The afternoon light is fading on a frigid day when I meet Horror My Friend at Lee’s Palace in Toronto. It’s the coldest day of the winter so far, but the Adelaide-based band is surprisingly unfazed. The trio is in the final days of a cross-Canada tour with DZ Deathrays and Hockey Dad. Over two weeks, they travelled from Vancouver to Toronto – a distance of over 4000 km – in a bus shared by all three bands and their team. Highlights along the way include a sold-out show in Whistler, thrift shopping in Vancouver and -20°C weather in Edmonton.
In the five years since Horror My Friend formed, they have released two critically acclaimed studio albums, Stay In, Do Nothing (2016) and Home Life (2018), and a handful of singles. Their high energy shows have earned them spots supporting Violent Soho, the Cribs and Swervedriver. Their Canadian tour marks their second time in the Northern Hemisphere in 2019, after a European tour last spring.
I sat down with Horror My Friend to talk about their life on tour, their favourite music, mental health and how much has changed for the band in five years.
You’ve done a lot of international touring in 2019. In addition to our weeks in Canada, you were in Europe in spring 2019.
Josh Battersby: Yeah, yeah.
How did you get involved with that?
Tom Gordon: Just our manager, Dan [Radburn]. We’re also managed by the same people as Hockey Dad and because Hockey Dad is doing some good things, it’s paving the way for some of the other bands on the roster. Dan hit up some people who have done some work with Hockey Dad over in the UK and convinced them to do stuff for us. And they did! And it was really fun.
How do you find that international tours differ from playing a home?
Sam: Expensive – so, so expensive – but cool. It’s like it’s good to play to new people. It’s interesting to play people often have zero idea of who you are or more surprising if they do know who you are. But yeah, it’s super fun. And it’s super cool just to meet new people at every place. It’s really nice to have friends around different cities in Australia. Partly, touring in Australia is more just like we’re going to catch up with so and so in Sydney or so and so in Brisbane and then just play the show. So [touring Europe] is kind of nice because we’re going to explore the city as much as we can in a couple hours and meet a whole bunch of new people, which is super exciting.
What sort of challenges does it come with?
Tom: International touring, in particular, puts a lot of pressure on literally everything else in your life because you don’t get to go home during the week. You don’t get to just flip back home and do a couple of shifts at work. I suppose, it just puts a lot of pressure on you in terms of your relationships, your work, your family stuff, your bank account. But it’s also just like such a good experience. We’re very lucky. Very few people from Adelaide get to play in another country, let alone multiple times so we’re pretty stoked that we can get to do it.
Sam: There’s other stuff as well like I feel like not having a car is a pretty big one. Or you know, when you get to a city, it’s just a little bit harder today to navigate that sort of stuff. But yeah, fuck, it always works out.
I also imagine it would be a different touring dynamic sharing a bus with two other bands and sharing close space with each other.
Sam: It’s been pretty tight-knit. It has been sweet because everyone’s super chill with each other. There’s been no drama in that sense. But it’s just like you do get a bit of a sense of like, cabin fever because you’re just on the bus the whole time. There are so many people that as soon as you get the chance to step outside, even if it’s freezing, it was like, yeah, sweet. I’m going to take that.
Because you had the bus, you had to drive the entire way?
Sam: Yeah, I mean, it’s good in the sense that the bus will drive overnight so it will often drive while we’re having a bit of a sleep, which is good. So it’s in that sense, it’s quite logical and easy. It’s not without its challenges. No showers and toilets.
There’s no toilet?
Josh: This is a toilet but you can only pee in it. So you just gotta choose your times. Like, we’re at a service station so everyone just jumps out.
Sam: Some venues have showers. Occasionally we’ll just hire a hotel room near where we’re playing just so we can use the showers.
Josh: Yeah, and we’re all just walking past the reception just like, Yeah, we’re staying here. We show up and we’re gonna have like, fourteen people go and use the shower in one room.
Sam: It’s pretty funny, actually.
