NIGHT HORSE: PLAY WITH A MUSKRAT IN MY UNDERWEAR
Night Horse put new levels of Los Angeles into the sound of Sir Lord Baltimore. If their The Dark Won’t Hide You had come out in 1971, it probably really would have been on Virgo. They share most of their members with Ancestors and speak now from an extremely neat living room. (Sadly not present: Greg Buensuceso, guitarist.) This interview by Chris Ziegler.
Did Lemmy truly give Night Horse its original name?
Brandon James Pierce (drums): Fuck yeah.
Nick D’Itri (bass): We were going to a show and we were walking by the Hustler Club, and we see some killer boots, and Justin is like, ‘Oh my God, it’s fucking Lemmy!’ I didn’t wanna be an asshole but Justin walked over—‘Dude, you’re Lemmy! Motorhead rules!’ He asked if we had a band name, and we said no, and he said, ‘Let’s think of one now.’
Justin Maranga (guitar): He sat there for three seconds and said, ‘The Motherfucking Razorbacks.’ But I figured we were eventually gonna run into trouble, whether it was the word ‘fuck’ or merchandising issues with the college. So we figured we’d change it before it became a problem. And we wanted a new beginning—to start fresh with the new line-up.
Who did Sam sing with between Bluebird and Night Horse?
Sam James Velde (vocals): I did Alice Cooper’s Love It To Death at a mortuary on Halloween. And I’ve done weird experimental thigns here and there. In Bluebird, I realized I was the rock ‘n’ roll guy. Sometimes I felt I was too much the rock ‘n’ roll guy, and I didn’t want to feel that way with the next band I did. I wanted to play with people who were into rock ‘n’ roll music. We all grew up with punk, but at the end of the day, we all listen to rock ‘n’ roll music.
What rock ‘n’ roll music do you actually have on at the end of day?
S: Aerosmith Get Your Wings, Derek and the Dominoes, Alice Coltrane—all music, but what inspires me on a day-to-day basis is rock ‘n’ roll music. Chuck Berry, MC5, Black Crowes, whatever. So I checked out their demo and it was pretty derivative.
Is this going to get weird?
N: No, we’ve heard it.
J: We agree.
S: But these guys were into rock ‘n’ roll—kind of young with a big AC/DC influence. I went down to jam and we were talking music and they were really mature in taste. So in spirit everyone was down to work on these songs—I don’t know if they knew we’d work on ‘em so much. We played our first two songs opening for Ancestors, and got a good reception, so we worked like four months and banged out the album.
Sam, how did you get back in practice?
J: He came in rusty. He had trouble keeping it up.
S: I don’t have a problem with that!
B: Let me handle this—he ended up taking a good injection of vocal Viagra.
S: I’m a really big fan of Paul Rogers from Free, Bad Company—I really love Rod Stewart. I think Chris Robinson is a good singer—almost too much soul! He gets an ‘A’ for effort. Stevie Winwood. Greg Allman. John Brannon at times. Bluebird did a song in Detroit for John—he was like, ‘Let me buy you a beer!’ It ended up being thirty beers. The next day he called like ‘Come to my work,’ and he handed me a bag with a Laughing Hyenas shirt and poster. The coolest dude on the planet—‘I can stop being in a band—I hung out with John Brannon.’ Except my ex-lady lost that shirt! All the songs are about her losing that fucking shirt!
What other musicians would end your band if you finally met them?
S: Justin and I both met Mitch Mitchell a week before he died. They shook hands and he would not let go for a good minute.
J: The theory was he was sucking the life out of our bodies. He would have died that day, but he shook our hands. And I hung out at Zappa’s house but he was dead by then.
Breaking and entering?
J: No, my best friend at the time—his dad was Zappa’s accountant. It was pretty much the most awesome place ever. The master bedroom had a giant oak tree. There was a guest house in the backyard—a huge backyard, and you couldn’t see it from the house. And three swimming pools that you couldn’t see one from the other. I remember a mailbox next to one of the pools, and I opened it—it was shaped like a house, and there was a phone in it, and a sign on the phone said ‘DON’T TAKE THE PHONE OUT OF ITS FUCKING HOUSE.’ I remember you had to climb on the roof to get to Moon Unit’s former bedroom. And there were ship portholes as doors. I was blown away that his Grammy Lifetime Achievement award was buried under some papers in the kitchen on its side. And he had a great room where he used to write music that had taxidermy on the walls but it was fake. Like blatantly fake. Stuffed animals for children but just their heads.
