Nine Songs: The Horrors
Faris Badwan’s musical taste spans a multitude of genres, but he’s always looking for a specific feeling.
Ten years since their first album Strange House was released, Badwan feels that The Horrors have finally found their sound, especially in terms of getting it right on stage. He says their most recent tour for fifth album V has included some of the best shows they’ve ever played and that they’ve found that fine balance to the layered music they make. Similarly, the pivotal songs in his life features music that have grown and evolved with him over time.
“The best songs don’t give you everything straightaway. For a lot of my favourite songs it takes a few listens and they give you more every time you listen. That’s what makes you end up falling in love with them.”
The Horrors frontman’s choices are certainly varied but it’s not the genre or era or even the lyrics that draws Badwan to these songs – it’s a specific, certain feeling he gets from them.
“All of these songs are linked, it’s not a straight one after the other list – there’s this particular bittersweet feeling and all these songs give me that feeling in different ways. That’s why I return to them the most. The best songs are filled with spontaneity. They feel like the first time every time you listen to them. They don’t even have to make sense, they just have to transmit a feeling. That’s the most important thing.”
“The Horrors were recently on the tour bus discussing which is our favourite Iggy Pop song. It didn’t even have to be an Iggy song, just a song that he was involved in.
"My mind went instantly to The Stooges, who are one of the all-time great bands. The Horrors played Rock The House Festival with The Stooges years ago, back in 2007. I was only 21 years old and I got to interview Iggy Pop for NME. I loved The Stooges and talked about them with Iggy Pop for the whole interview. Looking back on it I would have wanted to talk to him about his solo records, because The Idiot is just a brilliant piece of music and interesting in that it’s kind of an early incarnation of industrial music.
“‘Mass Production’ is so warped, the synth at the end comes in perfectly out of tune – it just sounds brilliant. The first time I heard it I was going through the Bowie in Berlin book shortly after I interviewed Iggy Pop. I’d listened to The Stooges loads, MC5 were one of my favourite bands as a kid and I was looking for something that had this sort of factory made heaviness to it.
“The song is so dystopian, and dystopian music is definitely something The Horrors do. Most of the songs coming out around that time were emotion led, but ‘Mass Production’ is bleaker. It’s the kind of song you’d listen to at the end of the night when things start to go a bit south. In just one song it sounds like a full body of work and I still listen to it frequently now.
“Although The Idiot isn’t necessarily representative of Iggy Pop’s work, it does feel just like him to me. If I was to pick something representative of Iggy Pop then I would probably choose the Stooges’ song ‘I’m Sick of You’. In some ways maybe ‘Mass Production’ is more of a Bowie expression, but they clearly built up an amazing rapport and these two creatives made something that perhaps they couldn’t have made on their own and that makes it unique. It feels like a once in a lifetime pairing.
“I just think Iggy Pop is one of the greatest of all time. He’s an all-time icon of music and expression. And he’s also a great guy, you can get that just by listening to his radio show. People always say things like ‘Don’t meet your heroes’ or whatever, but I don’t need the musicians I respect to be nice people or people I can be friends with. It just so happened that Iggy Pop was a kind guy. And that made it really enjoyable.”
“This song polarises opinions. I suppose when people think of Don Henley, or the Eagles, they just think of Dads. It is Dad music, I guess, but there’s something special about this song. It’s hard to describe and hard to pin down. It’s so evocative – it makes you feel nostalgic for something you haven’t even experienced.
“There’s this word in Japanese, ‘Setsunai’. There isn’t really an English equivalent, but ‘bittersweet’ is close. Setsunai describes a feeling between bittersweet, painful and wistful, and ever since I heard the word I have loved looking for this feeling in songs. When I heard that Japanese word it lit up a lot of things for me. My favourite records have that feeling – that bittersweet longing that you’ve not necessarily experienced first-hand.
“This song has Setsunai. It feels like Don Henley didn’t necessarily mean to transmit that feeling and it’s a weird accident that he did. It’s got a quality to it that sums up everything I love about music. Some people will hear it and won’t get it, but I think it’s one of the best songs of all time. Some people might say it’s just an overplayed song, but it’s more than that. There’s the dream, the ideal on top, then underneath is the sadness or the end.
