Interview Pulled Apart By Horses: ‘We Didn’t Realise How Commercial We Were’

It’s not every afternoon that you find yourself sat in a sweat-soaked boxing ring with a rock band…

Photos: Sam Bond

Until you’ve tried to control a group of musicians as they run around the top floor of a local gym, completely free of management, labels and almost press officers (he was on the phone so doesn’t count), you may have trouble imagining the scene we’re about to set.

Famed for their energetic live performances, it should come as no real shock that in person Pulled Apart By Horses are just as likely to: a) injure themselves; and b) run circles around you - literally, not metaphorically. Now picture what happens when the band discover punchbags, showers and medicine balls.

“About 50% of our fanbase are young men that fancy James,” bassist Rob Lee begins after an animated discussion about where they’re all from, their favourite foods and the best way to begin a press release.
“I remember one gig,’ James pipes up, ‘where there were thirty 14 year old boys with their tops off running around backstage. We were like, ‘I don’t know what to do, should we leave?”
“So James took his top off and ran around with them.’
“Body slapping them all like, ‘Come on, boys!”

And, despite the glint in their eyes, you know the story won’t be far from the truth. It is that same raw, mischievous energy that has seen the four-piece cited as ‘surely the best live band in Britain’ (The Observer), support the likes of Muse and Biffy Clyro, and scale the dizzying heights of the Radio 1 playlist time and time again.
“It was a shock at first,” lead guitarist James Brown enthuses. “It doesn’t matter what your genre is, if you hear your music on Radio 1 you’re going to be shocked. It’s going to be weird. I guess they just saw us as a band that they wanted to support and they’ve continued to.’

“It’s all down to Huw Stephens really,”Rob chimes in, careful to name-check the presenter that gave the band their first big plays at the station. “It was weird because the first one we put forward as a single was ‘Back To The F**k Yeah’ and they played it at 12 o’clock in the afternoon.”
“Back to the eff yeah, they call it,” grins Lee, the band’s heavily inked drummer, fresh from another photoshoot. “Not to be cynical and say that they need to be seen to be supporting rock music, but they have to champion a few British rock bands, I guess. I wouldn’t have thought we’d be one of those bands but I’m not going to complain!”

And they may laugh, but commercial success hardly seems an unlikely eventuality for a band with Radio 1 in their corner. “If you go back to the seventies or sixties, bands like Led Zeppelin or Queen were all over the radio; that was popular music at the time. Things go through different phases and it is nice when people remember they do like rock and that it is a valid form of popular music,” James affirms.
“As long as we don’t change our music to try to cater towards that crowd…” asserts Lee. “I don’t think we realised how commercial a band we were for a long time. For ages, I thought Tom was just screaming, but then I realised there are actually hooks. It’s still aggressive, honest music but there are hooks and melody in there. If it was just shouting, it would never get playlisted!” “It’s all been a big surprise, as well,” James muses. “It was never our ambition to do that when we set out. We just did it because we enjoy being together and playing music.” “Yeah, when I answered the ad to be in a boyband, I never thought…” Lee trails off, leaving his bandmates in stitches.

But seriously now, we have to talk about the time you played with Lady Gaga. “That was strange,” vocalist Tom Hudson says, shaking his head at the memory of performing at Radio 1’s One Big Weekend last year. “It was mad though,” James interrupts. “It was definitely an experience. It was that kind of thing where it’s free tickets so the audience is prioritised for local people. A lot of the time, the audiences were just watching it and enjoying it because they might not necessarily know the stuff as much as Lady Gaga, but it was amazing.
“The line up was Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga… The Strokes were headlining our stage. They were next door to us, which was a bit surreal.”
“They were warming up and playing ‘Last Night’ on bongos and acoustic guitars,” Rob grins. “There was a little slit because it was just a divide between and we couldn’t help looking through, but Albert Hammond Jr. was staring at us going, ‘Stop looking through the windows!”

And it seems that a few good anecdotes aren’t all the lads took away from Carlisle; with their latest album ‘Tough Love’ seeing Foo Fighters and Pixies producer Gil Norton playing the role of Chief Second, it seems the band are really making a name for themselves. “We had a lot more time to consider the sound of things and the impact it has,” Tom says of the recording process this time around. “With the first album, it was just the songs that we had at the time,” James continues. “We did the album in six or seven days.” “With the first one, we wanted to make it very quickly because we wanted a snapshot of where we were at that point in time, but with this one, this is our first experience of making an album - that’s the difference between the two,” shrugs Rob.

And the difference is quite plain to hear. With ‘Tough Love”s more complex and crafted dynamics, the developments in the band’s musical and technical abilities are obvious by their own admission. “The way we work and our attitude towards our band is that we just see what comes out really. I think if you start trying to sound a certain way or having any intention at all, things can end up sounding quite contrived,” Lee explains. “When we were writing it, we wanted to write an album; that means that everything’s considered, which is why we’re so happy with it. There’s nothing about the album that hasn’t been thought about.There’s nothing in there that shouldn’t be in there.”

And the album’s context itself is quite an interesting one. Recorded between festival slots, with the band holed up in an old Welsh studio, the original material began to surface around a year ago. “We always want to progress as a band,” Lee divulges, when asked about future directions. “For us, a song like ‘Dipped In Gold’ felt like a huge leap forward; we couldn’t have written this a year or two ago. As long as we’re always pushing ourselves and writing better songs then I don’t think we care which direction we go in. But there’s not going to be another album for quite a while.”

Don’t let that fool you however, Pulled Apart By Horses are far from throwing in the towel. Having just completed an undercard of a European tour the band are psyching themselves up for the main event this summer; festivals. We’ll see you ringside. Or, erm, down the front.

Pulled Apart By Horses’ new album ‘Tough Love’ is out now via Transgressive Records.

Taken from the March 2012 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.

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