Jenks Miller - Horseback(photo credit: D.L. Anderson of Indy Week)

Jenks Miller — the mainman/onlyman of blackened, ambient, dronesters Horseback — is not your typical metal guy. Though he grew up on the stuff and admits to retaining a “soft spot” for it, I get the impression Miller isn’t overly concerned, if at all, about being heavy, or even about being “metal” in the slightest. His music borrows elements from metal but the sum is a musical amalgamation that transcends metal proper; the blackened dronescapes he creates serve more to lull the listener into a trance than to inspire moshing, headbanging or movement of any kind.

But what do classifications matter when his new album Half Blood, out May 8th via Relapse (listen to album track “Ahriman” on Bandcamp) is as good as it is? I recently sent Miller a bunch of questions via email; check out his answers below on his influences, being accepted in the metal world despite being musically left-of-center, and more.

You probably get this question a lot, but I think it’s important given the style of music you play: how did you end up on a label known for punishingly brutal music when your music — vocals excepted — is anything but?

Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve heard this question.  I was first exposed to Relapse in their early days.  They released a number of records that were heavy on atmosphere early on, including [Disembowelment’s] Transcendence into the Peripheral, which I still think is one of the greatest doom/death records ever made.  At the time, they also had a sister label called “Release” that focused exclusively on ambient and noise.  It’s only relatively recently that they were releasing only brutal metal.  I guess their signing Horseback might represent a return to their identity as a very diverse extreme music label?  I don’t know.

How has your experience with Relapse been so far?

They’ve been very supportive, especially considering Horseback is a small fish in a big pond.

Your other band, Mount Moriah, is completely different from Horseback. Do you find it difficult to essentially keep two separate musical brains?

No, I don’t find it difficult.  Playing music is all about manipulating sound, and that process itself is both the challenge and the reward for me.  I don’t care so much about the genre.  Plus, there’s a lot in common between Horseback and Mount Moriah — there’s a southern/folk vibe involved in both bands, and they both often explore dark subject matter.  A sense of space in the compositions and recordings is very important to both bands, too.

Talk about your background in metal a bit. How you got into it, other bands you’ve played in, etc. 

The first “extreme” metal record I bought as a kid was Incantation’s Onward to Golgotha (which, I would argue, was another very atmospheric Relapse release).  Before that, it was the usual gateway bands:  Sabbath, Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth.  Eventually, I became hungry for even more challenging sounds, so I started exploring noise and modern composition/serialism.  Even as my own taste has grown very diverse, I’ve retained a soft spot for metal since it was originally responsible for showing me there was more music out there than I was hearing on the radio.

Do you find that metalheads accept your Horseback project, or are they skeptical about a one-man project from a dude whose other band is more in the alt-country/indie vein?

Most of Horseback’s fans are also metal fans.  I don’t know anyone who listens only to metal anymore — it seems like the walls between genres came down when the internet put everything within reach.  Now metal fans are also country fans and noise fans and electronica fans, and all combinations in between.  Listen to what you like.  Create what you will.

Of course, it’s fine if some folks are skeptical.  This stuff isn’t for everyone.

How did you come to start making music as Horseback? Was it a particular meld of styles that you set out to try, or did it arise organically out of what you’d done before?

It was a very organic process.  The first Horseback recordings, which eventually became Impale Golden Horn, employed dense and layered cyclical themes performed mostly on guitar and keyboards, with great attention to the texture of the sound.  Most of the music that has followed employs a similar approach, even if the musical vocabulary specific to each record is different.  The goal has always been to induce a trance, both in terms of performance and how the sounds might be received.  It’s not so much about performing in a particular style.

I really love the music on your new album Half Blood, but I am not exaggerating at all when I say that cannot understand a single word of what you’re saying. Do you think part of the intended experience is lost if the listener can’t understand the lyrics (or even just chooses not to listen to them)?

I don’t think the lyrics are especially important.  The texture and the arrangement in a composition is much more important to me.  There’s a unifying theme or narrative in each record, and the lyrics tend to gravitate toward that theme, but the conceptual side is very loose and has more influence on how I organize a full-length.  Relapse will probably put the lyrics up somewhere if folks are interested in reading them.

Horseback rarely plays live shows. Do you have the desire to create a live band and take the Horseback show out on the road?

There is a live lineup that rehearses regularly, but you’re right — we don’t play shows very often.  The is due to a number of factors, including the financial strain involved in touring (especially as a band like this one) and the fact that all of us are in other bands that are on the road more regularly.  The live line-up presently includes John Crouch (of Caltrop) on drums, Nick Petersen (of Monsonia) on bass, and Rich James (of Hog) on guitar.

What do you do when you’re not working on music? Do you have a day job?

Yes, I have three different day jobs that help pay the bills.  Otherwise, when I’m not working on music I’m usually spending time with my family.  I live in the country, and we enjoy being outside with our dogs.


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