Having formed eight years ago in Seattle, Band Of Horses ascent to one of the biggest alt-rock outfits to emerge from the US underground scene should be seen as a lesson in perseverance to all. While 2006's debut long player Everything All The Time sowed the seeds, its successor Cease To Begin - released eighteen months later - established them as a potential force to be reckoned with.
Having made several line-up changes along the way, 2010's Infinite Arms - their first release on a major label - elevated them to the peripheries of the big league, culminating in a Stateside tour with Kings Of Leon last year. Sadly, those dates came to an abrupt end earlier than scheduled due to the headliners seemingly imploding on stage after the first few shows and cancelling the rest of the tour. Undeterred, Band Of Horses carried on regardless, combining a relentless live schedule with writing and recording sessions for their fourth record.
Last month saw the release of said album, Mirage Rock. On tour once more from now until the early part of next year, DiS caught up with frontman and founding member Ben Bridwell during a rare break from playing live.
DiS: You're playing at Florida's Deluna Festival this weekend. Where are you at present and what are you up to?
Ben Bridwell: We've been in New York for the past four days doing promotional stuff, and then we're going to be recording the David Letterman show in a few hours for the TV broadcast. We did a webcast two nights ago.
DiS: Which songs will you be performing on the show this evening?
Ben Bridwell: We've got a whole hour which is killer, so that will go out on the web but for the purpose of the television show we'll just be doing the first single off the new record, 'Knock Knock'.
DiS: What made you choose 'Knock Knock' as the lead single off the new album? Do you think singles are more important now in terms of gaining radio play than albums in the current climate?
Ben Bridwell: In the current climate, absolutely. I mean, being on a major label they put more emphasis on singles compared to when we were on Sub Pop. I don't think it was ever a consideration back then that we'd end up on heavy rotation for radio or MTV. I don't think it's something we've really thought about as a band either to be honest. Every bit of success we've had has genuinely come as a surprise. I think radio play is a big deal now in terms of having something to promote. It's another way to bring our music to people's attention. I mean, I've never really seen us as much of a singles band , but if someone else has a different idea we'll go with it. I don't really get that involved with choosing singles, but if the big brains at the top of the label think 'Knock Knock' is the one to go for then why not? Let's go for it.
DiS: Your success has been achieved over a long period of time, almost in a slow burn. Were there any expectations or ambitions for Band Of Horses when you first started out? Did you ever believe the band would reach the level it has?
Ben Bridwell: Hell no! To even have a record released on Sub Pop was like a dream come true, and completely not in the cards as far as I thought. Some combination of luck and hard work has somehow gotten us to this point. I've been ridiculously surprised by every turn.
DiS: What about the label? Surely there must be different expectations and targets for the band set by Columbia compared to what Sub Pop had in mind?
Ben Bridwell: Well, for one they work for us. It's a tough one. I don't wanna be seen to be putting anybody down. I also don't want anyone to be disappointed in us. Joining a label like Columbia always puts thoughts in the back of your mind. You do sometimes worry about being dropped, but then that doesn't enter my thought process when it comes to making a record. If anything, we took the opposite path on this album. We just made a time machine art project with Glyn Johns for fun, so we try not to get bogged down with any of the pressures around whether it will be successful or not.
DiS: I guess there must be a lot riding on Mirage Rock's success from the label's point of view at any rate.
Ben Bridwell: I guess so, I mean the target - I think - is to focus on the live shows, because that's where Band Of Horses have always been at their strongest. I'd like to think we have the capability to leave people feeling better at the end of our show than when they first walked in. I feel like we've come full circle from where we'd be someone else's tour support and then hopefully make a record along the way to the point where we're now making albums to support our own tours. I think we can display what we're about much better in a live setting than on a record. People have said to us in the past that they didn't quite get us until they saw one of our shows. I don't know..?
DiS: What's also interesting is the band's line-up now seems to be quite settled after several changes between the first record and Infinite Arms. Do you see this as being the definitive Band Of Horses line-up?
Ben Bridwell: Yes, I absolutely feel that way. This is my favourite line-up of the band. We now have a group of like-minded individuals that are like brothers without all the fighting most brothers usually do; it's really important, we have to travel so much together that - it sounds cliched but it is like a marriage of sorts. I've been lucky enough that I've been able to cherry pick some really great people that also happen to be talented throughout this band's existence.
DiS: In the two years between Infinite Arms and Mirage Rock, how long did it take to write and record the new album bearing in mind you spent a large part of that time on tour? Were you writing new material while on the road?
Ben Bridwell: I always have. Any spare minute I get if an idea comes along I'll jot it down and try and come up with something, so yeah. Even if I don't have one to start with I'll fool around for a while and try and make a joke into a microphone or something. I just naturally acquired between fifty and sixty songs while we were touring.
DiS: Really? That's quite incredible.
