Interview with sonically shapeshifting band Whyte Horses
Manchester has serious form when it comes to producing great sounding bands shrouded in a little mystery. WHYTE HORSES certainly fit that description, although it’s harder to describe their sound, which can switch from sunshine tinged pop to 60s psych in the blink of an eye. Their fantastic debut album Pop Or Not has had so much play lately on 6 Music it’s probably worn out. The MALESTROM sat down for a cuppa with band impresario Dom Thomas to tell us more about the group.
The MALESTROM: Tell us about the genesis of Whyte Horses and who you are?
Dom Thomas: I had a vision of a girl group playing songs in a church in Mexico, that was the seed from which Whyte Horses was born. Everything after that was very natural, we wrote songs, made an album and released it and it’s just gone from there.
TM: Where did the name for the band come from?
DT: I love the theme tune to the TV show White Horses so this would have been in my mind somewhere, but I think the kind of music that we developed just formed the name by default it suited the music. I’ve never been that keen on it but it’s the best I could come up with at the time and its stuck.
What’s the concept behind the album Pop Or Not?
DT: Pop or Not is a concept record in the sense that there’s a loose story running through it. Sonically I wanted to make a record that would be everything to me, perfect pop songs, instrumental passages, a kind of fantasy soundtrack to the uncertain time we’re in now. It had to take the listener into a place I’d like to spend 47 minutes of my time.
TM: How would you describe your sound?
DT: That’s not an easy question to answer I don’t think we’ll ever settle on one sound. The songs always dictate themselves so we can shapeshift endlessly. It will always be Whyte Horses if we put that on the package.
TM: As someone who’s no stranger to a mixtape sensibility are you precious about how you’d like people to listen to this record?
DT: Pop or Not is designed to be listened to as an album but I like the fact there’s a few singles on it so I’m not bothered about how people digest it.
TM: Who and what influences you as a musician?
DT: I’d listened to a lot of music before I wrote a song, and made a conscious decision to find music that gave me a certain type of feeling and then tried not to forget why I liked it. There’s a big difference between what you like and what you love, so musically I was always thinking about this bit here or that bit there that makes my ears prick up.
It doesn’t have to be music that inspires the writing side, I’m really into film and biographies so these feed into the process and spark different approaches. Sometimes I think very visually about a piece of music, the initial seed of an idea can come from anywhere really. The next album is going to be based on a time period of something I’ve been reading extensively about and consequently it’s becoming another loose concept album.
TM: Do you have a muse that enhances your songs?
DT: Definitely not.
TM: When it comes to music how important is it to get the spirit across in what you do?
DT: Its all about feeling, everything I was hearing on radio or reading about in the music press really wasn’t exciting me or living up to my standards of what I expect out of music. It kicked me up the arse to get working, if no one else was going to make the kind of music I want to hear I’d have to do it myself. Melody is the key to our songs, something that’s lacking in contemporary music, there’s a lot of well put together stylised packages floating around but they don’t touch me on any sort of emotional level.
It’s pretty indicative of the time we’re in now, it feels like there’s too many charlatans tricking their way into the public arena in all formats of entertainment not just music. There was a time when the good stuff rose to the top due to talent and, now everyone’s having a go at everything and it’s blurring the lines of quality.
TM: A strong vibe of psychedelia permeates through parts of the record and indeed your videos. What influences this particular element?
DT: I’d hate to be bandied in with that psych scene that’s been lurking for the last 5 years or so, it’s all so plastic. Having said that, I inevitably tend to revert to the child inside and true psychedelia is one of the closest ways to realise those lost feelings of childhood if done in the right way. Making four minute pseudo-Traffic songs is not the way forward in my opinion, there’s too many bands making average ‘psychedelic’ albums as a stylistic statement, they’re the musical equivalent of going into Topshop and buying an MC5 top, its just fancy dress, they’ll be wearing a Guns N’ Roses top tomorrow.
TM: You’re not constrained by using the English language, do you think music transcends language barriers?
DT: Songs sound so good in French, especially if it’s a great melody and you don’t understand the words. You could write any old words and get away with it to a non-French speaker. Melody can transcend the language barrier certainly. We could cheat and be lazy with the lyrics in our two French songs but they’re actually as good translated back to English.
TM: Does listening to a more varied palette of songs make you a better musician?
DT: I think being a good musician is alright, being a great musician is probably a curse, especially when you get into playing fast or super technical. I’m not really interested in becoming a great musician I’d rather be the person who looks at the big picture like Phil Spector would, I want songs to be like perfect little symphonies full of hooks and melody. I’ve met a lot of great musicians but they wouldn’t have a clue about how to write their own music, I’ve benefited from having to think really hard about how my songs come together as I’m not a virtuoso and can’t play them all myself.
TM: As a sort of music archaeologist who discovers lost sounds are there any hidden gems you’d recommend us finding?
DT: I became really bored with looking for difficult-to-find music I’ve got enough of that stuff backed up to listen to without drying out the well. My sole aim now is to create the best music possible, not find it.
TM: Bands are often compared with others, badly, who would you like to be compared to?
DT: The Beatles and The Stone Roses are my favourite bands, there’s nothing that comes close for me in terms of what they mean to me and how I can relate to them. They were cultural icons, we’re nowhere near them and can’t be compared to them but the music we make feels like the best around at this moment in this time. I really feel like we’re in a musical recession and we have to look backwards to go forwards, nothings really changed since the sixties or got any better. We had synths, guitars, drum machines sampling etc etc. We are still living in the age of irony, maybe I expect too much from other people but I just can’t relate to much going on at the moment.
TM: What’s the best piece of wisdom you can give us?
DT: I read a Bee Gees interview once and they said they didn’t know if they were any good as a band, it was blind faith that kept them going in those early years. They didn’t really have a back up plan so it was all or nothing, that’s pretty much how I feel about life.
TM: What in your eyes is the secret to success? Indeed what is success to you?
DT: There’s a fine line with success, I suppose it means something different to everyone. In music terms then it’s not about playing big stadiums and trying to fit into the zeitgeist. Making classic records that can stand the test of time, that would be success in my eyes.
TM: You’ve got a big show coming up on 11th May at the Barbican in London. What can we expect from that?
DT: We’re putting on our own event at The Barbican, it’s the perfect environment to celebrate the album. We want to make it a celebration of the music with some of our cohorts. We’ve roped in La Roux, Badly Drawn Boy, Melanie Pain, Stealing Sheep, The Go! Team, a Swedish singer called Josefin Ohrn and even the children from the St Bartholomew’s choir to come and play with us for the night.
TM: Are you guys working on anything at the moment?
DT: We’re always working on tunes, some can take a long time to complete, as there’s a concept for the new album that narrows the view a little but we still need the killer melodies and they take time to find. The next album will be ready for next year though.
TM: What are your hopes for the bands future?
DT: I hope people hear the record and get something out of it, there’s room for more Whyte Horses music in the world.
For tickets to the Whyte Horses Barbican show click HERE