The Gulf of Space, a project by ex-Daughters Courageous frontman Ian Horlock, released their debut album Toria in March. We caught up with them to find out more.
I definitely approached the album with synths and house beats in mind, but from song to song I’m never too sure where I’m heading next.
First up, tell us bit about yourselves - who are The Gulf of Space, and what were you doing before making music together?
My name is Ian Horlock and The Gulf of Space is my solo musical project. I played in various bands in Southampton during the 90’s and 00’s, the most prominent of which was Daughters Courageous - an alt-rock four piece.
The Gulf of Space started to take shape in my head throughout 2018 after various life events led me to the realisation that music was an essential outlet and therapy. I missed being part of the music community and wanted to reacquaint myself with friends I had made through the scene.
Who did you take inspiration from?
Inspiration came more or less directly from the bands I grew up with in the 80’s - Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, OMD, Gary Numan, etc. All the influences I’d not explored in previous bands, well not consciously anyway!
I’ve always been a sucker for big vocals and melody hooks. Nirvana were the band who led me to shun the piano in favour of the guitar when I was 15, so I suppose it’s come full circle. My piano teacher told me I would return to the keyboard in the future, so I guess she was right.
Why the name ‘The Gulf of Space’? What do you stand for?
I spent many hours with the family music centre when I was young - one of those archaic perspex topped turntable/cassette/radio combos. I used to play through our modest vinyl collection - mostly Beatles 7 inches, Genesis and Queen LP’s, but it was Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds that particularly caught my attention.
I hadn’t heard something so dramatic and atmospheric before and would listen to it over and over getting lost and slightly terrified in equal measure. The Gulf of Space is of course taken from the opening paragraph of the novel and just felt like a perfect fit in terms of both the sound and themes of the songs, as well as a nod to my love of all things sci-fi.
How would you describe your musical style?
Alternative synth rock!? I’m not entirely sure really. I definitely approached the album with synths and house beats in mind, but from song to song I’m never too sure where I’m heading next. I think this is probably a good thing.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would you love to work with?
I’d have to say Thurston Moore who’s a bit of a guitar/all round musical hero of mine. I’m not one to get star struck, but on the two occasions that I’ve met him I hopelessly fumbled my words.
I remember watching 1991: The Year Punk Broke with friends back when it was released and have probably watched it more than a hundred times since. I became obsessed with Sonic Youth and Nirvana and still watch it regularly when in need of musical inspiration and motivation.
Tell us about your debut album Toria. What’s it about? What are its themes?
Firstly, not having produced an album with any of my previous bands, making an album was high on my to do list. It got to a point where it had grown so large in my mind over the years that I decided to make a concerted effort to write one. I set myself a strict six-month target and jumped in with both feet. Secondly, and not wanting to stray too far down a dark alley, but the album was very much a therapy.
I can appreciate this more clearly with hindsight, but having lost my mum and younger sister within 6 months of each other in 2013/14, Toria enabled me to channel many thoughts, ideas and feelings while coming to terms with loss, depression and anxiety. Needless to say it’s a very personal record.
When did you write it and where did you record it?
I started writing it in December 2018 with the exception of one song which I’d written a year or so beforehand. I recorded most of it at home with some parts recorded in hotel rooms/stairwells while working in London.
It was my first time using a laptop workstation which was a revelation in itself - being able to write, record and mix on the move enabled me to hit my self imposed deadline while fitting everything in around work and family commitments. Not being tied to a studio/mixing desk was a massive boost to creativity and productivity.
How does Toria represent your sound?
I don’t know how the sound of future recordings will compare, but Toria is definitely a snapshot of where I was musically at the time. For many years my 80’s influences felt like a guilty pleasure and it was nice to finally embrace them fully. I tend to gravitate to and from different instruments and was certainly having a lot of fun exploring synths for the first time. It was a genuinely enjoyable process.
Can you talk us through each song?
Track 1 - ‘Lupin’ was ironically the last song I wrote and instantly knew that I wanted it to go first. After a friend and key player in the Southampton music scene took his own life in 2018 (plus a string of social media posts discussing the rise in male suicide rates) and the fact that his circumstances felt worryingly similar to my own, it played on my mind for some time. The song echos the sentiment of encouraging people to talk before it’s too late - “Find me if you want to go there and join me on the edge”.
Track 2 - ‘Live So Young’ was the first song I wrote during the six month period and pretty much set the tone of the album. I finally had access to all those synth sounds that I loved so much. I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with Vampires which has cropped up in previous songs too (particularly the Daughters Courageous songs The Saddest Ever and Twilight Afflictions). Before writing the song I’d been reading about Greek mythology and became slightly obsessed with ‘Selene the Moonlight Goddess’ and her beautiful and tragic story.
Track 3 - ‘You’re Mine’ is one of my favourite songs on the album and probably the closest thing I’ll ever write to a love song. It’s about my partner Charlotte and how I felt when we first got together. When we were very young and many years before we first met, we were both frequently taken to the Southampton sports centre play park. We often wonder if we were ever unknowingly there at the same time. If I could go back in time and say hi, would she feel the same way about me?
Track 4 - ‘Stars On The Wall’ is possibly my favourite track on the album. The monotony hints at my love of dark house music and is the perfect backdrop for the theme. I’m very much a home bird and love being around my family, but I enjoy my own company too and the creativity which comes from time by yourself and the rich dizzy world that reveals itself in the wee hours.
