Gift Horse’s brilliant debut album, Happy Clappy, is lots of things, of which funny, dark, quirky, and odd are just a few. It’s been a long time coming, with the pandemic laying rest to hopes of a March 2020 release. Most of the songs on it were probably written with joyous sweaty gigs in dark basements in mind. Right now, with its healthy dose of experimentation and dark humour, its world seems custom made for losing yourself in while everything else churns on outside the door.
We spoke with guitarist Audrey Bizouerne and drummer David Maxwell (they share vocal duties) about the album and keeping creative while navigating these tricky times.
Can you tell us a bit about the band and how you met?
D: We met in Glasgow through a mutual friend. Luke Sutherland who was in Rev Magnetic with Audrey. We were both looking to do something musical. I just moved to Glasgow from Edinburgh.
A: And I just moved to Glasgow from Paris.
D: Yeah. I messaged Audrey and just said, ‘do you fancy trying some music?’. And we started very tentatively just playing together and improvising. It was two guitars at the start.
A: Yeah, at the very start, when you first asked me to play, it was to play your songs that you just released. And so you were thinking about two acoustic guitars, so we started playing in each other’s flats in the living room playing acoustic guitars, both of us, which was great.
Then we thought because David’s a drummer, we should try and get in a room together and play a bit louder. And that’s that’s actually where it started. Because we didn’t really know what we were doing. We didn’t plan to really, like start a band. It wasn’t very conscious. We started jamming and we started writing songs very quickly. So it became obvious that we had a band. [laughs]
D: Yeah, it was a very simple gestation. We had that first EP before we knew it and just kind of continued from there, really.
A: We played gigs, and more and more gigs. Then we started working on the album, which took us quite a bit of time. We had our cassettes out so that kind of delayed the perspective of having an album out. Then when we recorded the other half of the album, the pandemic started, so the schedule has been a bit shambolic. But we’re very glad that it’s finally going to be out in the world.
I’m really enjoying the album. I think it’s a lot of fun. There are lots of different moods throughout. But mainly it’s quirky, and funny, and dark. Did you have a plan for how you wanted the album to pan out or did you just see where it took you?
D: It wasn’t a conscious plan but I guess, as easy as we tend to write songs, we didn’t have a selection of thirty that we chose eight or nine of. We just kind of had what we had. I’m sure we would have a lot more by now if times had been normal. They sit well together as they were made by us.
A: I think because we played quite a lot together in these few years and I think even if the songs can sound quite different. We build our sound with time and it sounds to me quite consistent even if they are quite different moods and different atmospheres. Also because they have been recorded at different times it comes quite nicely together.
D: I think it’s just having the confidence to sort of just say, ‘That that is us’.
A: Yeah. David, you’re always the one trying to push in a way that you don’t want to have limits or boundaries, and I think I’ve never felt that, so free in a band. Because we had absolutely no rules. We never said, ‘No, this is stupid. Don’t do it.’ We were like, ‘Yeah, go for it’. It’s always been very liberating and just really fun.
D: And fun is what it has to be. I really liked that you said it was fun and dark and all these things at the same time because that for me is what the best art is about. There’s always these things that all come together to make some sort of strange whole. But, fun: it has to be fun at the start or you won’t do it.
With the pandemic, you’re going to miss out on being able to play it live as you release the album. It’s an odd situation, I imagine.
A: Yeah, we weren’t quite sure when to release the album for this reason. And then we thought that because if [the pandemic] starts to be quite long, why not release it now and see what happens? When we can play gigs, we’ll play gigs and, you know, we’ll see. But yeah, we didn’t want that to stop us from putting the album out. And I think it’s actually a pretty good time because people, at least the people who follow us, are looking forward to hearing it now.
Of course, live has always been a huge part of who we are as a band, but we had to adapt. We are actually making a video now, remotely, trying to make up for the lack of gigs. We’re trying to find other things to do in the meantime.
We’re going to release the second single ‘Custard Tarts’ and the video will be very soon after.
What’s the plan for the video?
