Exclusive interview: Erik from HORSE the Band’s epic rant about American idiots, Berlin and why he’s moving back here

by James Glazebrook

Horse the Band by Adam Frame licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Horse the Band by Adam Frame licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

HORSE the Band have been accurately described as “The gratest unsuccessful band ever”, by an enthusiastic YouTube commenter with bad spelling. The Californian band welded metalcore to crunchy 8-bit electronics, inadvertently inventing the “Nintendocore” genre – a label they’ve spent over a decade trying to outrun. For their Earth Tour, they took a self-financed trip across 45 countries in four continents in just 90 days, and turned the epic endeavour into a 10 hour documentary, probably the greatest rock n’ roll film ever made. We caught up with keyboard player, and ex-Berliner, Erik just before the band’s return to the city – read below for a fascinating and funny rant about the state of the States, what’s to love/hate about Berlin, and why he’s moving back here…

This tour flyer is insane! Who created this beautiful piece of artwork and whose innermost fantasies does it represent: yours, singer Nathan’s (depicted as a Niacin pussy ghost) or the hot lady bear’s?

We found some fan art in our Facebook messages, which we check by reading the top three messages every two years or so, so it was quite serendipitous. We tried to contact the person who made it, but Facebook wanted us to pay a dollar. Then we remembered everyone steals our intellectual property and uses and distributes it, so we decided to do the same thing to our fans.

Another nice man “cleaned it up” in Photoshop and then I art directed it to the genius piece it is now. Our booking agent added the tour dates in Comic Sans, ’cause he thought it would be funny to “add to the joke”. Seems like a common theme, like everyone feels like they are inside the 10-year joke we have been crafting throughout our “career”, except, we never knew we were being funny.

For everyone who hasn’t yet had the pleasure/pain of experiencing a HORSE the Band show, what should they expect?

Probably something not as good as before. A let down.

And do you have any soothing words for anyone getting in the mood by watching the 10 hour Earth Tour documentary in one sitting?

I don’t know. I recently had surgery and decided to watch an entire season of some TV show while recovering. So I thought, if you are going to do that sort of thing, you may as well watch “the best TV show ever” in the true American spirit. So I did some research and decided I should watch The Wire. And it was really good. But it has a slow start. And it reminded me of Earth Tour, except, I think Earth Tour might be better. The characters are more real. Also, it is really weird that no one ever wants to watch a “10 hour movie” but will readily consume seasons of TV shows without seeing the contradiction there.

Is (Earth Tour director) Gary Lachance bringing a Decentralised Dance Party to Berlin any time soon? Or would Berliners not notice that anything different was happening?

I believe it is slated for the Global Party Pandemic of 2014. Which he plans to fund by releasing another movie called Another Night, Another Dream, which he pre-funded on Kickstarter.

How does it feel to be coming back to Berlin after a couple of years away? Have you missed our pale imitation of “summer”?

It feels really confusing. When I moved to Oakland, back to California, I felt like I had regressed big time, like… moving back into your parents house or something, except you couldn’t live in your cool room anymore (LA) and had to move into the crappy room (the Bay Area). I really hated everyone and everything and I completely hated what I was doing and that I had left “idyllic” Berlin to do it.

I wrote these notes in my phone about how loud people talked on BART [Bay Area public transport], how fucking PTSD out-of-touch mentally ill and entitled everyone was, how fat and/or dumpy they were, how people seemed to have no coping mechanisms for the most trivial things, just public freakouts and breakdowns that only people living in such comfort/ease/pointlessness could ever justify… everything from people’s tone of voice that is totally American, like how they talk super reassuredly when they have no idea about what they are talking about (which is pretty much always – good luck trying to pluck an American off the street who is actually informed about anything, factually and from multiple perspectives, and hasn’t just read one web article written by a 26 year old about it) to how shock and surprise are kinda like the fallback interaction in any conversation. Disbelief that something is a certain way or someone did a certain thing… “I seriously can’t believe…” “Isn’t that crazy?” etc. Really just talking according to a script and switching roles – almost like acting out your entire life according to the TV dialogues you learned when you were a kid. Or thinking your shit is totally groundbreaking – beer, coffee, sustainability, paleo, locavore, whatever.

