Band Of Horses: A Moment To Sleep
introduction and interview by Daniel Coston
Originally published in the Big Takeover Magazine, summer 2008 issue
To some, it seemed like they came from nowhere. Band Of Horses’ 2006 debut album Everything All The Time was the record that your friends kept turning you onto. Forming out of the ashes of the Seattle band Carissa’s Wierd, the band had crafted a sound that carried both a love of 1990s indie rock, and moodier textures that often gave the songs a deeper edge. In the intervening two years, they’ve toured the world over, moved back to their original home base of South Carolina, and delivered their well-received second album, Cease To Exist.
At the heart of the band is singer, guitarist and main songwriter Ben Bridwell, whose voice and lyrics drive their music with an honest urgency. In constant to many other frontmen, Bridwell’s easygoing demeanor and sometimes blunt honesty and self-examination make you feel like you’re talking to one your oldest friends. It sounds silly to say this, but the people that make up Band Of Horses are really excellent people to be around, on top of having evolved into a sonically tight six-piece band, which makes you root for their success even more.
Sitting in their tourbus before their show in Birmingham, Alabama on February 6th, Bridwell will tell you that he’s the last person to self-examine his life, but what emerges is someone who found what he wanted to do, and is handling well the numerous changes that the last few years has brought.
BT: Is it possible for you to put into perspective the last couple of years for you and the band? It seems like such an amazing trajectory.
Bridwell: I kind of feel like we’ve definitely hit another growth spurt again, with the slow burn of the second record kind of infiltrating its way into people’s collections, or whatever. We’re definitely doing better than we’ve ever have. But yeah, it’s bizarre. I try not to think about it, any of it, just because, to think about any of it too much is distracting. It’s almost like you’ve still got to feel like you’re still struggling. You don’t want to be like, “More, more, more!” But you want to keep working hard, and not become complacent.
For us, it’s been nice. Most of us have been doing this for the greater part of ten years, touring.
BT: Do you feel like the band has evolved, with the six-piece lineup and the people you now have, to the point where you’re like, “This is closer to what I really want?”
Bridwell: Oh, yeah. I can’t believe I’ve been so fortunate to find the guys that I’ve finally got. I mean, I knew [drummer] Creighton [Barrett] and [guitarist] Rob [Hampton], once I got them into the band, that I finally had my band. It was beginning. And then a little bit of experimenting here and there, with different people, and finally figuring out what we needed, by those people coming to us. I didn’t know what we needed, until those guys just came to us. All of a sudden, I looked around, and it’s like, “Holy shit, I have a crazy talented group of individuals around me.”
I would never imagined that I’d be in a band that sounds like we sound now. I think we have such a nice full sound, compared to even that Charlotte show [when the interviewer saw them in June of 2006]. It was a totally different band. I just can’t believe that we sound so (pauses) pro, I guess. The kind of music I’d want to listen to.
Because in the beginning to middle [of the band’s history], around the time that you went to that [Charlotte 2006] show, it was still pretty hard. We were still playing some pretty bad sounding gigs. Now, it’s so much more fun, knowing that you can just trust the guys if you’re having a rough night.
BT: Has the new lineup affecting what you’re playing, but also, what you’re writing? Have you thought about what kind of sound they can bring to the band now?
Bridwell: I really want to use their songwriting skills on the next record. I don’t want it to be just another album of my songs. Although the first one had two songs by Mat [Brooke, who left the band in 2006], the second record had all my songs. I don’t know. Half of me wants to... keep working at it [the songwriting]. But honestly, I haven’t written a damn thing, and it’s almost because I know that we could sit down in three hours, and have half a record written. It may not be good, but we can work together so well, all of us, and pick up so well on how each other plays that I haven’t stressed about it. Because I know it’s going to come together.
Now [guitarist] Tyler [Ramsey], and [bassist] Bill [Reynolds] and [keyboardist] Ryan [Monroe], and even Rob have been working on some of their own songs that they want to bring to the table, which are gonna be really fun to try out, but I also would almost bet that some of it would come from a new process of going into the studio, and maybe just f--king around. We’re going to demo stuff, just for a couple weeks, and just seeing what we can write.
