Sydney band DARK HORSE are set to release their third album, titled 'Trauma-Taught Self-Destruct' later in the year through Grindhead Records, so we caught up with Dennis and Kieren for a chat.

When exactly did Dark Horse come together and how did the band form?

(Dennis): We’re a band now for a bit more than 10 years. We played our first show in May 2011 after rehearsing and writing songs for approximately 6 months. Back then, Romano was still playing bass. All members had been active in various bands in the Sydney scene for years so getting things off the ground wasn’t too hard. If I remember correctly, there was not a whole heap of fast and aggressive bands around in Sydney at that time so we came at the right time. We played as many shows as we could and by the end of that year we released a 8 track-demo.
In 2014, shortly after we came back from our first tour in Europe, our guitarist Freddo decided to leave the band and so shortly after we got Kieren on board to take on bass duties and Romano switched over to guitar. Kieren and I had played together in a band called None Remain for a few years so when it came to looking for someone new to fill the vacant spot we did not have to look very far. Since then the line-up has been the same.

How would you describe the sound of the band to someone that has never heard Dark Horse?

(Kieren): Always a tough one this of course, but I will try – the 4 of us come from different directions when it comes to our favourite music or the music we grew up on – Romano, more from a metal background, Dennis grew up with metal and discovered the wonders of hardcore when he was pretty young, Fran listens to weird shit, and I came very much from the punk side of things. Some of these differences probably aren’t huge to someone not into heavy music but for those that are there is a fair bit of a range – so the music Darkhorse makes is the points where all this crosses over. We share a mutual love of Disfear, Bolt Thrower, From Ashes Rise etc. and while we don’t actually sound like any of them, the influences are there, whether in a drum beat or a guitar riff. MRR said a “mix Disfear with Acme and a bit of early Hatebreed” and although I have never intentionally listened to Hatebreed, I am pretty sure what they were getting at is we may play D-beat hardcore but we love a big heavy breakdown. It is so much fucking fun to play stomping big chunky breakdown riffs. So yeah, “dbeat hardcore with chugga bits” is the professional term.


What sort of bands are influencing the sound of Dark Horse and was there an agreed sound to aim for when the band started? How much has it changed over the years do you think?

(Dennis): I don’t think the sound has changed all that much over the years. When you are a band for such a long time the progression in your music is just natural - you do what you do just a little bit better because you learned what works for you and what does not. Some of the newer songs might be slightly trickier to play compared to older material, I’m not even sure, but the essence of what our sound is has always stayed the same. In the early days, we took influences from D-beat bands like Tragedy and Disfear, or even heavier stuff like Entombed or Napalm Death, and tried to carve out our own little niche. We always had a rough idea of what we wanted the band to sound like but never tried to force anything. I think by the time we did the second album (‘Bomb Thrower’ 2014) we were pretty certain what Dark Horse should sound like and were eager to capture that on record too.

How does the song-writing process of Dark Horse work?

(Kieren): It’s very collaborative – Mostly Romano, Fran or me will bring in some riffs or a basic song out line and we start from there and then we fuck with it. Nothing ever stays the same and no song is “my song” or “Mano’s song”, they are all Dark Horse songs. We will change things, work on structure, fuck with riffs, try different drumming options or whatever until it is right. Although Dennis doesn’t play any instruments, he is very involved in the process either by giving feedback (“I would delete that”) or by describing an idea verbally that we then try and play. We don’t play songs live until they are really ready. This can take months, and that’s cool. It is about us writing the best songs we can and us all being happy with them.


You’re about to release your third LP, “Trauma-Taught Self-Destruct”, where was it recorded and how did it compare to your last trip to the studio?

(Kieren): Out last LP was recorded at Goatsound in Melbourne and we wanted to do that again, but unfortunately Jason didn’t have a studio at the time so we had to adapt. What we ended up doing was getting Jason to record us at Toyland studio and then he mixed it from home. It was a weird process though – due to lockdowns and the unpredictable things this has brought up, there ended up being somewhere near a year between our initial booking at the studio and us actually doing it. We had to cancel and rebook and reschedule flights etc and by the time we did it, there was quite a weird headspace around it. We mixed by email with the four of us (like everyone else in the state) not being able to get together at all. We don’t live in the same area so we couldn’t even catch up somewhere. This was not ideal and not how we would prefer to do it next time, but we got through without actually killing each other (we haven’t seen each other since so there is still time for that). Meanwhile the art and everything else around the record has also been done by email. I am really happy with the outcome, even if the process wasn’t what I would have chosen.

