|Band Of Horses|
It only took Benjamin Bridwell and his Band of Horses three albums to go from being the latest bearded rock band on Sub Pop to being the greatest band in America. These days they play stadiums, their latest album Infinite Arms has already sold thousands of copies, and if their leadsinger wasn’t happily married, he’d probably be dating supermodels. But when Americana UK spoke to him after their recent gig at the Roundhouse in London, Benjamin Bridwell turned out to be the nicest guy on the planet. We suspect that's what getting stoned with Willie Nelson does to you.
Interview by Soren McGuire
Hi Benjamin, great to speak to you. As I understand it, you wrote these songs in a lot of different locations, some of them in a cabin in Minnesota. What is it with musicians and cabins these days?
Yeah, well I wrote some of the songs in Minnesota, some in South Carolina, you know, I kinda wrote them all over the place. I'm not really sure if it's apparent to the listener, but for me it was really important that I had the right setting when I wrote these songs. The isolation was sort of the main thing and you can find that most anywhere.
You're part of a generation that grew up on a lot of different kinds of music, from 80's pop to grunge and indie rock. What do you think has been the biggest influence on you as a songwriter?
I would probably say that growing up with music from a very young age has been the biggest influence on me. My parents exposed me to music at all times, and my dad even had a boombox on the front seat, blasting Bob Seeger and the Rolling Stones on the tape player. And I think that's what I'm trying to do with my own songs; to please that inner child I guess.
You've moved back to your native Carolina after having lived in Seattle for quite a few years. Did that change the way the band sounds?
Our last record, Cease to Begin, was the first one we did after I had moved back. Being back home and the sense of nostalgia that goes with that probably sneaked into that record more so than it did on this one. Most of the songs on Infinite Arms were written when I was in Minnesota and my wife and I were avaiting the birth of our baby. A lot of that stuff was the driving force for my songs on this record.
What's the main difference between being in Seattle and South Carolina when it comes to playing music?
That's a good one. There's a lot less people talking about music in South Carolina, that's for sure. In Seattle, everyone was in a band and it wouldn't even get a bit competitive at times, but down here, you talk more with people just getting off their jobs putting up drywalls and flooring and shit than you talk with people in bands. It's a different vibe totally, but both places are inspiring and both places have advantages and disadvantages.
I had a friend who went over to Columbia in New York and heard the album before it came out. She came back and said it sounded like a country record. Do you think she's right, and if so, can South Carolina take the credit for that?
Well, I'm not really sure. If anything, maybe Seattle probably brought up a more moody side of me. I was at a different stage back then and the surroundings were probably more melancholic, so I think our first record was a bit less roots enformed. But it's heard to say, cause I only do what feels good to me and write what I know. I don't say ”right, I'm in South Carolina, so now I gotta write a country song”.
You've said that Infinite Arms feels like your first record, mainly because the band doesn't feel like a revolving door anymore.
Completely, yeah. It's turned 180 degrees really. Back then it didn't feel like we were a cohesive unit and our sound wasn't very good on stage. But with this band, I just have to focus on singing and playing guitar, cause the guys are such great players. It just has a more familial vibe now, everyone is just so close, it's a tight-knit band. It's just a totally different vibe now really.
But do you think the amount of succes you continue to enjoy has contributed to this positive vibe?
I don't really see it as a result of our succes, but more of us really coming in to our own. We're comfortable playing together, and personally, we're very close friends. And also, playing with a lot of our heroes, seeing how they do things and being able to learn from them – you know, fuck, we've played with Pearl Jam, man! – well, we've just been able to meet so many of our heroes, and that sort of forces you to do things correctly and have fun with it. That's our responsibility, but before, I was much more nervous.
You got to meet Willie Nelson, didn't you?
Yeah, we got to play with him in Maui, we did Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys with him, he invited us to his house and we watched him play poker. It was the thrill of a lifetime, man!
So what do you do at Willie Nelson's house? Drink coffee? Play golf? Get stoned?
Well, he had that big poker game. There were a lot of local people, Woody Harrelson was there. He had a clubhouse out in his garage, and there were two joints for every person in the room. So what do you? You try your best not to act like a complete dumb-ass.
The thing about Willie Nelson is that he'll put out three albums a year on three different labels playing three different kinds of music and still find the time to tour. It took Band of Horses five years to put out that amount of records. Do you ever wish you could just do it like they did it in the old days where The Byrds, Bob Dylan and most other artists would release music all the time?
I would love to have an ounce of that talent where they can write so many songs worth releasing, but also, I gotta tell you, in this climate today, things are a bit different. Before, bands would have to tour to promote their album. These days, you put out albums to promote you tour. Bands stay on the road for so much longer now than they did back then. You're constantly on the road, or at least it feels that way. There's not really time to do any writing. But if I had the talent, I would write all the time. I'd fuckin love to put out three records a year!
Tell me about playing with Roger McGuinn!
Oh my god. It was for Pete Seeger's 90th birthday concert in Madison Square Garden, and I got the call from the producer, Bob Ezrin, who wanted us to basically be The Byrds for Roger McGuinn. I could not believe that we'd get that kind of invitation, but meeting him was just lovely, he was such as great guy, couldn't have been nicer, very professionals. We were practising up untill the last minute before the show, and yeah, we were pretty nervous. We were constantly trying to know everything by heart, we watched the teleprompter so we could remember the chord changes. It's funny, cause you meet all of these heroes of yours, and you're extremely nervous cause you don't know how they'll react to you. But everyone has just been so nice. Even Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder and people like that, they don't have to be nice to you, but they always are. And I'm sure you know that from doing press with people. Sometimes you have no idea how they're gonna act.
So now you're at a point yourself where people might come up to you and tell you how much they like your music. How do you act?
Oh man. Well, I'm afraid it doesn't happen all that often, but if I ever meet someone and he's saying how much he likes the band, I'm gonna be nice to him. You gotta give that person a positive experience from meeting you. Every single person who likes your art, counts, so you gotta put on a face. Not that I have a too hard time being nice to people though!
The Band of Horses' Infinite Arms is out now on Columbia. For more on this great band, go to Bandofhorses.com