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HORNSS interview with Mike “Desert” Moracha, Nick Nava and Bil Bowman

Stoner and desert psych fed through the pinhole of punk rock, HORNSS is bred from a hybrid of influences and years of experience that can only be gained firsthand.  Two members, guitarist Mick Moracha and bassist Nick Nava were immersed in the early desert rock scene, and even had a band Solarfeast which featured ex-Kyuss member Chris Cockrell at one point.  There’s so much desert and stoner stuff going on right now sometimes though it’s hard to cut through all the bullshit that’s out there, but HORNSS are gonna be the last one’s standing after the brawl, if you know what I mean.  Blistering metal riffage a la Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Hawkwind are imbued with a new life under the masterfully chaotic, psychedelic punk framework which HORNSS implement to craft their patented brand of psychedelic, stoner, desert-punk metal; or as drummer Bil Bowman calls it, “heavy rock for fellow dirtbags”.  The face melting guitar work batters your eardrums, monstrous riffs of Sabbath-esque doom and Vitus like aggression implode your skull driving the fragments of what’s left into the bloody stump, while the bass and drums take turns passing your body back and forth like demons toying with a tormented lost soul in hell.  There are also moments of contemplation and reflection throughout the album as well, the dark ominous tunes building to a fuzzed out detonation of Pompeii-an proportions, showcasing a seemingly more serious and psychedelic side of the band blended perfectly with their stoner desert rock roots.  HORNSS are built like a snake, completely capable of doubling back on their own tails and transforming a seemingly slow and droning progression into a full-blown scene of utter riffage and devastation, a scorched landscape of charred bones and blistered skin.  If I were to assign the band a motto, it would be “no man left behind” as HORNSS’ music seems to be designed from the ground up to leave nothing standing in their way, completely obliterating the competition and shattering expectations of how or what they should sound like.  It’s brilliant shit!  So come brothers and sisters, stand on the thunder cliffs with me and throw a middle-finger up to the sky with HORNSS’ debut album No Blood, No Sympathy on Riding Easy (Easy Rider Records) which is sure to sell out in a quickness; stream it below and let the desert course through your veins!

What’s the lineup in Hornss?  I know you’ve only been around for a few years at this point but have you all gone through any lineup changes to this point or is this the original crew?

Bil:  Mike plays guitar, Nick plays bass, I play drumset.  Original lineup!

Do any of you have any other bands right now or are you involved in any side projects at this point?  I know several of you grew up in the seriously killer desert rock scene.  Have you released any material with anyone in the past?  If so, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Mike:  I occasionally play mandolin in a thirteen-piece jug band called The Poontang Wranglers with folks from Crime, the Phantom Surfers, the Bananas, The Okmoniks, Psychotic Pineapple, and others.  Before he died, legendary filmmaker Bruce Conner played harmonica and did some vocals too.  It’s a really fun, but not at all serious band.

Nick:  I’m not involved with any side projects at the moment.  Mike and I both grew up in the desert and have been in quite a few bands together since 1992, Solarfeast and the Jack Saints are the only ones who put out any records though.  Solarfeast self-released one 7" called Acid and Gasoline and Brant Bjork produced and released our CD on his then label, called El Camino records.  The Jack Saints self-released three 7"s, two full-lengths and a split 10" on Man’s Ruin.

Bil:  I’ve been in a lot of bands in the past.  I have a side thing called Shock Diamond, but it’s kinda on hiatus now…  It’s probably dead, actually; weird technical metal stuff.

How old are you all and where are you originally from?

Mike:  Born in Los Angeles but moved to Palm Springs when I was five and grew up there.  Turning 42 May 26th.

Nick:  I'm just about to turn 45 in June and I hail from Indio California.

What was the local music scene like where you grew up?  Did you attend a lot of shows when you were a kid?  Do you feel like the scene there played a large role in shaping your musical tastes or forming the way that you perform at this point?

Bil:  I grew up in Tampa Bay, during the first wave of death metal, so I got to see all of the great Florida metal bands growing up…  Death, Massacre, Obituary, Atheist, Nasty Savage…  I think I was at the first Morbid Angel show…  My old band Scrog used to practice next door to them at this storage place.  Tampa was a cool and scary place to see shows back in the mid 80’s.  The hardcore/punk scene was pretty rad, too…  Roach Motel, Rat Cafeteria, Blemish On Society, Jehovah’s Sicknesses, Pagan Faith…  Lots of skinheads and violence.