D: We’re having it made by Alice and Jimmy, who run the Glasgow based Artsy Vice Show. We were just looking for ways to, you know, make a video without kind of being together. And there are a couple anyway, so they can be together. We recorded some videos ourselves at home, covered in various baking liquids.
We were meant to be doing a couple of live sessions, one with Bloc TV and one with The Glad Cafe, but with the current COVID restrictions and all that, it didn’t really seem like the right time to be doing that stuff. You know, it’s not essential. We just decided to kind of maybe wait till things are relaxed a bit and we’re not having to sing in masks, which would be horrible. But we’re definitely going to do these things once things relax.
The album starts off with ‘Custard Tart’ and from there, for a while, there’s a lot of food in the songs. There’s a bit about Fanta too. Was that accidental?
D: It feels accidental, when you say it. It wasn’t like some sort of gastro concept album or anything. I mean, Audrey can eat her own weight in cheese but apart from that… Food probably plays a big part in both of our lives, in a way, for different reasons. But it’s just one of these things. It’s just life, isn’t it? It’s food. It wasn’t intentional at all.
A: I never really thought about that before. It’s funny that you’re saying that, because we’re thinking it’s about dancing. So, food as well. So maybe what we like the most is eating and dancing.
Can you tell us a bit more about the album?
D: I guess for us it’s getting a balance between doing something a little bit beyond what we do live, but not having it turn out to be ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
A: I would love to have a Bohemian Rhapsody!
D: I told you before. No! [laughs]
D: It’s just about having fun with a few different instruments. And I think I’ve always believed that live should be a different experience. You shouldn’t just be expected to recreate the sound of your album; it should be a different thing altogether. In that way both playing out live and recording are quite liberating. They’re just not really related as far as I’m concerned.
Also, I guess there’s an energy that you want to have when you’re playing live and maybe you want someone listening at home to have something that will bear repeat lessons, to have depth and different experiences within that.
D: Yeah. I think there’s an intensity live that you can’t recreate on a record. There’s that in-your-face volume in a room that you can’t really recreate at
home. And in many ways you want to have a bit of a divide between those two worlds. Okay, this is us here, come and see us. Why? There’s a different dimension to it. I like that sort of duality.
I think in my head the plan was always just to try and take some sharp turns, and kind of surprise people, and leave people not really knowing what was coming next. And I think we achieved that. Every song isn’t 140 BPM and noisy, and every song isn’t quiet. Then there’s dark versus stupid choruses.
I think Gift Horse has always been a permission to, as Audrey said before, just go and explore. You can be in a rehearsal room feeling a bit silly and be like, ‘What the hell are we singing about?’. But then it turns into something that people love, and you’re like, ‘Well, okay, sometimes the silly things are the things that are worth mining’. And I think that’s the thing, that’s the sound of an album, it’s just some surprising turns or increments. But hopefully, in a way that sounds quite natural.
A: Yeah, very expressive and very spontaneous, as in the most genuine definition of it, I feel. Again, I felt I’ve never felt that free in a band, there’s no judgments.I know personally I’m very critical of myself. David’s always helped me stop doing that within the band and always encouraged me to go to places where I thought it was not permitted, or it was maybe silly. It always turned out to be interesting and nice. And sometimes dark as well, we don’t want to pretend to go somewhere we don’t belong, in a way.
Apart from keeping busy with making videos, how have you been coping with lockdown? It’s difficult for artists at the moment.
D: Yeah, very much so. Audrey is doing a lot of photography at the moment. I also paint. I’ve a studio in town at the Barras. That makes a bit more sense at the moment: just something you do on your own and doesn’t require being with other people. I guess painting, and photography for Audrey, it’s a solitary thing that you just do. It’s just important to be able to keep something going.
A: I think the idea for me was because this pandemic has been going on for such a long time now. And we can’t even now see the end of it. Personally I felt, for my mental health, and maybe for some people’s mental health, it was good to stay active and do something.
We found new ways to express ourselves individually: me with photography, David with painting. Personally, I’ve never really played music so much on my own. I’ve always collaborated with people. So being on my own, it has not always been easy to find my place. It’s weird.