Burdensome Beast

Horse Thief on its sophomore release and growing up.

interview by Emily Hopkins | photos by Samantha Jane @Sisterbrother MGMT

We were going for an early ’70s Rolling Stones vibe when we asked Horse Thief to join us at a friend’s historic home in downtown Oklahoma City. Mick and Keith lolling about the mantels and long grasses at an English country estate in velvet smoking jackets served as our inspiration.

But it wasn’t that kind of day, and Horse Thief isn’t that kind of band. Horse Thief is the latest OKC-based group to rise to the international scene. Yet this merry band of brothers proved more inclined towards skipping across the well-tended grass—not quite as rock and roll as Mick and Keith stoned in a British pasture. Rather than regale us with punk stunts, band members politely removed their borrowed brocade, velvet and leather jackets and excused themselves for a quick cigarette out back. Absolutely none displayed as much chest hair as Keith Richards (okay, lead singer Cameron Neal did let a little ginger chest swag show).

‍‍photo by Samantha Jane @ SisterBrother Management

What you see is what you get with Horse Thief: mellow, honest, up for whatever. Fresh off their sophomore release, Trials & Truths, they’re riding the uncertain wave of rising fame. But they certainly haven’t crested.

And—nobody’s more surprised than they are—their influence extends far beyond Oklahoma’s borders. Case in point: lead vocalist and guitarist Cameron Neal tells the story of a Chicago man who messaged him after the single “Drowsy” came out. It’s a song evoking images of needles and destruction: “I saw the heavens and I ran like hell,” Neal rasps. This man, whose wife had recently died of a heroin overdose, sent Neal a lengthy message about how he’d heard the song on the radio and was lifted from the pits of despair.

Attention from national music media has helped Horse Thief reach beyond Oklahoma. Spin magazine praised the band’s 2014 video for “Devil,” calling the song a “woodsy, tuneful” single that helps listeners “(d)iscover the menace and magic of their new, weird America.” Touring, too, has helped Horse Thief reach new audiences. Since their first full-length LP, Fear in Bliss, dropped in 2014, the band has played support for The Paper Kites, Midlake and two-time Grammy nominee Elle King.

“I met Cam and the boys at Willie Nelson’s Ranch, and the second you hear them live, you immediately want their album on repeat,” King said. 

“It’s the same thing when you meet them. I believe in them to no end, and I’m sure one day I will, reluctantly, be opening for them.” Not to be overly doting, King added, “they’re also total assholes.”

Trials & Truths debuted on January 27 to mixed reviews, common for second albums. Steve Lampiris of The Line of Best Fit says, “Trials improves upon Fear in Bliss in every way, so much so that the former almost feels like their true debut.” PopMatters’ Chris Conaton, on the other hand, asks, “So why didn’t the record move me more? Possibly it’s because many of these songs are so straightforward that they end up feeling a bit bland.”

‍‍photo by Samantha Jane @ SisterBrother Management

Ironically, many critics drew the same conclusion with the Eagles’ (one of Horse Thief’s major influences) 1973 sophomore effort, Desperado—now widely considered one of the most classic country/rock albums of all time.

Post-cover shoot glow, Arts & Entertainment editor Emily Hopkins chatted with Horse Thief about growing pains, playing to near-empty rooms and the weightiness of sophomore releases. For the full interview, pick up the spring 2017 issue of Territory:OKC.