it all together. Everyone has their own thing, there's a Horror for everyone, a bit like the Spice Girls, but with better hair and no accompanying dolls -- as of yet. The Horrors (like the Spice Girls), share a commercially viable identity begging to be seen on pencil cases, bedspreads and figurines - they have made themselves into a brand, a cartoon. A potentially huge commodity given half the chance, teenagers globally should start dressing like them and waste their time drawing their instantly recognisable silhouette over their school books.
You won't have found their first three singles on the shelves of Woolworth's, jostling for number one between boy-band and bubblegum. Chart regulations means they were ineligible because they came with a sticker. This has meant that while they are the perfect band brand, they haven't received much chart recognition. "It seems ridiculous that it somehow matters if you sell ten thousand singles one week and get to a certain position, and then sell nothing the next week." Faris continues, "Surely it's about how many you sell in your entire career. Name a band in the charts - in 20 years time is anyone going to remember or care about them? But with our kind of music, people will remember it. Hopefully we will still have a following, the same way The Ramones have a bigger following now that they did when they were alive, same as The Velvet Underground. It becomes an institution. That's what I want The Horrors to be, an institution." Or is it the stuff of legend? And with that he leaves with his gang in tow, the night sky seeming prematurely dark around them. Their long thin bodies disappear into the gloom, and BANG!… they're gone as quickly as whence came. Just like proper ghouls should.
Text Hanna Hanra
Photography Terry Richardson
Styling Mel Ottenberg