Wunderhorse: “Music is a sacred space. You must be serious

II’ve never felt so naked in my entire life,” says Jacob Slater, the man behind the reins of rock band Wunderhorse. The Hertfordshire-born frontman is the focus of his sold-out show at London’s Lafayette, captivating 600 pairs of eyes. As he roars through a boisterous set of gritty rocks, his face grimaces, his body bucks. Vignettes of youthful trauma pour out of it, delivered with the zeal of a preacher. He bares his soul; his heart is open.

“It’s a kind of relief to be on stage every night,” he tells me the next day when we meet in a bar in King’s Cross. “It’s like I should do that.” This is fortunate as Wunderhorse is currently touring with Irish rock band Fontaines DC, having previously supported North Shields artist Sam Fender. Both loved the band’s fusion of muddy rock and ’90s-infused grunge.

Wunderhorse’s debut album, cub, which was released in October, is a coming-of-age future classic, or as Slater describes it, “connecting the dots from a 17-year-old self to today.” It’s a story of growth, healing and forgiveness, with yearning lyrics met with happy melodies. Listen to the reflective “Mantis” and the sombre guitars will remind you of Radiohead. Stone Roses-esque instrumentals bloom on the dazed, psychedelic “Poppy,” while the bass lines that shimmer through “Morphine” are pure Lou Reed. Slater’s performance vacillates between a sanded rasp and Elliott Smith’s injured vulnerability. I ask if the process of writing and recording has helped him detach from past experiences: “I bloody hope so!” he says, laughing.

On his debut single, “Teal,” he tells the story of a close friend who went through a “bad s***” at the age of 21. When that happened, I thought – this is real, life’s not a game, it’s damned fragile,” he says. “I can only write songs when things really hit me.” He draws inspiration from songwriters like Fontaine’s DC frontman Grian Chatten and Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker. “They look at something everyday and make it poetic … you can kind of see the thing through their eyes,” he says. “I don’t know if I have that in me, but I’d like to explore it.” Slater tells me he stays on tour every night to chat and see the band. “I get so much out of her music, she gets things out of me. You see them live and it feels even bigger than them – a band that means business. They have absolutely no doubts about the authenticity of what they do.”

Despite those confirming performances with Fontaine’s DC, it wasn’t long ago that Slater decided to step down from the stage. He previously fronted punk rock band Dead Pretties, formed in 2015, but something just didn’t feel right. “When you play this kind of music, you have to believe in it,” he says, sitting across from me in a baggy t-shirt and vintage jacket, holding a pint of Guinness. He’s passionate and confident, but he’s also cautious. “One should always believe in what one says. You have to lie your whole life,” he jokes. “Don’t lie in music!” His bright blue eyes are wide now. “It’s a sacred place, it’s important. You have to mean it.” Leaving Dead Pretties was a matter of artistic integrity, he explains. “It feels like such a sin to play something meant to be raw and real and do it as an act. I didn’t mean to kid anyone.”

He may have given up punk, but rebellion against what is expected has permeated Slater’s life. He quickly became obsessed with politically oriented singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Sinead O’Connor, the latter cited as his all-time favourite. “The damn power in that voice!” he says of the Irish artist. “Words don’t do it justice.” His mother recently recalled that as a toddler he once had the power of a “mini Hercules,” holding the piano lid open to prevent her from closing it just so he could could play. He later wanted to be Keith Moon after hearing the “explosive” drums on The Who’s “The Real Me,” “much to my mother’s disappointment,” he laughs. He may not be Keith Moon, but he got to play Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook on Danny Boyle’s Disney Plus drama pistol. “It fulfills me in a different way,” he says of acting.

“Surfing keeps the music far enough away to stay exciting,” says Wunderhorse frontman Jacob Slater

(Gift Drechsler)

For Slater, variety is key to warding off sensory overload. After the Dead Pretties split, he escaped to a new life on the coast of Newquay, Cornwall, where he had holidayed as a child. This gave him the space to clear his head and eventually return to music with renewed determination. “Some creatives have to be in the middle, [but] I think it just suffocates me,” he says. Instead, he prefers to keep the music world “distant enough to remain exciting”. Since moving, surfing has become fundamental to his creative process. “It’s an area of ​​my life where there’s the freedom to fail and to develop skills just for love,” he says. “There is no end goal and that was really nice.”

In March, Wunderhorse will embark on their first headlining tour of the UK and Ireland. Slater hopes audiences keep their phones in their pockets. “It takes away the mystery [the shows]’ he says of our obsession with documenting every waking moment. He cites early appearances by the Velvet Underground: “There is no footage, there are only stories, they are part of mythology.” Slater believes our addiction to technology comes at the expense of the moment. “I look at people now and they’re always sucking something out of their phone or getting sucked off,” he says, taking a last sip from his pint. “Be present, you experience it here. That’s enough, I promise you, that’s enough.”

‘Cub’ is out now

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/wunderhorse-interview-jacob-slater-tour-b2236059.html Wunderhorse: “Music is a sacred space. You must be serious


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