Band of Horses interview

The following interview is from Friday, May 8, when Band of Horses was working at Asheville’s Echo Mountain Recording Studio on an upcoming album. Ben Bridwell (singer/songwriter, founder, guitarist, front man) and Creighton Barrett (drummer)—both from Charleston, S.C., Tyler Ramsey (guitar) from Asheville and former Asheville bassist Bill Reynolds (now living in Atlanta) all spoke to Xpress at Echo Mountain’s downstairs lounge/game room. (Keyboard player Ryan Monroe was not available at the time.)

Photo of Ben Bridwell by Michael Sulock.

Mountain Xpress: Tell me about the new album.
Ben Bridwell: It’s an album of recorded music. From Band of Horses. We’ll be playing musical instruments. [The rest of the band laughs.] We started kind of getting things together in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. We were really interested in the musical history there and wanted to tap into that resources there to see if it would expand some of the song ideas we had going.

Did it?
BB: It expanded some ideas of other stuff. Like, how to almost get thrown in jail. It was kind of a weird experience, but ended up being really good. We didn’t really know where we were at with the songs. This is the first time we’ve really gotten together. It ended up being a glorified demo session. We started there and realized we wanted to come back to Echo Mountain and be in Asheville for it. So this is our third time coming back for this record.

Where are you in the process?
BB: It’s hard to tell. Right now we’re working on a lot of texture stuff, stuff like acoustic guitars and keyboards. There’s still some songs that we’re not quite that set on the arrangements of them. Some of the songs have come pretty far and others we need to reevaluate. It looks like we’re going to be taking our time with it, just making sure we can get the best performances we can get.

Is it a luxury, at this point in your career, to be able to take that kind of time with an album?
BB: Yes indeed. That second album we did here was pretty rushed because we felt like the iron was cooling down and we wanted to make sure we could stay in people’s minds. With this one, we’ve worked hard enough up to this point that we don’t necessarily need to put out an album every year. We’re kind of free agents as well. We don’t have a label.

You’re not with Sub Pop?
BB: Not currently. We might end up back with them again, but right now we’re just kind of doing everything ourselves and kind of seeing what comes a log. Not that Sub Pop is slave drivers, but when you only have yourself to be your boss, it allows you to take as much time as you want.

The two of you (Ben Bridwell, Creighton Barrett) are both in South Carolina and Tyler, you’re here in Asheville.
Tyler Ramsey: Still here.

And Bill, you’re in LA?
Bill Reynolds: In Atlanta.

My question was going to be, how does it work having everyone in different parts of the country?
Creighton Barrett: It can be difficult, ore than everyone being in the same place and having slightly normal practice schedules. But we work with it as best we can. We usually fly out before we do a run. We book somewhere for a couple days of rehearsal and get things in line. In the big picture, if you have the resources, it’s not nearly as difficult as it seems.
BB: It has become a little bit harder to do. We have a new guitarist who lives in Sweden.
CB: [Laughing] Seriously.
BB: And Ryan, who’s not here right now, he’s in Columbia, S.C. We’re not all that spread out, but it’s not like other bands who are, “Hey, we practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays.” If we did, things like this record would have gone a lot sooner. Because other bands know what their songs sound like before they book studio time. But we have no other choice: We have to make it work. To be a band. For music.

(To Tyler) I read an interview you did earlier this year and you mention the tour schedule was less hectic. But it seems like you’re doing a lot of shows.
TR: We do have a lot, but it seemed like last year we were supporting, playing off that record [Cease to Begin] and traveling a lot. Now we’re working on this album, so the stuff we’re doing is more like short bursts rather than giant tours like we were doing last year.
BB: We don’t have to go out and promote. It’s more like just making money on concerts, on festival stuff.

Do you have a preference between theater shows and festivals?
CB: No. It’s quite a different beast. the festivals are always fun because it’s high energy. You get thrown on the stage for a quick set—50 minutes or so—and it’s do or die. Sometimes you don’t get a great sound check. Sometimes that can work out. We’ve gotten pretty used to it. especially with everyone being spread apart. Sometimes we come together at a festival for the first show. It’s like. “Alright, dudes. Let’s give it our all.”
BB: It can be really exciting in that way (rather than) on tour where you get to a venue at 2 p.m. and sit around ‘til sound check at 5. Seems like a lot more energy drain when you play club shows sometimes. More exciting atmosphere at a festival. But sometimes the controlled environment actually lends for a better performance.

