I interviewed Horseback's Jenks Miller for a Terrorizer piece. Here's the full interview (spared the slicing and dicing of the editorial process).
So this is your first album of all-new material for Relapse! Are you excited to get it out there and see what kind of reaction pops up?
Yes, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to work with Relapse. They’ve released some of my favorite metal records over the years, including Transcendence into the Peripheral, Onward to Golgotha, and Repulsion’s Horrified.
I honestly have no idea what kind of reaction to expect -- I try not to think too much about that kind of thing, lest expectations unnecessarily influence my creative process.
You're highly prolific, and endlessly innovative. What's your creative process like? Are you constantly writing, recording, and resurrecting, or does inspiration come in bursts?
It’s largely the former. I try to make writing and recording a daily practice. It helps if I approach music with the same discipline I would a full-time job. Not every idea works, of course: a part of this daily practice involves discarding -- or at least temporarily shelving -- certain fragments until a burst of inspiration like you describe makes that material useful.
I’ve also found that listening to as much music as I can, and to different kinds of challenging music, is another essential habit. I’m drawn to music that doesn’t seem to make sense at first. This reaction suggests a potential area into which my own vocabulary could expand, as both a listener and an artist. Many of my favorite records today felt impenetrable when I first heard them.
There are so many layers and different sounds woven into your music, from black metal rasps to glorious ambient sunrises. It's a truly unique beast. It's a total cliche question, but - from whence do you draw your primary inspiration? Films, music, authors, places...
If I could, I’d write pages in response to this question! I’ll answer briefly, in the categories you’ve provided:
Films: Andrei Tarkovsky, Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve been fond of Jane Campion’s film The Piano since I was a kid. Something about the cinematography and Nyman’s score. There was a time in my teens when I would fall asleep every night with either The Piano soundtrack or Satyricon’s Nemesis Divina playing quietly on my CD player. I now realize that I was aiming for a hypnagogic dream-state. This sort of hallucinatory state seems to be one common thread connecting all my favorite films and records.
Music: Metal, noise, contemporary classical (Glass, Radigue, Tony Conrad), proto-punk (Funhouse is tops), krautrock, folk (including folk-rock like Neil Young and Fairport Convention), goth rock (Fields of the Nephilim, Joy Division, Bauhaus). Jazz (especially Don Cherry and late-era John and Alice Coltrane) and dub (King Tubby and Scratch) are always on around the house. Swans, Lungfish, Keiji Haino, Junior Kimbrough. Some electronica -- I’ve really enjoyed Gas ever since I came across the box set of his Mille Plateaux albums a couple years ago. Records from friends and acquaintances are always in rotation. I’m obsessed with sound, always reaching for more of it. Right now I’m listening to a box set of old Feedtime records Sub Pop just released.
Authors: Mostly nonfiction. Authors I was exposed to in college. I enjoy books on mythology, mysticism, music theory, art history. Alan Moore’s and Charles Burns’ graphic novels. The novel I read most recently was Don DeLillo’s White Noise.
Places: My home in central North Carolina remains my favorite place on earth. I live in the woods, far enough from town that I have time to myself, space to think and breathe. I love the Appalachian Mountains, a few hours west of here. I spent a lot of time there growing up.
How does 'Half Blood' fit into the rest of your discography?
This record is a synthesis of the various approaches explored on Horseback’s previous records. There are some songs with melodic structures derived from metal, blues and folk musics, along with abstract stuff that depends more on texture itself. Thematically, Half Blood is a meditation on hybridity and evolution, so I thought it would be appropriate to represent a number of different (conflicting? complimentary?) compositional approaches as parts of a greater whole.
Tell me a bit about "Inheritance (The Changeling)". From the outset, it's bathed in this eerie, unsettling glow - like Blood Ceremony covering the Suspiria soundtrack. What's the story behind this one?
I’m not familiar with Blood Ceremony, but I love Goblin and Suspiria. And you’re right -- I certainly intended this track to be eerie and unsettling. I imagined a number of different forms coming together in mutual influence and constant mutation. In the larger context of the record, this track represents a kind of asymmetrical axis around which things grow more abstract and undefined.
"Arjuna" has that same eldritch, almost cinematic quality to it - I could easily imagine it playing in the background as the Wicker Man burns (have you seen that film?). There's a lot of talk about rituals and occult such and suchs in metal lately, but your music does a wicked job of channeling that feeling without dipping into hyperbole or caricature - or feeling the need to call every basement gig a "live ritual".
Yes, I appreciate the original Wicker Man, and I think the comparison is a good one. The symbolic language on Half Blood is borrowed from ancient, polytheistic mythic traditions and mysticism (specifically Hermeticism). Specific symbols from the occult are very important to the record and to this project. However, invoking “the occult” in general is perhaps too easy; often, as you suggest, it becomes shtick, rather than informing a deeper understanding.
Ritual plays a huge role in my life. Years ago, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (I’ll address this in your next question), which diagnosis explained a great deal to me about why my mind has always favored cyclical systems over terminal ones. As I mentioned earlier, my creative process involves a daily practice. It is time in which I can train my mind into a meditative state. Channeling the natural tendencies of my mind in this way allows me to transform potentially destructive behaviors into focused creative work. It is ritual, in a very real way: I don’t feel a need to exaggerate these ideas because I live with them every day.
You've said that Horseback bagan as a sort of therapeutic outlet during a difficult time in your life. Assuming those times have passed, what purpose does the band now serve? What do you get out of it?
I first started recording the material on Impale Golden Horn as a self-prescribed therapy, yes. At that time, I hadn’t thought about releasing it. Obsessive-compulsive disorder demands a certain level of anxiety-ridden, repetitive mental exercise. It can also provide an uncanny level of focus. I found that by channeling these behaviors into making music, an activity I greatly enjoy, I was able to reduce my anxiety while maintaining my focus. The music on Impale, like most of Horseback’s music, exhibits a repetitive, hypnotic and ritualistic quality because that’s the environment in which it was born.
I’ve accepted the fact that I will always be dealing with OCD. It is a part of who I am. At the risk of romanticising a very serious condition, I can say that I’ve found a positive side to it, or at least a way to harness its mechanisms to my own ends. So this project is still, and will always be, a kind of therapy. As a rock band that produces records, it is also something more: it’s a source of energy and purpose, a creative vehicle, something shared, a means by which I can connect with other people.
What's next for Horseback? A bit of touring, perhaps,or more split releases? I could so imagine your trancelike Americana buzz sharing wax with Panopticon's black metal bluegrass, or Across Tundras' prairie psych...
We’ll play some shows here and there, but this band doesn’t perform very often. This is due both to financial constraints and to the fact that most of the time I can afford to leave my family is spent on the road with my other band, Mount Moriah. A 7” EP, On the Eclipse, was recently released on Brutal Panda Records. A couple other limited releases are in the works, and sometime soon I’d like to collect a bunch of Horseback’s rare and out-of-print material and make it more readily available. I’m working on a new record. There are always new sounds to explore.
The last words are yours!
Thank you, Kim!