Josh: When we were in Europe, we were kind of driving ourselves around. We would hire a car and then we started in Belgium then we had a show in France but it got cancelled and we’d already booked accommodation and whatnot. So we went from Belgium to France to Germany and back to the back to England, which is like heaps of driving around, which, at the start was pretty sketchy because there’s the opposite side of the road, opposite side of the car. But um, yeah, it was heaps of fun. When we’re doing our own shows, we were definitely not as established. No one really knows us over there. So we weren’t playing to heaps of people at the first shows. But that was also really cool. But this tour is heaps more shows and a lot less pressure on us to get ourselves to the show, which is quite relaxing to know you don’t have to worry about all the time between the shows.
Tom: It feels like a holiday compared to the last tour.
You did an interview with The Rockpit in 2014 where you said the greatest challenge to date was “starting up with literally no contacts and no idea what we were doing as a band.” So, what has changed since then five years on and having done several international tours?
Tom: Well, we’ve definitely made contacts. I think that’s not so much of a big deal anymore. I think that the biggest challenge now is definitely – you know, like, 2014. What’s that? How long ago was that? Five years ago? Like, yeah, I was like, 22. We hadn’t even put a record out.
Sam: Was I even playing in the band?
Tom: You weren’t in the band. Actually, that’s the biggest challenge. It’s Sam.
Sam: Fuck off.
Tom: I think since then, I just think the biggest thing is just like managing the rest of your life. That has been the biggest struggle especially as you get older, and other things in your life become more serious. When I was 22 I was just at uni, working in a fruit and veg shop and living at my dad’s house. And that was it. So I would say that that’s definitely the biggest challenge now.
One of the things that really struck me from reading about everything that you’ve done is how deeply connected you are in the Australian music industry. Like that you’ve done so much work with bands that are even big in Canada, like Violent Soho and Hockey Dad. Now you seem to have absolutely no shortage of connections. And only five years ago you were talking about the challenges of establishing the band.
Josh: Yeah, I think a big part of it has been our manager, Dan. We played a show at the bar that he owned at the time called Rad Bar in Wollongong. That’s also Hockey Dad’s hometown. It was one of our first interstate tours. Sam was in the band at this point.
Sam: It was our first album tour.
Josh: And then we play and we’ve never played there before. And we played to like, five people. You know, it was fun, but like, it probably wasn’t the most like crazy show or anything like that. Dan was working as a venue manager there. And he was like, “Sorry there weren’t many people. You guys are awesome.” And then he’s like, “Do you want to just hang out and drink some beers?” Then he closed and locked the doors and we just hung out. Then, shortly after that night, he was just like “Hey, by the way, I manage Hockey Dad. Can I manage you guys?” And that was a big turning point.
So was it, like, the one thing that made all the difference?
Josh: Yeah, I think I would call that one of the biggest moments. I think the other one would have been signing with Poison City [Records] the first time. That opened a lot of doors as well.
Sam: I think it’s just you just keep on doing things and doing things and there’s no real life pathway or anything like that. You just create your own luck. Yeah, so it’s not like anything happened to us because we’re any better than any other band, but we were constantly playing shows and constantly doing stuff. To the point where it’s like, we were bound to run into someone that could help us and wanted to. It was just like a time and place and luck and all that stuff. But you know, you kind of set yourself up to put yourself in that position. So that’s part of the reason. We just played heaps of shows and met heaps of people. Not with the intention of being like, “Oh, you can help us.” You just play shows because you want to meet people and have some beers and have fun. And then we’ve been lucky that a few of those people on the way have been people who have wanted to help us.
Tom, you were talking to City Mag when “Turned Loose” came out. You said, “This is the closest we’ve ever been to making the music that we listen to.” Something that I noticed consistently throughout your interviews is that you feel like the latest music you’ve released is the best thing you’ve done and it’s getting closer and closer to your vision of where you want your sound to be. Would you say that is true?
Tom: I suppose it’s just one of those things where you’re always gonna be most excited about whatever you’ve just done. Fans may like something that you released four years ago. I feel like it’s just natural for you to always be like, “Ah, the next thing, the next thing,” because you get tired of it.
