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The Horror

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with The Horror from 2018

MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – sort of a "highlight reel?"

Alex Wachter: It’s somewhat ironic because while there is a lot of history, there isn’t much that anyone besides ourselves and our closest friends and family know about.  It was a big thing when Jeff, his brother and I all got our first rock instruments for Christmas.  We wanted to be a 90s band (as they were not called at the time), and so we recorded a lot of songs that reflected the kind of grunge and alternative we listened to (Alice in Chains, NIN, Silverchair, Gravity Kills) and, yes, we actually sang.  Later it was all about jamming.  I had a few friends that I played with for years ,and we were really into post-rock and the “guitar gods” like Satriani and Vai, and then Jeff and I got together with his brother again for another round where we really started coming out with some more sophisticated music that crossed a lot of genres.  The goal was always to put out an album, but eventually the logistical dynamics just became too much for the three of us.  The thing is that Jeff and I really discovered something special in the course of all this.  We had an instrumental rapport and a musical work ethic that was simply spot on.  Not only could just the two of us jam for hours on end without missing a beat, but when we practiced our songs we always fed off each other’s chops and challenged each other to do bigger and bolder things.  I’ve always been heavily inspired by certain very specific types of music that I wanted to blend (soundtrack, post-rock, guitar-shredding, metal, Celtic, etcetera), and since Jeff and I were so close I knew I could count on him to help me finally put something together if I brought it to him.  Two years later, allow us to introduce “The Horror.”  Our album is Here, In The Shadows because that’s exactly where I conceived this whole thing (pretty much kept it a secret from everybody), and that’s where our musical careers have been all our lives.  We don’t intend to keep it that way, however. 

Jeff Zuback:  I played drums since elementary school, first beating on pots and pans (literally) before I got my first drum set in seventh grade. I played with my brother Tym as well as cousin Alex in various forms after that as they started playing guitar around the same time.  I also played drums in a couple punk rock bands in high school, played at a lot of various venues in Maryland and produced an album with my one punk rock band my senior year of high school. I played drums sporadically through the college years but nothing too serious. I started getting back into playing music with cousin Alex about six or seven years ago and took the music to the next level when he sent me instrumental pieces that needed drum tracks. That is how the Horror came to be.   

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Alex Wachter: That’s sort of a touchy question for me because (even though I graduated college) I’ve never really pursued a “real job” beyond the one I already had in the restaurant business.  I’ve never been interested in anything but ideas and creating things and ultimately working for myself.  The Horror is not my only creative project, but if I didn’t have it or anything else I probably would have gone back to school to pursue a higher degree so that I could teach philosophy at the college level.  Either that or maybe I’d try to open up my own restaurant, as I have a passion for food, love cooking, and enjoy the business.  The beauty is that I still don’t have to rule either one out.  But for now I know I have a lot more music left in me. 

Jeff Zuback:  I received my Master’s degree in Criminal Justice and have a passion for reforming the criminal justice system.

Alex Wachter: I guarantee you he would also be fishing.

MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?
Alex Wachter: From a love of the horror genre/aesthetic, first off.  We wanted something broad and to the point and it just stuck.  I always knew our music would gravitate in a horror or mystery-themed direction.  We both grew up with a pretty strong affinity for creature features and the like, and I in particular have always been pretty deeply inspired by the classic gothic motif and anything dealing with the supernatural in particular.  I’ve also always had a huge nerd passion for survival horror video games ("Resident Evil," "Silent Hill") and the like—and the music within them.  But more than that, the name also took on a personal tone because I’ve lived in Baltimore all my life, and on top of being the town that claims Edgar Allen Poe it is also one that struggles with a myriad of  (shall we say) horrific social issues.  It’s an amazing city, charming through its grit, but no one who grows up here does not at least tangentially experience or witness some form of horror in their lives.  At the end of the day, monsters and ghosts are really just powerful and critically underappreciated metaphors for the very real life struggles we all in our own ways face; and the mysteries inherent in our efforts to understand, unmask, or absolve those monsters are in fact some very pertinent lessons on how we can understand and cope with the darkest aspects of ourselves and the world around us.  I want our music to be a reflection of that underneath all of the, shall we say, gimmicky stuff.    
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Alex Wachter: Many.  On guitar, Kirk Hammett, Joe Satriani, Buckethead, Steve Vai, Herman Li, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Dave Mustaine, John Petrucci.  For songwriting, all of those plus Metallica, NIN, MONO, Liquid Tension Experiment, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Juno Reactor, DragonForce, and especially a lot of the video game music I grew up with: "Castlevania," "Silent Hill," "Zelda," "Doom," "Final Fantasy," etcetera.  That doesn’t exclude film or TV soundtracks, either.  I’m a huge "Twin Peaks" fan.  And yes, you can hear the “Jaws” in our song “Leviathan.” 

