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20th October 2008
Proclaiming themselves to be "fucking crazy" and "the coolest band in the world", progressive metalcore Californians HORSE the band also jokingly coined the term Nintendocore once to describe their music, which bizarrely has since become a subgenre in its own right. Opening act on 2008's Taste of Chaos European tour, I arranged to meet up with the guys in Nottingham a couple of hours before they were due to play. Standing backstage, I ring the contact I'd been given - keyboardist Erik Engstrom - and he attempts to give me directions to the band's tour bus. As we chat on the phone, guitarist Dave Isen appears and shows me the way, saying that I can just go on up while he sorts some merchandise. With Erik nowhere in sight, I am greeted by HORSE the band's frontman, Nathan Winneke, who suggests we wait for a couple more band members before commencing the interview so as to gain a broader perspective as one will give serious answers, one funny, and the other complete bullshit! Flicking through the on-bus entertainment, Nathan complains about lack of variety before making do with an episode of 'Dirty Sanchez' as I explain to him it's UK's take on 'Jackass'. A few minutes pass by before Dave appears, shortly followed by Erik, and once everyone's settled down, the interview begins...
METAL DISCOVERY: Is it true - I read this on the net - you changed your band name from Horse to HORSE the band because of an Irish folk singer?
ERIK ENGSTROM: Yes, that’s true.
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(Nathan Winneke on HORSE the band acquainting themselves with Nottingham's famous 'landmarks')
"In the day I think we all just read a lot or go to famous locations and take pictures of us blowing Robin Hood and such!"
Erik, Dave, and Nathan on their tour bus - Rock City, Nottingham, 20th October 2008
Photograph copyright © 2008 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
DAVID ISEN: It’s unclear if she’s Irish, Scottish or something else…
NATHAN WINNEKE: [laughs] No, that was totally for real!
MD: Or was that one of your bullshit answers you were saying about?!
EE: Welsh…
DI: …or Welsh. We forget…
NW: We’ll just go ahead and say she’s unattractive!
EE: Yeah!
MD: She got quite angry because you were stealing her web traffic or something like that?
EE: Erm…maybe, I don’t know. Nobody knew about us at the time; like we hadn’t even played a real show I don’t think. So I don’t know…her lawyer sent us a letter really early on…
DI: We didn’t have a demo.
EE: We didn’t think anything was gonna happen with the band so we’re just like, okay, HORSE the band. Then we kinda got bigger.
MD: On your MySpace page, you proclaim yourselves to be “fucking crazy” - what’s the most deranged thing any of you have ever done on tour or as people?
NW: Deranged?
MD: Yeah, or just crazy.
EE: It’s probably Nathan! [Erik and David both look over to Nathan]
NW: Er…I’ve played over a week of shows with a broken shoulder with no medical aid. I played a couple of shows with a cut open cornea with no medical aid…that hurt a little bit. I took a crap in the middle of a crowded, sold-out venue in the middle of the crowd….erm…what are some of the other hits?
EE: You carved triangle shapes in your arm.
NW: Just for humour’s sake, I got into cutting for a week ‘cause I thought it was funny.
DI: And five minutes later you poked out your own cornea!
NW: Yeah, I mentioned that one - they were connected events. That was the pinnacle of the evening!
MD: That’s proven “fucking crazy”, okay! Do you ever get bored on tour, and what do you do to alleviate that boredom…apart from watching Dirty Sanchez?
NW: Well, we normally don’t even have a TV. This is a rare time to be on a travelling front room with a television. Er…we all read books.
EE: We get really bored.
DI: We end up just like breaking stuff and drinking and throwing beer…at stuff!
NW: That’s at night. In the day I think we all just read a lot or go to famous locations and take pictures of us blowing Robin Hood and such!
MD: This happened earlier?
EE: Maybe.
NW: About twenty minutes ago!
MD: You played 73 shows in 36 countries on your self-funded Earth tour - how was that experience, apart from being very expensive I presume?
