As Marlon Brando playing Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now sits in the gloom and recounts his deeds of atrocity to Martin Sheen, there is something about the stillness and calm manner in which he describes making a friend of horror which makes the violence throughout the film somehow worse. This moment of reflection plays on the imagination and truly allows the revulsion to sink in. So, it is with Bristol based band Sugar Horse, who expertly weaponize huge passages of silence and the shimmering tension of delicately played minimalism often implemented by the best post rock acts before hammering the rage home with the slow unrelenting ferocity found in doom metal.
Earlier in the year, they dropped debut EP DRUJ which is four tracks of pained screaming, tortured guitars and granite hard basslines interspersed with huge pregnant pauses accompany such bitterly sarcastic titles as ‘Your Degree Is Worthless And Your Parents Aren’t Proud Of You’ and ‘I Liked You Better Before You Went To Art School’ finishing with a colossal onslaught in the form of an eight and a half minute title track complete with a child operatic section.
Today, they continue their plummet into despair with their new single ‘GakEater’ which they describe as “a sombre tome to the black dog, dark characters in British governance and their respective drug habits.” What this translates into is a dynamic switch between the rising stress of echoing delay to the satisfying catharsis of explosive distortion and ear-splitting shrieking.
FMS spoke to Ash from Sugar Horse about how they first got started, their new indictment of coke ridden parliamentarians and just where they think their journey into despair will take them.
How did Sugar Horse first enter the race?
“The band started as I imagine most bands do in recent years, two idiots pissing about with fuzz pedals in a flat. Me (Ash, Guitar/Vocals) and Chris (Bass) wanted to start something that was different than what we saw around the city at the time. There was a lot of technicality and an emphasis on this pacey, driving sound. We wanted to do the opposite. Make everything simple and slow everything down. I think the best art is formed when its creators enforce rigid rules on themselves. Mondrian had geometry, Mark E Smith had his hatred for cigarette taxation, and we have a complete disregard for urgency.”
Earlier this year, you released your debut EP, DRUJ, which is soaked in sarcasm and reaches so truly apocalyptic depths. Would you say the dread exhibited in these four tracks reflects your personalities?
“The aim of those songs was to sonically force people to listen to them. By that I mean the huge shifts in volume and those changes from melody to dissonance would force people to stop looking at their phones while we were playing. It’s a trick that we and thousands of others have nicked off Mogwai. We’re not much to look at onstage, so you have to grab people somehow.
“There’s definitely some dread in there. There’s dread in how sparse DRUJ feels. I’ve always loved the sound of ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’, that kind of “infinite space” thing that’s going on with that record. It’s got a really unnatural feeling to it that I love. That’s what I was going for with DRUJ. I think that’s where that feeling of dread you described comes from. That disconnect from realty is pretty unnerving.
“I’d say there’s a lot more anger in those tracks. The whole record is kind of simmering to me. All the words are me wildly lashing out in every direction, even in the quieter moments that don’t seem that way.”
Your new standalone single ‘GakEater’ continues your forays into the heart of darkness. What inspired you to write a song about politicians on coke?
“‘GakEater’ kind of started in two different pieces. The more melodic sections are my weird attempt at writing gospel. I know that comparing a song in which I shout “BLOOD & CUM” in the chorus to gospel is fucking ridiculous, but that’s how it started. The verses were an attempt at the Field Calls or Chain Gang Chants, but just came out sounding all horrible and sad ’cause it was filtered through a miserable goth.
“While I was writing ‘GakEater’ I was reading loads about the history of sleep paralysis and became pretty obsessed with a painting called ‘The Nightmare’ by Henry Fuseli. The idea of a demon sitting on your chest, restricting your movements. In my head it really linked up to those nefarious, shock-jock characters that lurk in the shadows of British politics. The Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s of this world.
“That’s where the second piece was spawned. All of those right-wing characters seem to have a crazed obsession with heritage. A “good old England” that never really existed.
“….As for the coke thing….I’m sure most people have seen that “if there was a war tomorrow, which there will be, because I’ll probably start it at the end of this sesh” video right?”
From inept to just plain wicked, it seems like a particularly bleak period for British politics as the Tories are flirting with the Far Right and the Left seems to fail to connect with the working-class voters they are trying to represent. What hope do we have for the future?
“Division is very strong at the moment. It’s a strange time. Everyone just seems to be on the war path at all times and fuelled eternally by instant contact to each other through the internet. Social media is a barren wasteland of all caps insults, a lot of which I’m very guilty of myself. It’s tough ’cause these shock for pay cunts like Hopkins and Morgan want you to respond with vitriol. That’s how they make their money. Maybe that feeling of adolescent frustration will fizzle out soon. Like dogs barking at each other through a garden fence. Soon they realise they live next to each other and can’t be arsed anymore.
“I don’t hold much hope in that direction. It’ll get worse before it gets better and it’ll only get better once something terrible happens.”
Bristol is a city famed for its alternative outlook and a fertile breeding ground for creativity. What’s it like being a band based there? Do you think it presents you with more opportunities than acts from elsewhere?
“Bristol is feral, mate. It’s full of some of the most intelligent, talented and pig-headed people I’ve ever met. It’s a beautiful thing. You’d think a city this small would be consigned to one or two small scenes of very similar acts, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. Bristolians love insane shit and originality is the order of the day. “They sound just like *insert band name*” might as well be an insult to some musicians here.”
What else has Sugar Horse got planned for the rest of the year and 2020?
“For the rest of the year, not a lot. I’m expecting a baby literally any day now, so I’ve gotta take a couple months off to try and get my head round that.
“Next year we’ll be putting out a new record. It’s called ‘DRUGS’ and it’s heavy as all fuck. Never been more proud of a record. I’m very much looking forward to letting everyone hear it.
“Of course, there will also be shows. Loads of them hopefully.”
‘GakEater’ is out now.