Yeah, I definitely fell like we haven’t made our best record yet. That could be a total curse, saying that. But I really like because, it wasn’t this band that was on those records, I feel like we haven’t made it. Maybe also it’s my favorite. We haven’t made my favorite record of Band Of Horses yet.
BT: Is it hard to write in the middle of constant touring?
Bridwell: It is. I just thinking yesterday, because we had our first day off in a while. And I should be up there writing songs, because when I’m home, I don’t really get much chance to write anymore. Just because I’m always surrounded by people, so it’s the same thing on tour, except for the days off. If I can get into a hotel room by myself, it’s like, that’s my time. So I’ve got take advantage of that, but at the same time, you’re burned out. Or you’re sick, you want to stay under the covers, and not leave the hotel room all day, which is what I did yesterday.
And today woke up feeling like such a schmuck, like I finally had a second to get some personal writing time, and I didn’t do shit. So then, I was going to punish myself by buying a ukulele, and seeing if that would inspire me.
I really miss it, though. I miss having a day alone just to sit and write, and lose my mind on that stuff. It’ll happen. It’ll have to happen, because if that stops, then I won’t have a song to record (laughs), so I need to get back at it, eventually.
BT: There’s a certain mindset that you can fall into when you’re constantly traveling. Do you find it harder to shift gears from touring to writing, or even just being at home?
Bridwell: Yeah. I’m so busy at home, as well now, that it’s actually kind of normal now. I guess it’s weirder if I actually do get time to myself. If I get to go out and go surfing all day, I almost can’t handle it. I’ll have to go back and run back on the beach, and check my phone, and make sure that there isn’t someone that needs my attention immediately.
BT: With everything else that’s been happening in the last couple of years, was that one of the reasons why you guys moved back to South Carolina?
Bridwell: It had a lot to do with wanting to be closer to our families, but also being ready for a different lifestyle. Me and Creighton and Rob had all worked in the bar scene for a long time, and just involved in that culture. Whether you’re working or not, and getting home at 4am, at the earliest. Sleeping all day, and feeling like crap when you do get up, and starting the whole thing over again.
And it’s just depressing when you treat your body that way. I wasn’t in a good space at that point. I would just hang out in my room all day, and wait until it was time to go out and drink at night. It was time to get to a more meaningful, or adult way of dealing with your life.
You age. People age, and certain other things became more important. So we just shed that life, and moved to where we wanted to focus more on our craft, and being ‘round the people that are closest to us.
BT: How did the last couple of years affect the writing for this new record?
Bridwell: Some of the melodies, and the basics of the songs would come out of me going down to the practice space, and just messing around with stuff. Same thing with the first album, you just came because I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. During the way, or whenever.
So there was that, but also anything that I write about or whatever usually comes from personal experience. Or how I paint a picture of whatever situation it is I’m writing about, whatever subject. It’s all just personal experiences, so anything that happened during those years probably made it to a record, in some little way.
BT: Does singing these every night remind you of those things, or is it all just bits and pieces of ideas?
Bridwell: There’s a lot of bits and pieces. But sometimes, songs take new forms. I feel like a lot of artists, and a lot of lyricists, don’t exactly know what they’re writing about when they’re writing. So sometimes it takes a little bit of steeping for these songs to say, “well, I don’t know if that’s what I wrote about then, but this is what it means to me now. “
Certain songs do that. Some certain songs remind me exactly of the room the song was written in, and exactly who it was written about, or the situation it was written about. And other songs, I can’t remember what the f--k it was about, and some songs, I don’t like what the song was about in the first place, and my mind just makes me think of something new.
BT: How has it been to see how people react to these songs, and what they take from it?
Bridwell: Yeah. That’s another one of those things that I try not to think about too much. Because growing up as a massive music fan, it’s hard for me to believe that someone would like a song that I’ve written as much as I liked songs growing up. It’s so hard to process it. Someone might get some real emotion out of something that I’ve done.
BT: Did you know what kind of record that you wanted to make going into this new album?
Bridwell: If anything, I knew that I didn’t know what kind of record I wanted to make. If anything, I thought that over-thinking it would be the worst thing to do. I figured, “Don’t worry about it, just write whatever songs are there, and we’ll pull it together.”
