Wunderhorse: There’s Little Gems Within

Following a short run of introductory singles in ‘Teal’, ‘Poppy’, the Americana-tinged ’17’ and latest effort ‘Butterflies’, Jacob Slater is gearing up to release Cub, his debut full-length outing as Wunderhorse. Mixing shoegaze and grunge, and frequently leaving the listener feeling uncomfortable, the record reflects on past experiences which feel slightly different in hindsight, but it also manages to make you feel less alone and maybe even somewhat understood.

There are stark moments where Slater uses his music to work through events in his life that left him feeling uneasy. On ‘Butterflies’ he speaks about a past sexual experience with an older woman; lines such as “I’m too young to understand /the places you put my hands,” communicate feelings of confusion and discomfort over eerie guitars. Cub, his forthcoming debut album, is a deep-dive into past experiences he’s had in the past that he hasn’t worked through before, using his music as therapy. The emotional depth and dark themes of the tracks take the listener on a journey with him, as he grapples with his past. Raising a topic that often gets less attention in the current discussion around sexual consent – younger men being with older women – the track gives space to anyone who’s gone through similar experiences, validating the feeling it left them with.

Having recently graced the stage as part of a three night residency at Blue Basement, the new in-house venue of Jack White’s Third Man Records store in Soho, plus a short UK tour in support of US band Backseat Lovers, Wunderhorse will also headline their biggest show to date at London’s Lafayette in October. Wax Music got the chance to sit down with Jacob to chat about the stories behind his music, his long term love with performing, and his inability to stop making music.

Do you want to talk more about your latest single, what’s it about and what inspired you to write it?

It’s slightly – I don’t know if it’s dark, maybe I remember it as being darker than it was. It’s about an experience I had when I was quite young with an older girl. I guess curiosity kind of got the better of me and she liked me when I was probably a bit too young for her. When you’re a young boy, you think ‘this is something that I should be doing as a man, this is part of becoming a man’. But you’re not ready at all and you don’t know what you’re doing. It kind of spun me out, and it made me quite uncomfortable.

When I wrote this song, I wrote the music first and it was quite dark and kind of eerie; all the words I was writing didn’t really seem to stick and I thought ‘should I write about that?’ and it seemed like an odd thing to write about. But it’s real and it happened, and that’s how it felt. So, I guess it’s better than writing about the weather, you know?

That’s an interesting and sad story. Is this what drew you to making music, working through these kinds of experiences?

What drew me to making music? I just always did it. I’ve just always loved it and I think it was just a gut thing. One of my first memories is of my dad playing me old The Who records, like Quadrophenia and stuff like that. I just loved it. At that age, you could give me a drum and I’d bang it all day long, much to the annoyance of everybody else, and it just grew from there.

I played drums for a bit when I was a kid and then started playing guitar. I started writing songs when I was about 12 and it’s always just been something that I’ve not been able to not do, you know? Whenever I’ve considered doing something else, I haven’t been able to. So, I guess it’s just the logical thing to do.

What do you try to communicate with your music, what are you trying to say?

I guess it depends on the song, really. I think the batch of songs that are going to be the album, they’re all kind of looking back on things that I didn’t think about at the time. Or they’re about other people. I’m writing more and more about other people – I find them more interesting than me. I’m interested in how they see the world, there’s an inexhaustible supply of other people. There’s little gems within everyone, more so I think than if you’re always internalising and looking inward.

How would you describe this music to someone who’s not heard it before?

Quite varied. I think it’s a bit of a weird one. I think people who like loud, aggressive music might like a couple of the songs, but will likely hate the next one – but that’s okay. I’ve never really gone into it saying ‘this is my sound; I have to work within these limitations’. I’ve tried that before in my first band and it left me feeling unhappy.

I was thinking about this the other day, and I think weirdly, I’m sorry to my British friends, but I think I’m influenced more by American songwriters than I am by British songwriters. I listen to a lot of British songwriters, but I think a lot of the influence comes from American and, actually, Irish songwriters, people like Van Morrison.

Is there anyone else you can think of that inspires you?

Yeah, actually, the exception to the rule is I really do love Radiohead who are obviously British, but a lot of my favourite people are Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Neil Young. I love a lot of the 90s grungy American stuff as well. I’m a sucker for the kind of ‘golden oldies’, as some people call them, the sort of classic staples of songwriting. Give me Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell any day.

Are you happy to be touring again after lockdown?

Yeah, definitely. I think for a while there was this undefinable bit missing from life and you’re like ‘what is it, why do I feel a bit incomplete?’. Then I started gigging again and you’re like ‘ohh, that’s it’. I’ve played live ever since I was young and I realised that during Covid was the longest time I’d gone without playing a gig since I was 13 years old, so it has been nice to get back out there.

What did you miss most about it?

I miss being out of my comfort zone a bit and the confrontation. That moment when you’re in front of the audience and the people are staring; you face each other down and sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.

I like the unpredictable nature of playing live. You can have everything worked out, prepared, the rehearsal has gone amazing, and then something goes wrong on the night, and you have to fix it in real time. Or it can go the other way: you think it’s going to be terrible, and you play the best show of your life. It’s not always positive, but it keeps things exciting and interesting.

Where are you going to take this from here, you’re going to release an album and then what have you got planned after that?

I’m not sure really, I guess I’ll release another album. I’ve got a whole wealth of material, which is more stripped-back than the first record. There’s about eight to ten solo tracks that I think could see the light of day. I want to get those out fairly quickly after the first record, if the label will let me.

Other than that, I’m just really stoked to get back in the studio with the guys and make another full band album and just write more with them, that’s what I’m looking forward to. The more we played together, the more it started to feel like a band, so I’m really looking forward to collaborating with them a bit more in the writing process. And yeah, just touring as much as we can and releasing as fast as we can. I’m not really a big fan of sitting around on your haunches for too long; busy is good.

Words: Clara Bullock // Photos: Alex Waespi

Wunderhorse’s debut album ‘Cub’ is released on September 16th via Communion Records. Pre-order the album here.

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