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Escape Velocity

Dancing Is Better Than Chin Stroking: Psychedelic Horseshit Interviewed
John Freeman , June 7th, 2011 05:45

Matt Horseshit talks about new album Laced, disappearing bassists and musical splits

Matt Horseshit (née Whitehurst) has had better months. On the eve of his band, Psychedelic Horseshit, releasing their new album Laced, he got some surprising news from his musical partner and only other band member, Ryan Jewell. "Ryan decided about two weeks ago that he needed to go on retreat, to meditate and figure some stuff out. He has temporarily quit the band."

Which is his gaping loss; Jewell is the primary instrumentalist on an album which sees the band shrug off their 'shitgaze' label and produce a fucked-up, anarchic dance record. After various early sludgy, lo-fi releases, Laced sounds like the Happy Mondays' Bummed spiked with PCP and fed through mashing electronica.

Thankfully, Matt Horseshit is nothing if not resourceful, and has replaced Jewell with model-cum-keyboard player Nicole Bland. She sits through most of our interview, only speaking to inform us that Horseshit's home town of Columbus, Ohio is "the most accent-less place in the US." Horseshit himself is more forthcoming; he is gregarious if slightly affected. A combat jacket, faded vest and indoor sunglasses fuel his punk-puppy veteran look. We are meeting ahead of a headline show in Manchester, and after getting me to buy him a pre-gig Bloody Mary, Horseshit interrogates me as to where he might meet one of his idols, Mark E Smith.

Perhaps understandably, the show is a little ragged. Bland does a commendable job in filling the gap left by the errant keyboard player, but both her and Horseshit struggle to combat the loss of Jewell's musicianship. The giant centrepiece from Laced, a frothing, shape-shifting epic entitled 'I Hate The Beach', is rendered toothless and anaemic - Psychedelic Horseshit will be better than this.

Psychedelic Horseshit - French Countryside from FatCat Records on Vimeo.

So, Ryan left you in a difficult position. That must have been a very tricky conversation to have?

Matt Horseshit: I was like 'the record comes out in three weeks, man'. He said 'I'm sorry dude; it is something I have to do'. Ryan is a peculiar kind of character. He is almost 30 years-old and never had a drink in his life, never smoked a cigarette, will not intake caffeine into his system and looks like a bit of a hippy. He looks like the kind of guy that generally uses drugs and drinks, but he has never done any of that. He is just really focussed on music.

And so you've been joined on this tour by Nicole. Is she a temporary replacement for Ryan?

MH: Actually, we've been wanting to add a third member for a while and Nicole and I have known each other for a long time – so she seemed like the obvious choice. She will continue to play with us in the future.

There has been quite a rotation of band members since your inception, with you as the original member. Is Psychedelic Horseshit your band?

MH: It is my band – I have been the only constant member throughout the history of the band. The amount of members in the early years is almost comical. We have had 17 bass players at the last count.

17? What is your problem with bass players?

MH: No one fit – now we don't even have a bass player. It just took me a long time to realise I didn't need one. At the time that there had been about 15, a zine in Columbus did an interview with all of the former bass players of Psychedelic Horseshit and asked them all the same questions.

So, regarding Laced, I believe the songs were written over the last three years?

MH: Well, most of the songs were recorded during 2010. 'I Hate The Beach' had all the basics recorded in 2008 and it was an anomaly for us – it was like I didn't know what the fuck to do with it. It had this weird club beat and laser noises and it didn't fit with what people expected our sound to be.

So why does the song fit onto Laced?

MH: I guess I finally caught up with what I wanted to do. Laced is a sonically experimental record that is very textured and nods to a lot of my influences without ripping any of them off in an obvious way.

It sounds like your influences have changed over time – is that correct?

MH: With the stuff we used to do, people would compare us to [bands like] The Fall and Guided By Voices. I don't really listen to that type of music any more. I'd never listened to hip-hop before this record, or ambient electronica. I got into a lot of that stuff on this record and it came out in the songwriting process.

Laced is more beat-orientated than your previous work. Was that a conscious decision when you set out to record the album?

MH: Definitely – that is the direction we are going in. I don't think we'll ever be a 'dance band' proper, but it feels better to play shows and have kids dancing than a bunch of kids just standing there [mimics stroking chin thoughtfully]. I just got sick of that – it is not fun. Also, I got a sampler and a drum machine and when you have new tools to work with it opens up a lot of new doors.

