Horsebeach interview: High Fidelity Sounds

Horsebeach's Ryan Kennedy talks ahead of the band's forthcoming headline show in Manchester about band life, working in Piccadilly Records and more.

Ben Smith

Last updated: 10th Dec 2015

Image: Horsebeach

Horsebeach are a Manchester based band who've been making waves since the release of their much lauded, self titled debut LP in 2014.

The band consists of four musicians including Matt Booth, Tom Featherstone and Tom Critchley, but their studio efforts are written and produced solo by band leader Kennedy, a former university student who dropped out of his studies to focus full time on music.

Ryan has a day job in Piccadilly Records, Manchester's favourite record store for new releases and one of the best independent record stores in the country.

It's a job he clearly loves and where he picks up some of the often cited music that informs his songwriting, music from the likes of Ducktails, Real Estate, Mac DeMarco, the C86 era and The Smiths.

Horsebeach released their second album II in 2015 and, like its predecessor, it was critically acclaimed for its combination of sunny, Stateside sounds and grounded Mancunian lyricism. Horsebeach have again been supported heavily by Ryan's co workers at Piccadilly Records in their highly regarded end of year review.

Mark Dale caught up with Ryan Kennedy prior to the band's biggest hometown headline show at Band On The Wall on Thursday 17 December to talk about the forthcoming gig, the band and life working in the record store.

Where did you go to university, what were you studying and why did you drop out?

Ha! I went to Salford uni and I studied something that was called professional sound and video technology, which was essentially acoustics, the science side of it all.

I really wanted to get into sound engineering and wasn't sure which part of it I was gonna get into. It just turned out that acoustics wasn't the right place for me. Then I just realised I could probably spend that time writing music, so that's what I ended up doing.

Did you know Manchester based DJ Francis Wooff (That Amazing Thing) there? I believe he works on that course.

I did yeah. He comes into the shop all the time. I didn't know until that time who he was, he was the technician on the course. Obviously I'd seen him around all the time.

When I was on the course it was very much a student/technician relationship, it was only when I met him in the shop and when he was doing his Djing that we became more like friends. He's a nice guy.

Working in a record store all day, listening to music from 10am to 6pm, whether consciously or unconsciously, your ears must get tired.

Yes. It's funny that. There are certain albums that we play, that people tend to choose quite a lot. Some of them have been my favourite albums, but they've been played so much that I don't end up buying them or I'll just take them home and never listen to them. 

In terms of your ears getting tired, sometimes I'll get home and not want to listen to music because I've been listening to it all day. But I'm not in every day so it does give me a bit of a break in between. At the same time, I might hear something that will make me want to go and write music.

Are there any records that came through the shop that had particular influence on you when it came to writing and recording your second LP?

I suppose similar things to the first one, only by then I'd had time to get used to the equipment I was using. Obviously things like Ducktails and the new Mac DeMarco one. Stuff like that has always influenced me, especially Mac DeMarco's process where he's doing it himself.

Also the new Foxygen, which I thought was really good. So mainly these other people who use similar recording techniques. Seeing what they can produce, it is inspiring. 

All new music then. There are no reissues in that list that you've discovered.

There was a Tim Hardin release, a reissue of the first album, that I really liked. Also Fred Neil. I've been getting into that a fair bit. But I wouldn't say they've influenced our music. 

You say 'our' music and you've mentioned recording processes. When you recorded the first album you recorded everything yourself, building up the music in layers, but then you had to take that music onto the live stage to be played by four musicians.

When approaching the second album, why did you decide to repeat that same process, knowing again that you would have to transfer those recordings over to a now established band format?

Yeah, I've actually made it harder for myself because the new one has got way more going on and there's not enough hands. I don't know I suppose.

I did start to thin, when I was writing it, that maybe I should write for the band or just have that consideration, but it was more important that I allowed the songwriting process to expand and add more parts, then just deal with it when I got to that.

Everyone was happy with that and we work kinda well when we all go in there and learn our bit. So I guess if it's not broke don't fix it.

Do you foresee your commitments to making music ever forcing you to scaling back your hours working at the record store? 

Hopefully. At the moment I work just enough so that I have maximum time to focus on the music. Music's just been a kind of thing we all enjoy, everything that's come out of it has been great but not expected. We've all had the thought that it might not go anywhere and we might not make any money out of it.

I don't have any plan to keep doing the music to the point where I reduce my hours, but if it came to it I would start to get rid of some of the hours. I'd like to think I'd always work there because I don't know if I could ever leave. I love working there. I think I need that access to music all the time and the people who come in. it's just a nice place to be. 

