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Spook The Horses

Spook The Horses

Interviewed by
Brannavan Gnanalingam
Thursday 1st December, 2011 10:52AM

Wellington's Spook the Horses are soon to unleash their debut release, a full length album titled Brighter. We caught up with frontman Callum Gay to find out how the band came into being,  the new album and how colour helped them to keep their songs cohesive but unique...

Why music?

I guess just because it's the only thing that really interested me from the start. I think for a lot of guys, I guess when you're at that young age, the options available to you were music or sport or any other kind of art stuff, but for me I was always interested in music from a reasonably young age. I had a few instruments floating around the house growing up, and I started getting keyboard lessons at a young age, and then guitar, and then dropped those immediately after two or three lessons, but the thing that really stuck with me was drums. I did that for a really long time and started playing drums for Spook and from there I got more interested in other things and doing what I'm doing now and guitar and stuff. I think the others have very similar stories. Picked up an instrument at a really young age and got really obsessive about them. And here we are.

How did you guys come together?

Originally it was a four-piece thing. Ben [Dentice] and I had been playing in bands for years and years. We first started jamming when we were fourteen and playing really awful stuff. And then, I played in a whole bunch of metal bands throughout our teen years, and we knew Donnie [Cuzens] from playing in other bands. We got tired and bored of doing the metal stuff, a bit jaded with the whole scene. I brought a really slow riff to practice one time and brought it to Ben and said, 'how would you feel if we did more stuff like this?' and he said, 'how would you feel if we did stuff that was only stuff like that?'. I said, "yep, absolutely, let's do it." Alex [Ross], our current bass player, was playing for us then, and then he moved away to Japan for a while and that's when we got Blair [Everson] who is now in the Eversons, after jamming for a year and we wrote the album together and we spent some time recording all of that stuff, and he left for greener pastures and became too busy, and then we got Alex back when he came back to the country. It's been a pretty natural sort of thing, we've been friends for a long time. We were lucky enough to know dudes into the same kind of thing, and we brought Donnie into the fold early, and everyone had this common idea. And since we knew each other already, we just jumped into it from there. I forgot to mention Zach [Meech]. He came along once I decided I didn't want to do drums anymore. We all kind of collectively decided getting a new flavour of an extra guitar and synths would be a good idea, I knew him since I was five, so he just jumped in there.

Did the metal background help? Obviously you'll need to be pretty tight to play as a metal band.

Yeah, I think it helped in the sense that we knew very clearly what we didn't want to do. The tightness thing is important, obviously from a metal perspective as well. We definitely had it in us, along with a lot of local bands we really enjoyed who had blown us away with how tight and ridiculously solid they were when they were playing live. That was helpful. But the metal thing, we were all tied together by our love of heavy music, we're a heavy band. I wouldn't go so far as to say we play metal anymore. It has helped but it's not a huge part of what we do anymore.

You described yourself as post-rock?

Post-rock is another tricky one. I don't get too hung up on avoiding the genre thing, a lot of people go activist as though as applying a genre or a label to a band is this horribly negative thing. I don't think it is as long as you don't get too militant about it. It's a general identifying feature, it's useful for a band to be described by a particular style. Post-rock is a pretty broad one. When I think of post-rock I think of Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Ros, Godspeed – obviously, we're huge Godspeed fans. That thing really is super-broad. What we're doing can't be summed up completely with post-rock, it has a lot of aspects that are not really post-rock, massive heavy things – I'd go with heavy post-rock. I think we try to avoid calling it post-metal. I think that's less fair of a term than post-rock. Maybe somebody else will come up with a term for it.

It seemed to me that you could draw a line from HDU and Jakob more to you guys?

Yeah that kind of thing. I'd absolutely call Jakob post-rock and HDU as well. I guess it has an element of aggression and desperation to the music that post-rock doesn't really have. Desperation probably, but the aggression not so much. I wouldn't disagree with the term post-rock, but I wouldn't rely on it completely.

How do you go about writing the songs, is there a lot of improvising?

We absolutely tend to work as a group. Generally someone will bring a riff along, or a collection of riffs, or even just some notes that they like, or any barebones idea and we would jam it as a group. When we were doing Brighter, we had a very, very clear idea of how we wanted the songs to feel overall. We had this idea that we wanted the songs to sound like a certain colour. We found was a really useful way of keeping cohesion. All of the titles of the songs correspond to an individual piece of prose. The lyrics of each track elaborate on the title, which I guess every song does, but I guess in a more specific sense. When we were writing we shied away from things that sounded too weird, if we got a vibe from it. Obviously it's not something we can quantify, but we decided as a group that it doesn't fit with this visual aesthetic we were after. That was a big part of the writing process with Brighter. It's generally just a big group collaborative element.

Given you guys work around a colour, how does that work? Do you have a discussion, or jam on the individual impressions, or a discussion on what the colour 'means'?