Ben Bridwell: Yeah, I mean that gave us a lot to choose from. You might not realise it from listening to the album but there was a lot of material. Glyn (Johns) got hold of all those songs and he helped us choose what made the final record. We had a few songs which we knew from the outset had to be on the album, it was just a matter of making sure the rest of the record fit. I also think you have a responsibility, not only to our fans who might want to hear and buy the record, but also to each other in terms of everyone putting their share of work in. And then there's also my responsibility as a father, so as to ensure I'm not cheating my family either. It's about striking that happy medium, making sure everything is balanced just right.
DiS: Of those sixty songs, obviously eleven made the final tracklisting for Mirage Rock and six more have appeared on the bonus disc for the album. Do you envisage any more of them being released in either the near or foreseeable future?
Ben Bridwell: There's two songs that I just could not allow to be put on the bonus disc for Mirage Rock. Those two songs, I love so much that I want to have another stab at them, if not for the next record then I don't know what. But I couldn't part with them in a throwaway sense just to go on a bonus disc. I mean, that's not to devalue the songs that are on there either but I genuinely think these two songs have the potential to be among some of the best things I've ever written. That's why we never plan that far ahead too much. In an ideal world I'd like those songs to be part of something we do in the future, but then we have so many damn songs it would probably be much easier for me to say what I wouldn't release. I don't think there's anything - or very few - that I've written that I wouldn't ever put on public display in some fashion.
DiS: Who has the final say what goes on your records? Technically it is your band being the founder member, but is it more of a democratic process, particularly with this line-up?
Ben Bridwell: Glyn (Johns) obviously had a lot to do with it, because it did become this time machine art project. Glyn's from the old school of recording and his methods were a great help in deciding how the record eventually turned out. We wanted to capture in a way some of the places where he's been. Some of the more rock and roll stuff instead of just rocking. Because of that, we were always open to suggestions. He became a sixth member of the band in a way. Sometimes he'd suggest we do a certain song in a certain way and we'd just go for it. We had fun with it and all these extra pressures that come with making a record ended up being tossed out the window. At times it became like a jam where we'd just carry on playing and leave the tape running, play it back after and see what panned out.
DiS: On your previous albums you've worked with Phil Ek. How did Glyn Johns involvement on the record come about? Was it something you decided on or was it down to the label?
Ben Bridwell: We wanted to use a different method for this record. We ended up taking the reins on the last album because we had a scheduling conflict with Phil. So that kind of broke the fact that Phil had been there all the way through every one of our recording processes up to that point. It became something of a challenge to complete Infinite Arms, and I think by the end of making that record we enjoyed it. We wanted a different challenge with this one, so we pooled together a wishlist of all our favourite producers. It was pretty rusty to say the least, but once we'd sent that list off to our management they came back and said Ryan Adams had just worked with Glyn on his Ashes And Fire record. They knew Glyn as a result so called him up and asked if he'd be interested in working with us. The fact that he was even available was a great surprise for us.
DiS: Did it ever feel quite daunting that you were going to be working with someone whose list of production credits includes the likes of Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones and Who's Next? by The Who? Were you worried that you might be compared to some of these artists as a result?
Ben Bridwell: Yeah, I mean trying to live up to the rock and roll legacy that precedes him? Absolutely, but only when I was apart from him. When the process first started, it was all emails and phone calls rather than sitting down in a room together, and that's when I did over think things. When he first made suggestions about some of the songs it was a little daunting; here was a guy who'd worked with The Rolling Stones and The Who, and I was like, "How the hell do we fit into all this?" Once we got in a room together it all made perfect sense.
DiS: Listening back to a lot of the album, it seems a lot more immediate than its predecessor. There's also quite a "classic rock" feel to some of the songs. 'Slow Cruel Hands Of Time' reminds me of 'Lyin' Eyes' by The Eagles while 'Dumpster World' is similar in structure and melody to America's 'Horse With No Name'. Were these ideas you brought to the table or was it a combination of both parties?
Ben Bridwell: I'd like to think it was a combination not just of us and Glyn, but also from what we'd learned off making our first three albums. For example, a song like 'Feud' which is not really Glyn's expertise, sort of in your face straight ahead indie rock, pretty much came from us. But then there are parts of the record that were influenced by Glyn, absolutely. It's not like we were pandering to him in any way, but certainly the method in which a lot of Mirage Rock was recorded makes it impossible not to hear The Eagles or indeed several of the bands Glyn has previously worked with. With most producers, it's more about us being in a room and laying the tracks down then the producer adding a lot of overdubs and stuff. Whereas Glyn is more about making sure we're involved all the way through the process.
DiS: You've been involved in production and co-production of your own records pretty much from the start. Is there anything you've learned from working with Glyn that you'd take away and apply in the future?
Ben Bridwell: Yes, I mean besides doing something using a less-is-more approach, which freed up a lot of mental space just to enjoy the moment, I'd also say it stopped us from worrying too much about what we sounded like or what we can program into a computer to make it sound more cohesive. It was more organic, haphazard even, and I think that is so important when making a record. Because of modern technology, it's so easy to over think the process and lose focus on the actual songs. That was the most enjoyable part of the whole experience for me, and hopefully it's something I'll take away and use in the future.
