Interview The Horrors

Jasper Willems
6 min readApr 11, 2024

--

The Horrors’ Faris Badwan on the band’s new EPs and his visual work

The Art Of The Response

After fifteen years of playing venues and festivals, creative arcs can become a bit stale and predictable. Thoughts about Greatest Hits-compilations or nostalgic anniversary deluxe editions start to creep in. The danger of becoming a facsimile of the self suddenly becomes clear and present. The Horrors in this case are quite the oddity among rock bands operating on a larger scale. Perversely so, they have been content being their uncooperative, volatile selves, chaos agents with a knack for courting unusual circumstances. Not that the band is consciously contrarian in breaking their own continuity, as lead vocalist Faris Badwan casually underscores.

“I feel like we’re a little bit of an anomaly in some ways; we’ve never really been part of a scene with loads of other bands. I feel The Horrors have always existed a little bit outside of whatever else is going on. I think that just comes from having conviction in what you want to do and not really thinking about what’s currently happening.What people get into is so cyclical and you just have to get on and do what you think is right in whatever moment, you know?”

Right now, Badwan seeks the most comfort in continuously creating. “I’ve been doing a series of ‘responsive paintings’ over the lockdown. Because I had no social contact with anyone. When I started speaking to friends again on the phone, I started painting while I was in conversation with them. You know when you start drawing without thinking about it? You have a piece of scrap paper and a pencil you have lying around, tou naturally start to create stuff. I basically wanted to explore that further. What happens if you take that idea and push it further, expand it into full paintings?”

Badwan already had an exhibition of these responsive paintings displayed in Dubai, and he’s planning on exhibiting them in London as well. He says that making visuals while corresponding with another unlocked an intuitive character in his work he could not recapture otherwise. Curiously, he noticed distinct patterns, frequencies and “continuity in the visual language” between works that were made when speaking with the same person. “It’s like a parallel dialogue. I’m actually doing one right now while we’re talking. It’s a language my subconsciousness has created, and it’s there to be explored and understood. Kind of like a snapshot of a moment in time.”

Intrigued by these outcomes, Badwan wanted to see what would happen if he talked to strangers instead of familiar faces. “I met this girl online and we were talking over a number of months, and we got to know each other quite well. There was a point where we were talking three times a week or something. We’d have quite long conversations. We talked about a lot of personal stuff, sometimes hours at a time. So I got these whole series of paintings from talking to her. There’s a real range as well. You see them sort of develop as the relationship develops. But what was really interesting and weird to me was… after the lockdown I got back to London and we met up in person.” He briefly pauses.

“And there was no chemistry.” Noticeably puzzled, Badwan says that they have been in contact on Zoom and FaceTime, knowing from one another what they sounded and looked like. “But when we were actually in person together, the chemistry was just off. We spent the day together and walked around the park. While the conversation itself wasn’t difficult, the actual chemistry was not there. And it made me question what connection really is. How much of it is projection? Maybe when you’re on the phone you’re reaching out for human connection, and maybe you start to fill in a lot of gaps. And maybe start filling them in incorrectly. Who is this person you have created in your head? And how much resemblance do they have to the actual person?”

Badwan did find a lot of inspiration in the work he made while talking to his new friend. But the overall outcome left him a bit discombobulated. “I don’t know, I’m usually fairly good at reading people and sensitive towards what someone is like. But for it to be so off the mark in terms of relating to one another in real life, I would find it quite weird. I’m still trying to understand it. We haven’t really spoken since right after we met in person. We both agreed that the connection was wrong. It’s so interesting what the brain does when you’re in a situation where you need to share your inner feelings with someone. Maybe it’s reading into something that isn’t there.”

With musicians trying to find proxies for live performances during the pandemic through streams touches on a similar question: how much does being in a physical space with another define you, especially compared to digital spaces or intermediates such as a simple phone connection? Maybe our extended reliance on long distance communication has caused a big rift in our identities? “The Horrors have been around a long time now, we’ve seen the music industry change a lot. But the last two years have reminded me that certain things are never going to change. People will always respond to live shows because you get the sort of connection you can’t get anywhere else. No matter what changes around that, people always want that human connection. I think nothing can ever replace shows in a live setting.”

That might explain The Horrors’ rather violent left turn over the past two EPs. Lout and Against The Blade — both self-produced and recorded by the band over a long distance — introduces not so subtle bouts of industrial, noise rock, electronic punk and alternative metal. It’s the kind of eyebrow-raiser of a direction that’ll split their established fanbase right down the middle, and also pull in curious gatecrashers previously unfamiliar with The Horrors (I count myself among this latter group).

Not that the band is a stranger to surprising both audiences and themselves. The more psychedelic/krautrock abstractions of second album Primary Colours were a strong departure from the bratty garage rock of Strange House. In those days, The Horrors themselves didn’t position themselves as debonair architects of new sounds, but as oblivious wanderers plunging through a new realm of possibility. In numerous interviews, Badwan admitted that the band didn’t even know about records that were later referenced in the reviews, most notably Mother Sky by Can.

Bands that take themselves more seriously might look clumsy or out of their own depth in this situation, but The Horrors’ charisma and attitude allowed them to go brazenly through the motions, achieving their own brand of originality in the process. Back then though, Badwan’s extraverted stage antics had to find a new evolution within Primary Colours’ more oblique experimentations. But now, after the more polished Paul Epworth-produced V, he has to adjust physically again to the new music’s more gnarly aesthetics.

“When we did Primary Colours it was so different to Strange House and also because we were so much younger. It felt like a real new beginning. It was kind of confusing playing those songs for the first time. When I first got on stage to play them, I didn’t really know how to react at first. The way of transmitting these songs was so different. But in this case, because The Horrors have been through a few of those situations before, I feel the new songs push the older songs more in a new direction themselves. We’re starting to reimagine how some of the old songs can be. And the whole set will be different, we basically had time to reimagine what a Horrors show is. It’s an opportunity to reinvigorate the band. We get bored and excited by new things, and we want to chase the things we’re excited about at this very moment, and inject as much of that as possible into what we’re presenting.”

As evidenced by artists as far reaching as Rico Nasty or 100 gecs, the time for subtlety seems to have gone the way of the dodo. Heavier, more angst sounds are becoming more pervasive, or maybe more necessary. “We definitely wanted to make something that felt like a primal release, especially to play live. Delivering music like this can be a bit cartoony, it can be a little bit exaggerated. It is supposed to be larger than life, and over the top.” When day to day life doesn’t quite add up, well, why the hell not.

The strange intangibles that allow The Horrors to maintain their longevity certainly gives pause to think on what it means to deeply connect with others. Is it a matter of surrender or a matter of concentrated effort?. ”It’s an ongoing process right? You don’t get it right every time. Everytime we make something I want it to be genuine, I want it to capture whatever feeling I have at the time, whether it’s a painting or a piece of music. When you get that right, there are always people responding to it. Maybe it’s not the same people every time. I don’t mind or expect the same people to like everything we’ve done, but I do want them to see the value of a real human connection.”

--

--