The meaning wasn't really there so much. It's really just a visual thing. The lyrics and the titles of the album, this visual metaphor for the content of the songs. It's very difficult to both write and apply the visual aesthetic and what it's representing. I had these lyrics and ideas and in terms of how we wrote the music, it was more what colours it made us think of. We'd write these riffs and go, 'I don't know if that suits the vibe'. The whole time it wasn't 'it needs to sound like blue'. It was more something we kept in mind to make sure it sounded cohesive at the end of it. We wrote the songs over quite a period of time, and every time we wrote a song, we always tried to do something different. It was more a way of framing everything, rather than getting too restrictive.

Brighter took two years?

The recording process took just under a year and we spent a year or just over writing it. That was broken up with writing and jamming, and doing bedroom stuff.

Any reason for the delay, or did the fifth member add extra time?

We had written maybe half of it before Zach arrived, and there was the process of needing to add parts for my stuff and a couple for him. The reason why it took us a year to record. We did it with a friend, with Tim [Shann] who has recorded many, many bands around Wellington and he's very good at what he does. He is really, really busy. He plays drums in the Eversons, he plays bass in Razorwyre, and he plays bass in the Body Lyre for a large chunk of it. He's a really busy guy and we all have stuff going on, on top of recording. There was a space between what we doing. We did the guitars individually over a period of a few nights. The longest thing was the mixing process. We taught ourselves a lot about how we need to write music in the future because of the fact the songs are so dense and so saturated and how we have three guitars going constantly and each of them doesn't stick to a specific role and each guitar doing different things at different times. For a mixing perspective, you need to find room to put everything or it'll sound really punishing and one-dimensional. The mix took a long, long time. We tried to make it fairly transparent and not ridiculously produced. There's nothing on there that we can't play live, There's no overdubs or layering with the exception of a few textural things. It was just the mix that took a really long time.

It's a pretty ambitious first album – long songs, big textures

I guess so. It was what we really wanted to do. That was the stuff we really enjoyed the most. That was the stuff we found the most emotional. The ambition thing came from wanting to do an album first. It was one of those things, we thought 'we might as well'. We could have done an EP. If you do an EP, you've got to do an album. So we just did an album.

Was it hard maintaining the emotion in the song – given you take people on a journey, is it hard to maintain while spending a lot of time recording?

A little bit. There are parts in the album that don't sound quite how we envisioned them. There are some things that don't quite sit exactly. Little impact points that don't have the energy we'd like them to have. It would have been great if we had been able to do it live, we've got five members and some songs are twelve minutes each, and if one person stuffs up then it's, 'everyone has to do it again'. We had to be a bit cutthroat a bit. The emotional aspect comes from the way we write it, we wrote it with that kind of vibe in mind. Any capture with the exception of if you go studio crazy and chop everything up, it's going to have most of what you want 'cause you wrote it that way.

Could you write for a visual medium?

I'd love to. That would be a lot of fun. I know Donnie would love to do too, as he's outrageously into film music. Hopefully make some money too. If the opportunity came up I'm sure we'd jump to it.

It's a diverse album – an obvious risk is making it sound too samey...

I think it relates to what I was saying about how we really made a deliberate attempt to do something different with every song. We've got one of the songs, the second to last track it's really radically different – it's all clean vocals, there's piano, there's guitar played with a violin bow – you can't go past a bowed guitar when it comes to post-rock. We really tried to make an effort to make it all different in its own way. We found we had a tendency when we were writing to start small and go big, which is obviously the most post-rock thing out. I think that's the most organic thing of writing music, and we thought we've been doing this for a while and we can't do this on every track. There are some tracks we do it, there are some tracks that are flat – though on those tracks we start big and stay big. The last thing we want to do is stagnant in any way, that's the most awful thing any band can do, and I'd be so disappointed in myself and my band if we did the same thing again. There was a very deliberate attempt to get things flowing.

How's it been going live – just played a show up north?

Yeah we did, we did a Hamilton and Auckland show with Old Loaves and Viking Weed which were a lot of fun. There were our first shows out of town. The Auckland show was really great, the Hamilton show had a strange crowd, being all-ages venue; it's the kind of venue where everyone is there because of the music. The vibe there was a bit different to what we were used to. Playing live, we have a lot of fun every time we do it. We don't play live as often as other bands. We try not to get too saturated in the band market I guess. Whenever we do it we have a lot of fun, we're going to be doing a lot of shows with Brighter, we're planning on touring it around New Zealand at least. The last shows were a lot of fun, the Old Loaves guys are great, and Viking Weed are impressive.

What's next?

At this point, all we're doing as a band is just smashing Brighter. We're going to play lots of shows, and send it to lots of people and hopefully get people interested. Musically we have talked a lot about what we want to do now, but we haven't jammed around it. That's going to take a wee while, because we don't want to rush into something and get something that sounds too much like the previous album. It'll be an ongoing thing, and writing, and practise, and trying new things. In terms of what the band is doing, for the foreseeable future, it'll be trying to do justice to the last two years of effort.