DiS: Do you see yourselves working with Glyn again in the future?
Ben Bridwell: I think it would be really important for us to work together again, honestly. We started and finished the first two albums with Phil, and I think that's a great amount to do with one producer. You should always challenge yourself and then move on in a way to see what else you're capable of. So, I do see us working with Glyn again. I think it would be interesting. I'm also on the fence right now because at the same time I wouldn't want us to fall into an easy trap. Not that I'm saying it would happen with Glyn, but I still want the next record to be a challenge for us.
DiS: I think it's fair to say over the course of your four albums you haven't fallen into any kind of trap. You have a distinctive sound, but that wouldn't make a difference if the songs weren't there in the first place.
Ben Bridwell: Yeah, although I do think we wear our influences proudly on our sleeves. Going back to what you were saying earlier about America or The Eagles; it's almost deliberately so. I'm trying to pay tribute in a way to a lot of those sounds. Being a music nerd and a fan first and foremost, I don't mind paying tribute like that and hopefully somewhere along the way, maybe forty years from now, someone will be paying tribute to Band Of Horses in a similar way.
DiS: I have to ask you about the aborted Kings Of Leon tour where you were due to support them across America last summer. Did you learn anything from that experience?
Ben Bridwell: Yeah man, I remember being thoroughly confused by that whole incident. I think I was on the tour bus straight after our show, and a couple of the guys from the band came on and went, "Holy shit! Things are going bonkers on stage and off stage." People were screaming. I genuinely didn't know what to do. We sat in the lurch for three days or so in Florida, and I think at some point I said to the other guys if they're gonna cancel we need to have a back-up plan. So that's when we started booking our own dates. It felt like someone had dropped the ball, and we had to pick it up and run with it. It was a such a great opportunity to be able to open for them, and hopefully expose their crowd to our music, maybe even pick up some new fans along the way. So it felt like a perfect time to say, "OK, so the Kings Of Leon aren't coming to your town, but we are, so if you're disappointed they won't be showing up we will be." It might have seemed like a slimy move in a way but I saw it as a good way to embrace the hard work ethic and not fall into a comfort zone. It was also about making the best out of a bad situation that was totally beyond our control, and I think we did gain several new fans from that whole experience. It wasn't as if we were trying to rub it in their faces by any means but we wanted to carry on playing shows, and they didn't.
DiS: Would you ever consider opening for a band again if a similar opportunity presented it itself in the future?
Ben Bridwell: Of course. It's the same as us displaying our influences proudly, getting to open up for other bands is something I relish. I love getting to play a concise "greatest hits" set - or "non hits" - whatever we have. We've been lucky enough to play with a lot of our heroes and I love that experience. I'm sure our management despair when we're asked to support somebody again but I don't look at it like that. I see it as a really good chance to expose our music to new people, and then when you get the opportunity to play with some of your influences; people like Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters for instance, why would anyone not want to do that? It's like, you not only get the chance to watch a band you love up close and personal for free, you also get to share a stage with them! I think it's a way of being inspired by what's gotten them to that point as well. Sometimes it's easy to become a little too comfortable, and I don't ever want to take anything for granted, so I'm never worried about being first on the bill because I think you can always learn something from that.
DiS: What can we expect from the set lists at the moment? With such an extensive back catalogue to choose from, how do you decide what to play and what to leave out?
Ben Bridwell: Man it's hard! I do think we try to make sure we pull material from our entire catalogue, especially the ones that we're better known for. I think we have to touch on those, and we also have to indulge ourselves some way. When I put together a set list every day, I don't go for comfort, even for us. It's usually about whatever the mood is, whether it's the building or the town that we're in. I try to make it specific for that day so there's never any static. It should never become too easy. It's about challenging ourselves while also hopefully making people feel good who come to our shows.
DiS: Are there any songs which you perhaps wouldn't consider including in the set any more?
Ben Bridwell: The only ones that I'd say I will not play are the two songs from the first album that Mat Brooke sings on, 'I Go To The Barn...' and 'St Augustine'. I've never thought it would be right to do either of those songs without him, so I avoid them. But everything else is fair game.
DiS: Finally, are there any new bands or artists that have caught your eyes and ears yet not received the exposure or recognition you believe they deserve?
Ben Bridwell: Well, I'm sure being based in the UK you've probably heard of Michael Kiwanuka. That record just flipped my lid man! That's been my favourite album this year as far as new bands go. This is one of those questions that I always struggle until later on, and then a load of new acts will spring to mind! Actually, there's a great band from New York where I'm at right now called The Whigs. I adore that band. Again, you can hear their influences in what they do, but they obviously love what they're doing. I'm thrilled at the state of rock and roll at present and anyone that says otherwise is probably not digging deep enough.
Band Of Horses play the following shows in November:-
15 Birmingham HMV Institute
16 Glasgow Academy
17 Dublin Olympia
19 Manchester Academy
20 Hammersmith Apollo
The album Mirage Rock is out now on Columbia Records.
For more information on Band Of Horses visit their official website.