How would I cope if I had a one way ticket to Mars, leaving my loved ones behind with nothing but myself for company, despite the promise of a new world and it’s beautiful unexplored vistas? The song is also a nod to War of the Worlds (my fave book - have read it many times) and on the harmony break at the end I tried to subtly replicate the ‘Ulla’ sound from Jeff Wayne’s musical version.
Track 5 - ‘Celestial Pedestrian’ is similar in terms of its house/dance vibe and the theme is very much to do with pharmaceutical affects on the mind. It’s about the unpleasant experience of taking anti-depressants and the creativity killing, zombie like sensation that came with it. The few lines from the Daughters Courageous track Twilight Afflictions toward the end were a good fit and it was satisfying to cross reference DC and TGoS.
Track 6 - ‘Parahorlux’ is a portmanteau of Parallax, Horlock and Horcrux and is a consideration of my state of mind during my lowest point over the last 4/5 years. The cocktail of depression and anxiety is a spiteful shit of a thing which on a few occasions made me feel like I was losing my mind. Matt Haig writes about it at length in Reasons To Stay Alive - a book which I’ve now read a number of times and which always helps to get me on my feet.
I’ve always thought that children are a natural Horcrux in the way that you live through them vicariously - on one hand you’d be utterly lost, compromised and devastated if anything ever happened to them, and at your lowest, they feel like the only things keeping you around.
Track 7 - I don’t think I can say much about ‘Fear, Love & Loss’ - the title and lyrics being among the most obvious and direct on the album was deliberate and not something I’d done before. Although the most simple in nature it was perhaps the hardest to record - the bigger the vocal, the harder it can be to contain. Losing my sister, then my mum so soon afterwards was indescribable really. It took a long time for colour to return to the ordinary things in everyday life. Summer memories are usually the most vivid, but for a few years afterwards I don’t recall summer at all.
Track 8 - ‘Toria’ is about my sister Vicky. She lived a very sad and tragic life overall, but it wasn’t always that way. Before her condition got the better of her and confined her to her bed for her last 12 or so years, she was a cheeky, energy filled, badly behaved force of nature. She loved music and would frequently wake us up in the early hours singing at the top of her voice. She had a Fisher Price tape player and a box full of cassettes which she would play in 30 second/1 minute bursts before ejecting one and selecting another.
Making the song less than two minutes long was therefore intentional - she loved a strong melody/chorus and ‘stand out’ instrumentation/patterns, hence the vibrant keyboard solo and staccato nature of the main synth. For a while after Vicky died I had a recurring dream about her (nightmare is probably more appropriate) in which she was uncharacteristically lucid and aware of her own predicament.
Naming the album Toria was overwhelmingly fitting for a number of reasons - for her love of music and a small tribute to her short and unassuming life. She was 33.
Track 9 - ‘At The End Of The World’ was the first itch that an album was overdue. From a narrative point of view it was among a small batch of songs that I wrote a year or so before starting the album. I vividly remember writing and recording the song by myself in half a day - a lo-fi rock version which put me in mind of Dinosaur Jr. I tried recording a version with previous band Daughters Courageous, but was never happy with it as it just didn’t have the balls-out energy that was essential to my first solo effort.
This new version restored that missing energy and adding the synth melody meant that it sat next to the other tracks more comfortably. The song is about my mum who died of cancer in 2014 and a particular memory of her that stayed with me. Towards the end, time with my mum was largely spent watching her sleep on her sofa - a pale shadow of her confident and headstrong self. One particular afternoon she had a lucid reprieve - hugged me tearfully on her sofa, told me she was proud of me before getting up and walking outside into her sun drenched garden. The irony in the song is that despite being atheist, there’s a suggestion, or perhaps a hope, that I might see her again one day.
Track 10 - ‘Beguile The Weary Hour’ is for my children - I’m talking/singing to them directly. Many an early hour has been spent either worrying about, or marvelling over both of them and hoping that they both know how much they mean to me. Mine and Charlotte’s mum both intended to write goodbye letters to everyone, particularly their grand children, and both sadly ran out of time before they could.
Charlotte’s mum died of kidney cancer in 2018 and her condition took hold so incredibly fast at the end. If anything ever happens to me, then at the very least I will have left this song behind which brings me a degree of quietude.
What are your hopes for Toria’?
I honestly had no particular hopes for the album when I was writing and recording it - I was simply doing it for the love and enjoyment. It’s an achievement I’m proud of and genuinely thrilled to think that others may enjoy listening to it. I didn’t realise that it would be the start of something though - not simply being excited about making a second album, but also about the people I’ve become reacquainted with as a result.
What are your other plans for 2020? Might we catch you on tour?
The Gulf of Space is a studio only venture at the moment, but there are two other projects I’m also working on that I’m pretty excited about. So who knows? I do miss playing live shows…
Finally, if you could go back in time and give yourselves one piece of advice, when would it be and what would you say?
From a music point of view it would probably be back to when I started Daughters Courageous. I would tell myself to trust my instincts, be less critical of our creative efforts and to simply enjoy being in a band for the love of it. Bit of a cliche perhaps, but it took me a long time to realise that. Hmmm, that was three pieces of advice. Oh well, if I could time travel I’d want to make the most of it!
Listen to Troia from The Gulf of Space on Bandcamp below. For news go to The Gulf of Space Facebook page.