“It was like Withnail & I. The only thing we didn’t buy was lighter fluid.”
It’s early April in Manchester. At Sound Control, just off Oxford Road, James Brown and Tom Hudson of Pulled Apart By Horses have libations on the brain. The quartet had been in Glasgow the night before and having played King Tuts, were relentlessly knocking back Black and White Russians for just two of your English pounds. Drummer Tommy Davidson looks a touch worse for wear as he passes us on the stairs, seemingly still recovering from the night before and not feeling too clever.
Months prior, along with Tommy and bassist Robert Lee, James and Tom were holed up in a cottage on a Welsh dairy farm in the middle of nowhere to put together their latest album, ‘The Haze’. Described by the pair as a “sort-of self-catering holiday”, the trip to Wales saw the doors of the cottage locked for serious work to be done. Though it all could’ve gone Pete Tong, as James remembers.
“We went to Asda and filled the van with fuck loads of booze and food and all took it in turns to cook. We could’ve got nothing done, thinking about it. We actually did get loads done.”
“The first couple of days I remember having a bit of a freak out, ‘cus we’d just gone fucking wild and ploughed through everything.” Admits Tom. “There was two rooms, but one room was smaller so we set all the gear up in the lounge. We kind of didn’t have much choice to chill out, but the first couple of days we just went nuts. Then I remember in the morning we made breakfast and I was like – fuck, we’ve gotta do summat!”
James belly laughs at remembering the scene as Tom continues this dreaded bout of nostalgia.
“We’re here for ten days, we need to fucking do summat. We hadn’t done a single thing. Then it just kicked off – shitting songs out.”
“You need to do that.” Says James (once the pair have stopped laughing) “It was sort of like breaking it in. We went to this place we’ve never been before, broke it in, then were like – right, let’s do some work.”
It wasn’t all work, mind, and when not writing the filthiest of riffs or singing about ‘Flash Lads’ and ‘Dumb Fun’, the band were plugging microphones into the PA and emotionally belting out hits from the likes of Duran Duran and David Bowie in impromptu karaoke sessions.
“The people who were in the farm, the house… The first night they must’ve thought ‘what the fuck is this band?” Laughs James. “They sound like the worst band I’ve ever heard.“
“I remember the farmer had to get up at five in the morning and we were still awake. We saw him later and he was like – sounded good last night, that did.” Grins Tom. “We were just like – us crying over Duran Duran?”
Released just prior to the kick off of their UK tour, The Haze follows 2014’s full-length ‘Blood’, their first album to smash into the UK Top 40 Chart. After what seemed like forever for patient fans, it wasn’t until early November of last year that Pulled Apart By Horses announced their return to the race. And what a return. Roaring out of the gate with ‘The Big What If’, this was a statement from the Leeds quartet and an intention that with album number four, there would be no fucking about.
“We’ve sort of given ourselves a bit of time to actually get stuck into it and write a bunch of songs that we’re happy with.” Says Tom.
“We were quite keen to get this one out, ‘cus obviously Tommy’s joined the band” Adds James of their new drummer, Tommy . “It’s been quite enjoyable this time and exciting again. It was just good to go away.”
The “going away” mentality is nothing new for a band when looking for inspiration on a new release, but it still seems to be a total refresher, regardless of its potential for cliché. As mentioned, it’s also a good excuse for a piss up! The quartet locking themselves up for a week and abstaining from the hustle and bustle of city life and TV, video games and social media allowed them to crack on (when they finally did).
“We went out there and just started writing it, wrote maybe half of it and came back and then it slowly became the album. It was really cool this time, did things a bit differently.” Confirms James.
“It felt natural, felt like the right thing to do.” Agrees Tom. “…Kind of didn’t have any pressure on us to do summat, we just did it all off our own backs, tried to get stuck in.”
In Blood, Pulled Apart By Horses crafted another gnarly LP for fans to salivate over, but somewhat streamlined compared to previous releases. With talk of people looking over shoulders at what was being done in the studio and interested parties poking their noses in, it could be considered that there was a few too many cooks involved in the process. For The Haze, the band looked to shake off the invisible puppet strings and get back to doing what they do best. Tom describes the overall feeling in the production of The Haze as way more creative.