It’s just a self-affirming circle jerk fuelled by mutual social fear, a total lack of self awareness, and craving for money/status. It all boils down to fear. Like the whole society is just scared of everything, or themselves I guess, but mainly abstracted things: perception of self, failure/success, others’ perception of their own awareness, knowing stuff, “authenticity”. It was horrible. Maybe in Germany it’s just that I can’t passively understand what people are talking about all the time without lots of concentration, and it’s all the same shit… but I really don’t think so.

But then after like 10 or so months I didn’t notice it as much anymore, and I started seeing things I really liked. Little aesthetics/ideas here and there that really are interesting… mainly in the depressed places. Stuff that takes a long time to find or “get”. Stuff that is a direct reaction to the overwhelming shittiness here, and that is awesome. Whether individual people or restaurants or regional parks. Anyway, I kinda understand now why everyone always hates LA when they visit. It’s still my favorite city in the world, but it takes years to crack. Most of what you love are these gems that stand in contrast to the rest.

And it might be that way with the US at large too. Once you fall in a European mindset, where things are way, way better on a macro level, you come to the States and you are just fucking horrified. Maybe you like the SF Bay Bridge because at least it’s something to look at, but the country as a whole is full of undereducated, entitled people ignoring the people who are worse off than them, no matter how far up or down the ladder you go. And yet they’re only concerned with outwardly taking the moral high ground. But, then there’s a reaction to that. Ideas… humor… places… Things that you find that are more satisfying somehow cause “at least someone gets it” and you can get behind that, which is more fulfilling than the monotony of “everything is so awesome”.

So, long story short,

I am looking forward to coming back to Berlin because I can take the train anywhere as late as I want and everything is free and there’s a cool bar on every corner and people are skinnier and girls are hotter and I can fly to another country every weekend and the food isn’t genetically modified and even if German guys are impossible to have fun with at least they “know things”.

But… I feel like it’s another … ill-timed move. Oakland is really interesting right at this very second. And I’m exhausted from moving so much and I wanted to be here a little longer. And there is something just entitled/weird about being an expat in general. I remember in the end I was getting happy I was leaving… just on the walk from work to my apartment the parade of party/fashion tourists whose quality was tangibly lowering by the day for the past year was making me sad. I am scared of Redwood Bar and its ilk. I haven’t been yet though. But it seems sad.

What was it like living in Berlin versus living in SoCal? Pick a favourite. (Yes, really.)

In LA you’re like an autonomous agent making your way through a mass that, once you have explored enough to grasp the size of the city, puts things into this perspective that makes your life seem enchanting and charming by virtue of its nothingness. Also, there is this drone (like a real noise) that is always there in the background. In comparison to what is going on at any time, whatever you’re doing seems so “bird’s eye” rather than “first person shooter”. Like no one cares what you’re doing, so that makes it more secret and ultimately feel more “authentic” or whatever it is everyone wants now. Your memories aren’t shared by any other people except the people you were there with at that time. If you meet someone else from LA, you don’t have that shared list of usual suspects. That “Do you go to ___? I love that place.” conversation.

In Berlin it seems more straightforward. You are in a fun city with many known centers where things happen and you can party a lot – but, generally, people don’t have awesome backyards. And it is hard to stay outside for a long time for half the year. And you don’t generally go somewhere only once and expect to possibly never see it again the rest of the time you live in the city, which happens a lot in LA. Also,

everyone in Berlin loves to talk about how they live in Berlin and what it’s like, and everyone agrees about that. It seems like a unjustifiably large portion of their identity. And people in LA generally don’t seem that into that identification as much.

Apart from beer cheaper than water, and endless parties, what do you miss most about Berlin?

I think the U-Bahn and bringing your dog everywhere. And the big sidewalks. And these certain kinds of makeshift bars that just don’t exist out here. Actually, I think I miss Bohnengold the most. And schwarma, good schwarma.

