Trojan Horse: The future of prog with not a capeÂ or Mellotron in sight
An exclusive interview
By Cath Aubergine October 2012
In a couple of weeks’ time, Salford’s Trojan Horse are setting off on a week-long tour of the UK alongside Knifeworld and The Fierce And The Dead. All three rising bands have been championed by Prog Magazine and represent forward-looking music “with not a cape or Mellotron in sight”. We catch up with frontman Nick Duke to talk about his band, the past and present of Prog, and what it means to be a Salford band…
Reecntly, Bunnyman Will Sergeant picked his ten favourite albums for LTWÂ . Alongside the not exactly unexpected “Marquee Moon” and “Low” there’s some Floyd (albeit their first album, the psychedelic and quite pop one)… Caravan… Genesis… Genesis?! The response from one reader: “What a Prog Rocker you are man! I have loved your band for 34 years, but I hate every single LP in your top ten! Prog Rock is the enemy!” The same day on Twitter, a much younger mate, early 20s, posted about how hipsters listening to Can because they were considered kind of hipster-trendy at the moment should be wary as “it’s still prog”. The LTW commenter’s probably much the same age as this kid’s parents.
Growing up musically in the 80s with punk still looming large in the rear view mirror of pop culture, I certainly considered Prog “the enemy” as a youngster. I’m not sure I had any idea what it was, apart from it involved people in capes playing four keyboards at once and orchestral arrangements and triple concept albums (pretty funny when you consider that I don’t think any of the hairy oldies actually released a triple concept album, but the Clash did…) and 20 minute songs about wizards. It was, therefore, Why Punk Had To Happen – as the indoctrination of my not-long-after-punk generation ran. But it’s 2012 now, where formerly maligned and piss-taken genres such as Goth and Shoegaze have these days reached some level of social acceptability; it’s perfectly OK for alternative rock fans to be into Country (a genre once synonymnous with mainstream, conservative cheese) and even the hideously over-produced corporate pop-rock of the mid-80s has made the leap from being liked ironically to cited (as “yacht rock”) as a cool influence in some circles… and yet the word “Prog” remains a dirty one to many. How did this revulsion for one genre of music come to endure sufficiently to jump generations?
In a couple of weeks’ time, Knifeworld, The Fierce And The Dead and Trojan Horse are to undertake a three way week long tour of the UK. ( http://stabbingadeadhorse.com/ ) All three rising bands have been championed by Prog Magazine and are fiercely independent, unique and on the cutting edge of current UK progressive rock. As kindred spirits, the three represent forward looking, challenging, dense yet melodic exploratory music. This co-operative touring ensemble will deliver, in their own words, “an unforgettable night of head melting invention with not a cape or Mellotron in sight”. Things have definitely moved on.
So I decided to have a little chat with the gloriously bearded Nick Duke, frontman of Salford-based Trojan Horse, and started by asking what seemed like a simple enough questionâ¦
LTW: You’re a twentysomething in 2012, what does the word Prog mean to you?
âItâs strange because what I thought Prog meant, isn’t what it seems to mean to the people we’re starting to come into contact with more and more… (laughs)… When I first started properly listening to Prog in earnest, it felt really fresh to me, something absolutely different, but had all the signposts to music I had listened to before. The more I listened; it started to mean invention, idiosyncratic ideas, and a purposeful sense of adventure but all with a catchy hook.
âWe as a band felt an affinity with a lot of aspects of the type of music, but then thereâs a large portion of what its become thatâs really stagnant, and staunchly at odds with what I imagine a lot of the original ideas were to start out with. But then who are we to tell other people what to do. Our “prog” is about testing what we can do with the ideas we have that might not be two minute pop songs… or they might be. We never know until it starts taking shape. I guess prog to us, is what weâd all hoped punk was and should have been, ultimately freeing of all rules. Our prog is us trying to marry that DIY ethos and âwe donât give a fuck what you thinkâ attitude of punk, and the invention and exploration of what psychedelia and early prog were about.â
LTW: What’s the musical background that led you here and who are your favourite prog-ish artists past/present?
âFor the brothers Duke (there are three of them in the band), we’ve grown up with a musical lineage; our dad and his brother were in a band together when I was a baby. From there our dad has played and produced tons of music over the years, so itâs always been a part of our lives, whether itâs being exposed to a wild variety of genres, soul, funk, rock, pop, classical, disco. Itâs always been a real big mix of stuff. Guy (the non-Duke of the band) is really open with his music tastes; he gives us the whole folky and electronic side of things. Favourite proggish artists, we’re all now into the 70s stuff, Yes, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd. Thereâs a load of stuff I donât think anyone would call “prog” that we’d throw in that pot too though, Converge, DJ Shadow, Jeff Buckley, Mastodon, Radiohead even Black Flag. You listen to some of the stuff on “My War” and Greg Ginn is mixing jazz, metal and hardcore, infusing it with speed and volume and coming out with a ferocious assault of sound thatâs way more than just your standard meat head hardcore. Black Flag are Prog! Ha!