Are your Copenhagen and Helsinki dates—just two shows in Europe—for something special?
BB: There’s one on Oslo as well. Oya Festival. On that little run there’s Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki. It’s a little run but we’re trying to make sure we don’t pass over Scandinavia anytime the opportunity arises.
CB: We have a really good time there.
BB: It’s just a little jammer. We don’t have to go out and do anything, so if someone wants to pay for us to come out and do music, we’ll go.
CB: The first time we went to Europe was actually Oslo. I joined the band after the first album [Everything All the Time] was completed. Since that time it’s been such great support over there. It’s pretty magical in Scandinavia for us, to be honest.
BB: Absolutely. That was our first time going to Europe, kind of wide-eyed American kids, you know? They were so supportive of us, really early when the record first came. So we want to return the favor by always coming around.
CB: Helsinki just kind of got added, luckily enough. We’re very excited to go to Finland because we haven’t gone there yet.

Tyler, are you working on a new solo album?
TR: I’ve been writing stuff and, with the amount of time that we’re going to have free this year, I’m going to start later on—maybe after that tour—doing some recording. I’m getting ready to go hide in a cabin and work on stuff.

How has your last album solidified since you’ve been touring it?
TR: If you get to play your songs every night, they’re going to evolve over time.
CB: Especially if it’s just you who gets to play them. You can do whatever you want.
TR: Exactly.

(To Bill Reynolds) How have you adjusted to being in Atlanta and Los Angeles rather than Asheville?
BR: I still love Asheville a whole lot. It all happened—we started staying at this hotel when we first started going out to LA to play. It has a diner underneath it. I weighed like 115 at the time and I gained 25 pounds from eating there. It was something that felt right. I felt healthier, I could eat there. In a matter of two months I got up to my fightin’ weight. So, I was like, “You know, there’s something magical over there.” I had some friends, and I ended up subletting a place over there. It inspired me. When we were working on this record coming up, all of us wrote, ever if wasn’t going to be for the record. Something out there inspired me so I would spend hours and hours a day f**king around with music. I think it made me a better player, so I did my little run there. And then going to Atlanta was a totally different change, too. I live in a house, take care of animals and don’t go to bars. The difference is I’m probably a little healthier. I feel really creative. I felt really creative out in LA, but I think I left it at a good time or I would have burned out on it. Honestly, I could live anywhere, really.
BB: You kind of live everywhere. Can’t hold him down.
CB: You are pretty jet set.
BR: It just kind of hit me. We toured so much, that when we’d get off the road,we’d only be home for a few days. I dragged my feet on getting a place because it was like, “Hell, we’re gone so much. Why would I start renting a place now?” I waited for us to slow down. And Atlanta happens to be where my girlfriend lives.
BB: As soon as you get grounded it will be time to go promote this record. Don’t put down that lease.
CB: You made the mistake of starting to date a girl in the stow season. She’ll be like, “Are you really gonna be gone?” That’s how it goes.

(To Bill) Was it weird to go back to Sub Pop after having been on that label with The Blue Rags?
BR: No. I actually made good friends with [SubPop]. The guy who runs that label is Jonathan; we kind of kept in touch. I never told the guys this, but before I started playing with Band of Horses, he told me, “You should play bass with Band of Horses.” I was like, “Well, yeah, I’d love to.” And then I ended up making friends with Ben and Creighton because I was producing a record here [Echo Mountain] at the time. These guys came in and we hit it off. I don’t think they even knew I played bass at that time.
CB: I remember we were upstairs and we walked by him completely shredding on a bass and we were like, okay that’s it. Pretty much after that [he was with us]. And then we stole Tyler as well.
TR: Stole my heart.
CB: And we’ll never give it back.
BR: I think Sub Pop’s a really great label and it gives you a lot of street cred to be on that label. There’s a lot of good artists on that.
CB: It is a nice family, for sure.
BB: And like Bill was saying, the guy who runs that label, Jonathan, is such a great dude. It would be hard to feel weird about that guy, he’s just so nice.
BR: The Blue Rags, we had just had our run. It was time to put it down and do other things. That was when I built Collapseable Studios and I got into making records.
BB: Little did we know that would be the core group of our dudes.
BR: I feel like a race horse that’s been pent up. It’s really good with these guys. I feel like my sound really comes through.
BB: We’re getting there. We’re getting to be a really tight unit of everyone’s song writing being the Band of Horse instead of just my songs. This album we’re recording has something from everybody in there, all over it. We’re finally a real band.

