Interview: Sugar Horse
"It’s quite weird having a social media account with 20 likes and no one really gives a shit and it was just funny to put up grandiose posts about shows we were playing and ending the posts by saying 'None of you will be there anyway' it just kind of rolled on from there."
How do you top the release of a second EP and opening the final day of Arctangent? You get yourselves on a nationwide tour supporting one of the most popular bands in the UK right now. 2020 looks like it will blow its predecessor out of the water for Sugar Horse with the Drugs EP being released on April 17th and a nationwide tour kicking off in Glasgow on the following Monday. Sugar Horse is building up to all of this with the pulsating video for new single ‘Pity Party’ before a second single drops in March and we caught up with vocalist/guitarist Ashley Tubb to discuss tactics for dealing with going on stage early, sad sounding reverb and being loud enough to get complaints at a festival.
(((o))): Being in a band isn’t cheap, what jobs do you guys have to enable the band to be funded?
Ashley: I run a little music venue in Bristol called The Mothers Ruin.
Martin Savage (Drums) is a posh cocktail barman.
Jake Healy (Baritone Guitar/Keyboards) works in an IT call centre.
Chris Howarth (Bass) works for Rock Steady which offers ‘Rock School’ style instrument lessons for schools.
(((o))): Your bandcamp tagline is that Sugar Horse is a “decidedly average band”, how else would you describe the sound of Sugar Horse?
Ashley: Haha, I guess it’s heavy, shoegazy, slow. We have a few rules in the band and one of them is some of it has got to be slow. It seemed like a good idea when we started but it’s getting a bit more difficult now we are three EPs in.
(((o))): Trying to figure out how to describe Sugar Horse is quite tricky, one band that springs to mind is Oceansize as you can crack a chorus but also turn and bolt away in a different direction right after that. What process do you go through for each song and deciding where it is going to sit on the scale of those possibilities?
Ashley: Funny you mentioned Oceansize, they are my favourite band of all time. It differs from song to song. If I bring in an idea it is normally a finished thing where a whole song is done and the guys slot in their parts underneath. The other guys will bring in parts for a verse or a chorus but no one ever sets anything, so basically the vocals get written afterwards. We just write a series of parts which sound cool after each other and I kind of tailor the vocals to make it into a song structure, rather than just writing a verse and a chorus. I guess we are more like an instrumental band and then I just stick vocals over the top. The dynamics are totally nicked from Mogwai, that kind of going real, real quiet to super loud. I think the whole post-rock thing of building up to a big loud bit for ages is played out at the moment so we kind of try to steer clear of tropes if we can help it.
(((o))): You have mentioned Oceansize, what other influences do you have on your music and lyrics?
Ashley: We all like pretty different things but the things we have in common are Deftones, Mogwai, My Bloody Valentine, The Red House Painters, The Cure, basically anything with loads of reverb which sounds a bit sad.
(((o))): There is a bit of self-deprecating humour around the band, are there any shared comedy interests?
Ashley: I guess we all like comedy a little bit and are all Stuart Lee fan’s but I wouldn’t say it’s a big influence or anything. It started from being a little band that no one really cared about. It’s quite weird having a social media account with 20 likes and no one really gives a shit and it was just funny to put up grandiose posts about shows we were playing and ending the posts by saying “None of you will be there anyway” it just kind of rolled on from there.
(((o))): The new video for ‘Pity Party’ features a full ballet troupe, it’s a bit of an upgrade from a guy dancing behind an illuminated bed-sheet in the video for ‘Your Degree Is Worthless And Your Parents Aren’t proud Of You’, how did that come about?
Ashley: It’s just an idea I had, we were just kicking around ideas for music videos. They are kind of difficult things to do, I am not a giant fan of a music video per say to be honest. I don’t think that many people actually watch them these days, they get like one view and then people have the record, I don’t know it might just be me. We were just kicking around ideas and it just seemed like a cool thing to do. It’s quite hard to find things that look interesting that aren’t just a band playing in a room which can get a bit dull.
(((o))): What else can be expected on the next EP Drugs?
Ashley: ‘Pity Party’ is track two and the anomaly on it, it was the obvious single as it is four and half minutes and pretty much all singing. The first track will surprise people quite a lot, it’s probably the heaviest thing they will have heard us do so far. Track three is called ‘Richard Branson in the Sky With Diamonds’ and it will be released as a single with music video on March 27th we are doing a release show thing for that one at the Exchange in Bristol.