Laced seems to have moved away from the lo-fi nature of your early singles and your debut album Magic Flowers Droned. I also read some of your press in which you were pretty caustic about the whole lo-fi scene. What was your particularly bug-bear?

MH: It was this; if you have a decent computer, you can record really clearly. You can do it at home, and you can do it really nicely. It has become somewhat of a conscious decision to be a lo-fi band. I think what I was getting upset about, several years back, was when I saw the turning point of that happen; when I saw it not being done by kids, who didn't have jobs and had bands and lived off a few dollars a week, and saw it being done by these people with lots of money, recording on a nice computer and intentionally making it sound like shit to hide a lack of musical ability.

You are from Columbus, Ohio. I think MTV described the place as the "ground zero for lo-fi punk," and I understand Columbus has a rich musical heritage.

MH: People like to think it is lo-fi or ground-zero or bullshit like that. But, in the late 70s and early 80s there was a vibrant scene that was like a homemade punk thing that was a lot weirder than punk rock was. Tommy Jay, Mike Rep, V3, Jim Shepard, Ron House – there are all these characters from back then that made tons and tons of recordings and some of it is just really brilliant stuff, that not a lot of people got to hear. Now, you meet people when you travel around who really know about the Columbus scene from the past and are like 'you seriously have drunk a beer with Ron House?' and I'm like 'yeah man, everyone has drunk a beer with Ron House'. It's just a guy around town.

Talking of scenes. Legend has it that you coined the phrase 'shitgaze' to describe your music and there is a now a genre attached to a specific type of music. What happened?

MH: It started off as a joke. I had a test of our first album that I was playing in the car and me and my friend Kevin [DeBroux] – who is in a band called Pink Reason – were listening to it. I was saying 'this is the shoegaze song' and he said 'yeah, but it is a really shit version of shoegaze. It is totally shitgaze.' It was a joke and I put it on MySpace and then NME wrote an article and made it into a scene. They found these bands that had similar sounds and wrote a feature. Then all these other publications took off with it as well. The next thing you know, Spin magazine and MTV were talking about shitgaze and coming to Columbus to interview us. It was so ridiculous. Honestly, it was just a joke - two stoners driving down the road.

But it is now a de facto scene.

MH: Well, the scene does exist now because they made the joke into a reality. There are heaps of young bands who have been influenced by the shitgaze scene and have sprouted up playing shitgaze. Even Pitchfork use it to describe records – so it is now a term.

While we are on the subject specific descriptions, I feel the need to ask a question about the band name. Just why are you called Psychedelic Horseshit?

MH: Ha ha. I had been scheduled to play at this music festival, by myself. I was a having a drink with a friend and I was explaining that I might invite all my friends who don't play music – get 20 or 30 people and give them all instruments – and we will all go onstage at this festival and play. She said, 'Yeah, that'll be like psychedelic horseshit', and I said 'That's exactly what it is gonna be called'.

I'm intrigued by the influence of recreational drugs on the making of Laced. You've told me that Ryan is essentially teetotal, but is hard to believe the record was made in a completely drug-free environment.

MH: Yeah, I've always liked psychedelic music, ever since I was a teenager. I occasionally take psychedelic substances and music goes along with psychedelics in a really good way. It has opened up a lot of artists to a more expansive type of sound. It's undeniable – Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones - most of the 60s was influenced by drugs. The record is not about drugs, but definitely part of it has been recorded under the influence of drugs. I smoke weed quite a bit, as do most bands I've met – apart from Ryan. He doesn't need drugs – he is on his own plane. He is a student of music.

It sounds as if you and Ryan have a perfect Yin-Yang relationship?

MH: It is one of the most rewarding musical partnerships I have ever had. We complement each other in weird ways, and are complete opposites in other ways. I'm not the best musician – but I know what I want. But, Ryan is the best musician and doesn't always know what he wants. It works out really well.

Finally, have you any idea of what the next Psychedelic Horseshit album might sound like?

MH: I do. It's gonna be like a psychedelic party record. I want it to be banging, maybe like a cross between Fear Of A Black Planet, Loveless and Blonde On Blonde [laughs].