Listening to Band of Horses

will make you hip, but they aren’t just for hipsters. They’re for anyone who appreciates the subtleties of musical freshness. Their lyrics are provocative without being overly cerebral, and their music balances effortlessly on the side of simplicity; they’re genuine, not dramatic. That’s why millions of people have proudly pledged their allegiance. With venues like the Fillmore, the Fox Theater, Ryman Auditorium, Coachella, and Jazz Fest becoming familiar sites of packed audiences, the Carolina-based five-piece shows every sign of more success to come.

Less than ten years ago Band of Horses released their first album, which was followed by the unforgettable Cease to Begin. The first two records were like beautiful strangers you swore you’d met before. Infinite Arms then followed in 2010 to widespread critical acclaim. Released just this past fall, Mirage Rock represents the band’s fourth studio record, produced by the well-known Glyn Johns (much to the chagrin of some BOH faithfuls). Although it has yet to reach the acclaim of its predecessor, Mirage Rock has been receiving global attention, and this big band will be stopping in little Chico on Wednesday to promote it. Lead singer/songwriter, Ben Bridwell, graciously spoke with Synthesis in prep for the show. The interview takes you behind the mind of the man who stands at the front of Band of Horses.

(Author’s note: the smoothness of the conversation and the modest authenticity of Bridwell’s responses are impossible to capture here; it was surreal and I wanted to give him a hug.) 

Let’s start at the beginning; “The Funeral.” Who’s the “you” in “I’m coming up only to hold ‘you’ under.”?

I tend to substitute “I” and “you” and “we” and “us”’ and so on, and I think I tend to dance around who those people are; sometimes even within the same song. But particularly that song, I think the “you” there could be the listener. But sometimes — and it might be the case here — the “you” is me and I just don’t want to say “I.”

Anything you want to add about that interchangeability of pronoun reference? 

Honestly, sometimes it’s phonetic garbage that just sustains the meter of the song, and sometimes it’s totally deliberate. I might seem like I’m trying to complicate this, but I really don’t understand it myself and I’m kinda glad I don’t.

It’s okay not to understand things.

Then I’m doing great!

What song would most appropriately be played at your own funeral?

Man, that is tough! Well, I’d say “Happy Birthday.” I like going with the opposite.

Fast-forwarding a little, let’s target “Older” from Infinite Arms. Can you remember the catalyst for that song? 

Dude! Actually, Ryan Monroe — our keyboardist, guitarist, badass extraordinaire — wrote that song. I think about that song often. I’m glad I don’t know the catalyst for it though, so I can’t ruin this one for you.

Let’s talk about ghosts. They’re mentioned a few different times on Cease to Begin. 

Well, “Is There a Ghost?” goes back to when I was doing home recording, and I tend to get this paranoia or hypersensitivity when I’m writing and recording a song. The slightest noise will set me off. But anyway, the ghost there is actually my icemaker. With “No One’s Gonna Love You,” I think that’s just the kind of person or thing or memory that haunts you through time.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I’ve never seen one, but it’s hard for me to say that something does or does not exist. I’ve personally never had an encounter, but I wouldn’t rule it out, that’s for sure.

What strides do you believe you and the band have made as you approach your tenth year? 

Listening and watching some of our really early performances, I was still struggling to find my voice. There was some amateur shit going on that kinda makes me cringe to revisit it. I think the most major strides are in the musicianship of the band, but more importantly in the overall vibe. You know, bands have to become a family and all that cliché shit, but in our family there’s so much love involved that problems and egos are easily fixed. There’s still some dysfunction just like any band, but it works for us. There’s lots of love now, and that makes it more fun.

Can you explain how you eventually “found your voice?” 

Totally! Reverb [laughs]. Reverb and delay. Same thing with guitar playing. I was so nervous, and I’d never sung or written songs prior to Band of Horses, so those effects aided my lack of talent and really gave me a security blanket to go out and do it. And when the crowds responded well, that kind of shaped the sound of the band. It lead to atmospheric stuff, which probably lead to songs like “The Funeral.”

Considering your musical life to the present, who are the influences that we don’t know about? Who are the ones that we can’t pick out easily?

Oh great question, man. I hear ’em all the time. There’s plenty of Dinosour Jr., Pavement, Grandaddy, and Archers of Loaf in there. I cut my teeth on those as a teenager. That’s in my bones just as much as Neil Young and the Rolling Stones. And even the solo stuff of Ronnie Lane (Faces). But I could really only hit the tip of the iceberg if I told you all the artists I borrow from.

Now what about your non-musical influences? What shapes your music that isn’t already music? 

Ah, great one. I’d say conversations, definitely—my wife, someone at the grocery store, and certainly Ryan Monroe and best friend Chris Williams. Anybody, really. Conversations, man.

Into the present now, Mirage Rock seems more nonchalant than usual. I don’t mean that in a bad way really. Am I right, and what caused that to happen?

Absolutely. There’s a lot of reasons, but I think it’s a combination of bringing in Glyn Johns and because we didn’t have time to overthink it and over-edit. It was a liberating process, for better or worse.

Now that you’ve gone through different approaches to recording, how do you envision the production process of the next LP? 

I would imagine doing something different from what we did with Glyn. I don’t want it to be too easy. I’d like to have the option of overthinking and over-editing, if possible. I’d like to have someone there to blow the whistle, so to speak. I don’t think producing it ourselves is the direction we’d go in, but it’s too early to speak out loud about it. I fear the repercussions.

Lastly, what song do you wish you’d written?

There’s a million of ’em. But a song I totally adore? How about “These Arms of Mine”?

Love it.

Band of Horses will perform alongside support act The Olms next Tuesday, April 16th at the Senator Theatre. If tickets haven’t sold out yet, they can be purchased in advance for $27.50 at www.senatortheatrechico.com. The show starts at 8PM and welcomes fans of all ages.

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  1. Ben Wilkins says:

    Great article. I truly love this band and am in shock they are coming to Chico. My brother and I are catching them in Oakland this Saturday, and of course again Tuesday the 16th in Chico! Truly a dream come true for this fan!