Listening to the music of Horse Stories is like walking in the pouring rain; your senses surrounded and soaked to the bone, their music flows freely and is absorbed equally by your heart, your mind and your soul. The music has such poetic beauty it transcends the lyrics and melodies created, conjuring emotive landscapes for listeners to explore.
‘Tonight on the Radio’ demonstrates Horse Stories richly layered musical stylings. However the song is at its best in the chorus, where the pace is slowed, some of the layers fall away, and the eloquent lyrics are brought sharply into focus. With its soulful, mournful yet uplifting beauty this is a song that will stop you in your tracks. ‘Firewall’ has a darker, haunting sound which drags you into its spine-tingling depths with its full bodied and sometimes distorted sound. ‘You Explained Away Everything’, is sweet and sorrowful, which builds to a soaring chorus. The song and the emotion it conveys shows perfect restraint, rising and falling in waves by changing the level of musical accompaniment and the vocal power applied.
With the release of their third album, ‘Everyone’s a Photographer’, which sees the original line up of Toby Burke and Clint Stapleton joined by Beth Balmer, listeners are treated to a rich musical smorgasbord to savour. Their music is completely captivating and very real, sometimes elegantly pure, other times achieving an intended rawness, but always with a melancholic beauty shining through.
Horse Stories do not fit comfortably within one style of music. Instead they operate in a less narrowly defined niche; they are musical storytellers. Not easily forgotten, their music will stay with you and become a source for much reflection. Horse Stories will have you hanging on their every note, their every word, holding your breath for fear of missing a single moment.
Speaking with Toby recently he spoke about his creative processes, the upcoming tour and the all important selection of CD cover art.
TS: Are you excited about getting your tour underway?
TB: Very. Clint and I haven’t played together since we recorded “Everyone’s a Photographer” and this will also be the first time we’ve played in Australia. He’s an amazing drummer, it will be a lot of fun.
TS: Does all the praise you’ve received for your latest release add more pressure to the creative process?
TB: No. It does create a specific kind of pressure, but it’s a pressure to get that kind of response again, or better it. That pressure exists in a world outside of the creative process, which brings its own unique, very personal pressures. First I deal with the personal, creative pressures… which go on for a long time… then I prepare myself for the inevitable commercial pressures associated with the music “business”, which really pass by quite quickly.
TS: As in life, your music achieves a wonderful blend of beauty and sadness, resulting in your music feeling very real. Is this because your creative inspiration is drawn from your own life experiences?
TB: I think that all creative inspiration has to come from life experiences, to a certain extent. It’s a form of expression, and you can really only express what it is that you yourself feel. Well, express it with any conviction anyway. On the other hand though, that expression needs to find a home in the heart of the listener and that’s where the beauty of shared experiences, or shared humanness comes into the picture. I’m glad that people like you feel that the music is very real, because what I do is relatively earnest, and the way that we produce the records is very honest (in terms of real performances and no computer manipulation), so it’s nice when it feels real to people.
TS: Is your songwriting process quite an intensive experience, or does it ebb and flow over a longer period of time?
TB: It depends on the song, and I think that’s true for most songwriters. Some songs are done in twenty minutes, others have taken me two or three years. I like to live with a song for a while, get to know it, see if I can trust it… before I start introducing it to people. The other thing about revisiting songs a lot before you “finish” them is that you give yourself the chance to improve them, or learn something from them. Even if that means taking the song too far and having to bring it back. I’ve always had a pretty sound internal editor, so I’m happy to keep crafting a song and telling myself when to stop or keep going.
TS: Which of your songs means the most to you and why?
TB: I’m afraid I just can’t answer that question. Each song has played its own little part in my life, whether it was just on the day I wrote, and I really needed it to come along that day, or years down the track to remind me of something.
TS: With each release do you find yourself more inclined to try something different and experiment with styles?
TB: Yes. I think if you look at the three Horse Stories records and my solo stuff there all quite different. People may argue on a cursory listen, but if you really look at how they’re made, where they’re made, who plays on them, the instrumentation… you’ll see that I keep on shifting and keep on trying to offer something new. I like working with different people and with subtle variations in arrangements, it keeps me interested and hopefully keeps the listener interested as a result.
TS: Who would be your dream artist to perform with and why?
TB: Tough question… probably the obvious people like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson… the ones who are so inspiring and yet so out of most of our reach. Then there’s more slightly possible ones like Buffalo Tom or Damien Jurado or Wilco.
TS: How would you describe your music to other people?
TB: I try not too. It’s the hardest question in the world. I recently told a journalist from The Age it was like Neil Young unsure of whether to do an acoustic or an electric album. So I’ll stick with that for now.
TS: How do you choose what your CD cover artwork will be?
TB: You know, no-one’s ever asked me that question. It depends on the record. I normally chose an artist that I like, give them a copy of the record and ask them to respond to the music in some way, if they feel they can. The first couple were based on paintings by my friend Jose Cuello, I love all his work and it’s always an honor to have someone whose work you love to provide you with artwork. The last couple of records another friend Will Mahon designed for me. We collaborated on Everyone’s a Photographer – the idea just came out of lots of discussions we had about what the record was about. I had asked Jose to contribute some art for that record, so he sent me some stuff, but we both agreed that he just wasn’t getting it right. Sometimes that happens and it’s good to work with people who realise that and let it go.
I just finished an instrumental record under the name Perfect Black Swan and for that another artist friend, photographer Warwick Baker took some amazing photos that i never would have thought of. I love that part of the record making process, collaborating with non-music artists is a real joy for me.
TS: Cat or dog people?
TB: Definitely dog. RIP Tipsy.