After frontman Nathan Winneke jokingly dubbed his group “Nintendo-core,” Horse The Band’s vortex of contorted roars, metal-core hysterics, esoteric video game references, and crusty 8-bit-style synth became inextricably linked to the nebulous genre. But beneath the impish veneer of the unruly L.A. outfit lurks some harrowing stories. In advance of Horse's show on Friday, Dec. 11, at the Gramercy Theater (opening for Norma Jean), Winneke spoke with The A.V. Club about the band's far-reaching world tour, demanding money from audiences, and peeing in some guy’s mouth.
The A.V. Club: You went on a 40-country tour last year. What were your most memorable experiences?
Nathan Winneke: There was the show we made the “Murder” video out of in Serbia that had 200 insane kids destroying each other and our gear. [Although] it seems that that’s not strange once you see every kid in the crowd drinking two-liter bottles of beer before the show. There was a show in the middle of China where there were maybe 10 people. These business guys came in and started chanting for us to move on to the next song, “Ai, ai, ai, ai!” Very bizarre.
AVC: How were the turnouts overall?
NW: For our first show in Italy, we had about 30 people in an 800-capacity place. [Laughs.] But it was mostly way better than I expected.
AVC: You convinced a group of kids once at Warped Tour a few years back to roll down a hill at the venue when security told them otherwise. Are you always trying to engage the audience that way?
NW: We’re just having fun. I’m not going to go through the regular rigmarole, “I want to thank all the bands for playing tonight!” [Instead] it’s, “For this next song, I want to see you guys go crazy!” We want people to interact with us.
AVC: At another point, you stopped playing until the audience paid you. Once someone threw a dollar at the stage, the band continued.
NW: That’s happened more than once. Only two times they’ve given us money. The second time, I got nine bucks, probably. We can’t go around doing that every night.
AVC: What have you been most surprised to find yourself doing?
NW: I urinated in some guy’s mouth once. It’s on the Internet. He drinks my piss. It’s kind of gross. It was supposed to be the drummer doing it, but the drummer backed out. That was staged, I guess, but that was years ago. I drank most of a handle of Jack and I was like, “Okay!”
AVC: You’ve mentioned that while Horse’s songs appear lighthearted, they’re typically darker than they seem. What’s a strong example of something that does that?
NW: “Birdo” [from 2005’s The Mechanical Hand]. It’s a metaphor of a stupid bird [from Super Mario Bros. 2] who shoots eggs of its mouth. It’s telling the tale of my ex-Marine stepfather who punched my mother in the face when I wouldn’t eat eggs. [The song] says “throw it back” [and] it’s talking about anger. Imagine a 7-year-old kid who doesn’t want eggs and all the violence that comes from it.
AVC: Do you think people misunderstand where you’re coming from with all the stage antics and your musical style?
NW: Most people don’t have any idea. [Laughs.] It’s not some elaborate thing where you’re not in on the joke. People think too far: Either we’re mocking their favorite music or, because we’re having fun, we’re not serious about our music. We rub people who desperately want us to stick to guidelines the wrong way. We’re a giant zit on their ass. It doesn’t matter to us.