Sunday, October 10, 2010

Interview with Jenks Miller (Horseback)

Over the past two years, Chapel Hill, NC, phenomena Horseback, brainchild of multi-instrumental talent Jenks Miller (center), has absolutely exploded. Recently signed to Relapse Records, Horseback's fusion of noise, ambiance, ethnic melodies and rhythms, and expansive Americana with a strong base in doom metal and drone is a welcome new addition to the already progressive American experimental music scene. Having released two full lengths ("Impale Golden Horn" and "The Invisible Mountain") and an EP ("MILH IHVH") as well as a planned split and collaboration (separate releases) with Chicago dronesters Locrian, Horseback is a force to be reckoned with, so I jumped at the chance to interview such a musical force as Mr. Miller.

What explains the TRIchotomy of sound between Horseback's first album (Impale Golden Horn), the second (The Invisible Mountain) and your new 7" on Turgid Animal? Is having a wide array of sounds at your disposal an important aspect of Horseback?

I am interested in finding meaningful expression across many sounds and textures.  My hope is that, over time and a number of records, the similarities in these different compositional approaches will stand out and resonate together.  I do think it's very important to have a wide array of sounds to work with.  Otherwise, I would run the risk of creative stagnation.  I am not interested in making Horseback a "genre band;" as my appreciation for music and culture expands and evolves, my work does, too.

On "The Invisible Mountain," along with the droning, "Americana" influence, I detect a large Eastern influence. What aspects of Eastern music and culture influence Horseback?

The raga, a melodic mode found in Indian classical music, provides a number of useful bridges between today's so-called "drone" music and more sequential melodic structures.  A few contemporary western guitar-soli players -- John Fahey and Jack Rose included -- have incorporated elements of the raga into their work, expanding on the compositional possibilities of more typical western modes and chord voicings.  Because there is no absolute pitch in raga music, performers can tune their instruments to any drone note; one could, for example, tune to the frequency of a refrigerator hum.  I am in love with sound, so as far as I'm concerned the line between "music" and "noise" is blurred enough to become practically inconsequential.  For this reason, and many others, I appreciate the more open-ended, holistic nature of most Eastern musical and spiritual traditions.

What made you want to start playing music? When did this all happen?

I've been playing music since I was a kid.  In elementary school I took piano and violin lessons, played concert bass in junior high, guitar in high school, and taught myself to play drums in college.  Music has always been a huge part of my life.  At this point it's part of who I am.

How do you view the modern "metal" scene? Do you see yourself and Horseback as a part of it?

Metal music is the same as any other popular musical genre in that there are brilliantly inventive, creatively robust individuals and groups, and there are also those who choose to adhere to existing blueprints.  I appreciate metal's prevailing interest in the mythic imagination.  Even as my own musical taste has evolved, I still get great joy and inspiration from many metal bands.  Horseback has some long-standing metal influences and others that are not metal in the slightest; whether this disqualifies Horseback from being a "metal band" is completely irrelevant to me.

Is Horseback your only project, or are there others? If so, what are the others like?

There are others.  I play guitar in a country/Americana band called Mount Moriah and I've released improvised, collaborative and/or noise recordings under my own name.  I played drums in a krauty noise-rock band called In the Year of the Pig for a long time.

I notice you've mentioned Alejandro Jodorowski's filmwork as an influence in your songwriting style. What outside of music influences Horseback? 

Jodorowsky is an influence on some of the Horseback records' thematic motifs.  Without going into any detail, I could easily name as other conceptual influences studies in comparative mythology, semiotics, meditation, analytical psychology and individuation, and ethnomusicology.

You've recently been signed to Relapse Records. What has this recent surge in popularity and success brought you and Horseback?

Relapse has provided far greater distribution for the records, increased critical exposure in the press, and a vast web of human resources.  I really appreciate all they've done for this project.

It's been at least ten years since I've visited Chapel Hill. What's the music/arts scene like there?

Chapel Hill has a small but vibrant arts community.  In the past few years it's become more stylistically diverse, more active, and therefore more magnetic than ever before.  There's still a lot of circa-1994 indie rock in the mold of Archers of Loaf, Superchunk and Polvo, but now there are also plenty of great metal bands, folk and country acts, and even a healthy noise scene.  A number of bands from Chapel Hill and the greater Triangle area have gained national attention in the last couple of years.  It's a great place for music.

You've experimented with many different kinds of textures throughout your time as Horseback. For all us "gear geeks", what are some of your favorite/most interesting pieces of equipment you've used in the studio?

The equipment question!  Most of the sounds and textures I get are from normal "rock band" instruments:  voice, guitar, bass, keys, drums.  I have used my share of standard effects pedals, contact mics, and computer processing when it's necessary.  However, I've found that the most interesting textures have less to do with the equipment that produces them and more to do with the context in which they're applied.  The chiming, clean guitars on The Invisible Mountain are fairly standard Telecaster tones, for example, but placed next to harsh vocals, those textures can become new and exciting.

How does working as a "solo musician" differ from the "full band" experience? Which do you prefer?

Working solo grants me more artistic freedom and saves me from the motivation-mangling horror of rehearsal scheduling.  Even so, I often ask for help with the records.  John Crouch, an unbelievable drummer who plays in Caltrop, has played on a number of Horseback recordings.  The full band experience is much more preferable in a live setting, without a doubt.  I've been lucky to work with a number of fantastic musicians in order to develop Horseback's live sets over the years.

Any chance of coming to Chicago? :P

Yes, a very good chance!  I've been talking with Locrian for a long time about doing some shows together in the Chicago area.  We recently finished up a split 7" and a collaborative EP together.  There are also some murmurs about a one-day festival in Milwaukee, featuring some of the bands that have released stuff on Utech Records.  Milwaukee's close, right?  Something like that would probably draw us up north of the Mason-Dixon line.

What goals do you have for Horseback, both short and long-term?

I want to be able to keep making records.  Increasingly in my own life, this means finding a way to make the project financially viable in one way or another.  It's a tall order these days, so I'll just keep it at that.

And finally, because I must ask everyone this, what are your thoughts on the modern metalhead?

Not sure I have any, to be honest.



  1. very interesting man, well done!

  2. A buddy of mine just burned(tape trading is killing the music industry.)me some Horseback. Digging it. Also enjoyed the interview,thanks.


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