Tripping & Chatting With Pete Fowler & The Horrors

Welsh cartoon wizard Mr Pete Fowler has done an ace eye-bending video for The Horrors. Here, Fowler and Tom Cowan sit down to geek out on the psychedelic, the countryside, synths and cheese

Those out there who have The Horrors painted as a moody bunch, who just sit inside painting their fingernails with burnt drugs, are missing the point. Their music, especially over last two albums Skying and Primary Colours, has been shaped by driving, euphoric escapism: lurid, grandiose and bright. It therefore makes perfect sense that Pete Fowler, the artist probably best known for his work with Super Furry Animals, has created the new video for the band’s ‘Changing The Rain’, which you can watch above. The collaboration is the result of a long-standing mutual friendship and gentlemanly enthusiasms for the finer things in life. Take it away, chaps…

Your art and music are both rooted in an alternate reality to that experienced by most people. When was it that you first realised that you were more interested in the weirder side of life and that you probably looked at things differently to most?

Pete Fowler: When I was a kid I thought everything on TV was animated, I really did! It was my diet of cartoons and comics that retuned my mind to flat colours and outlines, and thought that anything was possible if it was drawn and animated. That and the freaky and battered world of Star Wars, I loved that it seemed (to me) to be a real place where everything was used and broken, like it was in the 1970s.

I really got into the idea of other worlds and different realities, that stuck in my mind and made it OK for me to come up with stuff that otherwise would seem daft and frivolous. I think without comics, cartoons and Star Wars I would probably be a panel beater in a workshop in Splott, Cardiff.

Tom Cowan: What does psychedelia mean to you?

PF: That’s such an overused word these days that it’s sometimes hard to actually identify what it means any more, like when people say ‘it’s really Krauty’. It’s a bit of a lazy word for some people not to think about what it actually means. To me it’s mind expanding, takes you to another place and opens your eyes to something new and enlightening. Failing that, it’s something that blows your mind when you have upgraded your brain with god’s medicine. Nature is probably one of the most psychedelic things for me. Truth and beauty! What does psychedelia mean to you, Tom?

TC: There is the traditional meaning in music – you can talk about British psychedelic rock and there is a loose definition of what that should sound like – but for me Cluster is psychedelic, Miles Davis is psychedelic, some of those Trojan dub records are some of the most tripped out slabs of 7" out there. Then you realise that psychedelia is actually just a feeble attempt to define in a word the feeling of being taken somewhere else with music or art. So for me, psychedelia is just another way of saying that something is all about un-focusing you from reality, moving you away from where you actually are and into another place and another state of mind.

Experiencing other states of being is very important, I think, for a full life experience. There’s no way music and culture would have developed throughout history as it has without a little substance abuse. And I’m not talking about LSD opening people’s minds up in the 60s, but more the primal shamanic rituals of the ancients, where communing with each other whilst on some insane root plant DMT trip, all the time accompanied by neverending, hypnotic beats and chants, was a regular feature in the life of early man. That’s why people have always come together and danced, and why being completely totalled in a club with a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand other people all focused on one beat or one melody can be such a sublime experience. It’s inbuilt within us, it’s a part of being human.

PF: Right answer!

TC: What’s your number one smooth groove right now?

PF: Whoah, big question! Although I’ve had it for a while I always seem to come back to the Future World Orchestra’s ‘Miracles’, on clear blue 7" vinyl. Hot on its heels is Joni Mitchell’s ‘Free Man In Paris’, such a smooth banger, can’t get enough of that right now. Oh, and not forgetting JD Souther’s ‘Banging My Head Against the Moon’. I told you it was a tough question!

Now it’s time to ask you what your smooth jams are.

TC: Ooh… Well, I am still enjoying Lennon’s ‘Bless You’, which I used to turn a Lennon non-believer recently. Of course there’s always a bit of Seahawks on rotation, and I recently discovered Shuggy Otis’ ‘Inspiration Information’ which has been massively… inspiring.

PF: I have to dig out that Lennon track! Love that Shuggy LP, an evergreen classic and early drum machine usage.

TC: What is your first memory of encountering The Horrors, and how long was it until we met after that?