“…it felt like we were in control of everything rather than… I mean, we weren’t pushed into anything with the last album, but it was just like a bit of an underlying pressure from everywhere…”
“It wasn’t like when we started writing this one we noticed the difference from writing the last one.” Adds James. “It wasn’t that we turned round and went – right, we don’t want anyone to be involved in this, we’re gonna do it this way. We just did what we wanted to do, it’s as simple as that really.”
“It was four of us in a room and if the song’s sounded good to us, just crammed in a little space blasting it out and we’re excited by that – don’t overthink it or overwork it, just go with that.” Sums up Tom. “If people don’t like it then fuck ‘em. We’ve had a blast doing it. But luckily it’s gone down really well, couldn’t have wished for any more. It’s always proper nervy before you release an album, even though we’re just like – this is what we wanted to do and we’re proud of it. You kind of throw it into the wild and let the hounds get at it.”
“It’s proper fucking nervewracking. It’s half nervewracking, half excitement. You’re like – shit, what’s gonna happen?” Laughs James. “Luckily, people are into it so we can’t really ask for more than that. We’ve made something that was a bit more natural, not as well thought through, and we went and made a record we’re really proud of. We’re all really happy.”
An element of this happiness came from the addition of drummer Tommy, who’s no longer really considered the new member – he’s part of the scenery (in the best possible way!) Having played in bands around the Leeds music scene and bumped into Pulled Apart By Horses in pubs and bars around the Northern city for years, the addition of Tommy was said to have been akin to inviting a mate over for a jam. Having jammed together a number of times, Tommy was pretty much chucked in at the deep end and spent a year doing the festival circuit on the tail end of the Blood tour. Tom sums up the playing style varying on his arrival.
“I just think it mixed things up a lot more – added a different element to it. We could play around with different things. All four of us are all really – when it comes to writing – we all chip in just as much as each other, so basically it was like having a completely new person with their set influences to chuck in.”
“The album wouldn’t be the album if Tommy hadn’t have joined.” Says James. “It would be a different album ‘cus he had a lot to do with the writing of the whole thing. He’s an integral part of it and he’s an integral part of the band now as well. It was kind of cool though, ‘cus we’ve known him for fucking years…”
“It felt like a band straight away, rather than a session member or someone…” Agrees Tom.
Another key to the happiness for LP number four: Ross Orton. The Sheffield based producer, known for his work with the likes of Arctic Monkeys and for drumming with bands such as The Moonlandingz, worked with Pulled Apart By Horses at home base McCall Sound Studios. Letting the pair go pedal-crazy in the studio with the vintage equipment on offer (“…proper 70’s pedal. It looked like Terminator’s foot.” – Tom on the ‘Fuzz-Wah’), the second leg of production for The Haze went swimmingly.
“He’s a proper Sheffield, Northern grafter.” Says Tom with a grin. “Even when it comes to music production, he treats it like graft – serious job. Then you finish up and go to the local and have a few pints in there after. ‘Get me head down then fuck off and get a pint of Deception in’”
“There’d be serious work done, then he’d be like ‘Clock off time. Jobs done, let’s go and get some fucking pints.” Laughs James.
As recently discussed with fellow Leeds crew Menace Beach, the working method of Ross is slightly different to others, working track by track and focusing on building up the kit for each song – given his other occupation as a drummer – listening to demos and picking the correct bit of gear to suit the songs themselves. It’s a method that the band were all for, as Tom comments.
“Me and Rob were doing vocal takes in first/second takes sometimes, just ‘cus you’ve been in that little zone all day, listening to the same song and then you’re just like – right, my turn. If it feels good you don’t question it, you just sort of go with it.”
“It was just like being in the van on tour, it was no different to that at all.” Says James of the working relationship with Ross. “He’s that kind of guy though. He’s pretty… mad.”