âLocally favourites of ours include Cyril Snear, PLANK!, Nadaq and From The Kites of San Quentin, they’re all prog, they just blend it with such skill you sometimes canât really hear it, but its definitely there. Of course we’ve gotta say the two bands we’re going on tour with as well, Knifeworld and The Fierce and the Dead. We’ve known these guys a year or two now and theyâre absolutely amazing. We come into contact with some amazing new bands these days its a task keeping up with it….oh Cleft, check out Cleft from Manchester. They are superb, and wear the prog tag firmly on their sleeve without being boring and a caricature.â
LTW: When you were growing up and discovering this music were you aware that Prog still had this stigma attached to it? The sort of “people in capes playing four keyboards at once and 20 minute songs about wizards” thing?
âStigma, yeah absolutely. As I say we grew up in a really musically open household, where music is just music, not really delineated into genres. So as soon as I had heard about this music that people would turn their nose up like they had shit on their shoe, I was instantly fascinated. My own particular teenage music listening tastes travelled through metal and punk, and a lot of my friends were into punk and metal. The accepted folk lore of punk would have you believe that it absolutely wiped prog off the face of the (middle) earth when it blew up in ’77, but it just wasnât true. Genesis and Marillion were selling MILLIONS in the 80’s long after punk had imploded. I’m not really into that era of it but its interesting to look at it going from the massive mainstream, back to a semi-underground scene, but that still sold millions of records, its really interesting when you look at it in those terms.
âNot only that, but people would say the word ‘prog’ with such a vitriolic, sarcastic sneer, that I wanted to hear this ‘music that could annoy my friends WHO WERE PUNKS!’ So yeah I just got curious, we all did, and I’ve never looked back from that point. Once you hear it and it opens that particular connection in your mind, you start hearing bits of it everywhere, that pushing of the envelope, the need to do something more with what you have in front of you, challenging whatâs expected of you.
âItâs only the last year or two that itâs become acceptable to openly reference it again, and now itâs as if everyone WANTS to be prog because itâs got this cool, 1970s nostalgic tint to it, or that it somehow makes an ailing, boring band look more interesting. A lot of the bands I know that are progressive would claim not to be. I think the only reason we adopted it so fully is because we’d rather fully immerse ourselves in it than be seen to be dipping our toes in and using it for a temporary bout of popularity. We didnât care to be âinâ before we donât really care now, we love prog as much as anything else we listen to. Itâs just the best descriptive term we’ve found that encompasses what we do, even if itâs technically not the ‘traditionalâ sort ….anyway we’re Prog Nouveau!â
LTW: It’s interesting isn’t it really that whilst on the one hand the word’s still used in a derogatory way, prog influences are claimed by all sorts of unlikely sources – your friends and sometime remixers From The Kites Of San Quentin, for instance, who most people would probably describe as kind of post-trip-hop dark electronics. So for the uninitiated, can you tell us a bit about what to expect musically from the three bands on the tour?
âKnifeworld from London, who are the headliners of the tour theyâve got members of Cardiacs, Chrome Hoof, and Sidi Bou Said in them, they veer towards psychedelic rock with dashes of prog thrown in. Intricate, loud, pop, but but with stabs of thrash guitar now and again…and they have a wind section, a bassoon and all sorts. They have as many band members as the other two bands put together, so live the sound is crushing. The Fierce and the Dead, its acoustic loop maestro Matt Stevens’ full band project. They play REALLY LOUD proggy post-rock. One minute they’ll be nice with epic, sweeping vistas of sonics, the next theyâre melting your face with riffs that could take down a rhino, it works so well, and makes a change from the usual post-rock vibe of “I have a delay pedal and some reverb, lets noodle for half an hour because it sounds twinkly and nice”. They do nice, but they do “you just spilled my pint, Iâm going to spill your blood” style shredding too. Finally thereâs Trojan Horse, us, and we sound like we’re trying to emulate a DJ who is mixing his way through his mum and dad’s vinyl collection. Lots of riffs, chords, melody, and hooks but not necessarily in the a-typical order you are used to hearing them in. We’re essentially that Morcambe and Wise sketch, all the right notes just not in the ârightâ order. That makes it sound terrible….we are definitely nice to listen to!