PF: Wow, must’ve been just before your first LP came out, I think I read an interview where you guys were talking about psych 7"s and immediately my interested was piqued! I thought, ‘How do these young ‘uns know about Tintern Abbey?’ It must have been a bit before Primary Colours that we met through the legendary Godsy (DJ Cherystones) and I remember we got on pretty well from the get go, a shared interest in psych and garage was the golden thread. How was I to know that you were a lover of the smooth as well? Bonus ball.

TC: I remember the first time we met really well actually. I was having a post-Cave Club party in my old flat in Shoreditch where you lived upstairs, Godsy lived one door down and Anthony Rossomando lived below you. Godsy asked if you could come over, and five minutes later you were there, wearing what I think was a top hat and raving about The Glass Domain’s ‘Interlock’ that you’d heard in a mix I did. We hung out every other day for that whole summer, smoking on the roof and listening to all kinds of far-out sounds. I was really quite upset when I found out you were going to move, it really wasn’t the same without you around.

PF: It was sad to move from that spot, it was a great hang out. That roof, the cats, the cheeses, and my door wide open blasting out music. Oh, and accidentally setting fire to the decking with that BBQ! RIP that brown top hat, it now resides in New York. Ah, the ‘Glass Domain’, what a track.

TC: I remember getting sent some designs for Horrors toys you did way back. At the time we didn’t even have an album out and we thought perhaps Horrors figures were not what the world needed right now. Without wanting to sound derogatory, what the hell were you thinking?

PF: I have to tell you that wasn’t my idea. Can’t remember whose it was right now, but I did think, ‘This doesn’t really seem appropriate…’! Glad it didn’t come off to be honest. Oil/plastic is a precious commodity.

TC: What’s your favourite cheese?

PF: Has to be Stilton, the king of cheeses. If you don’t like that, you don’t like cheese in my book. I had some from Melton Mowbray recently and it was mind-glowingly good, went incredibly well with one of their bad boy pork pies. I’m hungry now.

[Pause in the interview to go and find a pie Tom drums fingers]

TC: You’ve just done a video for us, which is probably my favourite video of ours as it’s so totally different from anything else we’ve done. When did your interest in psychedelic cartoons first start, and what’s your first memory of them?

PF: Thanks Tom (sorry, I’m typing with my mouth full of pie, I really am!) The video is really different to anything you’ve had made before, that’s for sure. I just have to say I’m really proud to be able to make that for you guys, with the help of the awesome Made Visual Studios. I touched on animation earlier but I think the first psychedelic cartoon I saw that lodged in my mind was the pinball number count from Sesame Street. It was combination of the amazing Pointer Sisters music and the wigged out visuals. I imagined walking around in that pinball machine and exploring all the things inside of it. Again, it got fantasy psyched-out worlds embedded in my brain for use in later life.

TC: When did you first realise you had too many records?

PF: When I had to move from my old flat, over the road from the Old Blue Last, to where I am now, about a year and a half ago. Four floors up and no lift almost killed me and the removal guys. They weren’t happy, but fuck them as they cracked my Saz. In my opinion you can never have too many records, though I have futile attempts here and there to get rid of a few.

TC: I think I’ve taken a few off your hands, including the amazing ‘It’ll All Work Out In Boomland’ by T2. Can’t believe you gave that away, you’re going to regret that one day. I did give you my Mum’s Bill Wyman record though so we’re definitely quits. I actually regret doing that a little…

PF: That T2 LP was rightly yours, couldn’t think of a better collection for it to reside in. I seldom listened to it, and knew you would. Wow, I didn’t realise that Bill Wyman pic disc LP was your mum’s. Jeez. We really are quits eh?

TC: Where does the nautical theme come from in your recent work?

PF: The sea to me, is very magnetic. I grew up in sight of the (brown) Bristol Channel looking over to Weston-Super-Mare and then later went to art school in Falmouth in Cornwall, a place steeped in maritime history. I lived upstairs from a mad old sailor who sang shanties when he got back from the pub. I later lived on the Scillies, a group of beautiful small islands off of Land’s End, and blagged a boat building job. Boats on the islands were vital for the locals and I pretty quickly got into the life, either fixing boats or mucking around on them, off shore and onshore.

