Saddle Up

An awkwardly named Australian duo hits the indie trail

We'll spare you the details about how the Australian duo An Horse got its name. It involves a grammar argument that singer and guitarist Kate Cooper had with her sister, and it's really not that exciting. Cooper herself would rather talk about something else, like her band's new album, Walls, or how she spends her downtime on tour.

"It's so brutal talking about that," she says with a laugh. "Thank you for not being that guy."

It's a typical indie-rocker response — and exactly what you would expect from a lady who met her future bandmate in an indie record store. Like an Australian version of all those American-bred boy-girl indie-pop duos, Cooper and drummer Damon Cox, who were playing in different groups at the time, immediately formed a bond and started a band, with her out front writing, singing, and playing guitar.

An Horse's first album, Rearrange Beds, came out in 2009 and echoed the ragged, spare, but hooky music played by Mates of State and Matt & Kim. It's sparkling, literate indie pop that never really goes so deep that you can't appreciate it on its own terms. Lyrically, it can be confusing at times, but don't sweat the details. Even Cooper admits that when she's stringing words together on songs like "Swallow the Sea" and "Trains and Tracks," Cox is often left scratching his head. "He actually has no idea what I'm singing about," she says.

There are many catchy and likable moments on Walls — especially the ones where Cooper doesn't get too caught up in the words she's singing. She stretches her syllables, guiding songs through the occasional volume boosts. She also has this little habit of repeating key lines before pulling back right at the moment you're getting tired of them. That's when An Horse truly find a groove.

"The first [album] wasn't really meant to be a record," she says. "They were demos, not a cohesive project. But the second time around, we had more time and people to bounce ideas off. It was actually a band making a record, not two friends recording songs and accidentally getting a record deal."

Walls is a bigger and fuller-sounding album than Rearrange Beds. But Cooper and Cox have no intention of expanding An Horse — not even onstage, where an extra pair of hands or two could come in, uh ... handy once in a while. Plus, additional bandmates could probably ease some of the offstage tension that's inherently part of the duo setup. "We've gotten better," says Cooper. "We actually have a pretty good relationship, where I can say, 'You're a fuckwit,' and he can say, 'No, you're a fuckwit.'"

Even after acknowledging the limitations of a two-person band, Cooper adds that she wouldn't have it any other way. She points to her solo demos as an example, noting that they sound like country songs until Cox comes in and adds some rock & roll muscle. Anyone else in the mix would just muck it up. "It's a good process we have," she says. "But we do need to be more creative. I hope I'm a better songwriter now. I mean, I couldn't have gotten worse, right?"

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