Sam: You just get better at doing what you’re doing.
Tom: Yeah, I think so. And a lot of our favorite bands are just pretty incredible experimental musicians. Just trying to even slightly emulate what they’re doing is actually like, a bit harder than we thought it was. [Laughs] You know what I mean? You hear bands that you love and they’re actually, like, popular bands for a reason.
I found that listening to your music, I can hear the bands that influence you. It sounds like you’re big fans of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. But more articulate with the vocals than Dinosaur Jr. Have you seen Dinosaur Jr. live?
It was great. I didn’t understand a word J Mascis said.
Sam: Was it a Dino Jr. show we saw at the Gov?
Sam: We saw Dino Jr. at the Gov, which is this great venue in Adelaide. And it was so funny because every time the sound guy or like someone off to the side of the stage would go to the amp when J was singing so that he couldn’t do anything and turn that down. And then as soon as J stop singing, he would turn around and turn the amp back up again. And it happened, like ten to twenty times. It was all night. I feel like that happens at every show.
Josh: It was the best.
Since you’re big fans of My Bloody Valentine, are you fans of Slow Dive?
Josh: Yeah, yeah.
Sam: I love Slow Dive.
Josh: Huge fans. We saw them in Auckland at Laneway Festival.
Sam: Did you see them in Adelaide as well, Josh?
Josh: Yeah. I got to see them twice in a couple of months. We kind of got into them like just before they announced their reunion and started doing festivals. I didn’t think they would ever come down to Australia at all. It was really cool to catch them. And then their record was so good as well. Usually when older bands are releasing like new material… I think that was the one that like, lived up to the hype.
Have your influences changed since you started the band?
Tom: I obviously think your music tastes change a lot in five years, as well. Like a lot of the same bands we listen to, we still love but then there are like, a lot of new influences that come in you maybe would have not really… I don’t know, I wouldn’t have liked or just dismissed. Like, even a lot of electronic stuff. Just five years ago, I would have been like, “I don’t listen to electronic music. This is bullshit.” And now I really like it.
Who are some artists who are you’re into now who you never expected to like?
Tom: Sam showed me this record called Gilder from this producer called the Sight Below. That’s really cool. There’s another producer from the UK called Daniel Avery, who I really like. I don’t really think I’ve thought about it much in terms of what we’re doing now though. You like a lot of electronic stuff as well, Sam.
Sam: I like a lot of experimental stuff. I like the Knife. I think electronic music in general just kind of cool because of the possibilities you can do with it. That’s probably what I grew up with as much as guitar music. I feel like I have a slightly different musical background to you guys.
I don’t talk to very many people who would say that they kind of grew up listening to any sort of electronic. It seems like most people come to it a little later, like in their teen years and club years.
Sam: Yeah, for sure. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the school friends I hung around. Yeah, I definitely electronic music is super interesting. There’s interesting music in any genre. I think it’s just being open-minded enough to recognize it. There’s sick jazz music, great classical music. You know, I don’t think it’s good to exclude yourself from listening to that. I think like when you watch a film and there’s a really cool soundtrack, and it’s just a really cool song in there that you usually wouldn’t listen to, then that’s like a really good moment because it’s not like you’re listening to a song… This is a rant. Sorry. [Laughs]
I also find that listening to new music is like reading a new book. It can take effort. Sometimes it’s really easy and natural. And other times I know I’m listening to a great album, but on that particular day, it’s effortful.
Sam: For sure. If you listen to an artist for the first time and you love that artist, that’s always going to be your benchmark. That’s why I think so many people talk about a band’s first album as being their best album. It’s not necessarily because it’s the best out, it’s just because that’s the first one that they got into, the one that makes them love [the band]. And anything else that they do is going to be a benchmark against that. But that’s another rant. I could go on about this for days. [Laughs]
I think that’s a good point. Often, the first record that becomes widely known continues to be the most recognized. Do you find that’s true with your career?