My good friend Keith Buchannan had a stack of amazing old records, The Beach Boys’ Holland LP, James Gang, Steely Dan, etc, and the combination of the sea, boats and really smooth music stayed with me. Also, the sea is a bit like space, we know very little about it in the grand scheme of things and it’s a place where man is alien, but there is also a mysticism to it and a kind of romance. At the same time, it’s also very harsh and can take you out in a heartbeat. I love the sense of wonder of the sea, and sometimes regret that I didn’t take up Keith’s offer of a loan to buy Terry Nutkins’ beautiful 26-footer that I worked on with a nutty Tasmanian guy. I might add that at the time I was sleeping in a bathtub next to the beach in my friend’s yard. You did ask. So yeah, the sea is a bit of an inspiration, along with a healthy dose of cosmic yacht rock.

TC: I think one of the reasons Seahawks is so good is because it’s music made for love’s sake, there’s no ulterior motives involved. Would you agree? And what are your thoughts on that in the wider context of music right now?

PF: There was no other reason for us to start Seahawks other than the pure love of merging Oneohtrix Point Never with Don Henley. It kind of grew from there to remixing Badly Drawn Boy (we cut his lyrics up to say something else) and releasing a ton of music, mostly on vinyl. It’s also a reaction to the state of music as well I suppose, there’s always too much over-hyped, over-marketed music out there, and not enough made just for the love of it. We don’t rely on a living from Seahawks, and maybe that’s why we can be free to do what we want with our releases. We’re happy that people dig it and we hope they feel that we genuinely love what we do with the music.

TC: You guys have actually served as an inspiration, with regard to just putting things out there without all the other fuss that goes into releasing records. In The Horrors we work in albums, and putting out an album is a really big deal for us and it wouldn’t make sense to just stick it out there, at least not at the moment. But with my other projects, I’m happy to just let it go when I feel it’s ready.

PF: I feel you on that one, I guess with a label and being part of a group of five, there’s a hell of a lot of work to put into making an LP, delivering it on time and being 100% happy with it. We’ve missed our release slots so many times people were thinking we were lost at sea – and in a way, they were right!

TC: You’re always going away to the countryside, do you find London can get too much – and has that always been the way?

PF: I think it goes back to camping with my family in Wales as a kid on the Gower coast and then living down in Cornwall. I love the city but the country is equally attractive, London can always get a little too much here and there, I like seeing a lot of sky and space. Also nothing beats a good country pub, in particular the Ship Inn in Porthleven, the perfect spot for a grab sandwich and a few pints of Doom Bar. On a synth geek topic, what’s your favourite synth and why?

TC: That’s a hard question. I have certain synths that do certain things really well, but if I had to get rid of all of my mono-synths and keep one, it would be my Yamaha CS-30. It’s a monstrous beast and does everything really well. Apart from playing chords – it’s not very useful for that. For instances where I have to play more than one note I’m really digging the Farfisa Duo our friend Charlie lent us. That’s been used on a lot of tracks. I guess it’s supposed to be an organ but it’s really a mega-synth in disguise. I’ve recently got into modular world too, which I see possibly taking over, there’s just so much choice! I think that’s going to really influence where my sounds on the next album go.

PF: Modular sounds awesome, I saw the BugBrand modular synths that Tom Bugs made a few years back, another dimension in sound those things. Just the look of them is an inspiration to a lot of my work, let alone how they sound. They seem to have a personality. Can you imagine if Joe Meek had a Buchla or a Moog Mod? I can imagine you guys making a soundtrack. If you could make one for any film, what would you choose?

TC: We recently did some car ad music and it was a new experience to work to film. I enjoyed it though, and have always said that I’d love to work on a soundtrack for something. You can approach the music totally differently. I’m really into soundtracks, from Morricone to Bollywood, but if I had to choose one film it would have to be Dune II. Now I know Dune II hasn’t been made, but Josh and I have this plan that we will eventually start the ball rolling to make a sequel – as well as a five hour version of the original, which is much too short at the moment. Anyone else interested should get in touch, particularly if their last name is Weinstein. Lucases and Spielbergs stay away – you are not welcome in our house right now.

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