Right now, Horse Lords are offering Baltimore music fans that rare opportunity: witnessing a ragged, seething kind of greatness from a band not yet heralded by any major taste-making media outlets. Which is to say you can just unselfconsciously enjoy them. Bands like this remind you that musical greatness is not manufactured by record labels and hype machines; they’re snatched up by those entities somewhere further down the line.
Horse Lords are made up of members of improvisational tribal outfit Teeth Mountain, noise band Needle Gun, and thrashy scream-fest Pleasure Wizard. In comparison to any of those bands, Horse Lords tends to be more mesmerizing and dynamic, (I know, I know, Teeth Mountain are plenty mesmerizing, but this is DIFFERENT!) and more idiomatically “rock” — watch the musicians squirm a little over that word below.
It’s not a creole or an avant-garde appropriation; it’s a subtle difference in Horse Lords’ approach to those otherwise familiar riffs and beats that makes Horse Lords sound exotic. And like krautrock band Neu! or Cleveland’s Pere Ubu, Horse Lords is a band whose highbrow experimentalism is constantly in danger of being overtaken by their unwavering commitment to groovy, reptile-brain rock and roll.
Recently, Horse Lords took a second to answer some questions about the project.
When and how did Horse Lords form?
Sam Haberman: Back in 2010, Lexie Mountain asked Owen to open for Crazy Dreams Band at an Artscape show. He agreed and then totally forgot about it. Then a week before the show Lexie asked him for the name of his band for the flyer, so he picked the name Horse Lords basically at random and immediately called Max to enlist him. As it happened, Max and I were playing music at the time, so we both joined. For that first set we performed a drastically stripped down version of Can’s “Halleluwah” for 10 minutes at the front door of the Hexagon. A couple of months later we played at The Bank (again with Crazy Dreams Band), and Andrew “Bernie” Bernstein saw the set and soon after joined the band.
Are you named after the Horse Lords of Rohan?
SH: Yes and no. The name is taken from the Lord of the Rings, but no one in the band is a huge fan or anything. We only have sort of a vague idea of who the Horse Lords in LOTR were. A guy at our last Northampton show thought the Horse Lords were the Nazgul, and though we were pretty sure he was wrong, we couldn’t really explain who the Horse Lords actually were.
When did you release your mix tape? Is that your only recording to date?
SH: We didn’t have any sort of official release. We just put it up on Bandcamp before we left for our May tour, and sold it at the shows. So far it’s the only recording we’ve put out, but we have an album in the works for Ehse Records that should be out at the end of the summer.
Is Horse Lords a stylistic departure (from Teeth Mountain, Needle Gun, Pleasure Wizard)? Are there any musical touchstones for this group?
Owen Gardner: I think of Horse Lords as being closely related to both my solo work and Teeth Mountain to the extent that I was involved. The group is deliberately less “pure” than the other projects, which is liberating in many ways. Several years of not playing or even really listening to rock and roll gave me a useful aesthetic distance from it. In the meantime I had been studying certain African musics alongside the more experimental end of minimalist music, and a synthesis seemed appropriate.
I thought it would be interesting to approach rock and roll as a sort of vernacular minimalism, coming out of the interaction of African- and Anglo-American folk traditions (I’m also a banjo player and a lot of what I play on guitar comes directly out of that), making use of the timbral resources provided by amplification and having a continuous relationship with other loud, repetitive musics, especially house and disco. A list of specific artists seems like it would be too long and incoherent but I guess a careful combination of Bo Diddley (especially ’70s Bo Diddley) and La Monte Young would yield something like Horse Lords.
Andrew Bernstein: I think of Horse Lords as a stylistic progression from Teeth Mountain, which Owen, Max and I all played in. We’re working with a lot of the same ideas and aesthetic angles, but coming at the material from a more mature place. I’d say the music of Needle Gun and Pleasure Wizard inform our musical sensibilities, but are less stylistically aligned with our sound. I agree with Owen that after being more involved with experimental music for the last few years it is refreshing to bring that experience to a more “rock” band (though it always feels a little off calling Horse Lords “rock”).
Is Horse Lords a “side project”? If so, does it affect how you approach the music?
OG: For me it’s a side project in the sense that I think of it as one part of a larger project, but I’m not any less committed to it and recently I’ve spent much more time working on Horse Lords than on my own music.
AB: I don’t really think of it as a side project. I have other projects, but Horse Lords is just as dear to my heart, and has had me the most excited recently.
Horse Lords play Floristree on July 10 with This World Sucks, PC Worship, and The Dreebs. An album is due out on Ehse Records at the end of the summer.