What exactly does the title “Trauma-Taught Self-Destruct” refer to?

(Dennis): Some of the songs on the new album deal with personal tragedies, and how people respond to the traumas that made them become who they are. In a way, we are all work in progress. Our lives are forged by our experiences, good and bad, even though more often it is the negative experiences that leave the real deep scars. For some it can be a lifelong process to come to terms with traumatic events, whether you had a fucked up childhood, lost a loved one, experienced abuse, chronic illness or whatever. These things stick with you and sometimes take over. I myself have dealt with depression in the past and eventually had to seek out help to process what I was feeling in order to get back on track. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky and get the help they need it. Sadly, people sometimes can reach a point where they cannot go on anymore. Just last year we lost a close friend to drugs who had been struggling for many years. It’s fucked up because when we got the news of his passing none of us was surprised. We had seen it coming for some time.
So yeah, “Trauma-Taught Self-Destruct” refers to the human experience that we all go through, that constant tightrope act between healing from your past and facilitating your own ruin.

You've recently released a lyric video for the track "Death By Cop" that focuses on Indigenous deaths in custody. I don't know if you've watched the Incarceration Nation documentary on SBS, but there is some mind blowing footage and statistics in there that over 500 Indigenous people have died in custody since 1980 and yet not one police officer has been charged for their death. How do we address this problem do you think?

(Dennis): Obviously, things have to change. Let’s start with police accountability: criminal cops belong behind bars like every other criminal! Instead cops are allowed to investigate themselves knowing damn well that they have nothing to fear from their superiors or the courts. Also, start providing adequate training and improve police practices - get rid of shit like those monstrous spit hoods for example - and fucking stop putting black kids away for minor offences.
In addition, and I’m stating the obvious here, a lot more work needs to be done in order to empower black communities who already are massively disadvantaged and to provide a pathway to self-determination instead of just policing and managing them. Black communities should be able to have control over their choices or live a certain way if they want to. That should go without saying. Unfortunately, the opposite seems true. You’ve mentioned earlier the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody since the royal commission, and I mean, those statistics are simply unacceptable. Just shameful. Sometimes I wonder where the public outcry in the broader community is.
So to come back to your question, how do we address these problems? What should we as part of the white majority do? Everything we fucking can. Speak out against racism and prejudice, and raise awareness among white Australians for these issues. Consider donating to the right organizations, support black businesses, acknowledge traditional owners, and call out racist shit wherever you hear or see it. Because the status quo is not good enough. The status quo is bullshit. And if you’re reading this and think these issues are not your issues, then fuck you.

Got a favourite song on the release and why would you choose that one exactly?

(Kieren): For me, probably the title track ‘Trauma-Taught’. It’s just hell fun to play – big rocky d-beat riffs and heavy crunchy bits with thumping drums. My reasons are that simple – it is fun for me and makes me happy. There is not a song from this album that I don’t like and there are several I could have said in answer to this question for various different reasons but when forced to stick to one, this is it.


You've teamed up with Grindhead Records for this release, having self-released your last couple of releases, how did the partnership come about?

(Dennis): Grindhead Records owner Bubsy has supported Dark Horse since the early beginnings. He released our first 7inch (Split w/ Black Jesus, 2013) and subsequently our first LP “Sick of the Living/High on Death” in 2014. We’ve know each other for ages and when we asked Bubsy if he was interested in putting out our record he immediately said yes. It’s true, we prefer to keep things DIY, but it is also nice if someone else does a chunk of the work for you. We have full confidence in Bubs and the people at Grindhead. The new album is set to see the light of day in early December, and will be available on LP, CD and tape. 

How can people find out more about the band and the upcoming record and keep in touch?

(Kieren): We have the standard social media – Facebook, Insta, Bandcamp. In normal times we post all our gigs there and put our music up on Bandcamp for free download. At the moment there aren’t any gigs but we are still posting and trying to stay in touch with the world. Best bet – come to shows! When the world is not gripped by a global pandemic we play a lot, tour a lot and generally get out there in the world so come say Hi when shit opens up again.

'Trauma-Taught Self-Destruct' will be out by Nov/Dec on LP, CD and tape through Sydney label Grindhead Records.

Head here to watch Incareration Nation on SBS On Demand.



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