Q&A: Band of Horses
Pop open a frosty wine cooler with Ben Bridwell, the proud missing link between jam bands and grunge.
Infinite Arms is your second album since moving back to South Carolina from Seattle, and it does seem to have a more rural feel than Everything All the Time or Cease to Begin. Do you think the music you write is a result of where you are at the time?
It’s funny — the bulk of this record was actually written while living in Minnesota. My wife and I were there awaiting the birth of our first child, because I was still touring a lot and that’s where she’s from. So I don’t know that it really matters where you’re at. But I guess it’s a testament to what we do that it’s recognizable and fits in that groove.
Do you ever get the urge to break out of the BoH box?
Yeah, I might start taking acid again. [Laughs]
You guys are going to have a busy summer — in addition to festivals here and in Europe, you’re opening for both Widespread Panic and Pearl Jam.
We’ve become more known as a touring band. People have gotten used to us having a good live show. Maybe that’s because we haven’t released an album in three years. We fit in well with those bands, we’ve been tested, and everyone’s hoping we don’t shit the bed completely. I’ve got friends down here [in South Carolina] that are awestruck about us playing with Widespread — they’re huge — as am I. Hopefully, we can do a good enough job that we can pick up one percent of a crowd that big. That’dbe a job well done.
Does the idea of trying to win new fans bring with it a different kind of pressure?
It’s liberating in a way to play 45 minutes and be off the stage by 8:30, but that also makes you miss playing two-hour shows for people who know the words.
Do you think that the fans who consider you guys indie rock will think it’s weird to see you with jam bands?
For sure. But when you have to pander to those people, that’s a waste of time. Anyone who gets that uppity about music and art, I think they’re doing it wrong. It should be for everyone.
You dealt with this kind of blowback a few years ago when you licensed songs for a couple of prominent commercials.
There was some rumbling from purists. I respect bands who don’t license their songs, but I’d be watching the [South Carolina State] Bulldogs — my favorite football team — then go to the bathroom and hear my song. It’s the biggest stage I’ve ever been on, with the fuckin’ Dogs on CBS. I was really proud of that. Commercials have become the new radio, in a way.
How did the Pearl Jam tour come together?
I guess we were on their short list, and it turns out we were borrowing their sound tech, which sweetened the deal. Like, “They took the sound guy already, might as well bring the little grommets on the road.” I wish we had a more interesting story, but I really think it’s that we stole their sound guy.
Band of Horses have had a pretty fluid lineup. Do you think that risks confusing fans, or do you think it’s well established that the band might have something of a revolving door?
I never really thought of that as we’ve changed personnel; it’s always been a necessity. There have been ten people in this band that aren’t with us anymore. It took me a while to find the right dudes, but it really does feel like a band for the first time, which is a lot more inspiring. Everyone is so goddamn good and so friendly; we don’t have to kick anyone out for being a jerk.
Are you gonna bring the kid along to any of the big summer shows?
Me and my wife were just talking about which one they’d want to go to. Sasquatch, we’re only there for a day because we have a show right after. We did the Bridge School Benefit two years ago, and Wilco had all their kids there and we all had ours. It’s cool to see that side of people you look up to, like, they’re great parents on top of all that. Now that my daughter is a toddler, it’s harder to be away — I have a hard time balancing my roles as a father and an artist. I feel that if I’m not writing, then nothing’s getting written. And when it comes to this record, there’s no way I’m not going to go out and work my balls off. We make our money on the road, that’s our lifeblood. A close friend of ours is Sam Beam of Iron and Wine, and he has a whole farm full of children. I’ve hit him up from the road when I was second-guessing myself, like, “How do you do this and not die while missing your family?” I have good people to lean on when things get weird.
Speaking of Sasquatch, Kid Cudi is also playing that festival. His song “The Prayer” uses a guitar riff from Band of Horses’ “The Funeral” — any chance you’ll perform that together?
I don’t think we’re playing the same day. But I have met him and we’ve talked about doing stuff down the line. That’s the coolest thing anyone’s ever done with that song — the lyrics are deep, and it moved in a different way than what we did. I’ve heard others use the song in hip-hop, but this was the first time there was a fresh, original take. It was also the first time I could make it through [“The Funeral”] and not want to fucking vomit. I can’t listen to my own music objectively, especially as the singer — you just hear yourself whining the whole time.
What other festivals are you excited about playing this year?
We’re getting to do Reading and Leeds for the first time — the history of those festivals is so cool. We did Glastonbury a couple years ago.
The new album, like your other two, has a real back-porch vibe, perfect for summer. The last song, “Neighbor,” is an ode of sorts to Bartles and James wine coolers. Again with the corporate sponsorship.
Yeah, I was gonna use Seagram’s, but you know, no one was biting. Ernest & Julio Gallo — I could have done all kinds. Get us some free hooch.
Band of Horses’ Infinite Arms (Brown/Fat Possum/Columbia) is out now.