Haunted Horses' album Watcher roves its eyes down tight catacomb passages. Tamped-earth elements of industrial and experimental noise cast post-rock, death-psych shadows. Corroded loops seep in and cycle under veiled, moaning vocals. There is a possessed tension to the songs—a dissonance that's by design. Deranged arrangements anesthetize, then spike and surge through vocalist/guitarist Colin Dawson, leaving him no choice but to scream. Drummer Myke Pelly cleaves with primal precision, heavy as hell. For Pelly, see also: Bolontiku, a group of nine Mayan underworld gods—his drumming speaks of them. The making of Watcher brought a third Haunted Horse to the fold, bassist Troy Ayala (of Stickers). Bass added to the Pelly-Dawson battery renders volume levels that you feel in your intestines. Despite Watcher's clawing, maddened tones, the Seattle-based three wield volume well—no one's being executed or tortured. Watcher wants autonomy. It wants those held down to stand up. It wants oppressors overthrown. Corporate-owned politicians beware. Haunted Horses recently returned from a monthlong, cross-country tour. We met at 1 a.m. in the furnace room under a house in Shoreline. A single, uncovered lightbulb hung. We all stood.
How was the tour? Colin Dawson: It was a collage of experiences. We wandered into the woods with strangers looking for shrines in Pennsylvania. We made children cry in Indianapolis. We saw people fuck during a set in Minneapolis [laughs]. And there was this Lynch-esque venue in Baltimore, complete with a small person perched on a stool to cook, as roaches scattered in every direction.
How was the 23-hour drive from Minneapolis to Boise? Who drives? How do you stay awake? Dawson: Long. Bleak. You don't stay awake.
Troy Ayala: We drive until the smiling dogs on the side of the road lick our faces.
Myke Pelly: We all drove. Trucker energy pills seemed to help Colin and Troy.
At what point driving west does Hardee's turn back into Carl's Jr.? Which is better? Dawson: The name changed back around Idaho. We hate both.
Pelly: Only noticed the name change because we're always looking for a Del Taco. There are no Del Tacos on the East Coast. It's a shame.
Is it true somebody found a dead rat in the stairway of the building where you were staying in New York, clipped off a bunch of its hair, and smoked it? And he was so high he thought he was Thor, and started banging his fist around, saying it was Thor's hammer? But he broke his finger and had to go to the emergency room? Is smoking rat hair a thing? Dawson: We slept amongst the rats for many nights. It seems that rat hair is abundant in all street drugs in New York, specifically rats with a white spot. The magic resides within the spot. Athletic junkies run around with their limbs thrusting in all directions. [Thrusts his limbs in all directions.] Like Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss. I like letting the rats turn my mouth into a flesh goblet [laughs].
Ayala: Only people in Baltimore smoke rat hair.
What's the most disgusting thing you've ever seen done to a rat?
Dawson: Rats eating rats.
What's the worst drug you've ever seen anyone do? Dawson: Wear a polo shirt and drink Budweiser.
What brought about Troy's addition to the band and the evolution to a three-piece? Dawson: We added Troy in the process of recording Watcher. I had been playing with him in our other band, Stickers, and knew that only he would complete what we were trying to accomplish. He is Lord Dad; the evolution was inevitable.
Pelly: We kinda wanted to step up the loud/heaviness factor, so adding bass to the mix seemed like the logical answer.
Ayala: I joined because I bring the vibes, and Colin and me are joined at the brain.
What do you all do to find your sounds? Where did you record Watcher? Who produced? Dawson: We love to lock ourselves away and experiment. The process can be time-consuming, as well as misleading. We generally create small pieces of sound, which could fit into a greater idea. Like building upon a sketch. The album was recorded at Crybaby Studios by Justin Wilmore. He was great to work with, fast, and a good outside ear. He allowed us to experiment more with creating the overall feeling of the record. Mixing is always the hardest part for us—we depend on a lot of different, carefully placed sounds. The process of getting all those sounds to translate on a recording can be laborious.
Pelly: This was the first time I ever mixed anything. I remember opening up Adobe Audition for the first time and being like, "I'm totally going to fuck this up," but everything seemed to work out fine. It helps to know what everything is supposed to sound like. Also, planning everything around release dates and tours can be a daunting task.
What loopers are you into these days? Any other gear you're loving? Dawson: We're pretty loyal to the Boss, and Line 6 loops we've always used. But we have also been really into hammers.
Why the title Watcher? Who's the watcher? What are they watching? Dawson: The album is a concept, most of which is from the point of view of the Watcher. In the record, the watcher is guiding the uprooting of a society that has grown archaic due to its symbols and beliefs, which comprise its simulated structure.
Lots of bleakness in the lyrics. Death, suffering. What pulls you this way? What makes you create this imagery and sound? Why moroseness? Dawson: Most of the imagery in the album should definitely be read into. It's not meant to be a horror story. I see it as something beautiful and enlightening. This, in a sense, is a development of metaphors through lifting the veil off a simulacrum. The story is intentionally written as reactionary and revolutionary. I've always been attracted to music that can be dissected on many different levels, whereas a pop format often leaves little to the imagination. I like ideas that grow the further you understand them.
Is it an answer to anything? A warning? Is it theater? A release? Dawson: All of the above. I feel the concepts I write about are simply putting the world as I see it under a scope. Rather than ranting, I like to use characters to represent these different angles of what is, and should be. I couldn't tell you the story's answer, because it's different for everyone.
Talk about your song "The Void." How are you getting sounds there? Dawson: A couple of years ago, I found a tone generator in a small shop in Portland called Really Cool Stuff. It was a toy that I needed to have. It makes the craziest noises, but has also destroyed some amps in the process. "The Void" is a shift in the consciousness of the record—something new and strange was needed to depict that feeling.
Pelly: I really wanted to break the drum parts into fragments and piece it all back together. I felt like the record needed something minimal, yet abrasive in lockstep.
Lyrically in "The Void," what's happening? "Waxing the watcher moves the moon/Whispers to the parish one by one/Burn the gods..." Dawson: This song is like an awakening. In the timeline of the album's story, this is when the people of the town abandon the dogmas that had restrained them from themselves. Seeing oneself as a creator, rather than a slave.
What's next? Dawson: We're currently overwhelmed with ideas for the next record, so we'll be putting that together over the next few months. We'll also be recording an EP in the coming months. I have a feeling that will be our most developed piece yet.
Pelly: Writing. Recording. Next-leveling. Staying away from rat hair.