How Palehorse made a soundtrack for the end of the world then broke up

The band Palehorse, caught in a reflective mood

Those London-based dons of doom Palehorse are set to release their new album on July 1. The six-track Looking Wet In Public sounds like the apocalypse fed through a series of bass cabinets, doused in lager and kicked around a dimly-lit car park – which you can stream exclusively through Metal Hammer at the foot of this interview.

Being contrary swines, it will also be their final album. We caught up with vocalist Nikolai and bassist John to demand some answers.

For an album that sounds like the end of the world, song titles Miserable Heroin Addict vs. Jehovah’s Witness Guy and Terrifying Japanese Coldplay Documentary sound like fitting ideas for Blue Jam sketches.

Nikolai: “Yeah, they’re fairly ludicrous titles, granted. For better or worse, we’ve built a reputation for employing absurd humour in what we do, especially song names. Strangely, some people get upset about it, as though extreme music has to be po-faced at all times. If you scratch the surface though, there are dark lyrical themes throughout. The album loosely revolves around the loss of that particular type of boundless happiness you might have experienced as a child. As an adult, feeling barely content often passes as something of a success, and that’s a really fucking sad state of affairs.“Miserable Heroin Addict vs. Jehovah’s Witness Guy is a story about a couple who abandon their children at a theme park. Dad takes up drugs, mother finds Christ. He asks her to force feed him to death to absolve his guilt. As a final act of penance he cuts his chest open to present her with his heart, but it’s just a mangled cavity. Cheerful, no?

Terrifying Japanese Coldplay Documentary is a bit more straightforward. A nod to Look What Palehorse Has Done to Me, off the first record, and the ways we’ve managed to be complete dickheads to one another over the years, but still maintain the tightest bond you could hope for. Lines like “cigar marks, sobbing strangers fucking in car parks” are symbolic of the extremes people go to in making themselves feel temporarily better. But we are all still in love, I promise.”

John: “Musically, it’s pretty much a heads down riff fest with a few moments of disgusting and disorienting dirge thrown in for a bit of light relief.”

When it comes to writing disgusting dirges, is there much bickering or does a powerviolence stork leave you a clutch of fresh songs every two years?

John: “There’s always lots of bickering over the finer points of song writing but what band doesn’t have that? If you tell me that those bands exist I simply won’t believe you. That never gets in the way of the ultimate goal of being able to put a record in someone’s hands that you’re genuinely proud of though.”

Nikolai: “Fuck, if only that stork existed. He’d be getting back rubs and Bluefin tuna on a drip feed. No, sadly it’s a lot of simple, grinding hard labour. Not that it’s without joy, cause it’s an awesome process. You just need a lot of tolerance, communication and Polish beer to grease the cogs. To be honest, this one was the easiest of the lot in my opinion. Especially working with Wayne Adams at Bear Bites Horse Studios, who is the Grand Overlord of Maximum Chill, totally on point with his production, and just a lovely soul to boot. So that made it way easier.”

Your tour in May was to be your last – was it something you had in mind as you were recording Looking Wet In Public?

John: “Not really, even though we’ve been going 16 years I thought we had a few more records in us to be honest.”

Nikolai: “Certain circumstances conspired to make it untenable at this point. Mostly just life stuff, which is totally normal in the long-term. It’s probably an obvious point, but you have to commit a lot to do this sort of thing. Emotionally, financially, physically, your time, and so on. I think it just felt like we needed a break from it, before our fucking heads caved in.”

What led the band to make that decision?

John: “It wasn’t really a band decision, some members were just not willing to continue which is fair enough. You never know, we might decide to give it another go in the distant future. If you guarantee us a Golden God award we’ll reform right now. For the moment there are some new projects on the cards that will keep us busy.”

Nikolai: “It came a bit out of the blue, but when the dust settles it will all make a lot more sense. That’s kind of all I really want to say for now.”

Ben outlined the costs of being in a band around the time you released Harm Starts Here and it made for depressing reading – what keeps you motivated when you’re spending a fortune on the basics of being in a band?

Nikolai: “The financial side of things never really bothered me to be honest. We saved up for the equipment we could afford, practices, van hire, petrol, and all the rest of it. That comes with the territory. Some of our friends would be travelling to Cambodia on a soul-searching mission, and meanwhile we’re busy playing a community centre on the outskirts of Bradford on a wet Monday evening in November. These are the choices you make, and I don’t regret any of it. It would be cool if there was more support for DIY bands in this country, especially in terms of government arts grants and the like, like some countries on the continent. But at the moment it’s not a reality, so you hunker down, face the facts and get on with doing what you love.”

