The short version of the 'An Horse' story reads like it could be the script of one of those twenty-somethings-find-success-or-happiness-or-themselves pop culture movies we used to quote obsessively in the 90s, like Empire Records or Reality Bites. It starts with two bright-eyed kids named Kate and Damon, working at an independent record store in Brisbane, Australia, when in walked two Canadians by the name of Tegan and Sara. Fast friends were made. Later, Kate and Damon start a band, turn the record store into a after-dark rehearsal room and record an EP that would earn them an invitation to support Tegan & Sara on their North America tour.
Since then, Kate Cooper (vocals/guitar) and Damon Cox (drums) have had a relatively rapid rise to success, largely thanks to tirelessly touring the world with bands like Death Cab For Cutie, the Silversun Pickups and Tegan & Sara (again and again and again), as well as playing a slot at South by Southwest and on Letterman.
An Horse have given me so many reasons to love their band. For one, An Horse is the best band name in the history of band names. Also, their debut album Rearrange Beds is an absolute winner, packed with energetic indie anthems full of frustration and lust and at times, desperation. But not a hint of pretentiousness. I love its simplicity - the minimal production, the sing-a-long melodies, the understated lyrics. The way Kate Cooper sings the lyric "I'm quietly confident" and the way it sticks right out and yet seems so right.
So considering my love for Rearrange Beds, when Tegan told me about An Horse's plans for a new record, I just had to find out more. Which is why at 8am on a Saturday morning I was dialing the lady half of An Horse, Kate Cooper, who was wandering the icy streets of Montreal with her girlfriend, dodging blows and kicking a soccer ball down the street in an effort to not get distracted.
Kate was delightful to interview because she's super polite and because we're both Australians, neither of us had to speak slow. We said "shit" and "sorry" a lot because that's what we do. And laugh, too - I didn't notate it but there was a hint of humour behind most of her lines.
After our hellos and small talk about Kate's video store, we got down to the business:
Crystal: Have you actually relocated to Montreal?
Kate: Yeah, Montreal is where I live now. Well when I actually live somewhere, I live here. I did fly back to Australia a few weeks ago but it was only for 12 days, unfortunately, I would have liked to have stayed longer.
Crystal: So you stayed long enough to get a taste of summer, then had to fly back to a Canadian winter...
Kate: Yeah. It's okay though, Damon and I will be back in Australia in February to write our next record, I'll catch up on summer then.
Crystal: It seems like 2009 has been massive in terms of time spent on the road, and you're fresh off a big USA tour with the Silversun Pickups. Has the year flown by, or have you felt it?
Kate: I feel like it's gone really quickly but then I was trying to remember what I did for Christmas last year and I was like, was that last year? It seems like ten years ago. It's hard work, Damon and I have never worked so hard in our goddamn lives. I'm not complaining but well... no, actually sometimes I do complain. But it's a hard slog, that's for sure.
Crystal: So up next you're supporting Tegan and Sara on their Canadian tour. How do you usually prepare for a big tour like that?
Kate: Sorry, hang on, I just have to swap hands, I'm getting frost-bite.
Crystal: Frostbite? Really?
Kate: That was a bit dramatic, wasn't it? I'm not really getting frostbitten. Sorry, what did you ask?
Crystal: How do you prepare for a big tour?
Kate: Well I just realised that I don't have any winter pajamas that are suitable for wearing in the company of roommates on tour. That's one of the first things I usually figure out, what pajamas I'll wear on tour, that's really important to me.
[I think she's having me on.]
Kate: I'm not joking! I was at home the other day and I was suddenly like, "holy shit! I don't have any pajamas that I can wear on tour!" I guess when I spend most of the year on tour then when I finally get home, I slip back into the old mindset of being my selfish self where I can do anything... within reason. So you know, I think about pajamas, my tooth brush... I like packing. And I think about my gear - is it ready? Will it get there in time? Where is it, exactly? And I think that I'd better hurry up and book my ticket to the first show, which is what I've been doing this morning.
Crystal: This will be your fourth tour with Tegan and Sara now - what is it about that partnership that seems to be working?
Kate: We're really good friends. I love their music and so that's good, touring with a band that I love and have fun with. Both Tegan and Sara have helped us out a lot. Sara's been amazing, she's so supportive. She's our A&R person [note: record company talent scout / developer] and so she looks to us like we're her children, her slightly stupid children that she has to look after.
Crystal: They invited you on your first North American tour, right?
Kate: Yeah, and as a result we got signed to our record label. That was back when Rearrange Beds was only half-written, if anything An Horse was really just an idea - me and Damon jamming and trying having run while we worked boring jobs in a record store. So it's kinda Sara's fault because it was with her help and advice that we got signed and put out our first record. So this tour will really be about putting Rearrange Beds well, to bed. It's been two years, it's the end of the album cycle for us. So it's really lovely that it's going to end with them [Tegan & Sara], it's a nice circle.
Crystal: Rearrange Beds is being released in Canada on the 21st of this month. Does it feel a little strange having your album released a year or so later than other countries?
