Interview: Wunderhorse and the Art of Listening

Wunderhorse, Jacob Slater, British Rock, Rock, WERS 88.9FM, Boston
Photo courtesy of Alex Waespi

British band Wunderhorse have embarked on a debut tour, just released their first album, Cub, and are making significant waves on both sides of the Atlantic. Jacob Slater (previously of Dead Pretties and Danny Boyle’s series PISTOL), Pete, Jamie and Harry  all sat down with staff writer Muskaan Zaidi ahead of their Boston show to discuss touring in the United States, staying grounded despite their new fame, and the importance of learning how to listen. 

 

SO, HOW ARE YOU GUYS FEELING BEFORE THE SHOW?

Harry: Good. Yeah.

 

DOES IT FEEL MUNDANE BY NOW?

Jamie: No, it can never be mundane. But I think at this point of the tour, after the sort of drive we had today, we're particularly vulnerable.

Pete: We tend to get quite silly, I think, in the band sometimes. Just to kind of combat the boredom of being in the same space. 

Harry: I think mental is the more appropriate word.

 

IS IT ANYBODY'S FIRST TIME IN AMERICA?

Jamie: It's my first time in America.

 

HOW DO YOU LIKE IT SO FAR?

Jamie: It's been pretty good. Luckily we've had a good CM that's been showing us some good places to hang around.

 

VERY INTERESTING. LET'S TALK ABOUT TOURING IN AMERICA. WHICH CITY HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE TO PERFORM IN THUS FAR?

Jamie: So, for me personally, I think the best was in Tucson, Arizona. 

Jacob: Tucson, yeah, that was a great show. 

Jamie: That was the best one.

 

WHAT MADE IT THE BEST ONE?

Jamie: I couldn't really explain why. When a gig’s good… it just comes out a lot. I think you could always pull off a good show more or less every time. But to get a really fantastic show, there has to be, like, much of what you're feeling that day, or what everyone else in the fans are feeling that day. And how the crowd reacts and how all the individuals included and how their days have been. They'll bring that energy to the show, and to the venue. But yeah, I couldn’t tell you why it was so good, but it just was.

Pete: Every set we have, we have kind of moments for ourselves to zone in. We kind of jam at the beginning of songs, and every time they’re slightly different. Sometimes a special one comes along, at least from our perspective, that we're all quite proud of. 

Harry: We don't necessarily know exactly what's going to happen. But also that maybe does create a better show one day and a shit one the next. Trying to find a pattern… then all the fun goes out of it. It's good to keep it new.

 

THE ALBUM COMES OUT TOMORROW. HOW ARE YOU GUYS FEELING? IS THERE NERVOUSNESS? IS THERE EXCITEMENT? WHAT’S THE ENERGY LIKE?

Harry: Excitement.

Jacob: Thank God! Relief, time to get it out, man. We’ve had these songs for so long, it feels good to just kind of get them out into the world, you know?

 

HOW LONG DID YOU WORK ON THIS ALBUM?

Jacob: As a band, we were working for a few years. Some of the songs I wrote when I was like, 17, so a real good few years for me. But we’ve all put in lots of time, all of us. A lot of blood, sweat and tears. So yeah, a while.

 

AND BBC RADIO ANNOUNCED THAT IT'S THE TRACK OF THE WEEK, SO THAT’S SOMETHING! CONGRATULATIONS! 

HOW DID YOU ALL MEET?

Jacob: Yeah it's great to have that kind of support, you know?

I met Harry at school and Pete went to the nearby school. And I met Jamie when I lived in London when I was in my first band. And Harry and I live together, so yeah, we all come from different places really.

 

SO TALKING ABOUT YOUR FIRST BAND THEN, I THINK THAT IT'S VERY BRAVE TO MAKE SOMETHING THAT WORKS OUT AND TO LEAVE IT, TO STOP WHEN IT'S DOING WELL. DID YOU FEEL LIKE SHIFTING FROM PUNK TO ROCK WAS STRATEGICALLY THE RIGHT CHOICE, OR THAT THIS FELT MORE AUTHENTIC TO YOU? OR WAS IT THE LIFESTYLE THAT YOU FELT LIKE YOU COULDN'T KEEP UP WITH? WHAT MADE YOU TAKE THAT DECISION. AND WERE YOU EVER AFRAID? DID YOU EVER FEEL LIKE, “MAYBE IF I START OVER I WOULDN'T GET THAT SAME KIND OF RECEPTION AND MAYBE I WON'T BE ABLE TO CREATE THAT AUDIENCE”? OR DID YOU STILL HAVE THAT CONFIDENCE THAT, “I DID IT ONCE, SO I'LL BE ABLE TO DO IT AGAIN”? 