How did this affect what you now want out of music?
J: I wanted 72 guitars, which is how many there were.
S: Any chicks? Let’s get real.
N: This isn’t the Zappa’s house interview.
J: Fuck off! In the corner of the recording room was a charred-up Strat, and they were like, ‘You wanna play that?’ ‘Nah.’ ‘Hendrix set that on fire on stage.’ ‘Yes, I do wanna play that!’ Anyway—that was my Frank Zappa experience.
Why was Moby going through Sam’s records that time?
S: I lived in a place in Los Feliz and always had the weirdest people—one time I look over and on the couch is Tim from Rancid. So we were up at the Grand Royal Christmas party at the bowling alley in Eagle Rock, and I was hanging with a couple girls—‘Let’s go back to my house and have a party!’ Unknown to me, my roommate was doing the same thing. So Greg Anderson from Southern Lord walks into my kitchen—‘Moby is in your living room going through your records.’ Actually, he said ‘DJ Moby’—he hadn’t done any pop records yet. I looked in and he was looking at a Sub Pop single—his own single! And Bud Cort was at one of my parties. A friend of a friend. And again Greg Anderson—‘Bud Cort? From Harold and Maude?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah.’ ‘You’re Bud Cort!’ It was the first celebrity he’d ever met. Twenty minutes later, they were like, ‘We’re gonna leave. Your friend is freaking Bud Cort out.’ Enough about that!
Do you look for your own records when you go through someone’s collection, too?
S: No, I look at records strewn on the street. I might have found Time Fades Away on the street. Now there’s not enough people who have records. ‘Can I look through your iTunes?’
What kind of things did you want to make sure you put on your own album?
B: A lot of obvious energy—it sounds cliché but it’s not! [Engineer]Mattias Shneeberger is really great at capturing quality-sounding instruments, so having the drums sound awesome—like John Bonham. It was a masturbatory experience for me—‘Oh God, the sound is huge ALREADY!’
J: I wanted something I don’t know if we got. I listened to a lot of Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street and the first few Rod Stewart solo records. You put it on and you feel like you walked into the studio with them. Everything just kind of fades in—‘I just picked up a guitar and I started playing, and the bass is going and the drums go and the singer jumps in…’ I feel like we opened the record that way—like we’re already basically playing when you put it on. I think we could get more of that, but that’s what I wanted to get going.
What was Mattias’ favorite part?
B: He’s German.
So he shows no emotions?
B: You know—he’s German.
J: But some things he zeroed in.
S: ‘This sounds like early Scorpions!’
B: That’s big for him—that’s like national treasure!
If this was 1971, what label would Night Horse be on—Kama Sutra, ATCO or Mercury?
S: Probably Virgo. Somewhere after the first couple Black Sabbath records. We actually had a whole fake history about the ‘night horse.’ Like horses the Egyptian tomb raiders rode through the evening to the pharaoh’s tomb, and they’d rob these graves and ride on these super-powerful black horses—mythical beasts! Really we were going to be named High Horse or Night School.
N: I wanted Night Train and Dark Horse.
B: Comics and liquor.
So your band is sort of named in honor of plundering the past for riches?
S: As they pass through the pyramids—through the catacombs and guarded treasure!—instead of a getaway car, they have the mythical night horses. Black as the night, fast as the wind!
J: It kind of has a parallel with the name of my last band—Oskorei. A Nordic version—the undead riders of Odin, and they ride through the sky on skeleton horses. The wild hunt.
Did you have a Frank Frazetta painting already in mind?
B: I always have a Frank Frazetta painting in mind! I wanna put that out there—I’m like Frazettavision everywhere I go.
What records would you most like to be entombed with?
J: Allman Brothers at the Fillmore without a doubt. Records or people?
S: I’d take Lenny Bruce with me. And Kate Moss. I’ll put her on any guest list. Lenny, Kate, the Allman Brothers discography and an infinite amount of Jameson.
What part of Night Horse is the most hidden part? Is there any Silver Apples in the band?
B: I play with a muskrat in my underwear. It’s really gnarly. Keeps me going.
How do you handle touring with and sharing most of your members with Ancestors?
B: We manhandle it.
