Band Of Horses is a group that has not only become one of the most successful bands in the land but one of the most unique. Blending unified walls of colorful sound with spatial vocals and arrangements, raconteur Ben Bridwell has been turning heads since he began his musical conveyance in 2004. With three solid records to date, BOH has been blessed with chart-topping singles as well as a Grammy nomination in the Best Alternative Album category for their latest disc, Infinite Arms.
If you ask Band Of Horses Bridwell how he got where he is today, the good-natured singer will literally shake his head with a laugh and tell you it was just a matter of doing something that others had overlooked at a time where music fans were looking for new inspiration. The tale of this band is the stuff legends are made of. From their initial rise from the ashes of Carissa’s Wierd, to their meeting and eventual signing with Sub Pop Records, an exhilarating tour with Pearl Jam and current pairing with Columbia Records and their current headlining tour, there’s nothing slow about this fast-gaited band. Ben took a few moments to talk about everything from the transcendental moves of the music business to his favorite eatery on the tour.
2010’s Infinite Arms marked a few departures for BOH. The first noticeable one was the end of your relationship with Sub-Pop. Was this due to the turn in direction with the revamped band?
The thing with moving labels was that we ended up doing this record ourselves and obviously in this day and age, any kind of deal you can get out the music industry you just squeeze ‘em for all you can, and that’s exactly what we did. We just went with the best deal. And we did have a great time hanging out with the Columbia people and the Fat Possum folks and it didn’t seem that they’d be impossible to work with. They really worked with us, gave us the best deal and the most control over our property.
The band boasts a pretty impressive list of ex-members. I’m assuming that many didn’t get where you were going within the context of the band’s future?
Yeah, that’s true. It started before the first record even came out. I guess it was always some people not wanting to do this band full-time. There were also some that didn’t fit into the groove of how we all behave and shit. And then some people I guess the music wasn’t quite there for them or something. I mean, maybe we were all doing it out of friendship, but in the end, the band had to keep moving forward.
Another first, well at least a return to the contribution style of the first record, was that the current members brought some interesting song ideas and a sharply focused playing talent to Infinite Arms. Was it a welcome feeling to be able to just let that happen?
It was definitely that. It kind of felt like the pieces were finally falling into place. It was time to celebrate that and relinquish some control over the process and kind of have a coming out party for everybody, you know? At the end of the day, those songs were what we thought were the stronger songs. There were tons more written by all kinds of people but the songs off of Infinite Arms were the ones that made it, and luckily you really get to see everybody’s stamp in there.
Infinite Arms also marks the first time that you stepped in to produce your own record. How was that experience after being under the direction of Phil Ek for your first two records?
It was really fun. And a bit dangerous because I didn’t have anybody to blow the whistle on me (laughs)—Phil was a great whistle blower in that respect. But it was really liberating, you know, but also at the same time we probably had too much time to over think things. It got a bit squirrelly at times and it is kind of nice to have somebody in there at times just to keep some different outside perspective. Because engineers are just there to capture sound and do edits and stuff and it’s not their job to tell you if something sucks. I need somebody around to tell me if my lyrics are really stupid.
Now that you’ve been proven to be successful, will you stay self-produced for future releases?
I thought doing what we did was important because it was the third record. If you’re not getting to take some chances on your third record then what are you really doing? Are you creating art or are you trying to just become more successful? So I thought it was a cool risk to take and really fun and different. But now I’d like to do something different from that and have somebody in there to help with the direction just to change it up from last time. Maybe every third record we’ll make a slightly overindulgent—you know, an “us” record—but then maybe every other two, we’ll stick to somebody that can blow a couple of whistles (laughs).
I hear a lot of comparisons to Neil Young, but I also hear influential wisps of Rodger Hodson (Super Tramp) and Brian Wilson. Who are the important musicians that influence your writing?
Oh my god, there’s so many, man. I’m a massive music fan and I’m constantly spazzing out about bands and songwriters. So it would be an injustice to just name a couple. But the Neil Young one is definite for sure. I grew up with a lot of soul stuff. So I hope some of that sneaks in a bit, even some of the blue-eyed soul stuff like Hall & Oates and things like that. Contemporary bands as well like Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket and Dinosaur Junior. I think everything goes into that influential category.
Do you think that because you learned how to play guitar when you started the band that it enhanced your writing, as there were no preconceived playing styles or notions?
Yeah, that was kind of true. It didn’t seem to be my best asset, that I can tell ya (laughs). But now it’s funny. Since I learned how to play a C chord I’m trying to forget it so I can get back to whatever the magic was that I had on the first record… No, not really (laughs). But seriously, I’ve been an idiot savant sometimes in the writing process. I mean I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. So I just kind of looked for a melody anywhere I could find it. Now it’s structured like, “Oh a fucking C chord, or a G chord,” you know? And I’m constantly playing other instruments that I don’t know how to really play well just to see if I can get some of those vibes back into what I’m doing now.
It seems many big labels are quietly supporting smaller outfits. Do you think the industry is finally realizing the value of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?”
Yes, one would hope, right? I think you’ll see with our situation and with a lot of new bands, you’ll see that you have your own imprint on the packing itself and then it’s distributed through the big label. It’s definitely a bit of give and take. Sometimes positioning is used as a bargaining tool because you can do things like retain ownership of your masters and things like that. It’s like we’re leasing our little brand out and this is our little business card that we’ve driven there, you know?
I’m speaking to more bands such as BOH that use television and commercial licensing for income. Do you think that people view that as corporate sellout?
Yeah, it’s been so good to me. I mean, that’s the reason I have babies, and I love my babies. I can’t find any fault with something that allows a lifestyle like that. As long as my kids are getting good doctor care and eating well then everything is good. And I think most savvy fans know that you have to pay the bills. So I never hear anything negative about that.
If you had to pick a favorite song that you play live, what would it be?
We do a more up-tempo version of “Infinite Arms” that’s a lot heavier and sludged out. I love doing that. People that have seen us before get to hear the songs in a different way and [that] hopefully keeps people excited to keep coming back. It cracks me up that when we had all that freedom in the studio we never tried to do it that way. But yeah, it’s funny to me, and I love playing that song.
Are you working on new material? Is there a time frame when we might expect to see the next BOH record?
Well, I sure hope that it will be really soon. For the rest of this year we will be demoing new songs and ideas so I hope to be in the studio by January. So, fingers crossed, late next year.
What is the favorite road restaurant on tour, Waffle House or Cracker Barrel?
Waffle House all the way, man. That’s where I learned to read by looking at the menu! (Laughs) I swear to God, at least one meal a week was coming from there when we were kids! I actually live right down the street from one now and I’m so excited because I can sneak off real quick and grab a bite before the kids wake up.
Band Of Horses will be playing Aug. 10 at Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC. Find more info at bandofhorses.com.