Jeff Zuback:  Grunge was my first love especially Alice in Chains, Sound Garden and Silverchair (very underrated band, in my opinion). I also got into some industrial music including NIN and Stabbing Westward. Also a strong punk rock phase as well and to this day I love the Offspring, Green Day and Blink 182 (how can you not love Travis Barker’s drums?). I started getting into a little progressive rock including Dream Theater around the time The Horror came to be.

MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?

Alex Wachter: On a personal note, our aunt said in a vehement tone that “it’s not easy listening, but it is compelling listening.”  We’ve been getting a lot of great critical feedback so far, and it’s hard to pick a best quote, but our favorite is probably: “Imagine if J.S. Bach had formed a gothic-laden, doom-laden metal band and set about writing scores for horror films.”  It was only about one of our songs, “The Slumbering Lurking,” but we love the reference to Bach and to the soundtrack vibes of our music.  

Jeff Zuback:  I have never been the most technical drummer but have been told that my drumming style is unique and creative.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Alex Wachter: Another album, for sure, and probably at least one more after that.  Even if we were to wind up making only a pittance off this music, we are so proud of and so motivated by it that the pleasure of the work alone is well worth plenty more effort.  I already have most of our next album conceived and have already begun recording the initial takes.  We’re really hoping to get some live shows in, as well, and are currently strategizing on how to do that.  Given the fact that it’s just the two of us, and that our songs can feature up to eight tracks playing at one time, it’s a serious logistical challenge.  We’re admittedly a studio band for now, but we’re working on that.  Definitely more music coming, though...the tentative title for our next album is “Nightmare in Blue.”   
MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Alex Wachter: I could just use the Bach quote again!  I’ve taken to calling our songs “sound odysseys.”  With each one of them I try to take you on a little trip that works almost like a story with an introduction, exposition, climax and resolution.  I want them to paint some serious pictures in your mind.  I want you to get motivated when you listen to them . . . I want you to get up and go running or climbing mountains or something.  I want you to visualize yourself accomplishing great and mighty things.  Picking a label is, in fact, hard, and it’s a genuine honor that a lot of those who have listened to or reviewed our music so far have had such trouble doing it.  It’s instrumental rock. It could certainly be called "progressive." It’s got soundtrack vibes. It’s guitar-oriented but not guitar-dominated.  I truly believe we have ourselves a little niche to carve.    
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?
Alex Wachter: I could specifically shout out my friend Mark, who got me back into guitar in high school, and my cousin and Jeff’s brother Tym (with whom we started all our musical enterprises in the past).  As for famous musicians, a very fanciful dream of mine would be to do a G3 concert with Satriani and Vai one day.  Not that I’m anywhere near their ballpark in terms of skill, but I’ve always wanted to do a live guitar battle on stage, and hey, I practice every day.  I’d also love to perform “Leviathan” with the BSO one day, as they do a lot of cool, specialized concerts, and they are only right down the street!  
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Alex Wachter: Probably depends on the musician.  If you’re already established, I imagine it can only really hurt, as people are going to buy your music, anyway, if that’s the only option.  For guys like us just getting started, however, mass availability is probably a good thing.  Since this undertaking I’ve gained a lot more respect for the notion of creator’s rights, however.  Artists put a hell of a lot of work into making a good product—or they should, at least.  And honestly even though we are a humble band just getting started, I don’t think it’s a good strategy to ever give too much music away for free.

Jeff Zuback: Being in an unknown band, the more people stream your music the more exposure you get, which is never a bad thing in my eyes.

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
Alex Wachter: I have friends who are huge STS9 and Lotus fans, and bands like those basically make all their earnings on their live shows and encourage fans to record and share them.  It’s not something we as a band have to worry about now, but I guess I would say I have no problem with it.  Honestly I don’t know why anyone would want to sit there and watch a grainy concert video, however. 

Jeff Zuback: The more exposure to your music the better. I just hope the sound quality would be good.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Alex Wachter: Bands like Nickelback or Seether or Three Day’s Grace or Finger Eleven.  Anyone who takes rock and the amazing power of the power chord and turns it into inane, over-produced, uninspired, faux-angry, dumbed-down garbage.  Also, any pop artists that continue to make dull adolescent songs about “living for tonight” or “we only have this moment” and crap like that (which is about every other pop artist these days).     

Jeff Zuback: So called "rock" bands that don’t use any or only use minimal guitar.

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Alex Wachter: That’s a rather tough question.  My own super-group may include Mike Portnoy on drums (either him or Jeff—I’d have to think about that one . . .), Ray Manzarek on keyboards, Joe Satriani on lead guitar, James Hetfield on rhythm, Flea on bass and maybe either Jim Morison or Trent Reznor on vocals . . . if there were to be vocals.

Jeff Zuback: Jerry Cantrell on guitar (always a sucker for Alice in Chains and love his solos), Les Claypool on bass (just so unique), Daniel Johns on vocals (I just love his voice, and it has gotten better over time) and wait for it, wait for it, Travis Barker in drums (obviously my love for his drums is clear and his drums make Blink 182).  I could always catch a Green Day concert, and Billie Joe Armstrong continues to write hit after hits.