Nick:  There was a healthy underground music scene in the desert.  Back in the early 80’s there were no clubs and really no need for them.  House parties and generator parties out in the middle of the desert were the way to play and see bands.  Later on, and nowadays, there are a few clubs.  There's always been a healthy amount of original music happening down there in the dirt.    

Mike:  Local bands and skate videos had a big impact on me.  Our friend Mario from Fatso Jetson/Yawning Man/Across the River brought in a lot of bands to play the desert.  Nick saw Wino’s first show with Vitus down there.  SST Records always seemed to be the label everyone was listening to, and their bands were playing all the time and were always on skate videos as well, so I got into a variety of music through them.  Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, St. Vitus, Mintuemen, Overkill, Saccharine Trust, Zoogz Rift, Husker Du, Black Flag, Wurm, Dinosaur Jr, Tar Babies, Opal…  You can’t get much more diverse than that.

© Justin at Blood Wizard skateboards

What was your home like when you were a child?  Were either your parents or any of your relatives extremely interested/involved in music?

Nick:  I listened to my older brother’s and my mom’s records before I started buying my own.  Music has always been very important to me and I knew very early on that I wanted to do more than just listen to it, I wanted more.

Mike:  My family were all artists, but none musical.  My older cousin introduced me to Kid Congo from the Cramps and Gun Club when I was a kid and she made me mixtapes of punk rock, and turned me on to New Wave Theater, so that really influenced me.

What do you consider your first real exposure to music?

Mike:  My older friend John down the street used to bring over records, and our public library had Cheap Trick, ELO, and the Ramones Rocket to Russia and I used to sit at the library with headphones and listen to record after record.  Movies like Rock and Roll High School, Urgh! A Music War, and the Decline of Western Civilization had a big impact.

Nick:  I remember having a bad fever very young and my brother playing KISS in his room down the hall.  I started to hallucinate and went into a weird dream state.  I've never come back!
Bil:  My home was kinda weird.  When I was really young, my dad used to listen to a lot of Pink Floyd.  I used to get rock records from the library and I got a couple of records from my Dad’s “Columbia House” membership.  My uncle used to play guitar in a garage band that played heavy rock stuff…  He was/still is a big influence.  Then my parents became “born again” Christians and actually burned all of their records!  They used to go to church and speak in tongues and shit…  Crazy, scary stuff to witness as a child!  I remember I had to sneak to a friend’s to watch Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park when it premiered on TV.  I used to have to literally run to the record store and buy records and get home before I got caught by my parents…  KISS’ Dynasty comes to mind.

If you were to pick a single moment, a moment of music that seemed to change everything for you and opened your eyes to the infinite possibilities that it presents, what would it be?

Bil:  Black Flag Damaged.

Mike:  I remember watching Times Square in fourth grade, and the scene of Robin Johnson sitting in a hospital bed with a boombox blasting “I Wanna Be Sedated”, and I thought that it was greatest thing ever and that I wanted to be in a band.  Leslie West, Dave Chandler, Paul Learly, Woody Weatherman and J Mascis changed the way I played guitar, so I gotta mention them.

When did you decide that you were going to start writing and performing your own music?  What brought that decision about for you?

Mike:  My friends and I wrote a song in fifth grade music class, and around then I was writing lyrics all the time for whatever reason, and had just started learning guitar.  My mom still has all my old lyrics and they’re pretty hilarious.  I was writing about cocaine and the Bronx without having experienced either!  It was just fun…  And it came easier to me than trying to learn and memorize other people’s songs.

What was your first instrument?  When and how did you get it?

Mike:  Cheap acoustic guitar from my grandpa in fourth grade, then a cheap electric from my mom in sixth.

How and when did you all originally meet?

Mike:  I met Nick in the early 90’s in Palm Springs in my mom’s garage.  Bil I knew from shows and parties in San Francisco, then he started playing in Black Queen with our friend Pete Jay.

Bil:  Yeah, something like that!  Mike was putting out a Skate Rock compilation at the time…  Black Queen recorded a Septic Death song for it!

What led to the formation of Hornss and when exactly was that?

Mike:  We like all the same stuff, and we all wanted to get back to playing heavy music.

Bil:  It was about four years ago, I think.

What does the name Hornss mean or refer to?  Is there any significance to the extra s?  Who came up with it and how did you go about choosing it?

Mike:  It’s fucking hard to come up with a name nowadays, with the internet telling you someone already has it.  Nick had a name but I didn’t think it fit, Bil had a name we agreed on, then we changed our minds.  Horns we agreed on, but we found a Horns on Encyclopedia Metallum, so we said fuck it and changed the spelling.

Nick:  Yeah we went back and forth with names, then I threw HORNS out there and Mike and Bil liked it.