Sam: The songs we’ve put out recently have gotten more attention than we’ve ever gotten before. A bunch of people wouldn’t have ever listened to us [before] and are coming up to us like, “This is a sick song. Do you have an album?” Yeah, we put out two and an EP. Actually, there’s another EP somewhere as well.
Tom: We don’t talk about that.
Sam: Sorry, sorry.
Tom: There’s like 250 copies of this EP in my dad’s shed, which we buried because we don’t like it. It was, like, the first five songs we ever wrote. We were just kids and we just wrote five songs and we’re like, “Let’s go record them right now and then release it straight away.” So we had, like, no plan. We just didn’t know what we were doing. We just went to record the songs and then –
Josh: Released them that night! Like, “These are our songs!” And then we’re like, “Why didn’t anything happen?”
Will you ever listen back to them?
Tom: I have. It’s not good. My dad gave my girlfriend a copy of it.
Sam: Ah, really? That’s sneaky.
Josh: Classic Jim.
Tom: He thought it was heaps funny. Then he was like, “Do you want 250 of them?”
Sam: I want a copy. I haven’t listened to it. They wouldn’t let me listen to it.
I want to ask you more about “Dopamine Waster.” In the press release for the single, you said it’s about mental health, specifically anxiety. So I love it if you could tell me a bit more about why you ended up focusing on anxiety and about “Dopamine Waster,” in general.
Tom: I can’t speak for the other guys but I have dealt with that for a long time, just on a personal level. And when I wrote that song, I had just kind of come out of a really, really bad, black period that I was struggling to deal with for multiple reasons. The song talks about how much [anxiety] can envelop your life and you feel like you’re never going to get out of it. It’s also about how the right person can pull you out of it and it’s actually going to be okay. Yeah, it’s about my girlfriend doing that, which is nice.
I specifically remember that period of time. It doesn’t sound that long, it was like four weeks. It was just like – you know – you can’t think about anything else. You can’t think about anything. It’s just the worst feeling ever. And then you just kind of think, “Oh, this is how I am now.” You just think that’s going to be it. And then one day you kind of start coming out of it and be like, “Oh, this day actually arrived. It’s going to be okay.”
What has the music-making process been like since you released your last album?
Josh: It’s been a bit slower. There haven’t been heaps of pressure on it. We have a few more singles recorded but it’s not on any timeline. It’s kind of as it kind of happens rather than trying to force something to happen, I suppose.
Tom: I think it’s better like that as well.
Josh: At least, it’s more fun and you’re not working to a deadline, just kinda writing half a song like, “Ah, it’s good enough” and then recording it.
Sam: Also, it’s expensive and it’s a big ordeal. I think now that we put out two albums we realize that it’s not just enough to like, go in and record some songs and put it on a CD or online or something like that. If you want to have people listen to it then it’s quite a big ordeal and it takes a long time to do with the whole process. Even when you finish an album, it could be another year or more until you might get released, at which point you’re probably over the songs because you’re heard them so many times. And then people hear them for the first time like, “I love your new songs.” And I’m like, “Ugh, I don’t want to listen to them again.” I guess now we realize a bit more of the complexity around it, and we probably don’t need to jump straight back into being like, “We’re going to put something out straight away.”
How much of your music creation process is based on inspiration and how much of it is just making things to make things?
Josh: I think with writing songs, the only time I find I write anything that’s worth keeping is when I actually want to play guitar. I guess that comes at different times as well. I don’t think we’ve ever just done it to do it. That doesn’t really make sense and I find, personally, the end results always suck. I don’t set out and say, “I’m going to write a song today.” It just happens at different times. Sometimes I’m only going to write a song in a year and other times I’m going to write a couple in a month.
So you’re not going to lock yourself in a studio where you have to write three songs.
Josh: No, that sounds really stressful. Probably not for me.
Sam: Not your style?
Josh: Not my style.
This article was originally posted on Savage Thrills.
All photos were taken by me with a Canon Sure Shot on Superia film.