The dynamic of a music duo is something that is incomparable to that of a four or five-piece band. Genre aside, a band accumulates an array of personalities, causing alliances or potential clashes that can break an act or turn them into a timeless tour de force. For vocalist/guitarist Kate Cooper and drummer/vocalist Damon Cox, writing, touring and performing has allowed these two individuals to effortlessly bond as a unit.
Inevitable comparisons to The White Stripes aside, Cooper and Cox perform and communicate with one another in a perfectly balanced, complementary manner that is seemingly inadvertent. This dynamic is especially true when they hit the stage.
“It’s actually something we actually never really think about,” Cooper explains during a phone conversation before the band’s show at The Bishop in Bloomington, Indiana. “It kind of just happens. People see it’s just us on guitar and drums… but we do what we do and just have fun with it. We’re just really happy to be able to play our songs every night.”
Cooper and Cox started An Horse as two music enthusiasts that worked together frequently at an independent record store. During their shifts, they would discuss movies and music, and in time, they noticed how similar they really were. The Brisbane, Australia, duo went on to musically collaborate in 2007 and gradually pieced together their first EP on Valve Records, Not Really Scared, released in 2008.
Prior to the March 2009 unveiling of their debut full-length on Mom & Pop Records, Rearrange Beds, the buzz surrounding An Horse began to percolate when the band hit the road with fellow indie duo Tegan and Sara during their North American tour. Throughout their career, Cooper and Cox have shared the stage with multiple indie acts that have made their way into the mainstream, including Death Cab For Cutie, Silversun Pickups, Cage The Elephant and The Big Pink.
“We always feel really blessed that we have the opportunity to open for these acts,” reflects Cooper. “That’s always really cool. Then it’s just a matter of stepping up to the plate and not disappointing. These people had so many bands to choose from and they chose us, so we just play as well as we can and hope that we don’t mess up. But either way, it’s always a really fantastic experience.”
Once Rearrange Beds was in the hands of fans, the band received an array of solid reviews, and rightfully so. The upright simplicity of the album is infused with equal parts innocent romanticism and clever witticisms made it a blissful and at times poignant work that encourages reflection of past loves that have gone awry.
However, the band’s foray into the music scene would gain even more momentum when they performed the single “Camp Out” during their first television appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. Retrospectively, the band’s performance has such a sincere, even innocent demeanor that easily sets them apart from other acts. This eroding earnestness, however, is not part of a calculated, music industry shtick. In fact, the vibrant yet focused energy An Horse release is something that is outwardly genuine. A platonic chemistry that is developed by two individuals that trust and feed off of one another.
Following a potentially overwhelming spurt of tour dates, An Horse released their latest opus in April 2011, Walls. The album was recorded in Vancouver with New Pornographers and Tegan And Sara producer Howard Redekopp. While the full-length still rings true to the bouncy indie-pop sound of An Horse, there is a more intricate, calculated sound that is more developed, yet no less emotional than Rearrange Beds.
“For this album, we had a lot more time on our side than we did for Rearrange Beds,” Cooper says. “The first time, we didn’t even intend to make a record, it was just me and Damon hanging out in a record store. We ‘accidentally’ got off to do some tours and weren’t really a band, then what we recorded turned into an album. So that’s kind of weird. This time around, it was much more deliberate and we got to demo, had A&R people to talk to, things like that. We had an infrastructure that was around us, which was cool, and we had a lot more time. It was much more deliberate than the first record because Rearrange Beds was not really meant to even be an album.”
While the duo didn’t force concepts, messages or motifs into the album’s lyrics or orchestrations, with hindsight, Cooper notes that there is a figurative invisible string tying all of their newest tracks together. “Usually we try not to think about [lyrics] too much,” she said. “Whatever comes out comes out. But looking back on it, we called it Walls because Damon kind of pointed out that that comes up a lot—barriers. Barriers between relationships, friendships… some sort of disconnection.”
Cooper delivers tracks like “Windows In The City,” “Not Mine” and “Airport Death” with a withered meekness that is wrought with a determination to get her message out. Complemented by Cox’s solid harmonies and pitter-patter percussion, the album is chock-full of indie-pop odes that feature traces of desperation and bleakness. But it’s songs like “Dressed Sharply,” “Trains And Tracks” and “Know This, We’ve Noticed” that highlight the duo’s instrumental growth and increased gravitation towards a more intense sound.
Merely six months following the release of Walls, An Horse is busier than ever, touring worldwide and performing on the bills of countless festivals including The Rolling Stone Weekender in Germany and The Falls Festival and Southbound Festival in Australia. Set to share the stage with artists like Death Cab For Cutie, Wilco, Fleet Foxes and Explosion In The Sky, Cooper explains that although the schedule of playing and promoting festivals is stressful, the experience and environment is practically indescribable.
“Festivals are fun but they’re a different monster altogether,” Cooper said. “You don’t get to sound check unless you’re a headliner, typically, so you’re just sort of thrown onstage. We also usually play during the day in the festivals we participate in. But they’re a lot of fun; I really enjoy playing them. We actually just played ACL and Lollapalooza and they were both great festivals—we just had a lot of work to do so we didn’t get to see anybody play. I can’t complain either way, though, because I like club shows too. It’s great to be able to be on tour with your buddies. It makes it a lot easier, I think.”
In between festival stints, Cooper and Cox are touring the U.S. with Kevin Devine and will eventually head overseas to Europe to perform with Tim Neuhaus. “Response to Walls so far has been really good,” Cooper says. “We’ve done a couple of tours with the record already, but we’re playing some newer tracks live that we haven’t played off of the record yet, which has been great. Overall, it’s been good fun.” The band’s packed multi-national tours give them the optimal chance to interact with fans worldwide. Although they’re Aussies to the core, Cooper and Cox see no boundaries between their fan bases. “There isn’t much of a difference at all between U.S. and European fans,” Cooper explains. “The only difference I’ve seen is that German fans tend to clap for a long period of time. They’re very polite.”
Despite their hectic schedule, An Horse have no formal plans to slow down any time soon. Upon their return to the Big Apple to perform with The Front Bottoms and Kevin Devine—their first New York City show since the release of Walls—hopes they have time to catch up with old friends and potentially see the sights tourists know and love.
“When we play New York it seems to always be so frantically busy,” Cooper says. “It’s a little bit scary at times because we have so much to do in such a short amount of time. But I mean, if we had more time, I’d love to see more. There’s a lot of cool stuff about New York, and the Tri-State area in general. I have a lot of friends there and I just really love playing there. I guess seeing my friends is big, but I do wish I had more time to do the fun touristy things over and over again.”
An Horse will open for Kevin Devine at Highline Ballroom on Oct. 22. For more information, go to anhorse.com.