Indie rockers Band of Horses is currently on tour in support of Why Are You OK?, the band’s fifth studio album released back in June. They are set to play an upcoming performance at The Masonic on Wednesday, August 24.
Band of Horses originally formed in Seattle and grabbed major attention in 2005 with their debut record, Everything All the Time, which included their hit single, “The Funeral.”
While the musician lineup has since changed a handful of times, the current collective consists of vocalist Ben Bridwell on guitar, with both Ryan Monroe and Tyler Ramsay on guitars and keyboards, along with bassist Bill Reynolds and drummer Creighton Barrett. The band’s most recent sound continues the tradition of spectacular melodies with glistening guitar play and nostalgic lyrics, with hints of Southern resonance.
To preview their upcoming show, we spoke to front man Ben Bridwell to learn more about his upbringing, inspirations for the new album, and what he enjoys most about visiting San Francisco.
Growing up in South Carolina with extended family in Atlanta, what music did you listen to during your youth?
Well, as a youngster, my first foray into my own style was MTV hair metal bands. Whitesnake was my first concert in 4th or 5th grade. I saw Bon Jovi’s New Jersey Tour. In elementary school, I was really into that music. As I got older, my tastes changed. I was lucky–I have a brother who’s four years older than I was. He was really into underground music and got me into Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, the Cure, the Smith…Around that time, I was a bit more into alternative music.
Did you parents encourage you to pursue music professionally or was it more of a personal decision?
Well, I kind of set out on my own path honestly. In high school, I went to two years of high school and then dipped out and went out west to settle into the whole music thing. I traveled around with some friends who started a band. I was more of the guy that drove the car, honestly. Later, I put out their records. I started my own pet record label and put out a few bands in Seattle. I ended up joining that band out of necessity for them. They needed a new drummer and I just kind of faked my way through playing the drums–really minimalistic, kind of crappy drumming.
Then, once that band broke up, I started Band of Horses. I liked performing music. I liked being a part of that side of it. I started writing my own songs around…I guess I was probably 27 or 28. I got lucky enough to get signed to Sub Pop and the rest is history. It’s funny how it all worked out. It doesn’t really seem possible but somehow I’m still going.
Where do you currently reside and what do you like most about your neighborhood?
I live in Charleston, South Carolina. I grew up in the middle of the state and always wanted to move to the coast. I lived there briefly in my teenage years and met Creighton, our drummer. I always wanted to live in Charleston for real. After living in Seattle for about 10 years, Creighton and I decided to make the move back home. That was around 2008 and we’ve been there ever since.
There’s a mixture of nostalgia of being in a place that just seems familiar to me–being in my home state. The atmosphere of home is something that feels really settling and comforting. I really like the people and I love the area. I love the geography of it. I love being next to the sea and all the tidal rivers and marshes and things. It’s just a strikingly beautiful place to me.
Random question, do you prefer coffee or tea and how do you take it?
I prefer coffee and it’s funny, I prefer it very strong. I made it the same way for probably over 10 years. I use one of those Italian metal percolators that you throw on the stove and use the really strong espresso. I make it almost taste like a candy bar. I’ve been drinking coffee for this long and I still have it a bit sweet. I usually use coconut creamer. But I don’t use sugar, I use agave. It should be noted. I prefer that.
What were your biggest inspirations for the latest record, Why Are You OK?
Unbeknownst to me, I guess it was the struggle between growing up and having a very fulfilled life as an adult and a parent of four kids and a wife. The bit of the push and pull there of that very settled, comforting home life with the at times maddening rock n roll life–traveling so much, ego inflation, things like that that come with the territory. There’s a lot. It’s probably a bit trite and overdone, but for me, it’s very real, and inspiring and frustration. I got a lot of material out of that.
What was the biggest difference in terms of your creative approach for the album?
For this one, I typically wrote songs longer than I normally would. I forced myself to write more than I was comfortable with. This is so stupid, but I would always set the meter and I would always set the end of the song at 4:20 (‘laughs’). For this, I would set it at six or seven minutes long to find a way to create new angles within the songs. A lot of times they still get pulled back to a normal length. But at least I had more materials to pull from. Because I had so much quantity, I was able to pull out of the quality and hopefully make for a more condensed story. A lot of the stuff was garbage. You don’t need to have a three chord song that lasts eight minutes.
How was Rick Rubin [former co-president of Columbia Records, and co-founder of Def Jam Records] involved in the process of releasing this record?
You know, Rick’s role in it was a good ear to bend. Especially when I was going through moments of trying to choose the right material to record in the sessions. I always have a wealth of demos, I can’t tell what’s good and bad at times. It’s nice to get Rick’s perspective on it, either to get a pat on the back saying ‘that’s a good one’, or sometimes he would say ‘I don’t really understand that one.’ It’s good to have someone’s ear you can trust. Someone who doesn’t have any ulterior motives. At that time, we hadn’t signed with any label so just having him there as guru, whether it be in production or song-writing, was a very clutch resource.
What was a highlight from your recent multi-city “indie retail tour”?
Oh man. Sometimes those things can be a bit tough. It’s the middle of the day, someone has babies right in front of you. Sometimes you’re not quite ready to bear your soul in a record store. I wouldn’t single out one particular spot. Just the whole idea of it that some people don’t have the option to get out at night and see your show. You know, underage kids, or parents who don’t have babysitting help. I thought the whole thing was interesting, at least to see a different group of folks that couldn’t normally see us perform and make relationships with people who sell your records.
What do you enjoy most about visiting San Francisco?
Oh…interesting. God, I would say some really good food. One of my best friends in the whole world actually lives there. The fella, his name is Christopher Wilson, he has done most of the album covers and accompanying artwork for the band over the last decade. He’s like a brother to me. At least I can see him when I go there–that’s always a highlight.