A chat with Dark Horses, the most popular band you’ve never heard of

These days it’s not hard for a shit band (or artist) to get massive recognition; just look at the Jonas Brothers, Rebecca Black, Nickleback and Creed. We’re constantly being bombarded by bands twerking their way into the spotlight, and they can easily cast a shadow over their quieter, less follower-hungry counterparts, who might be more likely to be found at home geeking out over chord sequences than writing columns about their relationships for gossip magazines.

Dark Horses, from Brighton, have just finished touring with Sigur Ros, and are gearing up to take off on the Dandy Warhols tour, which will begin in June (right after they play Glastonbury), lasting for two weeks. They’ve supported Tame Impala and Beck, they work closely with Richard Fearless (of Death In Vegas fame), Crystal Castles are releasing their album, and they’ve been said to be one of Nick Cave’s favourite bands. So… why has nobody heard of them?

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Searching the Internet I couldn’t find out much about the band. I couldn’t find out how many members there were or how they formed, and the only impression I could draw from the handful of interviews out there was that they like to wear black, and that they tend to evade questions in interview. Not very helpful.

My interest was piqued by such a broad and far-from-convincing description of the band, so I caught up with Lisa Elle, the driver of the Dark Horses ship, to find out what it is about them that’s attracting the attention of such a spectrum of big artists. Given that so little is known about them, and they ‘rarely give straight answers’ I was honestly expecting an awkward, evasive interview with an image- conscious group of pretentious dicks. Instead, I found music-passionate, curious and driven artists, and this is clearly something that others have picked up on, as Lisa explained how they managed to come from nowhere to playing such huge, crazy shows, in such a short timespan.

Lisa started out doing costume design for bands, and told me how she managed to meet bands in a different way, through those channels.  “If you have a real genuine joy and passion for [music], you just get really excited, and if you clearly know a bit about it, you can geek away about instruments and things. Other people who appreciate that will chat with you”. When I asked how the Dandies tour came about, it was a similar story. Having met them after a festival in Australia, they crossed paths with Zia, and ended up connecting which resulted in the upcoming tour.

The BBC describes Dark Horses as gloomy, producing music for “purging angry thoughts to“, and another critic compared their performances with Paganism. It’s true that the majority of the photos on their Instagram are in black and white, and  Lisa agrees that perhaps their image of darkness could be associated with Pagan elements (“for want of a better word”) in that it’s “based around seasons, and nature”. Although there is anger in the music, there’s “there’s love in it and laughter in it and all the other things that humans experience”. As with many artists, the music is a reflection of a release- of “whether that’s general stress or frustration or sexual tension, or whatever it may be”. The dark photography is credited to Ali Tollervey, the band’s photographer, but who is also considered a member of the band. Lisa describes his role as integral, as he understands the craft of music, and his photos are a way of “exploring that connection between what you feel you put into something and what people interpret it as”.

The mystique behind the band is in part due to its fluidity. Although there are five members in the group on the road at the moment, there have been six or seven on stage at different times. There are “different individuals and creatives who come and collaborate on other levels, whether its film or photography”, which keeps the music moving forward, and keeps the band challenged. At this point in time, Lisa told me the constant members of the band are herself, Bobby, Steve and Ali. That’s vocals, drums, keys, guitar and photography- although the structure of the band in itself carries on the theme of fluidity, as they swap instruments when it seems necessary, with one member teaching himself to play drums, and another replacing him on bass.

Their new album, produced by Richard Fearless, was written in just over three weeks, which seems pretty short, but Lisa explained that that’s “what happens when you all come in and sit down and spend some time working”. The album is treated by the band as a “moment in time”, and “capturing an energy, as opposed to a life’s work”. The theme of fluidity resonated when Lisa told me that “had we written and recorded it six months later, it wouldn’t be the same anyway”.

Their new single, Live On Hunger, came out on Monday, and the video is premiering here on Noisey. It’s is directed by W.I.Z Whiston, who boasts an impressive videography, having directed videos for a staggering list of massive artists (Oasis, Manic Street Preachers, Smashing Pumpkins, Jamiroquai… even Shakira got the W.I.Z treatment) and has worked with Dark Horses before, collaborating in the same way as Ali, the photographer, by being creatively involved and understanding their message.

If a little Korean man called Psy can earn the 2nd to top spot for having the most viewed video on Youtube for dancing like he’s on a horse, it seems crazy (yet in a way unsurprising, given current pop culture) that a band backed by so many respected artists and creatives isn’t getting more recognition. It seems unlikely they’ll be whoring themselves out for tweets anytime soon.


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