Is there any sort of shared creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares or lives by?

Mike:  I’m the band’s vegan, so that’s my personal code/ideal I guess.  I don’t know that we’ve ever vocalized one, but it seems like we’re always on the same page.  Maybe there is one and those back-stabbing assholes didn’t tell me!

Bil:  My code is to do the opposite of anything Mike does, even if it’s wrong.

Where’s Hornss located at right now?  How would you describe the local music scene?

Mike:  San Francisco, California.  Bil lives in Oakland though.

Bil:  The local music scene is great, lots of amazing bands and cool people.

Are you very involved in the local scene?  Do you book or attend a lot of local shows?

Mike:  There are shows here all the time!  It seems like I’m always going out, but at the same time I’m always missing stuff too.

Bil:  We play pretty often around here, but we’re trying to concentrate on writing and getting ready to do some touring in Europe, so less local shows lately.

Has the local scene played a large role in the formation of Hornss sound or in the history of the band?  Or do you feel like you could be doing what you are and sound like you do regardless of your location or surroundings?

Mike:  We could do it anywhere, but since we’re surrounded by awesome friends here, it makes it easier for sure.  But who knows, maybe if we moved into the woods we’d get all funeral doom on you.

How would you describe Hornss sound to our readers who might not have heard of you before?

Mike:  We just try to write good songs – or at least songs that we think are good.  It’s in the stoner rock sub-genre I guess, but it’s a lot of stuff we like.

Bil:  Heavy rock for fellow dirtbags.

You guys have a seriously killer sound that’s an awesome combination of a ton of different influences, a lot of which are kind of lurking beneath the surface.  Who are some of your major musical influences?  What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?

Nick:  I think our music is just very organic and honest.  It comes from who we are, not just what we listen to or what we want to sound like.

Mike:  There are probably elements of Vitus, old C.O.C., Trouble, Hawkwind, Alice Cooper, Grand Funk, ZZ Top, and Sabbath in there, but we don’t really try to sound like anything.  Other people who influence me personally are Leslie West, Paul Leary, J Mascis, Woody Weatherman, Dee Dee Ramone, Butterfly McQueen, Moebius, Michelangelo Antonioni, Lloyd Kaufman, Paolo Pasolini, Hardy Fox and Homer Flynn, Kurt Vonnegut, Ida Lupino...  A ton of others too.  I’m inspired by stuff all the time; my list would probably change tomorrow.  Right now I’ve been watching a lot of videos of Mike Bowers, Johnny Lott, Doug Furry, Johnny Horton, and Todd Loffredo.

Bil:  Biggest influences on me, musically…  Captain Beefheart, Sabbath, Molly Hatchet, Trouble, Deep Purple…  Crap, too many to think of!  As a whole, probably Saint Vitus, Blue Oyster Cult, Hawkwind, Grand Funk and SST bands.

What’s the songwriting process like with Hornss?  Does one of you come into practice with a riff or a more finished idea to work out with the rest of you or do you all get together and kind of jam and kick ideas back and forth until you kind of distill a song from it all?

Mike:  The songs are usually mostly one person’s song, but even then we all sort of fine tune it and arrange it differently if we need to.  Nick’s got parts in songs I sing and vice versa.  We share songwriting credits because we all contribute to the final sound, whether it’s Bil coming up with all the drums, me writing lead riffs or Nick adding bass lines.

What about recording for Hornss?  I’m a musician myself and I think that most of us can appreciate the end result of all the hard work, time and effort that goes into making an album when you’re holding that final product in your hands.  Getting to that point however, getting stuff recorded and sounding the way that you want it to, especially as a band can be extremely difficult to say the least!  How is it recording for Hornss?

Mike:  We’ve only gone into the studio the one time so far, and it’s fun but stressful.  Time is always an issue too.  We were going to have our friend Billy Anderson help produce it, but he was in the middle of moving to Portland and I think he’d have helped a bit.  Whether it would have been getting the bass volume up a bit, or having me redo some guitar I played sloppy, but we did it quick and thought we’d be putting it out ourselves, so…  I’m really happy with it, but I think we’ve learned a lot and we’ll nail the recording on our next one.  I thought Greg from Brainoil who recorded it, did a great job though.  We’ve already got about eight songs written for the next one.

Nick:  This recording was very difficult for me as far as getting the bass tracks down.  It’s such a different thing than playing live.

Do you all head into a studio environment and let someone else handle the recording side of things so you can concentrate on performing or you do you all prefer to take a more DIY approach to thinks and handle it all on your own terms?