Did Berlin influence your music? What does minimal nintendocore (sorry!) sound like?

I don’t know cause we haven’t written any since I lived there. I definitely “got” minimal electronic music for the first time at some point when I was there. But I think it needs context to be really compelling. Here I am way more interested in Baltimore Club or the American version of super repetitive, DIY music, but… that’s cause I live in Oakland and it somehow makes more sense right now because it’s immediate. It fills that gap. Something about the glory of the American decline, the same reason all the 80s inner city movies were amazing (Terminator, Flashdance, Robocop).

There, in Berlin, it will become interesting again, because it kind of represents the spirit of what’s interesting about the place. But it would be interesting to see what would find its way into anything new by us, I guess. I don’t think I would incorporate electronic stuff because too much of it is about sound design and beats, which I have no patience for… I like writing melody more than beats or picking sounds and tweaking them.

Did you ever think about busking?

It was actually my plan when I moved there. I was gonna do Game Boy drums and lug my keyboard into the tunnel at Stadtmitte and play our songs and dance all crazy. Haha. But then I got a job.

Any closing words of wisdom for our readers, from someone who’s lived in Berlin and survived to tell the tale?

No :)

HORSE the Band and Rolo Tomassi kick the tushie out of Magnet on Sunday 11th August. Buy tickets here.  

An Interview With Henry Rollins

by James Glazebrook

On January 31st, Henry Rollins hits Berlin. Hardcore punk’s hardest-working road dog will deliver an uncompromising and candid spoken performance that pulls no punches. A true renaissance man, Henry also works as a radio host and runs music and book label 2.13.61, which recently published Occupants, a collection of his own photography and writing about conflicted parts of the world. We used that book as a jumping off point for a brief email exchange about Berlin, travel and music.

Henry Rollins

xmeltingboyx, "Henry Rollins", via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution

Occupants documents conflicted parts of the world. When you visited the divided city of Berlin with Black Flag, what were your thoughts?
I didn’t understand how anyone would build a wall around a city to keep people in or out. It seemed to me that the people running the show were very immature and in need of a change in direction. Every time I was there, I would walk along the wall, in disbelief that it was still there. I was in Switzerland when it came down. I think I was in Berlin a few days before.

You’ve been to Berlin many times since – have you seen changes in the city?
As far as I can see, it’s just another cool looking German city now. When the wall was up, there was a romance to it. However, seeing what people had to live through, I would go without the romantic element for the emancipation of people. It is to me, a very beautiful city.

Will you have time to explore (and photograph) the city when you visit, or is it a case of in-perform-out?
On tour, I am pretty much all about the show. There won’t be any time to look around, I’m afraid.

In Black Coffee Blues you wrote that traveling sometimes made you feel like a “perfect stranger, like I was born to be forever isolated from them”. That’s something we expats understand. Does that ever change? Over the years, have your travels made you feel more connected with the world and its inhabitants?
Not really. I travel alone all over the world and feel OK in it but never really connected with it. I like people very much but have never felt all that close to them. I like to be in front of them, serving them but I don’t really know many.

In a column linked to your awesome KCRW radio show, you recently named Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy and Lou Reed’s Berlin as the perfect soundtracks to the “cooling off period” of fall. When you visit us, we’ll be well into our brutal winter – what should we Berliners be listening to then?
Nico. Listening to Nico when in Germany is for me, one of those geeked-out rituals that I always try to do. The Burning The Ice album of Die Haut featuring Nick Cave is also a good one. Kluster is always good in cold weather.

For people that haven’t heard/seen your spoken word before, what should they expect?
I am going to be onstage talking about where I have been, what I have seen and how I feel about all of that. That’s basically what I do.

I grew up listening to The Boxed Life over and over, and I’ve just been catching up with your recent spoken word releases. There seems to be a shift in focus from the personal to the political – does this outward-looking viewpoint come with age?
I think it’s part of traveling as I do and being older, I am less interested in myself and more interested in everything else.