An experimental metalcore band, HORSE the band is well known for their achievement of an 8-bit video game-influenced sound, resulting in them often being referred to as "Nintendocore". Their keyboardist, Erik Engstrom, uses the Korg MS-2000 and more recently, the Roland Juno-D synthesizer and LSDJ Gameboy cartridge to create their trademark sound.
Horse the bands songs include Cut Man from Mega Man, although the song is spelled "Cutsman"; Birdo, one of the bosses from the NES game Super Mario Bros. 2, in the song "Birdo"; and the rabbit-like nemesis from The Legend of Zelda in the song "Pol's Voice". The song "A Million Exploding Suns" refers to the Marvel Comics character Sentry, a schizophrenic hero with this abundance of power.
2007's A Natural Death featured significant lyrical evolution into the concepts of nature and mortality while moving slightly away from the Nintendo metaphors. The song "Murder" is inspired by the Western novel Lonesome Dove, in which a Native American named Blue Duck stalks and kills white settlers on the plains.
HORSE the Band is known for their tremendously energetic live performances; their Halloween show at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia was filled with props and costumes.
Current band members include: Nathan Winneke (vocals), Chris Prophet (drums), David Isen (guitar), Dashiell Arkenstone (bass), and Erik Engstrom (Synthesizer/LSDJ)
I met up with Horse The Band in their van before their show, to listen to what they had to say about their tour and the new album.
So tell me about how you started the band and how you got together and such.
Erik Engstrom: We were in high school; we had no friends. It was me and Dave, our guitarist, and *laughs* I dont know, we just started playing music. We didnt go to any shows, we didnt know anything about the scene--we didnt even know it existed. We just wanted to have a band, and we just started writing the most horrible music you could ever think of, and now eight years later, here we are *laughs.* Thats about it. I mean we got a lot of new members along the way who knew how to play their instruments, and we learned how to play our instruments. So, that was good.
So you started with a keyboardist and a singer?
Erik Engstrom: No, we started with a keyboardist, a guitarist, two singers, a French horn, a bass player, another keyboardist, and a drummer.
And now its just come down to
Erik Engstrom: Keyboard, guitar, bass, singer, drums.
And does it sound a lot tighter. Whats the difference in the music?
Erik Engstrom: Yeah, you cant even compare the two. The sound is tighter the songs are better, I dont know *laughs.* If you took where we are now and where we started, you could have eight different bands in between that sound completely different.
What kind of genre were you before and how has it changed to now?
Erik Engstrom: There was no genre before *laughs.* Cause we didnt know any bands, so we didnt even know what a band sounded like. We sounded like fifth graders trying to write music. When our singer, Nathan, joined the band and we showed him our music, he said it was like kindergarteners trying to play music in class *laughs* Kindermetal.
What has inspired you most recently for this new album?
Erik Engstrom: Together as a group I would say nature, time, animals, and emptiness.
And whats your new album called?
Erik Engstrom: A Natural Death.
And how does it tie into everything you just said?
Erik Engstrom: Well, natural ties into nature, and so do animals. The album title, a Natural Death, it shows us being murdered on the cover by Indians, which is not a natural death. Its not dying in your sleep, but we say it is, because thats deep. Everything here is a part of nature, like these cars and these buildings were just made by humans/animals. So no matter how you die, it is natural--It is part of nature, and life is empty.
So your philosophy is Buddhist?
Erik Engstrom: No, not really.
Erik Engstrom: Nathan, our singer has some Tao ties. The band has some Taoist influence, but also goes its own way away from that. But our philosophy on this album is: your life may not matter at all when you think about it on a grand scale. But, thats not something that you should be depressed about, because, if you are, thats just ego and sentimentality about nothing. So just enjoy your life, do what you want, and if it doesnt matter, fuck it.
So its existentialist, in a sense.
Erik Engstrom: Yeah, its probably closer to existentialism, but with a really-really happy spin on things. Cause theres no reason for that to be depressing at all. Im way into the existential writers, but I think that were nowhere near as sad as most of those dudes.
So Kierkegaard, Kafka, Sartre, Camus
Erik Engstrom: yeah, Camus the new guy, Wellabeck, all that stuff--its cool. But I think that we dont have as sad of a view on life. If you boil down what were saying then, yeah, maybe were saying the same things. But then our take on it is, who cares! Dont get down about this stuff! Youre living, make the best of it, and follow your heart. Maybe you cant make a difference, but theres no point in not trying to, if thats what you want to do.
Erik Engstrom: Yeah, cause everyone who looks at our album thinks were depressed and have this somber view of things, but I dont think we do. But were also not a joke band *laughs.*
So has it always been that way from the beginning, or is it a metamorphosis as youve matured as a band?
Erik Engstrom: The album is still more about the music than the philosophy. These thoughts all came to us at once as a group just from being on tour. We talked about them, and joked through them, and came to some conclusions. Being on tour makes you see the world from a new perspective. You get to take a step back from your local involvement, and all your friends and family, and having a base. You step away and see many people with their bases from far off, and you realize that no one is anything to anyone else except the ten basic people around them. And no ones life is as minutely important as they believe--even the super important ones. A lifetime, lets say, is between 50 to 100 years, and then its done. Maybe people remember them once every six months, or in history books, or something, but even that will be annihilated *laughs.*
As a band, weve been friends forever, and we just talk about whatever. Were not just business people trying to do a band together. For as long as I remember, the core of the band would be getting together and talking about whatever. So I wouldnt say we are philosophers, but everyones into their own thing, and reads a lot, and brings in their own perspective. We have a humorous view point on some stuff, but thats just a result of
Nathan Winneke: being happy.
Erik Engstrom: Yeah, humor is very important--to not take yourself too seriously-- cause if you do, you just have your head up your ass, and you dont know where you stand in reality.
So, I just want to tie this all together. When you started out you said that you were always very light-hearted and humorous and youve taken that throughout your music and into this album now, but with more philosophical sense now than youve had before.
Erik Engstrom: Yeah, theres always been the humorous element, but weve always been serious about the music too, with the exception of one or two songs on each album which we thought were funny, but still good. We didnt try to write any horrible music as a joke.
Just at first
Erik Engstrom: Well, at first all we could write was horrible music, but we were still tryingin our defense, we didnt know that it was horrible at the time *laughs* or maybe our music still is, who knows. But weve always been trying, and we just got better along the way hopefully.
Do you have anything else to add?
Erik Engstrom: I dont know
*Chris Profitt, the drummer, burps*
Interview by Roya Butler, Transcription by Hannah Wagner.