Whilst there’s been strong praise from all the usual suspects in the music press, it’s all for nowt if the fans aren’t on board. Thankfully, it’s business as usual with LP number four. Later on in the evening, Pulled Apart By Horses blitz through an hour’s worth of songs from their previous releases, with a good number of new songs making up the set. The amazing thing is, even with The Haze being less than a month old, everyone in the room knows every lyric, enthusiastically singing them in unison with Tom.
“I was saying the other day, I think this is – out of all the tours we’ve done, where we’ve been playing new material – I think the new material this tour has definitely gone down the best.” Says James.
“It is a fucking nightmare writing a set when you’ve got four albums though, it’s horrible.” Laments Tom with a laugh. “Everyone’s got their own favourites…
One of the stops on the tour would be a hometown effort, taking place at a legendary Leeds venue – the much beloved Brudenell Social Club. It was seven or so years ago when the band headlined the historic venue for the first time, and it’s become a home to them (and countless others ever since).
“It’s kinda nice, going full circle really.” Says Tom. “I think a lot of bands worry too much about how big they’re getting or booking bigger venues, it’s always about going up and up and becoming bigger… With us, this tour we just wanted to make sure that it was gonna be…”
“Sweaty little rammed gigs. Perfect.” Nods James.
“Yeah, couple of hundred cap or whatever, have ‘em filled and have a good vibe.” Agrees Tom. “Rather than try and be big boys, stress about ticket sales or whatever.”
“It becomes a thing that you worry about and it can become contrived if you start worrying about ticket sales and business plans for a tour and marketing stuff…” Says James.
“But every one so far has been amazing, it’s just been like a really good atmosphere and that sort of old school crowd. Like when I used to go to gigs – if you fall over, ten people will pick you back up on your feet and everyone’s enthusiastic and enjoying it.” Adds Tom.
“It just feels like people are happy to be there.” Agrees James. “I go to gigs, people go to gigs, where it doesn’t feel like anyone’s happy to be there. They’re going – they’re there… It’s just a good atmosphere. If you can get that, if you can create that… It’s not just about us, it’s about the crowd as well. Everyone’s gotta be on the same level and somehow we manage to create that sort of atmosphere.”
At the time, with The Haze being fresh out of the box, it seems ludicrous to think about LP number five. But, as is often the case with a band releasing a new record, Pulled Apart By Horses are already starting to look toward new material. We talk about workhorse bands PABH admire, like (Thee) Oh Sees and Ty Segall.
“I kinda wanna start writing as soon as we’ve come to the end of this tour. I really admire Ty, Thee Oh Sees, King Gizzard – all those sort of bands.” Admits Tom.
Five albums from PABH this year then, to rival King Gizzard?
“Fucking hell, I think they realise they’ve shot themselves in the foot a bit with that. It’s like a constant creativity, they’re constantly flowing and keeping busy. I kind of want to do that a bit more, whereas before we’ve kind of rode the… do a tour, festivals, do another tour, write. I kind of wanna push writing a bit more.”
It’s a feeling that’s mutual between the quartet, with the King Gizzard method being an idea that sparks something within James, who enthusiastically offers:
“I fucking love the idea of putting another album out next year. I think that’d be fucking brilliant. If it’s right, writing again and enjoying it like with The Haze, then why not? There’s no reason why… If you can just write when you’ve got down time and it’s going well, put it out. Why would you not put it out? Though obviously it costs money to put out a record…” He laughs.
“I totally admire those sort of guys, just for being productive and pushing things.” Adds Tom.
As we round up our little get together, James quite rightly points out that writing must be a full time job for the likes of Mr Segall and Mr Dwyer, with Tom pitching in the potential for the quality of the material being jeapordised when producing record after record with little downtime.
“I guess it’s down to how you feel about it as well, really.” Shrugs Tom. “King Gizzard must just shit hits. Just look in the toilet and just go…”
“Oh, here’s an album!” Laughs James.
“Get that on vinyl. Limited edition brown record…” Grins Tom, as James is back to belly laughs.