John: “The joy of writing and playing music completely overshadows any monetary loss for me. Also the booze.”

Palehorse's new album, Looking Wet In Public on the blackest vinyl available

Palehorse's new album, Looking Wet In Public on the blackest vinyl available

What do you all do for money, honey?

John: “No, I don’t make honey.”

Nikolai: “Scintillating word-play John! Ben invented the spreadsheet, so he’s set for life. Mark’s working on a range of digital nose whistles, James sells his abundant beard hair in a Hoxton speakeasy, and I believe John is turning semi-pro five-a-side football. I’ve got a pretty solid idea surrounding coffee never getting cold, but I’m not about to share my retirement plan with you, thanks all the same.”

How has the scene changed in the time Palehorse trotting menacingly around the DIY paddock?

Nikolai: “I don’t want to shit on the DIY scene in the UK, cause there are still so many extraordinary individuals and collectives doing wonderful things. I’d encourage everybody to keep getting out there, participating in – and enjoying – all the outstanding events and projects that still exist. Having said that, I feel like a certain lethargy has crept in. That’s not me slagging anybody or anywhere in particular. It would just be cool to see more people putting their back into it.”

Has the internet been a help or a hindrance to a band like Palehorse?

John: “I’d say it’s definitely a lot easier to get some stuff done these days like selling merchandise and organising tours. There are down sides though. The automatic assumption that music is basically free nowadays could be viewed as the main problem, but hopefully we’re just in a process of restructuring how bands and musicians get paid for their output. Having to work harder is not always a bad thing. Buy our new fucking LP!

Nikolai: “As John says, it’s ushered in opportunity, but also encouraged laziness and apathy. Loads of bands use it really well, but we’re pretty woeful at promoting ourselves digitally. In summary, ah, fuck it. I’m joking of course.”

Palehorse: true kvlt

Palehorse: true kvlt

Due to circumstances beyond your control, Palehorse’s final gig was in Leeds – not the Temples festival as planned. Was it a fitting end to the band regardless?

John: “The show in Leeds was pretty terrific it has to be said, and having Seedi – our original vocalist – there to help out on the last couple of songs was great!”

Nikolai: “Temples getting cancelled was a definite bummer. We’d been rehearsing a seven-piece line-up, with Tom and Seedi, who were original members. It sounded fucking apocalyptic in rehearsal. But, it is what it is. No point worrying about that now. To be honest, that final show in Leeds was absolutely amazing, we loved it! So many old friends there, great bands, a classic Leeds all-dayer. In retrospect, it was a fucking sweet way to go out, in our adopted spiritual homeland.”

Were you not a bit gutted though?

John: “Absolutely, we were massively looking forward to Temples. It wasn’t to be, which is typically Palehorse.”

Nikolai: “We definitely were, but life moves on. Anybody want to eat cookie dough and ride bicycles?”

What have you learned during your time in Palehorse?

Nikolai: “Critically, drink as much alcohol of every variety as you possibly can. Consistently, irrespective of the time of day. Never drink water. This will confuse your liver, and sometimes brain. This approach helps you to make loads of friends and romantic partnerships. Nobody will think you are a tearful vomiting liability, who needs locking in the van with no sleeping bag or ventilation.”

Would you have done anything differently?

John: “I probably should have replaced the broken wheels on our Ampeg 8x10s sooner. The stress of lifting them was probably the reason we split up in the end.”

Nikolai: “Yeah, I’m fairly sure I slipped a disc in my spine cause of that. Cheers John.”

Palehorse are now dead – what’s the band’s epitaph?

Nikolai: “Do what you hate. Hate what you do.”

Have Palehorse unwittingly recorded a bleak soundtrack for 2016?

John: “Indeed. If you’re looking for something to cheer you up post-referendum then you’re looking in the wrong place.”

Looking Wet In Public is released July 1, via Truthseeker Music.

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Simon Young

Born in 1976 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Simon Young has been a music journalist for over twenty years. His fanzine, Hit A Guy With Glasses, enjoyed a one-issue run before he secured a job at Kerrang! in 1999. His writing has also appeared in Classic RockMetal HammerProg, and Planet Rock. His first book, So Much For The 30 Year Plan: Therapy? — The Authorised Biography is available via Jawbone Press.