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They Shoot Horses Don’t They?

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Tuesday, 21 August 2007
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The term “thinking man’s rock”—or some variation of it—has been thrown around a lot in the press over the last few decades in reference to a host of different musicians to the point that the term has now either become a sales tool or lost its meaning altogether. At different points in their careers, groups and artists as far-flung as The Deftones, Bruce Cockburn, System of a Down, Husker Du, Richard Hell, Captain Beefheart, Bob Dylan and (of course) Thinking Fellers Union Local #282 have all fed at the “thinking man’s” trough and, while the term is the thing that binds, the actual music produced by each of those names bears little or no resemblance to any of the others. There is no common ground and what constitutes “thinking man’s’ rock” (which is sort of an oxymoron anyway if you subscribe to Lester Bangs’ theory that the medium is both rightfully and triumphantly dumb) is a much softer concept than one might initially think. With that said, conventional wisdom goes out the window and one must search for definition of the term by more abstract means. All of this is, obviously, a set up to how They Shoot Horses Don’t They? guitarist and singer Nut Brown views his own music, how its made and where it comes from. Throughout our conversation, much less concrete ideas like energy and feelings take the foreground over riffs and structures. It’s freedom over form—letting go over reigning in—and it’s not long into a conversation with Brown that it becomes apparent that he thinks about it all the time. “About ten years ago, I had a vision of what this band would be like long before it started and it had more to do with energy than it did with sound,” says the singer as he attempts to explain the early incarnations of his band. “Obviously, there would be sound and an idea of it, but it had more to do with feelings and energy than something so pedantic as ‘We want this to sound like The Beatles or Captain Beefheart.’ It wasn’t a matter of wanting this sound or that sound. I guess the single easiest way to describe what we wanted to convey was desperation. I hate to say these things because they sound clichéd, but the sorts of things that writers, doctors psychologists and poets will speak about, insofar as what sorts of fear and the sources of it, is where our sense of desperation springs from: death, love, sex, life, freedom and all the other irrational fears that people have while longing for it at the same time. If somebody takes those topics and makes them serious, they become comical unintentionally. I’d rather deal with them with joy and in an absurd way. I wanted to create a feel in a room and the right combination of friends that were into it happened to coalesce.

“The early beginnings of the group happened in an attic—we weren’t a band—and just came together and we’d trade off on instruments and make up spontaneous songs on the spot.”

Those beginnings occurred in 2003 in Vancouver and now, a full length album and an EP in, the band has begun to see the returns on their work as they recently released their sophomore effort, Pick Up Sticks (Kill Rock Stars) and are set to embark upon their longest tour to date that will run across Canada and loop through the US. Even when presented with the question of what the band was shooting for when they entered the studio to record the album, Brown can only say that the hard and fast rules as well as the conventional wisdom that typically governs each act didn’t apply. “These songs took a long time to develop and a lot of times we’ll have the basic idea and we’ll just start playing it,” explains Brown. “The lyrics won’t be done yet—they’ll be in flux—and they’ll change and we’ll add other parts. Some of this batch of songs took over a year to write; obviously, we weren’t working on them every minute, but they kept changing in that period of time to ultimately become what they are now. We’re always constantly evolving the songs.

“All told, I think the whole album took about four or five months to finish, but that’s a matter of working on a song and then leaving it for a bit. The way that we work is we go in and muck about for a little while, leave it, come back, listen to it, take things out, rearrange parts, work on some things and take our time doing it with time to process it,” continues the singer. “It’s not like we go into the studio and bang out the record in two weeks or anything like that, “Brown confesses. “It might be nice to try doing that sometime, but right now we work weekends or weeknights here and there.”

All of that said, while Brown and the rest of the band share the same vision and believe in it enough to want to convey it to an audience, the singer is quick to say that everyone involved in the group’s ambitions are modest; they know what they’re doing might not be for everyone, but those that find They Shoot Horses Don’t They? will find something truly special. “Day jobs will never be a thing of the past for They Shoot Horses,” Brown insists flatly. “We know we’re only going to sell a limited number of records with what we’re doing or we’d have to be on tour ten months out of the year.

“Even if we decided to sell out, the chances of it working would be so slim it would be staggering,” continues the singer with a remarkable clarity of thought. “I mean, the higher a band’s level gets, the more money that it needs to spend. For example, if you make five T-shirts and sell them, it’s plausible that now you’ve created demand so you’ll have to make ten T-shirts because more people want them. Then it’s 50 and that costs more money and the only way to break passed that is to sell a shitload of records. If you look at the groups that do it even from an underground perspective, they have to make changes and concessions to accommodate that and I can’t imagine doing that with this music.”

Thinking man’s rock? That’s thinking man’s rock.

Download "That's a Good Question" from Pick Up Sticks – [mp3]

Download “A Place Called LA” from Pick Up Sticks – [mp3]


Pick Up Sticks is out now on Kill Rock Stars

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