I did work my ass off on it. I over-thought it constantly, but I told myself that I wasn’t going to worry about it. I wasn’t going to worry about whatever expectations are there, whether that be from the powers that put out the music, or my family, or the press, or even the fans.
Even if I thought that song wasn’t “The Funeral,” who gives a shit? That song was already written. If there’s a melody there, just put it out. Just put it to tape, even if I thought it was a bad one. If it’s a bad song, then [producer] Phil [Elk] won’t let it get to the tape. It just happened that we had that many songs for an album. Fortunately, only one of them was shitty, and that one didn’t make it.
BT: In different parts of the new record, there are lyrical descriptions of ghosts, or metaphors of ghosts, and I was curious as to what those descriptions meant to you, and if it was all different things.
Bridwell: It’s different. In one, it’s literal, and another its figurative. “Is There a Ghost,” I’m talking about, “I think there’s a f--king ghost in the house,” because when I’m writing, I get super paranoid and think that someone’s watching. I never feel like I’m alone, even when I’m totally alone. I moved to this house for this said purpose, to get away from people and write this damn record, and as soon as I do, I keep hearing shit moving and thinking that someone’s watching me.
There’s random metaphors for paranoia and shit in the record. Same with “LRC,” there’s a little bit of paranoia represented there. And then, the other ghosts in “No One” is just a figurative sense.
BT: You had played with Carissa’s Wierd over a few years, and had started to discover how to come up with songs. Was there a point when you started to think about what became Band Of Horses?
Bridwell: As [Carissa’s Wierd] starting breaking up [in 2003], I started thinking, what’s gonna happen next? I don’t want to quit this lifestyle, this is too fun. So around that time, I started thinking, “Well, maybe Matt and me will get another band together. Maybe we’ll do some co-writing, and we’ll get a singer.” We’ll get a real singer. He [Mat] didn’t even consider me an option for that band.
I remember that we were working in a crepery together, miserable job, and sitting out there smoking, and thinking, “I could be the singer for this band.” I don’t know if I said it out loud, but I remember him talking about bringing in other people to be the singer.
So we did a couple of songs together, and Mat really wasn’t into it. So I took the rhythm section for that band, and starting kind of having secret practices. Because I would go down to the practice space all day, and just do anything I could figure out. How to play guitar, how to find the melody, which became the first Band Of Horses songs.
It was an awkward transition there, and it wasn’t very good to begin with. There were songs there, but it wasn’t until we really good into the studio with Phil that he really helped craft the songs, and worked us until we made a good record.
BT: You’ve often welcomed collaboration with others, down to your producer, Phil Elk, and Chris Wilson, who did the photos for Cease To Begin.
Bridwell: Yeah, with both of them, it felt like a natural thing. [With Phil], we hit it off, and had no idea he was going to be such a pain in the ass to work with (laughs), but it ended up being for the best. We worked us pretty hard, but we ended up with a good record that got us to where we are.
I don’t mind people’s input at all. It doesn’t bother me. If I really have a hardline opinion on something, I’ll let it be known. But otherwise, I’m permanently on the fence with any sort of thing. So anytime anyone wants to chime in, I’m all ears.
BT: Do you occasionally stop yourself, or remind yourself, “This is really something?”
Bridwell: Every day. It’s like you’re pinching yourself and saying, “Man, this is really the life.” It’s easy to get caught up in the other side of it, which is, I have a fiancee and a baby on the way. So the stresses of normal live also weigh on you sometimes, like this job kind of sucks because I can’t be as attentive as I need to be for my family. “I’m tired of setting this shit up again. and I’m tired of not having a bathroom to go to if I’ve got to take a shit.” Or, “I’d like to eat something delicious food that I like.” Those things can start to drag you down when you’re on tour. Of course, it’s natural.
But, as soon as the show is over, it’s like, “God, it makes it all so much worth it.” Once you get up there, and make people happy, and people come up to you afterwards, shake your hand. People have told us that it was the best show they’ve ever seen in their lives. You know, kids that are quite a bit younger, and have never seen... and they say that to you, and it’s like, it makes it so worth it, and just so the best job that’s ever existed in the history of jobs. Besides God. (laughs) God has a pretty good job.
But yeah, those moments, they come just like the other moments do, where you’re like, “Man, this is the best job in the world,” and sometimes you’ve got to remind yourself.