The last Pulled Apart by Horses record, ‘Blood’, saw the Leeds band breaking with tradition; in a whole host of ways. For a start, it was their first effort after signing with a subsidiary of Sony, making them one of the less likely major label bands of recent years. They took their time with it, too, spending the best part of eighteen months writing and recording. The resulting album was their boldest statement yet, partly because of the way it so cleverly blended their influences - it landed somewhere between The Jesus Lizard and Queens of the Stone Age.
Most startlingly, though, it felt genuinely grown-up, which was quite the stride for an outfit who made their name with tracks like ‘I Punched a Lion in the Throat’ and its ludicrous, fist-pumping refrain of “ultimate power, maximum life!” ‘Blood’ was far and away their best work from a purely musical standpoint, but it was also difficult not to feel that some of the endearing rawness of both their self-titled debut and its 2012 follow-up, ‘Tough Love’, had been lost in translation.
That did, though, give the Leeds four-piece a starting point when it came to wrapping up their longest stretch on the road to date and turning their attentions to a fourth LP. ‘The Haze’ continues the streak of fearless songwriting that helped their third album into the top 40, but coats it in the rough-and-ready rambunctiousness of their early material; accordingly, the record’s channeling krautrock one minute, on lead single ‘The Big What If’, and firing off pulverising riffs the next, as eivdenced on the likes of the fabulously-titled ‘Prince of Meats’.
“We spent a hell of a lot of time on ‘Blood,’” recalls guitarist James Brown, “and because we did it all in Leeds, there was a little bit of…not necessarily pressure, but outside input - a few heads over our shoulders here and there, with certain people overlooking what was happening. We wanted to go back to working like we did in the early days, where we were just writing for ourselves.”
“We went to Wales for a couple of weeks to start writing the record, and at least half of that time was just us doing karaoke pissed.”
Accordingly, James, frontman Tom Hudson and bassist Rob Lee decamped to a cottage on a dairy farm in south Wales, and with a new drummer in tow, too; original sticksman Lee Vincent bowed out late in the touring run for Blood, with former These Monsters man Tommy Davidson swiftly drafted in as a replacement. “It was kind of weird - like splitting up with your girlfriend and finding a brand new one the next day,” James laughs. “Lee’s got a kid, and a family, and we’d been on the road for a long time; we ended up playing arenas in Europe with Kasabian, things like that, and it was a bit of a slog at times. Lee wanted to slow down a bit, and we didn’t - we knew it was probably coming at some point, but we weren’t sure when. We didn’t have Tommy lined up or anything, but he was the first person we asked and he said yes. He pretty much came on board overnight.”
The Welsh excursion offered the band the chance for a creative reset, away from family, friends, wives, girlfriends and the distractions of the city. Half of ‘The Haze’ came together over the course of that fortnight, including the title track; the group decided on the name of the album there and then too, uncharacteristically quickly. “It was about as rural as it gets; no internet, no phone reception, no shops, no pub - just us, our equipment, a PA and a lot of alcohol. It was nice to go to a completely different place, physically and mentally; just a really relaxed way of living. Get up in the morning - hungover - make a brew, write some music and then sit around and talk over it.”
After refining the material in their Leeds rehearsal space with an unusual strictness - only writing fifteen songs for a twelve-track LP, rather than their customary 25 or 30 - Ross Orton of Arctic Monkeys and M.I.A. fame was drafted in on production duties. It was Ross who suggested that the band attempt to recapture the unvarnished sound of their debut in the studio, in a way that still did the new compositions justice. “From day one, both ourselves and Ross said that we should strip away some of the polish and try to recapture a bit of the rough edge that our older songs had,” explains James. “It wasn’t about trying to regress to square one and make a carbon copy of the first album - that’d be fucking pointless - but there was a new excitement and energy when Tommy came in that reminded us of when we first started out, when we didn’t have a label and we were pretty laid back about everything. That’s what we were trying to tap into.”
“We wanted to go back to working like we did in the early days, where we were just writing for ourselves.”
Not that it was all plain sailing; Ross’ McCall Sound Studio, on the outskirts of Sheffield, was only a short train ride away, but instead, the band decided to stay in the Steel City whilst they were working there. “We ended up staying at this venue called The Harley; we got some really cheap rooms there, and it probably wasn’t the best idea, because they had a DJ on til three in the morning every single night! We were there for two and a half weeks, and we’d get back at night and there’d be this pumping sub coming through the floor. It always ended the same way, with us just looking at each other and going, “ah, well, might as well go downstairs for a beer then!” Ross was coming in bright and breezy every morning, and we were there glugging loads of coffee and trying to get into gear. You live and learn.”
After a UK tour that runs through late March into April, a stacked festival season beckons before more shows after the summer - the upshot being that Pulled Apart by Horses will be on the road well into 2018. That might not mean a long wait for further material, though. “There’s a few artists we really admire at the minute, and one of them is Ty Segall. He’s not tied to a specific label situation, and he doesn’t wait to put music out - he just does it. He’s not sitting around deciding which quarter of 2020 to release the next record in, you know? Slaves are similar - two albums in two years. We’ve had so much fun making this one that I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t start writing again during whatever time off we get this year. We should have the opportunity over the course of the summer - that’s the great thing about playing festivals. Only having to work weekends!”
Pulled Apart By Horses’ new album ‘The Haze’ is out on 17th March via Caroline.