“It reminds me of America. It a strange thing, but I often feel more at home in America than anywhere in England. Places in America feel way more like a hometown to me than England does. And these lyrics are about the American summer, the loop that goes on consistently underneath – the insistence of that loop to me is linked to driving through America.
“It morphed from a song I would hear everywhere when I was a kid, on car radios or café radios or whatever, to a song I heard objectively and realised how great it was.”
“When I was a kid, Midnight Cowboy was one of my favourite films. Especially the end of Midnight Cowboy, when Jon Voight is riding the bus to Miami. It has that thing again, the loneliness and idealism of the American life, the death of the dream, the bleak scenes.
“Fred Neil wrote the original song but Harry Nilsson’s version just brings it to life. It’s a song I find hard to be objective about, because it’s been my favourite song since I was a kid, ever since seeing the film. Harry Nilsson’s version has more of the bittersweet, longing feeling. It’s a great song in general, but I associate his version with a strong set of visuals, especially watching the film as a kid.
“The songs that have the most powerful emotional impact are the ones that surprise you. I’m not listening for artistic inspiration to make a record, but for the feeling. When I’m making a record I completely stop listening to music. When I’m gathering ideas, I can’t listen to music because I have too many other things in my head, I can’t listen to other people’s records. Maybe a bit of classical, but that’s really it.
“So with my favourite music, it’s not necessarily the ones that make you feel excited or hyper, it’s more the ones that get you in your chest or your stomach, the ones that get you in that way and are impossible to ignore. That’s what I would want people to feel with the songs that I’ve written.”
“Jeff Buckley’s vocal range is staggering. He’s basically a classical singer, he’s so technically gifted. When I was on tour as Cat’s Eyes a lot of the singers that sing with us are classical singers, and on tour this year we were discussing who you think has the best musicality – and Jeff Buckley was one of the people that we mentioned.
“I don’t know much about his life other than who his Dad was, but I think it’s actually really rare to hear a singer within guitar music that has such musicality. I don’t think it can be taught either, I think it’s just something he has innately. His tone is incredible on this, it’s unreal.
“This is something you can’t copy, it’s only something you can appreciate. As someone who learnt to sing really late in life, it’s interesting to me. I learnt from scratch, just from playing. At the beginning of The Horrors it was a lot more shouting, spontaneous and came out of nowhere, just raw expression. I feel like none of us really knew what we were doing. In a way I think just reacting instinctively is the best way to get into things that you love, but I learnt a lot from Rachel (Zeffira) of Cat’s Eyes. She was an opera singer originally, before we met. Singing with her I was able to access my own musicality, which is a hard thing to do.
“What’s really great about this song is that Jeff Buckley chose to do it in the first place. If you listen to the whole of Grace, this song comes out of nowhere. The fact that he was brave enough to choose a classical piece and put it on his record, and for it to work as well – the bravery of it is inspiring.
“There’s a vulnerability to this song that you don’t hear in a lot of male singers. It’s easy for someone in the charts like Sam Smith to portray ‘emotion’, but to me his voice transmits no emotion because I feel like its trained emotion. They’re worlds apart. Maybe it’s too easy to target these artists because their songs are made for a purpose, but ‘Corpus Christi Carol’, and Jeff Buckley’s voice in general, has a vulnerability to it that first of all, male singers are afraid to show, and second of all, they wouldn’t be able to do it because they don’t have the soul or technique – and it’s not something male singers aspire to either.
“I have no idea when I first heard this song. A lot of people at school liked Jeff Buckley but this song was kind of tucked away in the record. It took me a while to find the song and hear it, but I heard it on its own one night and hearing it like that I could really appreciate how totally unique it is.”
“The Painted Ship are a psychedelic garage band from Vancouver. My favourite kind of garage is not so much straight ahead, riff driven garage, but warped and atmospheric garage – that’s what I love to listen to.
