The Horrors' Joshua Hayward on new album V

We speak to Joshua Hayward of The Horrors about their latest album, V, Depeche Mode, Primal Scream, and social media

Feature by Claire Francis | 22 Sep 2017

We can just faintly make out the voice of The Horrors' guitarist Joshua Hayward when The Skinny call him to discuss the group's latest album V. "I’ve just got this cheap house phone, because my actual mobile phone doesn’t work in my house," he explains in a clipped English accent whose tone sits somewhere between politely reserved and lightly amused. Hayward has been doing interviews all morning – "much to my surprise," he admits. "I completely forgot I was doing them. Because I have the house phone, and it only rings if it’s an interview. The phone rang first thing this morning and I was like, bollocks," he laughs.

In the ten years that the Southend-on-Sea quintet have been releasing records – since first smashing onto the scene in 2007 with their debut album Strange House – they've shapeshifted their way through gothic garage punk, slick indie cuts and melodic psych rock. With eccentric frontman Faris Badwan at the helm, The Horrors have always maintained an oddball charm, radically reshaping their sound with each record while still keeping a firm grip on their fanbase and those album-of-the-year lists. However, 2014's Luminous saw the group hit a bump in the road.  

"Going into this record, we definitely felt that with the last record we’d started overthinking things," Hayward admits. Their fifth album, the aptly titled V, is an assertive return to form for the group. Prior to V's release, The Horrors supported New Order in 2015, followed by a support slot with Depeche Mode during their international tour this year. These influences show up clearly on V. In ten tracks, the new album combines nostalgic electropop with an industrial aggression that mirrors The Horrors' early-days abrasive aesthetic.

Of their experience with Depeche Mode, Hayward says, "We’ve played with them before, at the start it was scary. They’ll play a stadium, but you can’t fit everyone in the stadium. I’m not joking! There’s that many Depeche Mode fans. And Depeche Mode fans notoriously hate support bands, they just want Depeche Mode to play. They don’t want to hear you when they could be hearing more Depeche Mode songs. But people were really receptive; it was very surprising, and great fun to play.

"Also, our bassist Rhys [Webb] pointed out – I never realised this because I’d never listened to them that much – but I play guitar very similarly to how Martin [Gore, Depeche Mode's guitarist] plays. It’s probably a geographical thing – they’re from Basildon, just up the road from us, but it’s weird when you realise that. You’ve developed [as a player] at different times, but have come to similar conclusions." 

He adds: "It was great watching them every night as well, because they’re a band that have just done whatever they wanted, the whole of their career, and they’ve just got tonnes of great songs out of it!"

Doing whatever they want underscores the approach The Horrors take to their own songwriting. Always astute with their choice of lead singles, Hayward agrees that the mechanical, majestic rock of Machine epitomizes the mindset of V. "We wanted things to be a bit rawer, and we felt that Machine perfectly encapsulated that sound. We were using modular synthesisers with rhythmic elements, [we] processed the drums in an extreme way, stuff like that – that’s what we’ve been doing on this record, so Machine was a good introduction.

"We’ve always kind of followed the same mindset; we’ve always tried to be happy with the record ourselves. And I guess that’s meant we’ve always changed because we always want to try new things." Hayward pauses. "We just love that we’ve been doing it this long, because most people don’t get afforded that opportunity."

Inevitably for a group whose first two albums, in particular, are markedly different to their newer output, V will likely be passed over by those Horrors fans who like the old stuff better than their new stuff. Hayward seems unfazed by this possibility. "That’s the thing with records," he muses. "We make them, and they’re very personal to us. The minute you release it, it’s not your record anymore. It becomes everyone’s record, and it means different things to different people. Some people will hear this, other people will hear that, and it’s so specific to each person and their experience."

Of the genre-pigeonholing that accompanies most new releases, you can almost hear Hayward's eye-roll down the phone. "Here’s a weird one, some people have come back and said ‘oh, so now you’re this gothic metal band?’ It was like, what?! What are you on about?" he laughs. "Who are our peers in the 'gothic metal' scene? You’ve just made up some words!"

The discussion then turns to Primal Scream, a band who Hayward declares "are great" – and a group with a similar reputation for refining their sound from album to album. "It is a tricky one. I don’t think we’ve ever sat down and thought 'let’s have a career trajectory like Primal Scream.' I don’t think anything has ever been that planned out. But their personality really comes through on every record, and if you can do that on your records, then you can diversify things and you can try different things."

Crafting new sounds is nothing new for Hayward. The guitarist, who happens to have a first-class honours degree in physics, designs and builds his own guitar effects units and pedals, and he explains that the new album has enabled him to delve even deeper into that technical aspect of music making. He reveals that he was "writing computer programs" during the recording process for V – which, he laughs "is probably not a normal thing for a guitarist to do.

"I’m in a weird position where I play guitar in a band where we’re not particularly interested in how guitars traditionally sound," he explains. "Which is good, because it keeps it interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever been that kind of [traditional] musician – I don’t think any of us are. I don’t think that’s how we see things."

Given that Hayward has been fielding questions from back-to-back interviews all morning, we throw in a final curve ball. It’s late July when our interview takes place, and The Horrors have recently popped up on Instagram with a freshly-minted account. What made them finally cave-in to the social media juggernaut, we ask? Hayward groans. "I’ll level with you. I am the wrong person to ask about this. I don’t have any social media. I don’t understand any of it. I find it very confusing. It’s fun when people show you things, funny clips or a nice picture of your friends…" he trails off.

How has he managed to resist the online world for so long, we push? "I have to phone people," he laughs. "You do miss out on things. I had an embarrassing one recently. My friend was having a big birthday and he had arranged for everyone to go for a Sunday roast. He had emailed everyone – I got that, because I do have email. I got there on Sunday and everyone else was really hungover. I was like ‘what did everyone do last night?!’ and they’d had a massive surprise birthday party!" he laughs. "They’d invited everyone on Facebook. So I’d missed it, basically. Everyone kept saying ‘oh, I wondered where you were, we thought you were in the studio or something'. I guess that's the price you pay if you don’t phone people up a lot," he chuckles. There's a definite sense of the old and the new colliding in Hayward's world; much like The Horror's latest album, it's a refreshingly unique point of view.

The Horrors play Queen Margaret Union (QMU), Glasgow, 19 Oct
V is out now via Wolf Tone / Caroline International