“I wanna have a holiday with guitars!”
You’d think a man who’s just landed back in Blighty after a bout of surfing in the Canary Islands would be happy to stay put for a while, but ALI HORN is restless: for more sun, for more adventure, for more life. “I wanna do fun shit, go away with my mates and play some music. I’ve got to give it a go anyway.”
Before we get carried away by these escapist vibes, let’s take a couple of steps backwards. Up until the tail end of 2016, Ali Horn was best known for being one of the principal members of Strange Collective, the garage rock troupe who’ve established themselves as pretty much everyone’s favourite live band in town. With his first solo single, Days Like Today, being released by The Label Recordings on 7th April, Horn now finds himself juggling duties in both projects – and he couldn’t be happier, as he gets to show off both sides of his creative output. Where Strange Collective are loose and carefree, Horn’s solo material twinkles with a tighter sunshine vibe that sits somewhere on the line that joins Kurt Vile and Jason Pierce. I hesitate to term it as cosmic surf, but that’s the closest anyone will be able to get to describing his languid style in two words.
With its refrain of “Days like today were for going to the sea/I was just hoping that you would come with me”, Horn’s debut offering Days Like Today can almost be seen as a call to arms – “It’s kind of like, ‘let’s start a band and go and see some of the world’. Come with me if you want” – but it was Bloom that started him off on this journey, switching quite a few people on to what had hitherto been an under-the-radar project. The track’s warm, wobbly vibe unspools over eight minutes of pure emotion, spanning the full range of Horn’s Technicolor dream.
“When I started writing it, I kind of wanted it to be like Tender, by Blur – absolutely epic at the end with a choir! The thing I find, which I imagine is the same with all musicians, is that you aim at something and get it wrong, and you land somewhere else that is kind of cool and new – and that becomes you. I love Brian Jonestown Massacre, early Verve records, Spiritualized: I think that’s all in Bloom, somehow. It’s probably a result of me trying to do that stuff all at once and getting it wrong, and ending up somewhere new. You land in the space where only you can land.”
“There’s a lot of heartbreak in there,” Horn continues, “but loads of uplifting stuff too. It’s meant to be a feel good song even though it’s got a slow tempo to it. It’s feel good heartbreak music, that’s how I’d describe it!”
For a musician so used to being part of a band, branching out to perform under your own name can be a brave step to take. The protection that being part of a gang gives you is instantly stripped away, and you’ve suddenly got to find a new groove, which can be daunting when there are so many options available, and a blank canvas laid in front of you.
“When you’re in a band that’s even semi-established, you kind of get stuck in a rut with having to play one type of music – because that’s what people expect of you,” he muses, careful to tread lightly so as not to trample over the work he enjoys doing in other bands. “I never want that to happen with this [project], I always want it to be completely random. Also, I never really expected to play anything live – or even do anything with this project really – so it meant that, when I was writing the songs in my room, I’d write such diverse tunes, going with whatever I thought was cool.”
Does this lack of expectation from his solo work make it, in some way, a more honest reflection of himself?
“It’s definitely honest to me, yeh. I’ve been in so many bands over the years, and the feeling has been, like, ‘oh, let’s just try and get laid’. Now, I’m bored of writing music for any ulterior motives other than to be true to myself. If I can make a record that I’m happy with, I couldn’t give a fuck what anybody else thinks. I care so much about this project, but for personal reasons.”
The first time I spoke to Horn about his new direction, he was just about to play his first live show: and despite being a veteran of hundreds of gigs, he admitted to feeling surprisingly nervous ahead of the show. “Yes – I was petrified!” he replies when I ask him about it afterwards. “I think it was more because the songs do mean quite a lot to me – and taking back what I said earlier, I probably do care too much about what people think! I was a bit nervous opening up and letting people in.”
The comfort of being surrounded by a band of four close mates was a big help through this, with Horn placing his faith in those close to him to help him bring his work to life. Present and former Strange Collective bandmates, Alex Wynne (Bass) and Andrew Parry (Drums) respectively, bring familiarity; while long time friend Dave Tate and Ohmns guitarist Kendall add the layers with their duelling six-string work. Each of the trusty recruits carries the right amount of personality through to the band’s debut show at Buyers Club, while still allowing room for the music to breathe and find its feet.
“Each song has been different when I’ve written them in my room, and I think now that they’re all finding some common ground, because they’re being played by the five of us,” Horn says when he reflects on his first outing under his own name. “There are still slight creases that we’re ironing out, but I couldn’t be happier with how the first two shows went. It sounded really full, which pleased me.”
“What I was really happy with when I put Bloom up on Soundcloud was that everyone who got on to it, I respected their musical opinions,” he continues. “The right people thought ‘that’s really cool, I like that’. It’s how I ended up working with Dave Tate and Kendall cos they liked the feel of it, and I respect them.”
So far he’s been encouraged with how things have gone, so much so that he lets his ambitions wander a little, charting what he sees as the ideal progress for the rest of 2017. “I wanna make a record this year – record it over the summer, go on tour in September, have a Christmas European tour. I wanna do everything!” He admits to having “bucketloads” of tunes already written, and with more coming each day, but he’s still working out what, exactly, to do with them. This newfound confidence he puts down to the input of Carl Hunter from The Label, whose involvement has been a real fillip for Horn, giving him the confidence he needed to pursue this strand of his output properly.
“It’s been the kick up the arse I needed,” he says of working with Hunter, before pausing to wrestle with an idea that’s obviously been a constant thorn for him. “A couple of years ago I had a massive think to myself about why I played music and what I wanted to do with it. I kind of had this falling out of love with songwriting – and I was really happy playing guitar with Strange Collective, cos it’s rocking and really pure and, just, fucking awesome. But it took me a while to get back into writing songs, for the right reasons. I never wanna write music with business in mind, or sales or anything like that. I’d rather write a song for a girlfriend or a mate or an enemy – and if they’re the only person that hears it then that’s fine, it’s achieved its intended purpose. If the right people hear it and the intended audience likes it, then that’s all that really matters.”
It’s a reassuring response, and one that isn’t so surprising coming from such a modest individual as Ali Horn. He’s never rammed his music down people’s throats, or shouted about it with loads of fanfare – which is why the success he’s getting feels right. He doesn’t care about other people’s reactions enough to change what it is though – what comes out is what comes out, and that’s the truth that he wants to stick with.
Whether the next step is another single with The Label, or any interest that derives from somewhere else, Horn is of the belief that it’s important to make progress – and quickly. “I think momentum is the most important thing – well, apart from the songs. It’s really, really key for a band to not take a step back, or even take their foot off the accelerator. I feel like there’s no point in playing more than one toilet venue in each city. I’m not saying that I’m better than that, but I don’t wanna waste time doing stuff that’s completely irrelevant. I don’t wanna do the same thing over and over again – it’s got to keep moving forwards.”
Days Like Today is out on 7th April on The Label Recordings. Become a Bido Lito! member and get your hands on an exclusive downloadable track by Ali Horn as part of our monthly bundle of the best new music – learn more here.