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Friday, Jan. 19, 2007
Interview with some vampires
By SIMON BARTZ
Thwack! Fists are flying. Is Faris "Rotter" Badwan about to take another one on the chin? The Horrors' singer has been punched on a London street by a thuggish chav who took offense at his Victorian dandy look and he's also been attacked on stage at a Halloween gig in New York. And now the eminently punchable Rotter is on the receiving end of a bunch of screaming Japanese teenagers. He's penned in. There seems no escape. But there's no blood or bruises this time as Horrorsmania descends upon Harajuku.
"We had our first experience of band mobbing when we left the venue today after soundcheck. It was quite surreal," says Horrors keyboardist Spider Webb. "About 40 people were banging on the windows of the van shouting and screaming. We're always willing to chat to people outside the venue, but this was a bit like ARGH! But it was fun!"
The Horrors were in Japan last month to promote their self-titled five-track debut CD and play a show at Harajuku's Astro Hall live house, all to stoke up excitement ahead of the planned March release of their debut album and further shows in Japan in the summer, including at the Summer Sonic festival.
Riding a wave of media hype in Britain on the back of that one EP, they've notched up an impressive 300,000 MySpace plays, and a bunch of heavyweight celebs have weighed in on their side: Famed video director Chris Cunningham (Aphex Twin's "Come to Daddy" and Bjork's "All is Full of Love") directed the sick flick to The Horror's lethal first single, "Sheena is a Parasite," in which actress Samantha Morton -- who appeared for free -- repeatedly lifts her dress to reveal a squid emerging from her nether regions. And Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner has produced a couple of tracks for the upcoming album.
The Horrors -- completed by guitarist Joshua Von Grimm, bassist Tomethy Furse and drummer Coffin Joe -- formed in August 2005 after meeting at a rockabilly club in Camden and bonded while running The Junk Club in Southend-on-Sea on England's southeast coast. Soon they were melding together a maelstrom of psychobilly, punk and 1960s garage rock, sounding like The Damned, Cramps and ? and the Mysterians meeting in hell after a motorway pileup. The band jetted into Japan after finishing their first British headline tour.
They've spent their few days in Tokyo visiting antique clothes shops, plundering Kiddyland ("I was looking for a huge toy with flashing lights capable of giving someone an epileptic fit," says Webb) and getting confused in a pachinko parlor ("We saw some interesting machines that looked like washing machines and we won lots of ball bearings out of them. What can we do with all these ball bearings?" asks a bemused Rotter).
We're sitting in one of their modest two-bed rooms at a Shibuya hotel and the band -- about to go on stage in an hour -- look vampiric with their pallid complexions contrasting with their black garb. Webb is effeminate, friendly and chatty, leaning forward and speaking quickly while Rotter adopts a typical rock star pose, reclining on the sofa, one big black boot crossed over another, occasionally coughing his guts up. "I think I caught something on the plane over," he says gruffly.
I ask whether they initially sat round a table and decided "we're all gonna wear black, makeup, have big hair and create a look."
"Obviously having an image is important for a band, but ours certainly wasn't preconceived," says Rotter. "We all looked like this before and I guess it's just a reflection of how we are as people, and that's what drew us together."
The Horrors have been branded a goth band. Is such simple stereotyping an insult?
"It's not an insult because we don't even know what it is," says Rotter. "People were calling Birthday Party goths and they were around before people even knew what a goth was. The term doesn't make sense."
"It's that obvious thing," adds Webb. "Unfortunately, people see a band wearing black and they are automatically labeled 'a goth band.' It's the same with the sound and the look. If you don't quite understand what's behind it you get pigeonholed."
When I think of goth music I think of Sisters of Mercy and . . .
"I'm pleased to say I haven't heard much of those kind of groups," says Webb.
On the band's MySpace Web site, they list what's inspired them and it includes such, dare I say it, goth icons such as Dorian Gray. And they call themselves The Horrors.
"People like Rasputin or Dorian Gray are real characters," says Rotter. "The stories behind them are really interesting and really inspirational. Rasputin survived several assassination attempts -- he was poisoned, shot, stabbed . . . When you actually think about it all, it inspires you to write. To do something."
"[As for our name] we're not interested in writing about happy things," adds Webb. "We recall when we were younger and being chased around the house for doing something wrong and being called 'You little horror!' "
The band play notoriously short sets, but Rotter dismisses reports that they haven't got many songs by claiming they've written "about 25" and that many of them will be on their debut album.
"We're very focused on what we want to achieve. [We want] to make an impact with our energy and attitude on stage, a bit like Jesus & Mary Chain," says Rotter. "Playing for an hour and a half is self-indulgent."
But in Japan people pay 25 quid (6,000 yen) to see a show by a foreign band. They might want longer . . .
"They can just pay 25 quid to see us for half an hour or they can pay 25 quid to see a boring band for an hour and a half. I think they'll still pick us," Rotter says.
"Our first show was just a few weeks after the first rehearsal," says Webb. "We played for 15 minutes and did a few covers and three of our own songs. We then didn't feel the need to play much longer than that. We crammed them all in and that encapsulated the idea of what we wanted to do. Now we have more songs so want to fit them in, so half an hour is about right."
The 12 1/2-minute long Horrors EP includes two covers -- Lord Sutch's "Jack the Ripper" and The Syndicats' "Crawdaddy Simone."
"The nature of us doing covers is that a lot of groups we admire from the last 30 or 40 years have done covers as part of their repertoire, part of their live show," explains Webb. "The first thing we did in our first rehearsal was play 'The Witch' by The Sonics and 'Jack the Ripper' by Lord Sutch. That was good for us because we were learning how to play, but later we did not shy away from incorporating that into our set."
Is your wild music reflected in your behavior?
"We're definitely not a band of rock 'n' roll cliches," says Webb. "We're not a rowdy bunch, but we are more than familiar with three- or four-day weekends, partying and stuff."
Will you paint the town red?
"We'll paint it black," says Rotter, cackling. "I've got my black paint with me, of course."
Black paint was at the center of a dispute with sub-Libertines band The Fratellis on a tour organized by British music weekly NME.
The juvenile fun included The Horrors plastering The Fratellis' stage backdrop with black handprints and Rotter dipping his hand into black paint and then shaking the hand of one of his rivals, who was pissed off. Rotter's tongue morphs into a razor-sharp dagger and he digs it in deep. "They're a boring old band and shouldn't even be in one. They would play and then run to their bus every night. We got on with the other bands on that tour but The Fratellis didn't make any attempt to get on with anyone."
Later, at Astro Hall, a couple of new songs are the only surprises in a ramshackle set that fails to do their quality EP justice. The highlight is when Rotter jumps into the crowd and the small girls at the front -- that's often how it is in Japan -- fail to catch the black-clad beanpole. But there's no serious damage, and he gets up off the floor, dusts himself down and scrambles back on to the stage to complete the set. It seems like Faris -- and The Horrors -- are getting more than adept at handling the odd knockdown.
Simon Bartz edits the bilingual Japanese music site www.badbee.net