NW: Life changing. I’m different now. No matter what I do for the rest of my life, I can be like oh yeah, we’ve been to China, no, oh sorry. Or I can be like pumping somebody’s gas and they can be like [in a random Scottish dialect] “hey there, hurry up, stop messing about”, and like I’m gonna be pumping gas, and then you know…[Nathan pauses to stare apathetically]…I have a reason to have an attitude now!
MD: Would you all do it ever again?
EE: Well, it’s kinda…if we were gonna make money next time, I’d do it again. Or if I had some disposable income maybe I’d do it again. But like this year, I definitely wouldn’t do it again.
NW: Or we could make a coherent plan to go several places that are profitable, then one that isn’t, a couple that are, then back to Serbia, then a couple that are…you know, like that.
EE: Asia was just hard. I think we could go to crazy European places again like really easily and probably still make money but flying from country to country in Asia, there’s only one city you can play really. Erm…yeah, that’s hard. You lose a lot of money.
MD: It says on your MySpace that all your shows were “fucking awesome” except particular countries, one of which was the UK - why were those shows not so good?
DI: I liked them!
EE: I hated them!
DI: I didn’t write it though!
EE: There have been several times in my life where I’ve never wanted to come here again, but a lot of it has to do with the weather.
MD: Well…[gesturing outside to the torrential rain!]
EE: But yeah, the last shows in the UK were horrible. There were like thirty people at half of them. It was just like why are we even here! [laughs] So I don’t know; I don’t think we’d come back here except for this tour where we’re guaranteed to play to a lot of people and maybe regain our fan base. But I think we’ve been steadily losing fans in the UK for like years now. I don’t know why though! [laughs]
MD: A rare chance then to see HORSE the band tonight!
EE: Yeah, like the first time we came to the UK, I think we were more popular here than we were in the US at the time and then…I don’t know; I don’t know what happened.
MD: I’ve read on the internet that you get regularly heckled at shows - don’t know if that’s true or not, but I was going to ask what’s the best heckle you’ve had at a show from a fan?
DI: I’ve never heard a good one from a fan.
NW: I think either Free Bird, Slayer or...[Nathan proceeds to make a noise somewhat resembling a constipated, distressed person]…
EE: There have been like two good ones where I’ve actually remarked oh wow, those are really good heckles, but I don’t remember what they were! We don’t really get heckled that much.
NW: We could just like play another song ‘cause we’ve been talking for like eight minutes, you know.
DI: We had a lot of shit thrown at us in London though.
EE: Yeah, we were kinda heckling the audience.
DI: That wasn’t really a heckle as much as a violent response…
EE: To our verbal abuse! [laughs]
MD: That was on this tour?
DI: Yeah.
MD: What happened there then?
EE: Somehow the topic got on the revolutionary war or something like that.
NW: Somehow the topic got…
EE: I don’t know; I may have brought it up out of nowhere.
NW: He was saying that his grandpa killed your grandpa, and I was screaming about how horrible metal is, and I think that may have almost been more offensive to people in the crowd than anti-England sentiments was the anti-metal sentiment! [laughs]
MD: I’ve read as well that you’ve signed a deal for a reality TV show centred around the footage you filmed on the Earth Tour - is that true?
EE: Er, yeah.
MD: What form is that going to take?
EE: Well, it’s a development deal where the company is making a sizzle reel to send to networks. But it’s a major production company, so we’re supposed to see that next week whatever they…they hired an editor and they made like this crazy thing. We gave them all of our footage from Earth Tour, and then they send that out to every TV network and see if they wanna pick up a show. So it’s like a half way step to maybe something happening. I don’t know, we’ll see. [laughs]
MD: Your band is signed to nine record labels worldwide…eight or nine...?
EE: I think eight now.
MD: Do you ever get any conflicting demands from the labels, or do they just leave you to do what you want…like autonomously; get on with it kind of thing?