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Alex Wachter: Man, another tough question...can I just put down all the bands that inspired me?
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Alex Wachter: Honestly, I haven’t been listening to too much besides our own stuff lately.  I feel like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” when it comes to music these days.  I intend to change that when I finally give myself a break from studio work.  I still haven’t heard Metallica’s newest album.  I think the last album I bought was either MONO’s Hymn to the Immortal Wind or Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV.  Both are fantastic and inspiring. 

Jeff Zuback: I have not really been listening to anything new, as I have been focused on perfecting the drums to the Horror and listened to it hundreds of times. I am looking forward to catching up on the latest in rock music.

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Alex Wachter: Always reading!  Currently it’s Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables.  I’m also getting near the finish line of reading through the entirety of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes collection.  I intermittently have no choice but to return to a Robert Aickman or H.P. Lovecraft tale.  And in the nonfiction department I’ve lately been wrestling with Schopenhauer and some overlays of occult science.    
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Alex Wachter: Lotus, with one of those friends I mentioned earlier.  Phenomenal show...didn’t even have to be high to enjoy it.
MSJ: Do you remember the first concert you attended?
Alex Wachter: Technically that would be the BSO tiny tots concerts way, way back in the day.  I went to the symphony a lot when I was a kid.  As far as rock, I believe Joe Satriani and Mountain was my first show. 

Jeff Zuback: Metallica, Jerry Cantrell and an Australian band Body Jar.

MSJ: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
Alex Wachter: I wish.  I’ve been working with the same gear for about five years now, and I’m about due for an upgrade, although I kind of have the “old shoe” approach when it comes to amps and guitars.  I am looking to add a classic Fender Strat to my guitar arsenal (can’t beat it for blues tones).  My only regret about Here, In The Shadows is that I use zero Digitech Whammy Pedal in it.  That will have to be rectified in the future . . .

Jeff Zuback: Most of my drum gear is from when I was in high school. I just started playing on Alex’s electric drum kit about five years ago and has really allowed me to be more versatile with different drum sounds and styles. I think it is part of what makes the Horror unique.

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Alex Wachter: I regularly listen to the soundtracks from "Final Fantasy VII-X" in my truck.  Yes, including the J-pop-y love songs. 

Jeff Zuback: Various movie soundtrack music. I am too embarrassed to name which movies.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Alex Wachter: Well, I’m sure we’ll have some good live ones one day, but since we haven’t done any shows yet I could cite a myriad of technical issues in the recording process...most of them involving instrument cords.  Oh, the cords . . . nothing like being all ready to record and then having to figure out for the 9,000th time which one of them is buzzing or not working.  I can’t tell you how many steps I had to take with the mixes to finally eliminate all the buzzing.  Some of the guitar solos on the album too . . . I would spend maybe a whole furious night trying to get them down, doing them over and over with nothing but me cursing myself and barely not throwing my guitar into a wall to show for it . . . only to do it in one quick take the next day.  That happened way too many times.   
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Alex Wachter: Nietzsche, Jim Morison and Jesus.  Could I throw Stanley Kubrick in there too?  I feel like I have issues to work out with all these people.  So what were “The Shining” and “2001” about, anyway?  And for that matter, David Lynch . . . Okay, stick with the first three.   
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Alex Wachter: We’re from Baltimore, man.  Crabcakes...and sauerkraut...happy to make both myself!
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
The Horror is not about being scared, nor just some gimmick that plays off our cultural love affair with ghosts and monsters (although yes, that is fun).  It’s a concept.  Fear is our fundamental disposition here on this earth, and as many a wise person has stated, courage is not about not being afraid—it is rather a matter of overcoming those necessary fears.  That is what our music and our approach to music represents—not the fear itself, but the overcoming of it, and the life-affirming thrill inherent in that struggle.  We all face “Leviathans” in our lives and it is in the struggle with them that we become who we are and find out whether we’re worth a damn.  We approach the archetypes of horror in the way those zombies, werewolves, vampires, and what-have-you were originally intended—as metaphors that inspire us to understand ourselves more deeply—and that includes perhaps more than anything the parts we’d never want to share with other people.  It is a universal theme that is very much inspired by our own very particular and local experiences.  And it is also very personal, for our own “Leviathan” is this project itself: what could inspire one with more “wondering, fearing, doubting” than trying to build a musical enterprise entirely from the ground up and from the shadows of complete obscurity?  The challenges we faced in trying to put music out there throughout the course of our lives have been immense, persistent, and at times overwhelming.  Just trying to get this album to sound as good as it does in our little humble home studio seemed damn near impossible only a few months ago.  But that’s precisely the point.  Wonderful, monstrous, magnanimous things await where we least expect to find them, and there are few challenges and horrors that guts, persistence, and willpower cannot achieve.  To quote our beloved Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter, we’re all about having the “want-to.”  Throughout life we all will constantly try, and we will fall . . . but as long as we are indeed alive, we will rise again, and after that, it is only the endurance we muster that is left.  If the challenges get to be too much, well, what else do you have to do with all your remaining breaths?         
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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