By Kevin Longrie
Most bands want their music to end up in a record store. But not many bands start out in one, too. Kate Cooper and Damon Cox, the two halves of the musical whole that is An Horse, became friends while stocking the shelves of Skinny’s, a record store in Brisbane. Out of their musical similarities came An Horse, a project that neither Cooper nor Cox thought would take them anywhere; they were just trying to find something to do after work. Four years later, their band, bred from wage-slave ennui, is an international success. And what’s more, Cooper says, it’s fun.
“Damon worked [at Skinny’s] for four years, I think,” Cooper says, “And I was there for three. We kind of knew each other, because it was Brisbane. But we got to know each other a lot better. We just clicked.”
This compatibility became important when the two—who were both in other bands at the time—decided to form the indie-rock outfit internationally recognized today. Decided is perhaps a more definite word than is appropriate. Cooper explains how they played music together for a year before they recorded anything, and there wasn’t much direction or drive to be anything more than an after-work distraction—a bit of fun.
They recorded some demos in 2007 and sent them around to friends. Quite unexpectedly to Cooper and Cox, the demo landed them a tour offer in the US with Tegan and Sara. At that point, they had barely played any shows.
They quickly threw together a 5-track EP to sell at shows. The success of the EP and the tour got An Horse signed shortly after the tour concluded.
Cooper’s old outfit, Iron On, was decidedly bigger and bulkier than the streamlined guitar/drums duo An Horse. There in which playing in An Horse has made her musical life easier, she says, and ways in which it’s become more difficult. In Iron On, she was forced to share songwriting duties with another band member, which diminished her musical output.
The two-piece is tailor made for Cooper’s writing style, and makes almost every step of the way less complicated because there are fewer egos to deal with. “I like having only one other cook in the kitchen,” Cooper says of her counterpart Cox. “And thankfully that cook and I get along really well.”
But in An Horse, there is much less room for error. “If I mess up [in An Horse],” she says, “everybody will hear it.” It’s a constant battle to sound like a full band with just two instruments. Cooper, armed with open chords and a bit of bravado, has to keep the recordings and the live shows from sounding thin. “It’s definitely changed my songwriting,” she says. After a moment of consideration, she adds, “I want to sound like Fugazi.”
Walls, their newest album, is a growing experience for the band. “It’s definitely [a progression],” Cooper says. “It had to be.” She believes that this album is more deliberate in terms of songwriting, whereas the first recordings they put out were “two people learning to play together.”
After their current US tour concludes, the two-piece plans on playing in their home country again. Australians have always had a complicated relationship with hometown artists that make it big internationally. “We do catch a bit of flak for coming here,” Cooper admits.
“Someone had written a comment on a review of our album that said ‘fucking careerists,’” Cooper says, laughing. “And I’m like ‘why is that a bad thing?’ That’s ambition! Shouldn’t everyone want to have a career and be really proud of what they do?” Cooper is smart enough not to take an internet commenter to heart. An Horse, which is playing at the Wire in Upland on Saturday, May 28, continues to be a galloping success in the United States and Australia, due in no small part to the ambitions and musical talent of Cooper and Cox.
An Horse with Toygrr and Moving Good-Bye at The Wire, 247 N. 2nd Ave., Pomona, (909) 985-9466; www.thewire247.com. Sat, May 28, 7PM. $10 advance, $12 at the door.