BlackBook Interview: The Horrors’ Tom Furse on Japanese Aesthetics and ‘Blade Runner’ Record Shops

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Upon seeing The Horrors for the first time in New York City in 2007, a journalist friend remarked, “They won’t last. It’s not like they’re a real band.”

The point, which ultimately proved ridiculously wide of the mark, was that they had burst onto the London scene in a blaze of black capes, majestic horror coifs and high stylization (cue: Addams Family organ riffs and Bad Seeds bombast) – surely the stuff of ephemerality. But it turns out they actually had an arsenal of influences just waiting to, erm, creep into their considerable songwriting abilities. And indeed, their latest album, the cryptically titled V (out September 22, and produced by Paul Epworth), shows them to have evolved into one of the more multifarious musical entities to have come out of post-punk’s second wave.

To be sure, from the metallic-glam castigations of first single “Machine,” to the ominous synth-pop of “Hologram,” to the haunted melancholy of the exquisite “Weighed Down” (with Faris Badwan crooning ever so longingly), The Horrors have made the album they’ve surely always meant to make. One with the emotional complexity to match their sonic splendor.

In advance of the band’s two-night-stand at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade (September 18 + 19), we caught up for a chat with keyboard virtuoso and eminent songsmith Tom Furse.

 

The Horrors have outlived most of your peers. Did you ever expect to come this far?

No, I think I said we’d do three albums…and we’ve done five now. And initially, twelve years ago, we thought we’d just put out one seven inch. That was the height of our ambition.

And now it’s your whole life.

Yes, it’s been my entire adult life. All my experiences and my relationships have revolved around this band.

Right, you’re the guy from The Horrors.

Yeah! No matter what else I do.

The new album is as complex and far-ranging as anything you’ve ever done. Did Paul Epworth have an influence on that? Or were the songs already there?

Given the breadth of our influences, between the five of us, I think our range of music has always been there – it’s probably just more apparent on this album. Paul had a real influence on the process. But ultimately when people ask what we sound like, I never really know what to say.

There are definitely some new sonic avenues…

There was a big dub influence on this album, yes – there’s a real dubby feel to the drums. Which is a million ways away from what people expect of us.

 

“Hologram” kind of reminds me of Gary Numan.

I thought you might bring that one up. I actually sketched that song out and brought it in to the guys, and they pointed out that it sounded like Gary Numan – and I didn’t know that! I had certainly listened to him a lot. It’s funny how these things echo through time.

It lives in your subconscious.

Well even with “Machine,” when people compared it to Marliyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails…I thought it was actually more like The Stooges!

There’s also something of The Jesus & Mary Chain in it.

The world judges you on the surface level of it, but for me it’s so much more complex. There’s so much more going on – even for a song that’s kind of quite brutal and simple.

The Horrors, as I would call it, have become an “excellent taste” band.

Record collector rock?

Oh no, not at all – because record collectors are only concerned with what everyone else thinks of their so-called taste. More like, that ability to take the best bits of your very well-chosen influences and make them your own.

Well, I have a radio show, and that’s a good indication of what I’m into at the moment. But I’ve always thought conscious influence is really dangerous; you have to let influences in through your subconscious. Though there certainly is a kind of harmonic sensibility, where you hear it and say, “Oh, that is a Horrors track.”

 

 

Songs like “It’s a Good Life,” “Gathering,” “Point of No Reply” all exhibit a sort of open-hearted profundity and elegance that leads me to believe what I had long suspected: The Horrors are really kind of romantics at heart.

Yeah, I think so! I would definitely agree with that.

But you wouldn’t be The Horrors without controversy. There was something about the album artwork?

Yes, an artist accused us of both cultural appropriation and stealing from other artists. It got a bit out of hand, so I wrote to him asking where did we go wrong – and he wrote back quite a long apology, in that he didn’t mean it to get that out of hand.

 As things tend to do in these days of digital communication. 

I don’t think anyone really had a leg to stand on. The people that were accusing us, were people who were also accused of ripping off other artists. Finally everyone decided not to go any further with the conversation, because it wasn’t making anyone look very original.

Don’t we kind of live in a world of cultural pastiche?

I don’t think so. I think “pastiche” implies something negative, just picking and choosing from different places.

The “cultural appropriation” accusation is one that is certainly let fly a little too capriciously.

With the artwork, I came up with this concept of what it would be like to walk into a record store in a Blade Runner universe, and pick up a record – what would that look like? And there was a big Japanese influence, because we’ve spent so much time in Japan – and you can’t help but be taken in by the cultural aesthetic. All our records get put out with this obi strip of Japanese text. And we thought, “Why can’t we just do something like that?” And then we got accused of cultural appropriation. When It’s just about conveying ideas.

 

The Horrors in Tokyo

When you think of say, Factory Records, the overall aesthetic was as important as the music itself. 

For sure, everything we do has to genuinely represent us in some way.

Faris has become quite a formidable vocalist, hasn’t he?

I think he’s really come into his own on this record. Paul was able to help him to really get the most out of his voice. I mean, Faris comes off as this character – but he’s very serious about the music.

You’re returning to America at a really weird time.

Yeah, but there’s all kinds of weird shit going on here too – Trump there, Brexit here. It’s actually kind of interesting to be living through such turbulent times; I think it’s one of those periods of necessary evil. We have to go through this to learn about ourselves. Ultimately we have to ask, what is it that we all really want?

It’s certainly a time for moral self-examination. And I’m sure we’ll be talking about it for a very long time.

But we can’t be complacent anymore. I think it’s been proven that our values aren’t necessarily a given – that they can dissipate very quickly.

Ultimately, what does this album say about The Horrors?

Hmm…I don’t know. I hope it says that we are a band that hasn’t settled for being complacent. There’s certainly still a lot of ground to cover.