âThe tour is going to be amazing, itâs a week, and zips up and down the country. Weâve got dates in every venue weâve wanted to play as first choices, and managed to get Prog and Rock-a-Rolla magazines to sponsor it, the response from fans has been overwhelmingly positive. So all that has been a real collective confidence boost that weâre on to something good. Weâve managed to get Ruby Lounge for the Manchester date on 29th October. It was like Trojan Horseâs second home for a while, I think we pretty much played there every other month last year, we just adore it. It just sounds so great and the vibe of the people that run the place is perfect, theyâre really supportive of us, always have been. So that was really the only place we could bring the others to play when we decided on a Manchester date.â
LTW: So Trojan Horse then. Four of you in the band, three of you brothers – did you start out making music with Eden and Lawrence or did you all join forces after dabbling in other bands or what?
âWe’ve all been in bands before this one, bar Eden, we are his first “awww”, but he’s always been performing in stage musicals and singing show tunes so he’s used to being up in front of an audience. Each of our previous bands was in a sort of experimental vein, not really “out there” but all doing something a little bit different, not just straight down the line “metal” or “rock”. Itâs only since coming together to do this band that we’ve just done away with any blueprints and just said “if it sounds good, itâs in”. Mine and Lozz’s former bands both split up around the same time, so even though we’re brothers and play music, we’d never played together before. We smashed the remaining halves of our previous bands together to form Trojan Horse. Since that point we lost members and me and him are the only two original ones left.
âGuy was in a post-rock band called Earthona, and Eden came on board after learning all our songs on keyboard and just started turning up to practise, I donât even think we asked him to join, he just did. Since then we’ve evolved into something way more refined than the early stuff, we’re better players now, and the addition of Guy and Eden has really upped our game. So now we’re experimenting as much with the arrangements of the old stuff as we are with the tracks weâre writing the next album. Weâre trying to keep everything as fresh and interesting for ourselves as possible so we can go on playing these songs without them being easy or becoming stale. We started this band because we felt we werenât really hearing enough music we loved the sound of, so having songs that stood the test of time and donât get old for us, as we want to keep playing them. â
LTW: Finally there’s something that interests me that’s not really anything much to do with your music itself: you often identify as a Salford band as opposed to a Manchester band, is there a cultural difference there?
âI think that inherently, the people of Salford have the attitude of “We are NOT from Manchester, we are from SALFORD”. We’ve been exposed to that constantly, and I never really understood why that was until later on in my life. Manchester might get all the credit as being the epicentre of industrial and social revolution, all the upheavals people went through to get the basic human rights we all enjoy today, and yes a large portion of those flash point events happened “in Manchester” but the vast majority of those ordinary working class people were living in squalor in Salford. Itâs bred this fighting spirit in the culture of Salford, a hardness and a politicised edge that I donât think you get quite as much with other areas around Manchester. As we’re definitely a politicised band, we have a strong moral and ideological compass that’s guiding us, itâs important for us to define who we are by where we are from when the two are so directly related.
âEngels had a factory in Salford, he lived in Salford, he defined and called for class war based on his observations here. Thereâs an analogue going on when you look at whatâs happening in the music industry right now. Working class people are being edged out of pop music, it’s all public school kids whose parents have connections, its turning music into a homogenized malaise of boring upper class toffs putting on east end accents to try look edgy and “realâ. Well we donât have to try to be anything, we are working class and whatever comes out is real to us, we donât have a well paid team advising us on how to write a great song we just have to learn how to do that ourselves. Thereâs also a trend with regards to people who come to Manchester and start a band in Manchester, that are classed as ‘A Manchester band’, even though they arenât. Itâs a nice sentiment, I like that you can be adopted by the city. But we’re not from Manchester, and I donât see quite so many bands coming from afar, settling in Salford and saying “We’re a Salford band”. Itâs us giving Salford its dues, the place we have taken so much inspiration from, thatâs given us so much, both good and bad. We are from Salford, and thatâs an important distinction, to quote the late great Tony Wilson.
LTW: Thanks Nick – so, if you like your music to be boundary-pushing without being impenetrable, open your ears in the following directions; if you still consider prog to be “the enemy” then open your mind, too, and you might surprise yourself.
27th October â The Stag & Hounds, Bristol.
28th October â Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff.
29th October â The Ruby Lounge, Manchester.
30th October â The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds.
31st October â The 13th Note, Glasgow.
1st November â B2, Norwich.
2nd November â The Lexington, London.
The band’s website Â can be found HERE
All words By Cath Aubergine