Band of Horses will release their fourth studio album, Mirage Rock, this Friday. UTR caught up with front man Ben Bridwell to discuss recording the album with Glyn Johns and that, while he may hate the 'folk' label that gets assigned to them, at the end of the day Band of Horses really are inspired by the wide open spaces and nature of America.
Hey Ben, what are you guys up to at the moment?
Iím currently on a vacation in Colorado and talking for about an hour per day about this album.
And are you enjoying the promotional part of the album release?
Yeah I actually really enjoy it: itís finally over when itís time to start talking about it. A year into it where you get asked the same questions over and over it gets a bit tedious but at the moment Iím really excited to talk about it, thatís for sure. Iím just glad the album is done and dusted and itís time to release it to the world.
Cool. So tell us about writing and recording your latest studio album, Mirage Rock.OK, well firstly, there were a whole lot of songs to choose from. After Infinite Arms and all that touring we did we took a new approach to writing stuff and wrote any time we could - days off in hotels, shit like that. I was planning on doing a solo record thing, but that never came out so I had a bunch of songs and all the other guys are always writing so there was a ton of stuff to choose from. Then we chose to record with Glyn Johns - the legendary producer - and he helped us cull the herd and choose the songs that he thought would be the most interesting and cohesive.
Why did you choose to record with Glyn Johns and how did that relationship come to pass?
Yeah we got really lucky. We had a contact through management because heíd worked with Ryan Adams on Ryanís last record, and our manager suggested that we give him a call. He took the bait thatís for sure and came out to a show and we hit it off really well. I guess we all figured that we could work together well after having such a nice meeting. We just went in and did it: we found a studio in Los Angeles and went in there for about eight weeks which is a shorter recording schedule than we had done on our previous albums which was nice. Things were pretty ramshackle and hilarious.
How did Glyn Johns affect the overall sound of the album?
OMG he influenced it in so many ways, for a start not having any sort of modern technology in the room. He didnít even want a computer monitor in the room at all Ė he doesnít want anyone staring at anything but the floor or the wall while listening to the tracks. That was really interesting because I think a lot of artists - including ourselves - have gotten really used to using computers to the point that youíre looking at music when youíre listening to it back: youíre looking at the screen at these sound waves and you can be ďright there, thatís where I messed upĒ just by looking at a fucking sound wave. He also helped us to relax with it and not over-edit, which is a very important piece of knowledge that I want to take with me
Was there anything in particular Ė sonically or otherwise Ė that you wanted to achieve on Mirage Rock?
Hmm, no, actually, I think itís kind of a mystery. I guess going in with that many songs you donít really know whatís going to be chosen Ė that means the lyrical themes, the tempo of songs Ė there were so many different ways it could have gone. There were really three albums in there somewhere and we just kind of cherry-picked here and there - whatever Glyn was feeling that day or whatever we wanted to explore. So there was no big grand scheme going into it, we just kind of walked into it each day and treated each day as a challenge. We only worked on one song per day from 9-6pm and just tried to finish it and at the end of that process there were about 15 to choose from, and we just tried to make each one as good as we could.
Is that how you guys usually put an album together?
Well the first two albums were produced by our friend and he helped guide the album, and on the third record we ended up taking the reigns after a few weeks of recording and it was like we were too close to it or something because I think we spoiled our child. With this one it felt like a good way to mix up the process and do something totally out of our comfort zone and I guess by doing that we created a whole new ball game for ourselves, which is exciting.
Reflecting on the finished album: can you pick any themes or any arc that is present across the entire record?
Well we didnít know we were choosing shitty songs, that was a surprise. No, no just kidding. I guess itís tough because it was done so live and out of our element that when youíre here youíre like ďman, did we do enough?Ē. It took such a short amount of time compared to our previous albums that you feel like youíve gotten away with being lazy or something. But thatís what Glyn wanted to hear: he wanted to keep it raw and wild and I hope thatís what translates because if itís not Iím going to give him a call and give him a piece of my mind haha. Itís hard to listen to it for me because I tend to overdo things, being a bit of a perfectionist. I do over-edit myself so itís a bit surprising listening to something so raw.
Arguably though, the spirit of Band of Horses suits a live, spontaneous recording process right? Has it been nice to try and imbue that into a record
Absolutely, for one it means thereís no disappointment at the live shows, thereís no ďwow they sound a lot better on recordĒÖman Iím taking the piss out of myself here. You can get so bogged down with the whole ďwe need one synthensizer, one note thing hereĒ whereas with this we were like ďthere better be a damn good reason to add that overdubĒ. By doing that we got back to what weíve done most of our career which is playing with the five of us in a room without a bunch of fluff.
More generally Band of Horses seem to embody a particular lineage of American music: is that a fair statement? How would you describe your influences?
Thatís an interesting question because every time I see that folk tag attached to us I bite my fucking tongue a bit: I donít really feel like Iím a Ďfolkyí like that. But I guess I have the worst perspective on what our band actually is because I always see us as being influenced heavily by a lot of nineties rock Ė like Dinosaur Jnr. and Pavement and things, they were my favourite bands in my formative years. But at the same time a lot of my education about music comes from my parents: listening to a lot of English rock bands like the Stones and The Beatles and a lot of people that Glyn actually worked with. Itís strange because people like The Rolling Stones are doing this revisionist American rhythm and blues and then we Americans hear it and fall in love with it and itís like weíre regurgitating it back at them in a way. So thereís a lot of American in there but thereís a lot of English stuff and hell, thereís also a lot of Australian and Kiwi stuff that I like, so I think it all comes into the big soup that influences us Ė Iím not just saying that either, I really do like Tall Dwarfs and stuff like that. It all influences us in some way and if we canít help but sound American I guess thatís because we are.
I wonder if one of the reasons you get the folk tag is because your visual aesthetic is very woodsy and organic?
Right, yes the visual side is pretty Ďwide opení and thereís a lot of natural imagery and things like that, so I guess we do it to ourselves in a way. But thatís what we love and thatís what we started with. At this point even if we changed our sound I feel like we are grounded in trying to evoke those kinds of feelings of a wide open vibe, and I donít know, maybe the freedom of the wide open nature of America.
This is your fourth studio album. How would you compare it to your previous albums?
Thatís really tough, Iím probably the worst reader of what the hell weíre doing because being so close to it I donít really know what the hell Iím doing ever. I think this is really cool that it has this wild nature to it: that it is so live and rowdy, but thatís how I see it. Someone else might listen to it and think itís complete mopey bullshit. I would place it in a way that we were trying to draw from the previous three albums Ė as we did with the second and third one Ė and I hope that it touches on all the places weíve been in our recording history while also opening up a couple of doors for us.