Jacob: Yeah, there were certainly some of those anxieties sort of floating around my head that it wouldn't work, but yeah, I couldn't maintain what I was doing lifestyle-wise or music-wise, really. It's just time for a big change, time for something different.

I didn't believe in what I was doing anymore. I don't care who you are, like, if you don't believe in what you're doing anymore, you're a fraud. You should stop and you should do something that you do believe in, even if no one listens to it, you know? Otherwise you just go crazy. You have to believe in what you're doing. Hence, Wunderhorse. It was just time for a change.

 

TALKING ABOUT FEELING LIKE A FRAUD— AS ARTISTS, DO YOU GUYS EVER SUFFER FROM IMPOSTER SYNDROME? AND WHEN THAT HAPPENS, EVEN WHEN THERE ARE BOOKED OUT SHOWS AND THERE'S PEOPLE WHO OBVIOUSLY LIKE YOU, ARE YOU EVER LIKE, “I'M FAKING THIS, THIS ISN'T REAL, I'M NOT GOOD, WHAT AM I DOING?”

Harry: Yeah, sometimes. 

Pete: I think we'd be lying if we said we didn't have the odd off-day. When we're not feeling 100%. It's quite grounding to kind of get up on stage and play music, but for me, at least, music that I love, that I love listening to and I love playing. 

Harry: Maybe I haven't really reached the point yet where anything's gotten too surreal. Maybe that will never happen. Maybe it will, but I’ll let you know how it feels. 

Jacob: I think if you're trying to do something well and you're putting pressure on yourself to create something that you and other people will enjoy and sort of share together, if you have that mindset and you're committed to those kinds of thoughts, the imposter thing is inevitable.

There is an ebb and flow, that sometimes you feel like you're on top of things. Sometimes you think, is this what I'm supposed to be doing? 

But those thoughts are kind of healthy in the long run, I think, because it shows that you're committed to the idea and that you care. You know, I feel like if you don't have those thoughts, maybe you should every now and then, just to check. Yeah, some people don't, and they're very blessed and they never doubt themselves, but I think it's okay to, as long as you move past it. 

 

THERE'S SUCCESS. THERE'S CLOUT. THERE'S PEOPLE WHO PROBABLY APPROACH YOU BECAUSE THERE’S CLOUT. I’M SURE THERE’S GIRLS. AND FANS. THERE’S PROBABLY A LOT THAT COMES WITH BEING IN THE PUBLIC EYE. HOW DO YOU KEEP YOURSELF GROUNDED, AND DO YOU HAVE PEOPLE AROUND YOU THAT ARE REAL WITH YOU? THAT ARE JUST THERE TO MAKE SURE THAT YOU DON'T LET IT GET TO YOUR HEAD?

Pete: Yeah, I think we're all pretty good mates, so I think if anyone gets too big for their boots, I don't think we have a problem telling each other. 

Harry: Yeah, certainly we still have our lives outside.

Jacob: I think the minute you start doing well, they all start coming out of the woodwork, don't they? Everyone who didn't give a shit suddenly starts smiling at you all the time, inviting me to parties and all. 

But it's all bollocks, it's got nothing to do with the actual core of what you're doing. And if you keep focused and keep reminding yourself of the real reasons of why you're doing what you're doing, then the other stuff will just kind of flow by you and [you] won't have to engage with it. 

I think it's lucky that we've got, as Pete said, each other to keep each other in check, really.

 

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO BECOME MUSICIANS?

Jacob: The real reason? We love music, even if it drives us crazy sometimes. It's a way of making sense of your own thoughts and your own feelings and other people who you've never met using that as a tool to sort of figure out their lives too sometimes, when it really works. I'm not saying that that happens with every song, but I think that's as good a calling as any to sort of devote your life to. 

Pete: Also just like creating something, no matter what it is— if it's music or art or doing it with your friends and people that you trust. I think anyone would love to work with their friends. And music is a great opportunity — music and art are great opportunities — to make something real with those important people in your life. So that's one of the reasons for doing this.

 

DO YOU EVER FIND YOURSELF CHASING STORIES OR DOING SOMETHING YOU NORMALLY WOULDN'T, JUST TO GET CONTENT FOR YOUR WRITING?