“Like a complete loser, I’ve made a playlist on my iTunes called ‘Mood Garage.’ They’re the kind of songs that are perfect for when you’re in the car late at night. It was Rhys Webb from The Horrors who first played me this song a couple of years ago, I told him about my ‘Mood Garage’ playlist and this specific sound and he suggested ‘Frustration’ and it was totally right.
“Garage is an amazing genre. The name comes from kids at home making music with only the means available, but then you’ve got all these weird records that came out of it and went in another direction. It’s like it becomes more than the sum of its parts, it has something unearthly about it that you can’t pin down. It’s sort of like a darker version of the ‘Setsunai’ bittersweet feeling. It still hits you in the same place, but it brings you down another path.
“Artistically, garage music has impacted me because of how instinctive the genre is. When it comes to music that actually inspires me to want to make things, it’s always music that is a little more instinctive and spontaneous. I remember when I read Rip It Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds, this whole history of Post-punk that made me want to start like, four different bands. When you read about people who are making music with simple means, it feels spontaneous and it makes you want to play.
“When The Horrors first started there wasn’t any discussion or question of anything, we didn’t even know how to be in a band. So it was all instinctive, a raw transmission of emotion and expression. And that’s why I love garage – it’s through this raw expression that a whole movement of kids in parents’ homes and garages made something that sounded, in the best cases, like it wasn’t even from this world.”
“Now to get as far away from punk as you can get… Wynton Marsalis is a trumpet player, and Kathleen Battle is a soprano.
“There’s a really good video of them performing this song and it kind of tells you everything you need to know about them as people. The combined ego of these two people is insane, you can see it on their faces. Again, it goes back to the idea that you don’t need to feel like you like the people singing to like the song, you can get positive emotions from egotistical people.
“This song was played to me by Rachel from Cat’s Eyes. I got into classical music through her and it took me ages to a find soprano that I actually liked. I find listening to sopranos difficult sometimes, sometimes it feels so intrusive with that theatrical, over the top warble. But when the tone is pure I love it and Kathleen Battle is one of those sopranos.
“The song is a baroque piece, but I find it quite hard to categorise. It’s so visual and so evocative; it’s almost psychedelic, because their music affects your perception of things. And it puts so many opulent and indulgent pictures in my head while I’m listening to it. Of all the soprano pieces and classical pieces that Rachel played me, this one is my favourite. I listen to it all the time, it’s probably one of my most listened to songs.
“These two performers are so completely dedicated to their craft. They’ve been doing this their whole life and they’ve reached a level of control that most people will never get near. That’s why I love watching the video of it so much, despite their monumental egos you can’t help but admire and be inspired by the performance. The level of dedication and the level of musicality is unreal.”
“There’s loads of dark metal bands that I really like: the first Mayhem record, Darkthrone, people like that. But in the end, ‘Jerusalem’ is heavier and more powerful than any of the dark metal bands. It takes the best elements of Black Sabbath and then amplifies them even further.
“It’s a record that I always used to put on before I went out and I’d listen to the whole thing because it was so emotive. It gave me loads of energy, even though it’s so slow and doomy. I love the fact that they released it all as one, hour-long song and how it was able to come out in that form. It means it’s never been vetted really. For me, it’s the best heavy guitar record ever made.
“There’s something almost meditative about ‘Jerusalem’ and part of the band Sleep went on to form another band, OM, which is extremely meditative. So in Sleep, you can really hear the meditative atmosphere aspects of it, I like how hypnotic it is, that’s the reason I would always put it on.
“Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were my entry points to metal, then I read a book called Lords of Chaos which I suppose a lot of people who are interested in learning about black metal have read. Then moving on and listening to the first Mayhem record, I thought it was pretty much like punk, but rather than just being snarling and aggressive, it goes beyond that and turns into something really evil. And I realised I liked the roughness of metal.
“’Jerusalem’ is a flow. You’re hearing the band in the room as it happens and because it’s so unplanned it feels like a jam, which makes it much more subtle. They probably played through the whole hour a load of different times and it was probably different every single time. That’s what I love about it, when you hear the record you’re really getting the atmosphere they created at that time and they managed to capture that on record. There isn’t another record quite like it, and I also love all the records that the band members of Sleep made after it.
