Buried Horses
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Buried Horses

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When The Swindlers morphed into Buried Horses, it was more than a casual change in name. Formed originally just over three years ago when bassist Liam O’Shannessy met guitarist Jim Westmore, The Swindlers were on the cusp of recording their debut record when a change of drummer provided the catalyst for a change in sound and style. The change in direction was commensurate with the band members’ improved musicianship and evolution in musical tastes; with Buried Horses, the band embraced a more spacious, country-noir sound, complimented by Mark Berry’s dark, growling vocals and vivid narratives of death and despair. The end result was Buried Horses’ debut album, Tempest , a collection of rich, occasionally disconcerting narratives that traipse through the murderous margins of humanity.

Critical to Buried Horses’ sonic style was the early ’80s atmospherics of The Scientists and The Birthday Party’s Rowland S Howard, viewed through the lens of The Drones. "Our guitar sound and song structure definitely changed when we changed from The Swindlers," O’Shannessy admits. "We were definitely attracted to that early ’80s guitar sound." O’Shannessy, Westmore, Berry, alongside second guitarist (and Jim’s brother) Tom Westmore and drummer Eric Moore bunkered down in a cellar in a house in Thornbury to refine the band’s sound.

It was in the dank, dark atmosphere of that Thornbury cellar that Buried Horses affirmed the band’s new name. "The name Buried Horses was a bit to do with pit ponies in the mine," explains O’Shannessy of the equine companions to human miners. "But it’s also a bit to do with being in the cellar – and it’s also a bit about describing the band’s sound," he chuckles.

Buried Horses’ subterranean sound was rounded out with Mark Berry’s colourful lyrics. Berry took his initial cues from the stories and myths he’d encountered while travelling overseas. "I wrote a lot of songs while I was away," he explains. "I had the music before I went, so I just tried to find stories that would fit the music. There were various stories and myths that I came across in different places – there was one song I wrote in Scotland, and another in Sarajevo."

Berry also admits to a consistent theme in his lyrics. "Every song is about death or murder," he laughs. "But the songs aren’t always murderous – they’re also about how people deal with death."

Buried Horses took a collection of roughly sketched-out songs to O’Shannessy’s family farm on the banks of the Goulburn River, south-west of Shepparton. With no immediate neighbours, the band had plenty of opportunity to explore the depth and breadth of their fledgling set. "After playing around in the place in Thornbury, it was a lot different playing out in the country," O’Shannessy nods.

"On the weekend we could take over an entire room, and with no-one around, we could just keep playing for as long as we wanted." The rural surroundings infected the band’s music with a spacious feel consistent with the country setting. "In a rural space it’s cleaner and fresher," O’Shannessy confirms. "So the songs ended up having more space to them, and that helped to balance out the songs better."

Back in Melbourne, and within a short time Buried Horses had attracted the attention of local producer and Spooky Records boss Loki Lockwood. "That was really great for us," O’Shannessy says. "We were playing a show at The Tote when Loki was mixing, and he came up to us and said he’d like to work with us. So we went from having no-one to work with, to going into Atlantis Studio with Loki."

Once in the studio, Lockwood was sufficiently impressed to offer to release Buried Horses’ debut record on Spooky Records. "I think Jasmine (Loki’s wife) was on his back to sign us," O’Shannessy laughs.

Lockwood’s contribution to the final sound was subtle, but important. "We hadn’t really done a lot of recording, and we don’t often record our rehearsals, so being in the studio was a lot different for us," O’Shannessy explains. "So Loki basically locked us in the studio for a few days to make sure we got everything done. He wanted to try a few different things, like layering the guitars to fill out the sound. I think Mark got worked over the hardest – the rest of us just had three days of hangovers," he chuckles.

Reluctant to go down the path of press shots of the band to provide the cover art for the record, Buried Horses sought the assistance of a friend of Jim Westmore’s to paint a picture that would capture the tempestuous, climatic aspect of the album’s style and sound. "We’re not very good with press shots," O’Shannessy says. "The record has a cinematic element, so we wanted something that would capture that. The cover was painted by Anthony Day, who went to school with Jim. And the picture he came up with fitted very well with the album."

This week Buried Horses launches Tempest at The Tote, supported by Brian Hooper, The Spoils (trio) and Jack On Fire. From there Buried Horses will head interstate to promote the record, with the chance of an overseas tour subject to solving the ever-present logistical and financial equation. "I saw recently that there was a French radio station that was featuring the album, we just have to find out who that is," O’Shannessy laughs. "If the moons align, then we’d definitely like to get to the US or Europe."

BURIED HORSES launch Tempest (out now through Spooky Records) at The Tote this Saturday February 19 with The Spoils trio, Brian Henry Hooper and Jack On Fire.