Londoners Palehorse are busy boys this autumn. Having released their third album, Harm Starts Here, in the summer they’re currently laying waste to mainland Europe with their dual bass assault – and the five piece are set to hit Leeds’ Damnation Festival and Newcastle’s GNAW shindig next month too.
Ahead of their overseas jaunt, Richard Holmes caught up with Ben Dawson, drummer with the self-styled ‘noise shitting bass bastards’ to talk about the new album, the band’s live approach… and why New Year’s Eve sounds like fun in the Palehorse household…
rushonrock: Your music isn’t exactly ‘accessible’, but Harm Starts Here has gained a lot of critical acclaim – are you surprised when people ‘get it’?
Ben Dawson: I think that there’s a lot in there that’s accessible if you have the right mix of music in your upbringing in order to contextualise it. We write collectively which means a lot of jamming over ideas so, whilst there is a good level of deliberation in the later stages of writing a song, the basic elements are usually based on grooves that we’re all feeling together which should allow most listeners to lock into it. That said, whilst I do like when people hear the same things in our music as I do, at the same time it’s very interesting to hear the perspective of those who come from totally different musical backgrounds. They, though, are usually only attracted to the live show, which is our true environment. I don’t think a recording will ever really do us justice.
rushonrock: Harm Starts Here has been out for a few months now, how have you found the reception to the new material from audiences on the road?
BD: If I’m honest, I’m totally oblivious to what the crowd reaction is right up until the point where the music stops and I start dismantling my drums! I also think that, whilst I’m sure some people do have favourite songs, our live show is a visceral, physical experience which I hope is affecting whether we play songs only from Gee That Ain’t Swell or only new stuff, or just drone a note for 40 minutes. I don’t think you need to have any prior knowledge of our music to get sucked into our live show.
rushonrock: What are your favourite tracks and moments from the album, and how does it fit in with the rest of Palehorse’s work?
BD: This will change from time to time when I listen to the record but the consistent high point for me is the last riff on Bird Feed. I can feel myself physically playing the song when I listen to it and I’m transported to my kit. It’s completely joyful for me whilst being a devastating, crushing riff with an excellent groove. I think this album as a whole has really married the variation of expression that we were seeking to achieve on (2010’s) Soft As Butter; Hard As Ice (but which for some reason, we just didn’t execute successfully when we recorded that album, which has slightly tainted what – right up to actually making the record – were songs we loved) with the sub-conscious jam-based, primitive expressionism that we’ve always had. Notably, this was the most comfortable Palehorse album to write and record and it’s been a very positive experience for us. We’re very happy with it.
rushonrock: How do you feel about being in a band that’s extremely difficult to pigeonhole, and that doesn’t really fit into a ‘scene’ as such?
BD: I don’t think I’ve ever played in a band that’s really sounded like it belongs to a scene, even when we’ve been lumped in with other bands with whom we’ve actually had few musical similarities. I think that comes from writing purely in the moment and doing so only for yourself and your bandmates. To write to a specific style seems to me to be an undermining of one’s artistic expression and belies an alternative motive for playing music. All that is to say, it’s not something we aim for – if we did, I’m sure we’d fail and/or sound like a Faith No More rip-off band – but I will admit that there’s a little pride in truly not conforming. I still, for the record, think of us as a hardcore band but that’s more about the group of friends from which the band evolved rather than any scene or musical ‘allegiance’.
rushonrock: You play with two bass players and no guitarist – what does that give Palehorse as a live act?
BD: A physical presence! We’re simply louder and heavier than most other bands with whom we play. You hear other bands but you can feel us.
rushonrock: How do audiences react to the dual bass approach – do you find much scepticism among more ‘traditional’ metal or hardcore crowds?
BD: Not really. A lot of metal guys don’t like screaming, but other than that if people don’t like it we don’t really notice. Generally not too many people tell you you’re shit these days – if they don’t like it, they just head to the bar. We’ll still be too busy thrashing it up on stage to notice that. You’d be amazed, though, at how many people – many of them promoters who put us on having seen us live – don’t realise that we have two basses and no guitar. I think people enjoy the visual aspect and then, of course, there’s the volume!
rushonrock: You’ve appeared in several other bands during your time in Palehorse, including Mothlite, Armed Response Unit and Mongol Horde – how does drumming with Palehorse compare to playing with other acts?
BD: I’ve been in this band for 13 years and it’s made up of a group of my closest friends. The line-up has changed to the outside world but in reality it’s been drawn from the same group of people and even when we weren’t playing for about a year and a half, we were still the band. Basically what I’m saying is, ‘yes, it’s different to my other bands but not for musical reasons’. I don’t think that I approach this band or others in different ways creatively. You slip into the musical style apposite to the band you’re in a room with but the creative process is much the same; you’re just bouncing ideas of slightly different people.
rushonrock: How are you feeling about coming up north to play the Damnation and GNAW festivals in November?
BD: Very excited! We’re very flattered to be playing Damnation with some prestigious acts. If we’re up to scratch we’ll do our best to wipe the floor with them – and fail, I’m sure, but I figure that kind of bravado is what’s expected of a heavy band, isn’t it? GNAW will be great as we haven’t played Newcastle in a long time and when we did there was a misunderstanding that saw me act like a complete tool, so I owe apologies! We’re just happy to be being more active and getting around to play shows. We’re all pretty committed to our work lives as well so it’s a balancing act for us.
rushonrock: What’s next for Palehorse?
BD: Off to Europe for some shows, a few shows in London, as well as one in Oxford and, of course, GNAW and Damnation. Christmas, booze, a New Year’s Eve cooking party – which starting to become a Palehorse extended family tradition – and we’re writing for the next record. Hopefully there’ll be a longer tour next year.
Harm Starts Here is out now on Candlelight.
Palehorse play Damnation Festival, Leeds on November 2 (http://www.damnationfestival.co.uk) and GNAW Festival, Newcastle upon Tyne on November 16 (search for GNAW Fest 2013 on Facebook, or go to http://www.wegottickets.com/festivals/f/6536).