J: I’m gonna have to do an Angus Young. Turn on and off different personalities. I could wear a black t-shirt and jeans, and then different jeans and a different black t-shirt. I’d look the same but feel different. I’d be wearing dry clothes. Completely different personalities.
B: I do intend to remember my Night Horse shirt and my Ancestors shirt.
So you know what band you’re in at any moment?
B: Totally. ‘Alice Cooper? Let’s do this!’
What fearful impulse made you decide that Ancestors just wasn’t offering you enough opportunity for rock?
B: I’ve actually been a band whore the majority of my life. I was in Terrors, this band and Ancestors this year.
J: I don’t think I could do without one of the bands. They both fulfill different aspects of my personality. There’s the heavy dark plodding part of every person, and that part comes out in Ancestors. When we play live, I can rely entirely on the force of Ancestors to communicate. I don’t have to say anything. With Night Horse, I’m more friendly, I think. We pay attention to the audience.
Are you worried you’re gonna get stuck in a perpetual feedback loop?
J: When that happens, I’m just gonna play country! I’d play jazz if I could.
B: God, yes! If I could play jazz, fuck all these bands and amps!
Justin, you said Ancestors is a ‘vehicle for you to jerk off on guitar for 45 minutes.’ What kind of vehicle is Night Horse?
J: For me it’s a vehicle to jerk off on guitar—but a little faster.
What other L.A. band would you like to draft three members from?
S: I’d love Tim Buckley Greetings From L.A. piano on there. Have him talking about fucking black ladies. Why not? A whole other lyrical slant. Get the dude who played on Fun House with the trumpet here and there—bridged-out psych parts.
J: We’ll replace YOU with Perry Farrell.
S: That all you got? The best you can do? Not Dexter from the Offspring?
What makes people respond to Night Horse now?
J: It hooks into people. Whether you grew up listening to punk or metal or jazz or whatever, your parents probably grew up listening to rock ‘n’ roll.
So if people don’t like you, it’s their parents’ fault?
J: Yeah, their parents are fucking squares. You’re always gonna go back to what you grew up listening to in some facet or another.
B: You celebrate all this music through metal and punk and hardcore—coming back to rock ‘n’ roll is the most fundamental.
S: What is rock ‘n’ roll? So many things.
What’s the succinct answer?
B: Danzig. I through IV and a half. It starts to suck halfway through IV.
S: As far as Night Horse and rock ‘n’ roll—there’s the blues, Chuck Berry, Black Sabbath, all these people influenced by early British and American rock music.
J: Chuck Berry makes me think of that era of rock ‘n’ roll which leads back to why people are into this stuff. If you listen to Chuck Berry and Little Richard, every single is literally the same—literally the same song! But people didn’t give a fuck. It hooks into that base emotion.
B: Our place kind of goes with a lot of bands that pay tribute to their influences. Largely Japanese and Scandinavian bands—they do it well and come back and pummel and play the shit out of stuff, and they don’t try and reinvent the wheel. We try and do rock ‘n’ roll as best we can do.
S: And as Night Horse—not as Rock Band #47. We want to have our personality to it.
J: ‘This band, they’re all right but they’ll never be Led Zeppelin.’ Led Zeppelin doesn’t fucking play anymore—can you afford that reunion concert?
B: Can you afford a time machine?
S: You know how many people told Led Zeppelin they’d never be Son House or Robert Johnson? We’re never gonna be Led Zeppelin but we’re gonna be fucking Night Horse.
Half the songs on The Dark are about bad things woman did to you—it’s not all the same person, is it?
S: Mostly one woman. ‘Wicked Love’ is about being naïve. That last song—my sister was struggling with cancer and died in October. I wrote the lyrics for her—to honor her struggle. It felt pretty heavy all around. Riffs and lyrics. But the theme in this record is about hardships of love. No right or wrong.
B: What is love?
J: You can’t really hide from it.
NIGHT HORSE WITH GREEN AND WOOD AND THE HIGH SAINTS ON THUR., JAN. 29, AT THE AIRLINER, 2419 N. BROADWAY, LOS ANGELES. 8 PM / $3 / 21+. NIGHT HORSE’S THE DARK WON’T HIDE YOU IS OUT NOW ON TEE PEE. VISIT NIGHT HORSE AT TEEPEERECORDS.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/NIGHTHORSEMUSIC.