Mike:  Our demo process is all DIY in our practice space using a Firepod and Audition.  When we go in to a studio we listen to the people who know better, but are always making suggestions.

Is there a lot of time and preparation that goes into figuring out every change and part of a song and getting things to sound just so-so before you have a session?  Or do you all get a good skeletal idea of what a song should sound like and then give it some room to change and evolve a bit during the recording process?

Mike:  We don’t really have the kind of loot to write in the studio or take extra time off work even, but there is some stuff we came up with in the studio, like the organ Bil played on “the Red Death”, and we also added some audio generator and effects stuff.  Nick and I rewrote some lyrics in there too.

I know you all have released several digital only “demo” versions of stuff from the upcoming No Blood, No Sympathy album but looking back over the posts I thought I saw a couple of songs that didn’t make their way onto the album.  Can you tell us about the recording of that early demo material?  Are there any plans to release the demos in a collected version digitally or physically any time in the future?

Mike:  I recorded all that in our practice space.  I think the only song not on the LP is “Frozen Eyes”, because we thought the raw recording of that was better than a studio version would be.  As far as releasing demo stuff, I don’t know.  We’re going to be doing a lot more demoing soon for the next record.  If people really want it pressed we would do it.  I’d rather make a cassette or just upload a link to free mp3s though.

You all are just getting ready to release your debut album on Easy Rider (Riding Easy) Records at the end of the month (May 2014), which is entitled No Blood, No Sympathy.  Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of No Blood, No Sympathy? Was that a fun pleasurable experience for you all?  When and where was that material recorded at?  Who recorded No Blood, No Sympathy?  What kind of equipment was used?

Mike:  I used my normal live setup except for a couple leads where I used a cheap tiny Vox amp and a Little Big Muff.  Everything else was vintage Acoustic Control, Marshall and a Creepy Fingers pedal; a couple other pedals for effects.

I know that Easy Rider (Riding Easy) is releasing the album in a super-limited run of 100 copies on clear vinyl but they’ve also gotten involved in releasing CDs as well.  Is No Blood, No Sympathy going to be released on CD or is it going to be a vinyl only release and if it’s being released on CD, do you know when that’s going to be as I haven’t seen it announced via Easy Rider despite the fact the LP comes out at the end of this month (May 2014)?

Mike:  Pretty sure any day now, we sent Riding Easy the CD layout last week.

Does Hornss have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a single or a song on a compilation that I might not know about?

Mike:  We have a song on the Monsters of Mission rock comp called “Debreeding” but it’s just an unmastered version of what’s on our Riding easy LP.  We’re about eight songs in to our next record though…  Can’t wait to start demoing those.

With the release or No Blood, No Sympathy still coming up, does Hornss have any other releases in the works or on the horizon right now?

Mike:  Just writing for our next record, maybe we’ll do a single between then and now. 

Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up copies of your stuff?

Mike:  At our shows or at the Riding Easy web store.  It also has distribution, but you’d have to ask your local record store.

With the completely insane international postage rate increases that have taken place over the past few years I try and provide our readers with as many possible options for picking up import releases as I can.  Where’s the best place for our international and overseas readers to score your tunes?

Mike:  iTunes store is up now and a CD is on the way.  Yeah tell me about shipping prices, I sometimes order LPs off eBay from places like Greece and it sucks!

Are there any major goals or plans that Hornss is looking to accomplish in 2014?

Mike:  I’d like to record our next record in 2014…

Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road touring?  Do you enjoy touring?  What’s life like on the road for Hornss?

Mike:  We all have jobs and live in the most expensive city in the U.S., so taking a lot of time off work is pretty hard.  We’re doing 3 weeks in Europe in September, then hopefully a few short trips up and down the West coast after. Maybe the whole U.S. next year.

Do you remember what the first song that Hornss ever played live was?  When and where would that have been?

Mike:  I’m guessing it was either “Vine Priest” or “War Gods of the Deep”…

Do you all have anything planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year?

Mike:  Our three week European tour that’s about half booked at this point.  Hope to get up to the Pacific North West soon after that.

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with so far?

Mike:  Fatso Jetson, Yob, the Well, Windhand.  We’ve played with some great bands and made some great friends, lots of great local bands too.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

Mike:  The Plasmatics, Christian Death, the Boredoms, Sir Lord Baltimore, and Skip Bifferty.  Throw Biz Markie in there too, that would be fun.

Bil:  Good ones, Mike!

Mike:  Maybe Phil Ochs and Billy Bragg could do some in-between band acoustic numbers.  Keven Ayers too since I’m raising the dead in my dreams…

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from the live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?