Kate: Yeah I guess it is a little - but that was the structure, just touring the record in the USA was hard enough work on its own! Rearrange Beds is also being released in some European countries now, and so when I say it's the end of the record cycle then I'm mostly referring to the USA and, to some degree, Australia. [Starts laughing] But I wish this was The End, that we won't have to play the record again after this tour, but I'm afraid we will.
Crystal: So have you already started writing material for the next album?
Kate: Yeah, we have a number of songs written that are in the early demo stage. I've been writing them and sending weird versions to Damon and so there's maybe 20 songs written so far. So then in February we'll go back to Australia and go into a practice room and finish them. We'll go to work every day and that will be nice, to be in the same place and spend some time writing together. Then we'll record it in Vancouver.
"The theme of Rearrange Beds wasn't intentional, I just write what I write because when I think too hard about it, the songs always suck."
Crystal: You've said in other interviews that Rearrange Beds is a bit of a break up album, a moving on album. Do you know yet what the feel of the next album will be?
Kate: Well I guess it depends if I break up with the girlfriend I have at the moment! [laughs] No, I'm just joking, that's really not funny. The theme of Rearrange Beds wasn't intentional, I just write what I write because when I think too hard about it, the songs always suck. Ow! I just got punched!
Crystal: Sorry? Are you okay!?
Kate: Sorry, yeah I'm okay, I'm alright. Sorry, that was my girlfriend punching me. I'm going to dump her for that.
[A few minutes of shuffling and muttering]
Crystal: Damon mentioned on your blog that there's a remix album in the works. Are you willing to give away any details?
Kate: I'm not sure if I'm allowed to! I have no idea what I'm allowed to say. I've heard most of it and it's cool, the people who are doing the remixes are awesome and I'm quite surprised that they've wanted to be part of it. I actually think the remixes could turn out to be better than the actual songs, and so for the next record I think we might get people to remix it and then release that as the album first, and then we'll release the second part with our original songs. But I'm really excited, at times I didn't think it would work and so I've been surprised by the results.
Crystal: Sounds great, when can we buy it?
Kate: It'll be available on different dates in different places. I have no idea. It's not that I don't get told these things, I do. But then I forget them.
Crystal: I just have a few more questions, can you talk longer?
Kate: Yeah that's cool. I'm kicking a ball of ice down the street, I'm trying to concentrate.
Crystal: One of my favourite things on the internet is the Kaki King cover of "Camp Out". How did it feel to have someone like Kaki play one of your tracks?
Kate: Kaki kinda knew An Horse in the stages, before we really were An Horse, and so I was very surprised to hear her cover that song. And it's great, it's awesome - but it's also a little daunting because she's since made us promise that we will cover one of her songs...
Crystal: That's exactly where I was going with that question! Whether we'll ever see An Horse doing a Kaki King cover...
Kate: Covering one of her songs is a little different, it's a different story. The cover's been in the works for about a year, it's a matter of Damon and I finishing it and then liking it enough. I don't want it to be shit because Kaki's cover is really good, and so ours has to stand up. Also, she'd tell me if it was shit, which is another reason why it needs to be good.
Crystal: Changing track, what's your favourite song to play on Rearrange Beds?
Kate: I don't know, they're all kinda fun. But we've been playing some of the new material and that's been more exciting...
Crystal: Will your Canadian fans hear some of it in January?
Kate: We'll probably play one or two new songs. But after February - once we've had a chance to write - is when we'll really start to road test the new material.
Crystal: Do you think there'll be time for live shows while you're writing in Australia?
Kate: No. We wanted to, but unfortunately the timing just didn't work out. We definitely will be back to play for sure - Damon and I feel like we've neglected you guys a little, but we haven't, we haven't, we haven't. We've been trying so hard to make it happen and several times it nearly has happened, but then the pieces just haven't come together. But when we do come back to play it will probably be to promote the remix album, and we're really looking forward to it.
Crystal: Us too!
Kate: Damon's actually in Australia right now, he's living in Melbourne and has been sending me photos of sunshine and heat. Where are you?
Crystal: I'm in Sydney.
Kate: It's hot, right?
Crystal: Yeah it's a cracker of a day. It's only 8am here but the sun is already blinding, it's pretty hot.
Kate: 8am? Wow.
Crystal: Yeah. I had some thought-provoking questions ready but it's so early that I've lost my shit a little.
Kate: That's okay!
Crystal: Okay my last question is a little obscure. So you know how in the song "Camp Out", you name-check Hole's Live Through This?
Crystal: I'm curious - when you wrote that song, did you consider that "Camp Out" might be the first song played after Live Through This in a person's playlist?
Kate: No, really? Is that what it does?
Crystal: It does in my iTunes. It's one of my favourite observations, which is weird I know.
Kate: So wait - "Camp Out" actually plays straight after Live Through This?
Kate: Oh wait - because they list our band name under 'H', right? We've been trying to get An Horse under 'A' for ages. That's awesome, I had no idea. I'm don't think the water flows like that in my iTunes library, I think I would have noticed. But that is really cool.
After confusing Kate by rambling on about my weird and unexplainable obsession with the Live Through This/"Camp Out" coincidence and alphabetical ordering of my records, I felt like our conversation had truly reached its peak. All that was left to do was say our goodbyes and thank yous and hang up.