Pulled Apart By Horses on new album The Haze
Robert Lee explains how Pulled Apart By Horses rediscovered their youthful spark for new album The Haze
Pulled Apart By Horses have always been something of an anomaly in the UK rock landscape, ever since emerging at the turn of the decade. At a time when faceless post-punk revivalists ruled the airwaves, the Leeds four-piece carved their own riff-based niche. And unlike many of their underground hardcore peers, their irreverent tunes seemed to resonate with every crowd they played.
The band’s chaotic live shows quickly gained notoriety. Venues were rammed, mosh pits were wild and injuries were common, including for band members themselves (onstage accidents included concussions and a near leg amputation for guitarist James Brown). It’s little surprise, then, that by 2014 album Blood the band’s sound had become darker and more nuanced.
After parting with management and finishing a one-album record deal with Sony, however, they found themselves back at square one. Bassist Robert Lee says that this newfound independence was vital when it came to writing new album The Haze: “It was quite refreshing to be back where we’d been at the very start, so we thought, ‘Let’s have fun with this,’” he says. “All that pressure we’d felt over the past few years – some of it from ourselves – was off. While our musicianship has progressed and gone in a different direction since our early days, I think the new album brings back that element of spontaneity and naïveté. The attitude and spirit is back.”
It’s impossible to overstate just how important that sense of spirit has been over the years. Lee cites bands like At The Drive-In and Refused as early influences on their hyperactive style. Following in the footsteps of cult mid-2000s UK acts like Reuben, Blakfish and Meet Me In St. Louis, the band’s early material was a balance between beefy grooves, light-hearted lyrics and erratic song structures.
“Our sound really reflected our personalities at the time,” he says. “It wasn’t necessarily our intention to revive that scene or anything, but we definitely went down that route because we liked the energy and authenticity of it. What I would say is we were a bit scrappier and not so serious. We put a lot of effort into our music and worked hard when we toured, but the actual content was light. It wasn’t all about broken hearts and all that – we had a sense of humour.”
The band’s tastes had broadened by the time they made third record Blood, which drew more than a little from the group that inspired their name in the first place (see Radiohead’s Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses). “We were into darker and more atmospheric stuff at the time,” says Lee. “I think it reflected where we were as a band on a personal level. In the first few years you throw yourself head-first into everything and have too much fun. It can get too much and you need to come down a bit. Day-to-day frustrations kick back in and some of that feeling went into the album.”
For Lee, The Haze refers to “coming out of the fog” they’d been engulfed in and rediscovering their mojo to some extent. There’s certainly a palpable dynamism to new singles like Hotel Motivation that hark back to the band’s sweaty club days. This rejuvenation is all the more impressive given the band parted company with drummer Lee Vincent, arguably their most manic instrumentalist, in 2015. Replacement Tommy Davidson, who was drafted in almost immediately, seems the perfect fit.
“He’d always been in the wings saying how much he loved the band and he was there as soon as we needed him,” says Lee. “It was amicable when we lost Lee – he had moved down to London with his family and wanted to do the band thing part-time, whereas we wanted to keep slogging away.
“Tommy was local which was useful for us all, being in the same practice space. He was part of that local Brew scene [a post-hardcore record label that closed in 2013] and really understood the ethos of the band. But he also opened up our sound a lot. Stylistically, Lee was really frenetic and had that aggression and uncontrollable energy that’s hard to maintain over the years. Tommy’s a bit more controlled and fits the direction we’ve gone in.”
If the band sound like more of a tight-knit unit on The Haze, it’s partly due to their intense writing and recording process. Despite all finally being based in Leeds with their own practice space, they lived up to an old rock'n’roll cliché and retreated into the wilderness. Renting a cottage on an old dairy farm in rural Wales, the band set about “just making music and having fun again.”
“We locked ourselves away for weeks with no distractions from family or internet or anything,” Lee says. “We needed that time. To be honest, when you’ve got four guys in a band on their own in the middle of nowhere, there are a lot of late nights. In the past there was perhaps more collaboration on the writing, but this time Tom [Hudson, guitar/vocals] wrote most of it. He really grafted this time around.
“It could be difficult for him because often we’d be jamming something and there’d be this real pressure on him to write lyrics that really fit the atmosphere of what we were trying to do. I think the words are a lot more open to interpretation this time around – it was all very stream of consciousness. There were also so many days where we woke up and went, ‘Ugh, what are we doing?’ But once we knew we had nothing to do but play, it was the obvious and easy thing to do. We snapped back into it and it was invigorating.”
It makes sense for Pulled Apart By Horses to try to revive the essence of what initially galvanised them as artists – sheer exuberance was a huge part of their early appeal – but it remains astonishing that they’ve maintained the same levels of passion nine years on from their first show. Having supported the likes of Muse, Foals and Biffy Clyro after touring their first record, many assumed the band’s rise would be stratospheric. It remains to be seen whether that jump is still to come.
“I remember sitting in the Barrowlands dressing room when we supported Biffy many years ago,” says Lee. “We were looking at the famous stars on the walls and the tour manager was telling us that you get to take one of those stars once you’ve headlined there. Well, it’s several years on and we still don’t have that star! When we released Tough Love, our second album, we were playing some huge places and then it dipped and levelled off again. Everything goes in waves so it’s impossible to know where your trajectory is going to be. To be honest, though, we were never in it for that.”
It’d be obtuse to suggest Pulled Apart By Horses have travelled entirely full circle, either commercially or artistically. After all, Blood was their first album to break the UK Top 40 and their newer tracks are their most technically accomplished yet. Regardless, The Haze represents a fresh break for the band and after being cooped up making the album, they’re ready for a return to the road.
“We’re still not tired of either writing or performing,” says Lee. “Neither part of it is less enjoyable than the other. It’s been a while since we had the opportunity to tour a new record and the physical aspect of being a band is something we’ve always loved. We’re absolutely itching to get out there.”
The Haze is released on 17 March via Caroline International.
Pulled Apart By Horses play King Tut's, Glasgow, 5 Apr; Sound Control, Manchester, 6 Apr; Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 8 Apr; FestEvol Gardens, Invisible Wind Factory, Liverpool, 30 Apr.