On the last EP the heavy parts and melodic parts were very separate and sounded like two different bands. On this EP we wanted to combine that a bit more and ‘Richard Branson…’ is a combination of the ethereal stuff and heavier stuff in one song. Then there is a track called ‘When September Rain’ which is probably the stupidest title we have come up with so far. It is called that because it is a ballad, well I guess a ballad, it is slow and quiet compared to the rest of the stuff. Then there is a big horrible noisy, heavy closer called ‘Dog Egg’, basically just stupid titles.
It varies drastically, I think the last EP was all very one colour and this is loads of different colours we dart between a lot on this but it kind of ties together a bit more. To say that cliché thing that all bands say about their new record “It’s heavier and it’s more melodic.”
(((o))): This will be the third EP, is that the preferred method of releasing music over albums?
Ashley: We had this idea of releasing three EPs at the start. I think it usually takes a band a few records to get into their sound properly. Now when you have to release things a lot quicker than you used to I didn’t want to have to do three albums and then go “Oh this is actually good now”. I thought releasing a few EPs would let us find our sound a bit easier without having a giant back catalogue of material that we weren’t as into.
(((o))): Do you feel that you have reached that point now that the Drugs EP is due to come out on 17 April?
Ashley: Well Drugs has been recorded since last August/September so it has been recorded for quite a while. We now have an album pretty much written and we are in the middle of demoing it, we are four songs deep into demoing it so an album is on the way. Like everything in the music industry it takes ages.
(((o))): You have done a bit of mixing and mastering on your past material, is this something you are looking to do more of?
Ashley: Yeah I think I will still be heavily involved, we are not entirely sure what route we are going to go down yet with the album. The thing with us is we like the recordings to sound quite a lot different than, I don’t know, most rock bands that you hear at the moment. There is quite a lot of low end and its more focused on sub frequencies and the drums are a lot less clicky and metally and drum machine sounding than most heavier rock bands. There is probably a tasteless amount of reverb on everything and I don’t trust a lot of people to not turn it into just another standard heavy record.
We are all kind of control freaks and have long discussion about minuscule things that do not matter at all that go on for days on a regular basis. Mixing is probably the most important things you can do on a record and there is just a trust thing where I don’t think I am ready to commit to let someone else do that yet but we will see. When you are doing this independently, funded by your own jobs it makes making a decision like that a lot more black and white than it should be.
(((o))): A support slot on the Black Peaks tour awaits, how many venues do you think will have you on before doors open?
Ashley: Luckily we have what we call the ‘All dayer set’. We used to play quite a lot of all day festivals in London and Bristol a year or two ago and you’d get people going out for a cigarette or going to the bar between sets and only come in about 15 minutes in. So we just slam them with five minutes of really loud drone at the start and then they start creeping in so you then kick into your set and it’s all good.
If they end up doing that we will be prepared, I am sure it will be fine, I am sure they will have doors open long before we come on.
(((o))): Speaking of going on early you had a graveyard shift at Arctangent last year playing first on the final day, I had a disagreement with my hangover and could only listen from my tent drifting in and out of pain, how did the set go?
Ashley: It was really surprising, we had this ongoing joke that it was either going to be 10 really hungover people not wanting to watch us or 10 people that were still up from the night before and still not in the mood to watch us. We had like a full tent which was really shocking for 11am on the last day, it was real cool.
We got loads of complaints from people in the camping area because I just chucked a really loud drone on for about 25 minutes before we started and it woke a lot of people up which made me pretty happy to be honest (laughing).
(((o))): Are the Black Peaks shows going to be your biggest venue shows to date?
Ashley: Oh yeah for sure, I think the Scala in London is a 1000 cap or something mental, it is already sold out which is insanity. Bristol is sold out and I think Brighton might be close as well, insanity. It is going to be terrifying, I am kinda glad we are on first otherwise I would just be looking at a room full of people for two and a half hours.
(((o))): What music will be fueling your drives round the country on the stereo?
Ashley: We listen to really lame stuff mainly. Me and Chris (Bassist) do all the driving so we get to chose and we are really big Iron Maiden fans but really lame Iron Maiden. Late stuff like Dance of Death which is hated, I think, by every other Iron Maiden fan in the world. We also listen to loads of podcasts such as The Last Podcast on the Left, All Killer No Filler about serial killers and true crime and Shallow Rewards by Chris Ott who used to write for Pitchfork it’s incredible I would recommend it to anyone.
(((o))): What does the rest of the year hold in store for Sugar Horse?
Ashley: The single launch for ‘Charles Bronson In The Sky With Diamonds’ is on 27th of March at the Exchange in Bristol (details here) and the Drugs EP will be released on April 17th on all digital platforms with physical editions to be announced. I don’t think I am allowed to announce anything else until we are finished with the Black Peaks tour, we have a couple of things coming up.