Jamie: I think [that’s] a problem sometimes, when it comes to music. I mean, I think it's true. I guess with writing songs it's like, is there an art to listening when writing something or creating something? 

And I think, if you think you're the one to create the event so you can write about it, I think that's not sort of that helpful. I don't know. Life has enough events going on within your family or yourself or whatever. I think if you’re feeling you have to create a drama to write about, I think you're in a bad place, probably. 

Jacob: Yeah. It’s a destructive thing as well, to try and create all these scenarios so you can write about stuff. Maybe it works for a bit if you get into that as a hobby… 

It is quite a destructive habit because you — as Harry said — you neglect all the things that are actually going on that maybe don't have that much to do with you. 

But maybe that's part of the process; realizing that maybe all these things that you can write about aren’t within yourself. Maybe they're nothing to do with you. Maybe they're part of something a lot bigger. 

Jamie: I don't think you need to create a drama in your life. Or unnecessary drama in your life to write something. If you can't write something, it just means you're not listening enough to some degree or you're just not ready yet. If you have nothing to say, don’t say anything. 

Jacob: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I think a lot of the time there’s this pressure. Oh, you’ve got to have something insightful and profound to say all the time. But the fact is, life is not always like that. Sometimes nothing happens and you have nothing to say. And that's alright too. 

 

WHO ARE YOUR MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS?

Jacob: Jamie’s and mine are the same.

Jamie: I’d pick the sadder ones. I am a big fan of Neil Young, Nick Drake. Oh, there are so many though… I’m sure I’m going to miss ones that I really love. I love Joni Mitchelll, I love Townes Van Zandt, I could go on forever, so just those for now.

Harry: The influences I share with these boys would be a lot of stuff from the ’60s and ’70s. Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, ’90s grunge. 

Jacob: And he listens to a lot of hip hop as well. Jamie’s got us all into hip hop. 

Harry: Yeah, mostly 90’s American hip hop, I am not really into anything too modern. I’ve got one friend in particular back home who’s put me onto lots of really good stuff I love. Organized Konfusion, Slick Rick are some of my favorites. 

Jacob: I like all the classics, same as Harry— Neil Young, Joni Mitchell. I love Bob Dylan. I really really love Bob. 

There’s a couple of modern bands too. We’re big fans of Fontaines D.C, the band we’re touring with at the moment. Big Thief are really good, some of Adrienne Lenker’s solo stuff as well is wicked. 

I like a lot of the ’90s stuff too. I’ve been listening to a lot of Miles Davis, a lot of Chet Baker recently as well. I love Van Morrison– Astral Weeks is like my favorite records of all time. Yeah, loads of stuff, loads of stuff.

Pete: Well, I just like a good song. Doesn't matter which genre it is. I want to know if I identify with the lyrics or the delivery of the music, then I like it. I'm into all the stuff that was just mentioned previously.

 

DO YOU HAVE ANY DREAM COLLABORATIONS IN EITHER THE UK OR HERE, OR ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD?

Jacob: We're still learning to collaborate with each other. The collaborations come later. The idea of collaboration kind of scares me because, you know, in theory, you hang out with someone who’s writing you really like, but in principle you might hate them as a person, maybe nothing comes. At the moment, I don't really want to collaborate with anyone.

Harry: I mean, we might possibly have ideas of collaborating with other producers maybe.

 

POST PISTOL, ARE YOU LOOKING TO DO MORE ACTING? DO YOU HAVE ANY MORE ACTING JOBS IN THE PIPELINE? WHAT'S YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ACTING LIKE? 

Jacob: I'm open to doing it again. If it was the right call and I thought I could do it justice. I definitely don't think I'm going to be the next big thing or anything, acting wise. It's not my ambition. I want to focus on music for the time being. So it's the stuff I need to get off my chest and on my own too. But yeah, I'd definitely do it again a bit further down the line. Yeah, certainly. 

It was a very different world. But I like being out of my comfort zone. So it was fun to be in it for a bit.

 

LASTLY, WHAT ARE YOUR ASPIRATIONS AS A BAND AND AS INDIVIDUALS, WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN THE NEXT 5 YEARS?

Jacob: I think we’re just starting. I hope we keep making music as long as possible, really. And for the sound to change, so to always be doing something that's slightly different. And surviving as a musical entity is pretty high up the list.

 

Wunderhorse’s first album, Cub, is out now.

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