Mike:  Plenty of old stories from old bands I’ve been in, but HORNSS are just getting going so I can’t think of any.  Come to our shows and make it happen!

Do you all give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band like flyers, posters, shirt designs, covers and that kind of thing?  Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re trying to convey with your artwork?  Is there anyone you usually turn to when it comes to your times of need for that kind of thing?  If you do have someone, who is that and how did you originally get hooked up with them?

Mike:  We’re all pretty creative people.  I do art for a living, but I haven’t really invested any time in the visual aspect of our band other than sketching loose ideas for the cover art, or editing our music video and the visuals we project behind us when we play.  I’m usually too burnt from work, but I’ve been trying to get more motivated.  We have a lot of talented friends who have contributed art though.

With all of the various methods of release that are available to artists today I’m always curious why people choose and prefer the mediums that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music?  What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music?  If so, can you tell us what it is and talk a little bit about why you prefer it?

Mike:  My preferred medium is vinyl with a digital download for iTunes listening at work.  I do buy a lot of CDs too, but that’s mostly old stuff I find for a few bucks, or nicely packaged CD reissues of 60’s and 70’s stuff.

I grew up around a pretty massive collection of old school garage, vintage psych and classic blues and I was really encouraged by my dad to listen to anything that might float my boat.  There’s always something magical about sticking any album in, kicking back with a set of headphones, reading the liner notes, staring at the cover artwork and letting the whole experience transport me off to another place.  Having something to hold in my hands and experience physically along with the music always made for a more complete listening experience, at least for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Mike:  Absolutely.  I’m always buying stuff that I already have MP3s of.  When I’m at home I rarely play a CD, it’s so much nicer to hold, play, and flip over a record.  I’ve always been fascinated by album art, especially stuff like Queen’s News of the World or Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell.  I loved the Boston and ELO art as a kid too.  So yeah, it’s important.  Plus if I’m buying a CD reissue of a band like The Fleur de Lys or something, I love reading the CD booklet learning about the history of the band and seeing reprinted photos of early singles and whatnot.

As much as I love my music collection I have to admit that I try and keep as much of a complete digital backup of my collection as I can.  Being able to really take my collection on the go with me for the first time has not only changed the way that I listen to my music but when you team digital music with the internet you have something really crazy on your hands.  Together they’ve exposed people to the literal world of music that they’re surrounded by and overnight it’s eliminated a lot of problems associated with making music in remote or isolated locations as well as facilitating unparalleled communication between bands and their fan bases for the first time in history.  On the other hand though illegal downloading is running rampant right now and with everyone being given a somewhat equal voice with the internet, it’s harder and harder to get noticed in the chocked digital jungle out there right now.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Mike:  I used to do an MP3 blog called Blog the Jerk!  It’s still up, but most of the links are now dead.  I don’t care if someone illegally downloads our record, but it’s pretty lame to be posting mp3s of a new release the band is trying to sell to save up money for touring and recouping some recording expenses.  I was also always bothered when Blogspot people would just post links to free RAR files with no review, no explanation, no love of the music.  Just, “Here’s free shit!”  I always tried to make sure the stuff I posted was out of print and wrote about why the album was great.  I listen to vinyl at home, CDs on the road, phone MP3s while walking, and iTunes at work; music going on all the time unless baseball is on.

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can but there’s not enough time in the day to keep up with half a percent of the awesome stuff that’s going on right now.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard of before?

Mike:  Depends what you like, but check out Hazzard’s Cure, Buffalo Tooth, Lecherous Gaze, Golden Void, Glitter Wizard, Hot Lunch (Interview here), Wild Eyes (Interview here), Moses, Vastum, Cardinal Wyrm, Amber Asylum, Swamp Witch, Augers, Kowloon Walled City, Sutekh Hexen, Ovvl, Worm Ouroboros, Winter Teeth, Dispirit, Walken, Serpent Crown, Ghoul, Lycus, Vhol, Apocryphon, Deafheaven and Brainoil.

Bil:  Kicker, Moira Scar, Carlton Melton, Phil Manley Life Coach and Black Cobra.

What about nationally and internationally?

Mike:  Some bands I’ve been liking are Windhand, Loss, Aldebaran, Zig Zags, Electric Citizen, Son of Huns, Danava, Bell Witch, Foxygen, Dirty Fences, Old Man’s Will, Lord Dying and Dawnbringer.

Bil:  Satan’s Satyrs, Salem’s Pot and Adult.

(2014)  Hornss No Blood, No Sympathy – digital, CD, 12” – Easy Rider (Riding Easy) Records (12” limited to 100 copies on Clear Vinyl)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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