Jonathan Geddes

TAKE a look at The Horrors. They’ve always been an intense lot, whether as manic Gothic schlock rockers in their early days or the artful post -punk masters they developed into.

Yet if their singer Faris Badwan is to believed, the secret to the group’s salvation in recent years was having fun and embracing pop songs.

That is the starting point, in a conversation that will include Adele’s producer, Depeche Mode, fireworks in Glasgow and the odd Portuguese word.

First, though, is how The Horrors got their creative spark back.

“If we hadn’t felt like this record was fun then we would probably have split up,” explains Badwan, referring to their recently released fifth album, V.

“We needed to make a record where we felt we could be creative. We’ve always been into experimenting musically but the number one thing that has always appealed to us is strong melodies. If you can fit your experiments into the confines of a pop song then that’s more challenging than just experimenting, and we were able to have a lot of fun while making it.”

Badwan himself sounds remarkably fresh for a man running on only an hour’s sleep when we speak. The singer has apparently been up most of the night when he answers the phone, but in conversation he is a role reversal of the tortured artist, which has in the past seen him come across in some interviews as an obtuse character, and onstage as ferocious and restless.

Here he seems in a good and cheerful mood throughout, enthusing about his passion for classical music (he is a big fan of the Polish composer Henryk Gorecki) before shifting gears towards V.

As the title suggests, it is the group’s fifth record, and some critics are hailing it as their best work yet. Personally I’d still give that title to their superb sophomore offering, Primary Colours, but V is an excellent record, from the Gary Numan esque flair of the opening Hologram to the angry, aggressive rumble of Machine and the majestic, sweeping closing track Something To Remember Me By.

It arrives three years after Luminous, a perfectly acceptable but somewhat underwhelming fourth album.

“It didn’t feel that way at the time, but Luminous was a natural end to a chapter for the band,” says Badwan.

“What maybe happened was that we ironed it out too much, we lost the spontaneity and the accidents that give the band its personality. A lot of our most successful songs have been lit up by accidental and spontaneous moments, and with Luminous we did probably lose a few of those.

“That came with not having as much guitar – with the last few albums Josh [Hayward, their guitarist] has built the mixing desk, a lot of his own pedals and with this record he was able to focus a lot more on just playing.”

That chapter of the band’s career was their second phase. When they first appeared in 2007, covering Screaming Lord Sutch, looking like a posse of fancy dress ghouls with wild names (Hayward, for example, was called Joshua Von Grimm back then) and having shambolic live shows, they were swiftly dismissed as a novelty act, a British Cramps.

An early appearance on the NME Tour saw them comically out of place, wedged in alongside the straightforward indie disco sound of the Automatic and Mumm-Ra, yet they have progressed and evolved while their contemporaries fell by the wayside.

The 2009 release of Primary Colours, all shoegaze and spiralling psychedelia, changed the perception of the band, and today Badwan can contemplate the fact that music has become an unlikely career for him.

“I don’t need much to be satisfied or content with my life,” he says.

“Making music and songs that I feel proud of gives me so much satisfaction and I’ve got to that point where I don’t feel I need to make the compromises that you maybe imagine you have to do to make a career out of being in a band.

“It’s still surprising to me, because I never expected to be in a band as my life, I fell into it, and I guess I just continue to think of it like that, as something that gives me satisfaction, and that’s it.”

Still, it is their career, and after Luminous the band decided to take stock and go in a different direction for V. Most of their previous work, including their past two albums, has been self-produced, so this time the five piece decided to seek out a producer, eventually settling on Paul Epworth.

Epworth has worked with several indie bands before, but in recent years he’s become better known as the man who helmed Adele’s mega-selling last two albums, as well as collaborating with stadium acts such as U2 and Coldplay. The Horrors music has often possessed a grandeur, with a fair few Simple Minds comparisons in the past, but on paper it was an unusual fit.

“I think it appealed to us because we have never really had a producer for an entire record who was like a member of the band. Geoff Barrow [of Portishead] had worked on the second record, but by his own admission he recorded us exactly as we sounded.

“We went to Geoff imagining that we would sound like Portishead, but what he did well was understanding that we already had what we needed. This time Paul was almost like another member of the band, a different voice, and that changed the dynamic in a way that made the process exciting.”

That raises an obvious question. For a band so in control of their recordings, how long did it take them to get used to another presence in the studio, and how much say did Epworth have over the band’s finished product?

“Paul was very conscious of knowing when to step forward and when to step back,” says Badwan.

“At the same time he never tried to shape where the record was going and his approach was more to encourage the directions that we were finding ourselves. He was quite hands on when it came to sound experiments, and he enjoyed what came with working on a record with us.

“Recently people have got to know Paul’s stuff through the pop stuff he’s been doing, but he’s a really experimental guy.”

Stadiums and arenas aren’t totally uncommon to The Horrors themselves. They’ve had several tours supporting bands in those sort of venues, most recently going out on the road with Depeche Mode. They’re the sort of shows that bring both positives and negatives.

“We’ve done a few of those big tours and a mixed bag is the right way to describe it. They can be unpleasant and boring and uninspiring, but of all those tours Depeche Mode was my favourite, because the crowds were really receptive, and then I have huge respect for Depeche Mode as a band.”

A Scottish return in under a fortnight should place them on firmer footing. Their gig at the Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow on October 19 will see the quintet return to a city that has treated them well in the past, as well as providing the singer with a few pyrotechnics…

“Glasgow is somewhere we’ve always had good crowds,” says Badwan.

“It’s a place I like to just walk around and explore. I remember one of the first times there I met a group of kids who were waiting outside the venue. We ended up going off and buying some fireworks and setting them off somewhere…”

Badwan is, mostly, a more mature individual these days. In fact, it isn’t anything overly explosive he wants from his music, but a more reflective sense entirely.

“When we start recording, we stop listening to other people’s music as a band, so when we’re discussing how a certain song should sound, we’re more talking about how it should feel.

“For a song like Something To Remember Me By, we wanted a feeling that was bittersweet – there’s a word in Portuguese, saudade, that means bittersweet and nostalgic for something, even though you haven’t experienced it yourself.

“That’s my favourite feeling to have when listening to music - a pleasant melancholy.”

The Horrors play the QMU in Glasgow on Thursday October 19. V is out now.