We spoke with self-proclaimed queerdo artist A Horse With a Horn from his home in Los Angeles…
By John Stein
From his childhood growing up in conservative Oklahoma, A Horse with a Horn walked a very different road from that of his peers. His experiences have given him plenty of creative material: the songs on Mindless, A Horse with a Horn’s debut album, are all about embracing love through the good times and the bad, about facing demons and figuring out emotions. It’s about navigating other humans and understanding one another as well as one’s self. (You can watch his video for “Right in My Face” below)
His songs come from his own traumatic experiences. He was six when he first pierced his ears, eight when he bleached his hair, and nine when he dyed it blue.
By age 12, A Horse with a Horn was experimenting with alcohol and drugs, and in the second week of middle school, he was found unresponsive from alcohol poisoning. Luckily, his sister was trained in CPR and saved his life. Five months later, he overdosed on prescription pills.
At age 13, he attempted to take his own life and was committed to a mental health facility. It was in the hospital that the truth for all of his wild behaviours finally came out.
“I had been sexually abused by multiple people: my babysitter’s sons and my mother’s boyfriend’s son. I don’t think I even knew that what I was experiencing was abuse until the final rape that broke me and led to my hospitalization.”
He would eventually be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a situation he believes he finally has under control, although it does still rear its nasty head into his love life every now and then. “I hate the things that happened to me and the crazy shit I put my family through, but I wouldn’t be the human I am today without having survived the mess. I feel like one of my main purposes in this world is to share my story to maybe help someone else suffering from similar trauma.”
We spoke with the self-proclaimed queerdo artist from his home in Los Angeles.
The title of your album comes from the realization that you don’t always make the best decisions in relationships. What are examples of some of your worst decisions?
The album title is really intended to speak about both parties of the relationship playing “Mindless” games, but if we are talking about me, the worst decisions I have made in past relationships were acts of infidelity. There are some people in my past that I know I truly hurt with this careless behaviour even if I truly did love and care about them. In my early 20s, before I decided to focus on my mental health, I spent a lot of my time in manic episodes. I let a lot of my insecurities and past trauma lead me to reckless behaviour of self-sabotage that other people also had to suffer through. The things I did were never meant to hurt others, only myself. I am fortunate enough to have been forgiven by the ones I hurt during that difficult time of self-discovery.
Aren’t most young men mindless when it comes to love?
There are plenty of emotionally intelligent men out there who can love without playing games. But I do think a lot of people, regardless of their gender identity, play plenty of mindless games when it comes to love. We are all constantly learning to navigate other humans, and even ourselves.
What are you looking for in a partner?
I’ve found it! I’ve been with my partner over a year and a half at this point, and it’s something way beyond what I ever thought I deserved. The thing I find most important in relationships is having a best friend and lover in one. I never fight with my partner and we love pretty much all the same things, minus video games. I don’t have the patience or the time. We are politically aligned, sexually aligned, and everything else aligned. People say we are in the honeymoon phase because we still can’t be separated, but I think that time has passed and we just make so much sense to each other and enjoy all the same things that we have no need to do things separately. They say opposites attract but for me, I would not agree. I love having someone to connect with who truly gets me down to the core, even when it comes to the darker side of my past. Oh, and I also love that we have the same weird style, because my accessory collection has doubled.
You’ve been open about being diagnosed as bipolar, so I have to ask: how does the disorder play into your relationship?
In the past, it led me to pursue relationships with other unstable people. Now that I am healthy and taking care of my disorder, I feel it has no role in my relationship. It’s been quite some time since I’ve felt a lack of control, and I am grateful that I had taken care of myself before meeting my partner.
You’ve also been open about being sexually abused as a child. Has that impacted your ability to love and trust another person?
I feel my openness about my trauma creates stronger bonds with both lovers and friends, and helps build that trust. As for love, I’ve gotta lot of love to give. My family was very loving throughout my entire life, and my mom always instilled that it was important to tell people you love them as much as possible because you never know when it’s your last opportunity. I think this really helped me stay loving and caring to others, even though it took me most of my life to learn to love myself.
In the “Right in My Face” video, we see you capturing an all-American boy and forcing him into the dark side. Is that something you’ve done or would like to do?
I never want anyone forced into anything in life. The video is really rather a metaphor of embracing something seemingly scary, like breaking the mould of the traditional world and embracing individuality even when you feel the world might not accept it. I know my style and vibe is not everyone’s cup of tea but I feel like the message is universal. So many people live by other people’s rules, and I think it’s time to change that. We are still living in a world full of bigotry, and it’s time to change that and embrace who we really are. Unless who you are is a bigot – then you definitely need to not embrace that. Embrace your weirdness. Embrace your sexuality. Embrace liberation.
Considering your traumatic past, it’s pretty amazing that you have gotten to the point where you are not only embracing your inner desires, but encouraging others to embrace theirs.
It was a very long and hard road out of that hell. I suffered through mental health issues, self-mutilation, self-hate, trouble with the law, substance abuse…somehow, I always remained an open book. I always shared my trauma with others and in doing so I learned about many other people’s traumas. It’s quite disheartening to know that so many people have experienced such painful abuse from the hands of others, but I learned that opening up and talking about these experiences truly helped people, many who had never told anyone else about their past.
As for embracing myself and my desires, I don’t really know what led me to be so open, other than my mom giving me the freedom to discover myself and who I was. I knew who I was at a young age and I was never afraid to express that to the world. I mean, I wanted my ears pierced in kindergarten and my hair blue in the fourth grade, and I was fortunate enough to be allowed to do it, and that continued through my teen years as well. I think my desire to express my individuality and my openness helped encourage others to find their true selves and work towards embracing that.
Of all the songs on Mindless, which one best represents who you are as an artist?
I think “Mermaids,” because it represents me both musically and thematically. The style of the song has a lot of arpeggiated synths in it that were sounds influenced by Fischerspooner’s first album. Fischerspooner, by the way, is the band that is responsible for my love of electroclash/electropop and the reason I am a musician today. I first heard their track “Emerge” when I was 13, and my music tastes were never the same again.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Keep fucking going. It is going to be a hellacious first 20 years of life, but despite all of the pain and the struggles, you are going to experience so much love and beauty that looking back you will realize it was all worth the fight. You have so much to learn, but also so much to teach and share with the world. So just keep fucking going.
A Horse with a Horn’s Mindless is being distributed independently and is available on Apple Music, Spotify and all digital platforms: https://linktr.ee/ahorsewithahorn. Visit https://www.instagram.com/ahorsewithahorn/.
JOHN STEIN worked for print publications ElectriCITY and the Los Angeles Times and is now a digital media producer, freelance journalist, and author who primarily covers entertainment and current events. He is a movie buff, is obsessed with his three chihuahuas, and has a mild video game addiction.