DI: At one point we accidentally signed the rights to the same country away to three different labels…and when they found out about each other they were a little annoyed! [laughs]
EE: Our US label that we’re not on anymore, Koch, they were trying to get in on the action of getting money somehow from a Chinese record label that’s gonna sell like a hundred copies of our CD probably. And they’re just sending them all this paperwork and the kid only speaks Chinese, and like wasting all the time. We wanted our album to be pressed by the time we got to the smaller Asian countries and Koch was just fucking up everything, like bogging it down in legal bullshit that they’d never even see a penny from. So then we got into a lot of fights with them over that and finally they just signed our rights back to us, and we just gave them fifty per cent of whatever money we earned off international licensing which was zero dollars, so we didn’t have to worry about it.
NW: Yeahhh! The sweetest revenge!
EE: Yeah, cool! So now they’re not in the way, and now we’re not on Koch anymore either.
MD: Who in the band coined the term Nintendo-core?
EE: It was Nathan, right?
NW: We were on our way back from a Death By Stereo show I think, and we were just making…we had like seventy different names we were making up, but it was just based off the fact that his new keyboards sounded like something along that direction. But it really worked out quite well.
MD: I gather there’s quite a few bands out there now that are associated with the Nintendocore label - do you find it strange that’s now a recognised subgenre of metal for what started out as a joke?
EE: Yeah!
NW: But I still haven’t actually seen that in writing…I think these guys have. I just keep hearing about it from people I speak to - like, this band calls themselves that…
EE: Well a lot of kids even say like, I was into Nintendocore bands…and they’re serious!
NW: Like who?
EE: Like just all these kids on the internet.
NW: No, I’m not saying which kids, I’m saying which bands?
MD: If you go on Wikipedia, there’s about twenty bands listed down there!
NW: Ohhh yeah, I have seen that. I take it back.
MD: Not that you can believe Wikipedia for like anything at all!
NW: It’s got a certain amount of credibility.
EE: There’s even a song - a chiptune song - called ‘I Hate Nintendocore’ and it says “HORSE the band, I’ll see you in hell”. And it’s like - bip-bip-boo-bip-bip-boo - like really…it’s just Nintendo music with this guy singing over it. He’s from Afghanistan or something and he just has the internet, and he goes on the message board for chiptune.
NW: His parents are probably heroin growers!
EE: [laughs] But it has the lyrics, the really horrible tune, and one of the lines is “HORSE the band, see you in hell”.
MD: Do you see that as a compliment, or…?
NW: That’s a great compliment! If you can inspire someone in any direction you’ve done a good job.
EE: I think it might just be like a funny little tongue-in-cheek thing, ‘cause obviously he doesn’t hate it.
NW: Yeah, it inspired him to some degree.
MD: Is it true you get people turn up to shows wearing Nintendo t-shirts sometimes?
NW: Oh yeah, that’s common place. Do you guys have a chain Hot Topic here?
MD: No.
NW: You’ve got like Blue Banana?
MD: Yeah.
NW: It’s like a Blue Banana but US. For a while, they carried shirts with like Link on it and Mario and all this stuff, and for some reason kids would go there and buy up the stock of game related apparel, and come straight to our show wearing it as if I’m gonna be like - [yelling] hey you, you with the Link shirt, let’s be friends! Or maybe they just really like it and they like us too.
MD: It’s a half-compliment maybe. The fact they’ve spent money on that t-shirt and…
NW: Personally, I think it’s neat. Quote that!
MD: Yeah, of course!
EE: HeavyHeavyLowLow the band gives us so much shit for how weird our fans are, it’s like they never stop! Like you just see this freak walking down the street and they’re like - it’s one of your fans! [laughs]
NW: Personally, I think the members of HeavyHeavy are way weirder and freakier!
EE: Yeah, they’re weirder than anyone! [laughs]
NW: But those are our friends, so what does that say?! [laughs]
EE: You caved in HeavyHeavyLowLow’s trailer with your cowboy boots drinking two bottles of Jim Beam in one night…it was three possibly, we don’t remember.
NW: I got in a fist fight with one of our biggest fans and he cracked my rib, and then we hugged…but it was all in good humour! Erm… [laughs]