'I've never been wrong. I used to work at the record store' (Loosing My Edge by LCD Soundsystem). When have you been wrong when you were working in the record store?

Ha! I've definitely been wrong several times and tried to bluff my way through it. We all have our own special areas that we know about and I'm not very good when it comes to the dance side of things. I do try.

There are times when people have brought up a dance album and said something like 'This is great' and I've replied 'Yeah, it is, isn't it?' and this has escalated to the point where we've become embroiled in a full blown conversation about an album I know nothing about. 

I'm usually wrong anyway. I think music's so subjective, people don't tend to agree with a lot of my things. Do you know Sean Nicholas Savage? You either love him or hate him. He almost sounds like someone singing karaoke really badly. I happen to love it, but I know no one else does.

What other records would you imagine Horsebeach fans having alongside yours in their collections?

I like to think that I write the kind of music I would want to listen to, so basically just my record collection. 

The Piccadilly Records End Of Year Charts is something that a lot of people look forward to. Are any members of staff on your shit list for not charting Horsebeach highly enough or at all? 

Haha! I actually try to not get people to vote for me because I work there. But everyone did, pretty much. Except for Martin who works there. But I can't hold it against him, it's not really his cup of tea. Luckily a lot of the staff are quite honest and they would tell me if they didn't like it, which Martin likes to do.

When people write about Horsebeach one of the genres they seem to mention a lot is guitar pop. But then when you cite your influences I find I haven't heard of half of the bands. Do you like any actual pop music? You know, stuff my mum might have heard of?

Ha! Pop bands, let me think. I think me and Matt both have a guilty pleasure of Spandau Ballet. Just the first album though! Also I have a weird taste for loads of cheesy Japanese pop.

That's not so big with my mum.

Hmmm. I'm sure Tom's got loads. Like Justin Timberlake.

You've frequently cited the same influences in interviews, Ducktails, C86 and Mac DeMarco. You were invited to support Mac DeMarco earlier this year in Manchester. What was that experience like for you? 

It was amazing. I was initially apprehensive, because any time I meet someone who I hold in such high regard, for instance Johnny Marr, who comes into Piccadilly Records and I have to just run and hide in the back, I just have to hope that they're not a horrible person.

Luckily Mac DeMarco was really nice. Out of a lot of people we've played with he was one of the best. He hung around with us afterwards for a little and asked us stuff about the band. He was just a really nice guy, which was good to add to this image I already had of him.

He was amazing live too. It was at the Albert Hall, the biggest one we've done. It's like a big cave in there, so all the sound was bouncing off the back wall and coming back to hit you in the face. It was definitely one of my favourite support slots.

The forthcoming date at Band On The Wall will be your biggest hometown solo date so far. Do you have any plans to do anything particularly special for that?

We're gonna play all the stuff off the new album that we haven't played live yet. This is where all the new parts come in, because we've got to try and juggle around parts for five people into just us four.

It does work though, it'll be good. I can't wait to play 'Dana' off the new album specifically, we've only just worked that out as a band now and it sounds really good live. 

We're also doing a little afterparty at Soup Kitchen where I'll be Djing for a bit. It's my friend Patrick's night, Coastin. It's a monthly and it's upstairs so it's fairly laid back. He's putting me on as Half Silk, which is a solo alias I have when I produce more electronic stuff. Matt from the band will also be Djing for a while too.

We can look forward to some Spandau Ballet then? As long as it's from the first album.

Haha! I know quite a few people who are coming who'd kick me off the decks if I played that, so probably not.

What are your top 10 music related beaches?

I can only think of five! Beach Fossils, who I listened to a lot when I was starting out. Beach House. Dirty Beaches. Beach Boys, of course. And Best Coast, who are beach related. Are they beach-y enough?

Yeah, good choices. Although no On The Beach, the Neil Young album?

Oh yeah! Add that one in there as well.

OK. Your top five music related horses (that's much more difficult)?

I can't come up with five. I've got Whyte Horses, who are from Manchester and have Dom Thomas from Finders Keepers on guitar. Then, I Break Horses, specifically their self titled release. I've not really liked anything after that. And Patti Smith 'Horses'.

No Theme From Black Beauty. Maybe you're a bit young to know that one?

I'll go to bed tonight and a million Beach and Horse related music things will be racing through my head which I'll wish I would've said.

Horsebeach play a headline at Band On The Wall in Manchester on Thursday 17th December


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