“Josh from The Horrors and I went to see Sleep live and – although the guitarist was barely able to stand up because he was very, very drunk – it sounded amazing. People don’t realise how hard it is to make this music sound so good on stage. It’s something I aspire to and it’s an invaluable skill, right down to the way you position the mics on stage. For me the best metal is lo-fi, it’s highly sought after, getting music to be distorted in the right way. There’s such attention on the guitar in this record. Some guitarists play with a lot of pedals, but it can be really inspiring when you have a guitarist who can make music with very little and Sleep do that.
“The first time I heard it was on The Horrors second American tour in 2008. We went to LA, and went to the place everyone goes to, which is Amoeba Records. I got a copy of Dopesmoker, which is the album after Jerusalem and that’s how I first heard ‘Jerusalem.’ But all I remember at first was thinking how awful the artwork was. It was really terrible.”
“Hope Sandoval is one of my favourite female singers, her vocal tones are incredible. It’s the kind of voice that makes you fall in love with the person without knowing anything about them. Hope Sandoval sings on a few Massive Attack records too and they’re amazing.
“I love this whole Mazzy Star record, So Tonight That I Might See. It’s the kind of record I never get sick of. When I first heard it about 10 years ago it was because a girl I liked was into Mazzy Star. I’d heard the name but I’d never actually heard any songs.
“So I put ‘Bells Ring’ on and I thought it was amazing. Straightaway, I thought it was such a brilliant song and I knew I would definitely be listening to it a lot. The girl I liked said, "Do you like Mazzy Star?" so I just quickly said, “Yeah, I love them, I love ‘Bells Ring’, that’s my favourite song!” I later discovered she was annoyed because ‘Bells Ring’ was her favourite song and she felt like she couldn’t say so or it would be like she was copying me. What she didn’t know was that I had never heard it before and she was the one who introduced it to me.
“Sometimes I think that when someone introduces you to a song it’s better than finding it on your own, because then you connect it more with a specific time and place and it ends up meaning more. It’s the act of sharing. One of my favourite things about listening to music is passing it onto other people, when you play a record for someone and they play one to you. That’s how The Horrors became a band. Playing each other records that we hadn’t heard was how we became a group of friends and a band. Sharing music has always been really central to my life.
“It’s the same with creating Cat’s Eyes. Rachel and I exchanged playlists. Some people I know are so protective of the music they discover and try to hide their discoveries. That attitude is so far away from my attitude to music.”
“One of my Mum’s favourite bands is Bread, who I can’t stand, I just don’t like them at all, but as a redeeming feature their singer David Gates wrote and produced ‘My One and Only Jimmy Boy.’
“One of the main types of records I collect are 60s’ girl groups. It’s far from a group of kids in a parent’s garage starting a band, these are more manufactured studio projects, but they do give me a similar feeling. The expression in these songs have influenced me artistically. That romantic sentiment has always interested me, even in the way of how unrealistic it is. That appeals to me in music.
“I’ve always connected to girl groups. When I was about eight years old, I found a cassette called Sounds of the 60s Volume 2 under my parents’ stereo. I heard The Ronettes ‘Be My Baby’ for the first time and I almost felt guilty for liking it because I felt like it was ‘girl music’, but there was something about it that I really loved. That sound, it always has such power to me, it really made me feel strong emotions. There’s something about the naivety and the longing and the emotion expressed that I love.
“So I got this cassette and at eight years old, at the end of term, we all had to bring in a song that we liked. I brought ‘Be My Baby’ in and I remember this girl laughing at me and saying ‘Faris has brought in a girls’ song!’
“But I still started collecting girl group music. For a genre that only existed for about seven years, from about 1958 to 1965, there were so many records released and so many weird ones – it was a time in the pop charts of total freedom, expression and experimentation. There’s a clash of the pure, almost sickly sweet melodies with some really weird production ideas thrown in. That’s why I loved it.”