Wunderhorse on Meat Puppets, Joni Mitchell’s underappreciated technique, and striking out on his own
The solo project of Jacob Slater, formerly the all-guns-blazing frontman of The Dead Pretties, has returned with his own solo project and a wide palette of influences, with an emphasis on narrating stories that carry a greater emotional resonance. His third single, 17, sees him capturing a moment from his adolescence under the gritty hue of indie rock.
Wunderhorse. Image: Holly Whittaker
When you left the Dead Pretties, were the foundations already in place for your solo venture?
“I think I needed the time off after the band, but I was starting to write songs that didn’t quite fit in the Dead Pretties rock vehicle very well. I needed a lot of time off to get the ball rolling again. We got pretty lucky, we got on that whole wave of South London bands, with this (Wunderhorse) it’s a lot of hard graft but that’s all part of it.”
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One of the most interesting parts of Wunderhorse is the sparing use of anger, in comparison to Dead Pretties. It seems to come from a deeply emotional place, is that intentional?
“Those three years of being angry all the time about anything and everything was a bit exhausting. So yeah, I think in day-to-day life if you’re going to function, you’re not going to be chomping at the bit all the time, you’ll wear yourself out. I think it’s just a reflection of getting older and choosing when to be angry rather than just fucking raging all the time for no reason.”
Do you think the way you write songs now has developed from your work as a teenager?
“Yeah, which is a good thing. The process has changed, it’s probably more analytical now. When you’re younger things kind of fall out, you spit them out and say, That’s what I’m feeling right now.’ Now I try to write differently. Is that what I’m actually trying to say? Is this something I need to say?”
How does living in Newquay influence you as a songwriter?
“The whole area is quite grounding. There’s a lot of people who are creative and a lot of people who don’t work in the creative field and that’s kind of refreshing. I think it’s hard to find your feet and your faith in what you’re doing when you’re surrounded by everyone who’s kind of doing the same thing. It’s sometimes more valuable to spend time with people who have nothing to do with your professional life.”
What is your go-to guitar at the moment and why?
“I play a Les Paul live a lot at the moment. It’s fairly versatile, it screams when you want it to and on the neck pickup or the middle position you get that sort of more rounded tone. If I had my way and had a million guitars, I’d use a different one for each song. I do want to start using a Telecaster again, I do like Stratocasters but whenever I go to the bridge pickup it just never has enough bite, so it’s always going to be a Telecaster or a Les Paul.”
You’ve just released your new single, 17. The song’s guitar work has as much character as the lyrics
“I’d actually been listening to a lot of Crazy Horse and quite a bit of John Martin as well. It’s in D tuning which has that bassier sound that John Martin gets; that riff and the whole song just fell out in about five minutes.”
When you think about definitive guitarists who have mastered their craft, who comes to mind?
“If you listen to someone like John Martin or Joni Mitchell or even Nick Drake, they’re real masters of what they’re doing with tuning. Joni Mitchell in particular and her technique, watch her right hand, I can’t even tell what she’s doing, it’s so intricate. In terms of all out attitude, my favourite electric guitarist is Neil Young, he’s not the most proficient guy but he fucking means everything. The sound of his guitar, the old black Les Paul, that sound is just the most fucking mean thing I’ve ever heard.”
What’s the first song that drew you to playing on the guitar?
“My dad had a live recording of Jimi Hendrix doing Little Wing at the Albert Hall and that version is what I tried to teach myself – I’m pretty sure I botched it. It was really useful though because it was one of the first songs where I didn’t use the notation, I just listened to it and worked it out.”
Finally, what’s the best gig that you’ve been to?
“In 2014, I saw Neil Young and Crazy Horse in Hyde Park. There’s also Radiohead at Glastonbury in 2017; it was the only gig where I totally forgot where I was for an hour and a half, like being totally transported. I saw Meat Puppets playing at a crappy venue in central London, it just reminded me about why I started playing, it was like watching kids in a garage making loads of noise. They were just old dudes playing their songs really loud, having a great time, and it was a nice reminder that it should be fun, and it should make you smile sometimes.”
17 by Wunderhorse is out now via Communion.
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