St. Petersburg hardcore band Horsewhip resurrects, reinvents ghosts on debut album

The newer band of older men unloads sludgy hell at American Legion Post 111 on Saturday.

click to enlarge WHIP IT GOOD: (L-R) Horsewhip bassist Jeff Howe, guitarist Shaun Drees and vocalist Mike Grantham. - Matt Valler
Matt Valler
WHIP IT GOOD: (L-R) Horsewhip bassist Jeff Howe, guitarist Shaun Drees and vocalist Mike Grantham.

There are dozens of tired adages about loving something, letting it go and then coming back to it, but pathetic platitudes were probably not meant for the 17 punishing minutes of noise that Horsewhip has put to tape. Dan Shook described the St. Petersburg outfit as a “newer band of older men,” but Horsewhip bassist Jeff Howe said that Shook, the proprietor of Financial Ruin Records (which is releasing the band’s self-titled debut), was acting as a poet of sorts when he crafted copy to introduce the band to a nation of hardcore and extreme-music fans.

“I don’t think we feel too old,” Howe, who’ll be 39 in November, told CL. “A few kids, some dogs and marriages can’t slow us down too much.”

That’s saying a lot. As a member of mid-'90s Tampa hardcore punk band Reversal of Man (and then combatwoundedveteran, which broke up in 2003), Howe was part of a band infamous for its reckless, breakneck live shows and a 20-minute 1999 LP, This Is Medicine, which contained 16 grinding tracks of aggression screamed into the ether by a spastic frontman (Matt Coplon) who purportedly used to tape the microphone to his hand so he didn’t fling it into the crowd during shows.

“If someone were to bulldoze a mall with people inside of it, this could very well be the soundtrack,” is how Blake Butler of Allmusic described the Reversal of Man album. Horsewhip doesn’t inspire that specific kind of violence, but the album is a thick, unforgivingly heavy statement that could only emerge from the swampy, sweaty depths of the Sunshine State.

Recorded with Dan Byer at his St. Petersburg-based Rock Garden Recording before being handed to Fort Walton Beach native Jeremy SH Griffith for mixing, Horsewhip’s new album is technically more downtempo than anything that Reversal of Man did, but the music hasn’t lost any of the edge of members’ previous projects.

“It wasn’t really a conscious thing to slow things down. It was, however, to be heavier,” Shaun Drees told CL, adding that Griffith turned the record into “a death wall of weight.” Horsewhip’s guitarist and vocalist was member of Early Grace, Guiltmaker and Fathers. He said that the experience of playing in different bands sharpened the group’s ability to write for Horsewhip.

“[We’re] still chaotic and loud, but maybe a little more mature.”

Horsewhip vocalist Mike Grantham, who sang for Order of Importance and Fort Myers’ The Christkill, explained that his simple mission is not much different from what he did in the past. “[We’re] trying to write music that speaks to us and is relevant to whom we are,” Grantham said, adding that for the most part, members of Horsewhip did not feel the pressure of their collective pasts.

The lone exception may have been drummer Alex Bond, who reached out to Howe through Reversal of Man’s Facebook page. Howe, Grantham and Drees were already cooking up a plan to get back into heavy music, but Alex was asking if Howe knew anyone looking for a drummer.

“Shaun and I jumped on the opportunity,” Howe said. Bond, who at 37 years old is the youngest person in the band, had never met Drees or Howe when their old bands visited Bond’s home state of Indianapolis, but a few of Bond’s bands (Sutek Conspiracy, The Dream Is Dead and Illithid) had played in Tampa and Lakeland while on tour in the past.

“Turns out [Alex] shredded the drums, and we started writing songs immediately,” Drees, 41, said. Songs came naturally during the band’s biweekly practices, where Drees would visit Bond with riffs, and sometimes entire arrangements, in hand. There was no rush to write a ton of songs and then trash them.

“It was always honest, democratic and with no drama,” Bond told CL, admitting that he did feel somewhat intimidated coming to the band as something of an outsider.

“Everyone in Horsewhip has been friends for decades, so I had to not only put the work into helping form our band and sound, but I had to get to know everyone in the band and work to form those relationships.”

On Saturday, Bond and Horsewhip will officially release the album at the American Legion in Seminole Heights, a neighborhood where every member save for Bond once lived. A lot has changed over the last 20 years. Drees said he used to have to wait to read shitty reviews of his record in punk magazines, and now websites — including Noisey and Metal Injection — are reviewing stuff before the album even comes out. Word of mouth has been translated to a new medium; gone are the days when a band would have to rack up $400 phone bills to book tours on landlines. Tape trading is archaic; kids now have carpal tunnel instead of the ink-stained fingers they’d be left with after writing letters to folks in other scenes. Horsewhip, however, is throwing it back at the release show, and playing on the floor, surrounded by old friends and new fans, too. Drees said the show is definitely going to be nostalgic.

“There is something more personal about shows where everyone is standing around you. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed since back in the day,” Grantham added.

Chasing down the very thing you love the most can be exhausting, and those are the breaks, but every now and then life cuts you a break, too.

“Life is a losing game that’s full of mistakes and disappointment, but there are bright spots now and again,” Grantham said. “This record is definitely one of those bright spots.” 

Horsewhip w/Yashira/Reality Asylum/Sentries. Sat. Oct. 6, 8 p.m. $5 donation. American Legion Seminole Post 111. 6918 N. Florida Ave., Tampa. More info: Call your local record store to see if it is carrying the release.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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