How much does Tyler’s guitar work change the sound of the next album?
BB: So much. In a bad way, but also in a really intensely bad way. [Laughs] It’s so much more dynamic. Bill as well, being in the band because Bill didn’t play on the last album, either. We were just four dudes basically doing a minimallistic approach to that album, just trying to get it out. This record feels so much more dynamic because of Tyler and Bill actually knowing how to play their instruments and knowing how to be really diverse with their playing to suit the song. This record seems really night and day compared to the other one.

Is it enough of a difference to disturb your fan base?
BB: I sure hope so. I think if anything this record blends a bit of the first record and the second record together. My right hand man back in those days was Matt Brooke [who has since left the band]. He had a really cool guitar playing style with a lot of texture and a lot of taste that was really missing from that second record. I feel now with Tyler’s paying it brings a lot of that back into it, but even better than the first record, to be frank. That style is back into the mix, a lot more and better. So I don’t think this album will be disturbing, I think it will be welcome. I think this next album sounds a lot more interesting than that last record. I hope they’re not disturbed by it, unless “disturbed” means “awesome.”

There’s this guitar sound on Cease that’s crispy and sparkly. Is it the type of guitar you play or an effect?
BB: A lot of that comes form Phil [Ek] who’s upstairs. He has a really good ear for trying to squeeze any emotion out of any sound we’re gonna get. So it’s “No One’s Gonna Love You,” that delayed guitar, he’s gonna find what will really jump out of the speakers. But it varies from song to song. He doesn’t let anything go stock. Nothing’s compromised. That’s all his wizardry.

Where are you at these days with your thoughts on licensing songs?
BB: With the Wal-Mart thing, it’s funny, at the time I remember feeling pretty much like ‘This is my one shot to cash in real quick.’ I had a baby on the way. I was pretty nervous. The records was still… people hadn’t grown with it a lot. A lot of people were turned off a bit to it compared to the first one. I was like, “Crap, maybe I’ll be flipping eggs at this time next year.” If a company like Wal-Mart, that I’ve gone and stolen batteries from and sold back [the whole band laughs] like seriously for my whole teenage years… If I can do that for 15 bucks a pop, why not hit ‘em for $150 thousand dollars? Why not f**kin’ punch ‘em in the gut and take their money instead of giving them money? That’s the way I saw it at the time, I thought it was the most punk rock thing to do to take their money. What do I care? I record the song, it’s not mine anyway. It’s the world’s. Why not squeeze something out of it? That was my feeling at the time and I guess it came off as pretty cocky. It was me being a bit still green. So, in hind sight now, I would and will be a lot more careful about who we get in bed with. I think we might have the chance to be around for quite awhile and I’d hate to soil our legacy by doing things that the people that look up to us—I’d hate to let them down in the same way. I think we owe them more than that. As far as TV shows and film goes, really, it does not bother me one bit. I think just when it comes to the big corporate stuff, you have to weigh the pros and cons more than I did at that time.

It seems like the music business has changed so much since the 80s when REM could be cavalier about not going commercial. I’m guessing the Ford commercial brought you to a whole new audience.
BB: That helped us tremendously. Why not think of it as the biggest radio station in America, broadcast into their homes? I’m watching my favorite football team playing and I get this … all of a sudden I’m in the bathroom and I’m hearing myself in the other room. Am I losing my mind? No, they’re playing our song! We’re being broadcast to so many people. It’s like, you’re gonna pay us to do that? Are you f**king kidding me? It’s the best thing in the world! But at the same time I understand it turns some people off. I look at it as an opportunity for more people to hear our songs.

