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Band of Horses

Band of Horses

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Tuesday 11th September, 2012 9:05AM

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?

I’m 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: it’s finally over when it’s 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 I’m really excited to talk about it, that’s for sure. I’m just glad the album is done and dusted and it’s 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 he’d worked with Ryan Adams on Ryan’s last record, and our manager suggested that we give him a call. He took the bait that’s 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 didn’t even want a computer monitor in the room at all – he doesn’t 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 you’re looking at music when you’re listening to it back: you’re looking at the screen at these sound waves and you can be “right there, that’s where I messed up” 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 – sonically or otherwise – that you wanted to achieve on Mirage Rock?

Hmm, no, actually, I think it’s kind of a mystery. I guess going in with that many songs you don’t really know what’s going to be chosen – that means the lyrical themes, the tempo of songs – 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 didn’t know we were choosing shitty songs, that was a surprise. No, no just kidding. I guess it’s tough because it was done so live and out of our element that when you’re here you’re like “man, did we do enough?”. It took such a short amount of time compared to our previous albums that you feel like you’ve gotten away with being lazy or something. But that’s what Glyn wanted to hear: he wanted to keep it raw and wild and I hope that’s what translates because if it’s not I’m going to give him a call and give him a piece of my mind haha. It’s 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 it’s 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 there’s no disappointment at the live shows, there’s no “wow they sound a lot better on record”…man I’m taking the piss out of myself here. You can get so bogged down with the whole “we need one synthensizer, one note thing here” whereas with this we were like “there better be a damn good reason to add that overdub”. By doing that we got back to what we’ve 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?

That’s an interesting question because every time I see that folk tag attached to us I bite my fucking tongue a bit: I don’t really feel like I’m a ‘folky’ 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 – 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. It’s 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 it’s like we’re regurgitating it back at them in a way. So there’s a lot of American in there but there’s a lot of English stuff and hell, there’s also a lot of Australian and Kiwi stuff that I like, so I think it all comes into the big soup that influences us – I’m 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 can’t help but sound American I guess that’s 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 ‘wide open’ and there’s a lot of natural imagery and things like that, so I guess we do it to ourselves in a way. But that’s what we love and that’s 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 don’t 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?

That’s really tough, I’m probably the worst reader of what the hell we’re doing because being so close to it I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing ever. I think this is really cool that it has this wild nature to it: that it is so live and rowdy, but that’s how I see it. Someone else might listen to it and think it’s complete mopey bullshit. I would place it in a way that we were trying to draw from the previous three albums – as we did with the second and third one – and I hope that it touches on all the places we’ve been in our recording history while also opening up a couple of doors for us.