Do think that among some artists—maybe not you—there’s some resentment about that attitude from fans, especially since no one is buying albums these days?
BB: Kids are always like that. We were like that.
CB: Exactly. At first I was kind of off-put by it. I can’t lie and say I’m not. But it’s a necessary part of everything, not just music. We were totally those kids: “I hate Pearl Jam!”
BB: I don’t think those people actually put themselves in your shoes. If that 16 year-old kid was 31 years old and had a family to take care of or just no other options of anything to do with their life except for make their dreams come true and play music, I think they’d probably feel differently about it. Instead of doing anything you can to scrape by to make a living from your favorite thing in the world. I just really doubt those people would feel the same way. Everyone likes to get one their high horse, especially with bands. That’s fine, you know.

The other end of that is the Pete Seeger celebration that Ben and Tyler played.
BB: You know, that guy quit The Weavers because they were offered a cigarette ad. Who knows when that was. The rest of the Weavers really wanted to do it. They needed the money. But Pete Seeger stuck to his guns, didn’t care about anything commercially or anything or any sort of ad placement. So you see how a guy like that has lived his 90 years and had a quality life and not had to be being rich or famous. It helps weigh some of those pros and cons about getting into bed with corporations.

(To Ben) How did you and Tyler end up playing

Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday party?
BB: They asked if we were interested and I said absolutely. Then they said they could only fly me up there, because they had so many people and couldn’t afford to have the whole band up there. And I said absolutely not.  Because I had just played solo right around that time and didn’t enjoy it. So I asked if , with Tyler being such a great guitar picker, he was the obvious choice to take up there. The thing with [Tyler] being so mean kind of swayed me for a little bit. So I asked Tyler if he’d do it and luckily… they gave us two rooms. Because I can not stand his breath.
TR: Aww! That was not nice.
BB: That was not nice. I’d like to strike that from the record. I’d like to say I’m sorry.

You got your start in Seattle and you’re from Charleston. So when you play to your home audience, where is home?
BB: It’s Seattle, it’s Charleston, it’s Asheville, it’s Atlanta…
CB: That’s the coolest thing about the trouble we have with everyone being far apart, not living in the same city—it’s also the raddest thing because it is home base. It’s so many places.
TR: Yeah, you get more than one home base.
BB: It makes for a mass of guest list nightmares all across the country. We have family everywhere we go. Playing in Charleston is cool, I swear, but the beer is gone before we get to the show because our friends already got there and drank it. But playing in Charleston is really coo. We did a couple shows at the Music Farm last year. We sold it out two or three times in the year, and that’s where Creighton and I really cut our teeth when we were teens. We used to go see bands like Pavement and Jesus Lizard.
CB: And Astroman.
BB: It was really cool to be part of that history and play in that room, but now I swear we’ve outgrown it. We’re lucky even small towns like Charleston have some pride in us being from there and want to come support us. It’s cool. We feel super lucky.

And you’re back at The Orange Peel?
BR: This will be Tyler and my first Asheville show.
TR: Yeah, it’s our first show with the band.
BB: No Kidding!
CB: I didn’t even think about that. That last Orange Peel show seems like it was f**king forever ago.
BB: And back then we were playing with Matt Gentling, another Ashevillian, playing bass.
CB: A hero of me and Ben’s. he still is. We were huge Archers of Loaf fans. Actually met him for the first time here after The Grey Eagle show.
BB: We really like being in Asheville. It’s like another hometown because of Tyler and Bill’s history here. Really, recording here and spending so much time. We spend more time in Asheville than in Charleston these days, mostly because we’re in Asheville. Recording.
CB: Music.
BB: We go out and see people around. I think people have gotten used to us being around. Especially Tod’s Tasties. It’s all part of our stimulus to the Asheville economy.
BR: And that high gravity beer at Buddha Belly or whatever.
TR: Thirsty Monk.
BB: We’re definitely contributing to the Asheville economy.

Read this week’s story on Band of Horses here.
Band of Horses plays the Orange Peel on Tuesday, June 16. At press time, tickets are sold out.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter




About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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