By Hannah Galvin
Prolonging a music career with the granted extension of a textural back catalogue surely shows maturity and promise upon one’s self. This is the case for Band Of Horses frontman, Ben Bridwell.
Bridging the four-year gap from their former LP, Mirage Rock, with their latest release, Why Are You OK, the foundations of the new record came with a broken routine, for Bridwell exchanged his usual isolated environment for a makeshift studio space within his family home amidst the song-writing process.
Due to return to our shores in little over a month, we were lucky enough to catch up with Ben Bridwell, on all things, Why Are You OK, as well as what to expect on their Australian tour circuit, that will cushion Band Of Horses’ Splendour In The Grass appearance.
You’ve released your fifth record, Why Are You OK. Does the album follow a particular theme or story?
No, not really. Some of the songs were pulled from a few years ago, some of them were pulled from more current times. I think there’s some shared threads throughout, they share a lot of the same DNA, but I don’t think there’s one theme that I’m trying to hone in on.
When you say you’ve included songs from the past, are they offcuts that didn’t make it to previous records?
One song in particular, yeah. We tried to work on it for, Infinite Arms, which was our third record from 2010. So we tried it then, and didn’t reapproach it until this recording process. I think that’s the only one we really attempted and even recorded in the studio, and it just didn’t work until now.
It’s the first time you fleshed it out in the company of your family, rather than in isolation. Explain the need for this change.
Well I don’t think I even knew that I needed the change, until it kind of happened naturally. Just because our home life is so busy, I figured I didn’t want to have that conversation of, “I need to get out for a week and lose my mind in some goddamn cabin or something and chase the muse around the room” or whatever. I just figured that probably wasn’t the best idea with how busy our home life is.
I was fortunate that I had a station I kind of carved out for myself, to get work done, and it didn’t really push back at me. I figured I’d always have one year of out-of-the-head songs, and listening for someone to call for me; someone to pull me back upstairs and clean up vomit or something. As we went through though, I remembered that the last time we did that kind of thing, of just sitting in a cabin for a week, I’d be leaving early because I wasn’t getting good work done.
Luckily, life kind of got in the way, and cleaned up that stagnant process of banging your head against a wall all day, instead of saying, “alright now I’ve got three hours, I’m just going to try and bang out some work”. Maybe that need to hit it quick and get it good brought on some better honing of the craft.
A lot of the Band Of Horses lyricism is either quite metaphorical, or unfolds like a story. Have you got a strong writing background? I feel like you’d be very into creative writing.
Oh goodness, I’m terrible at that stuff! I got like a ninth grade education – I can barely even write an email without looking like a damn four-year old wrote it [laughs].
It may be due to the fact that I just refuse to leave the damn song alone until I actually sound deep enough to let it pass. Most of the time I’m just making dick and fart jokes until I edit a million times [laughs].
You worked with Rick Rubin on the new album. How did that opportunity arise?
Rick called out of nowhere. I believe we had started our first proper session of the album, and we were about to head home, but then got the call from Rick being all, “Hey, just interested in what you guys are up to.” “Well funnily enough Rick, we’re making a record again!” So he was like, “Well do you want to come by and play some stuff and just talk about the process or anything?” He’s just such a lovely person, I really didn’t get a sense of any ulterior motives by any means. I think he just really wanted to see how we were doing.
So I went via the house, and we chatted. It was still very early in the process, we had quite a way to go, but even just putting his ears on a couple of demos and things, and getting him excited was good motivation to strive for something better. So later in the process, we circled the wagon back and went and saw him again. I had a few more demos that I really wanted to push through until the very end, to round out the album.
To even sit with him and play him that kind of stuff, to get his kind of stamp of approval on it, was just a good confidence booster, at least, so I could bring it back to Jason, the producer, and the other guys and be like, “Okay! At least I know Rick likes this. I can say with confidence that these songs must not be complete shit, so let’s give them a go.”
You’ve pushed out quite a creative video for, ‘Casual Party’. Explain the concept behind this.
That was crazy, man, we had quite a few different treatments and different directors and things. It was just so busy! I was also like, “I don’t want to read this damn like short novel by somebody”. I mean it’s awesome, it’s cool to get peoples’ creative take on how they perceive this song coming to life through video in that realm; but at the same time it’s like, god I don’t have the patience to read all of these fucking things. So I kind of set them aside, and then I’m like, oh shit that’s right, now I’m lagging on this and they’re going to be asking me any day now, “can you please look over the damn treatment!” So this one morning, I was like, “I’ll just take a look at them, let’s see what we’ve got here”.
The first one that popped up was that treatment, by this guy, Ben Seed. I read like half of it, and just thought, “Yep, this sound awesome!” It’s like a mix between the bar scene in Star Wars, and Monster Party, [laughs] I didn’t know what the hell was going on there.
It was so creative the way he put it into the language in his treatment, it was very simple sounding, and it all takes place within this one house party. Somehow, there’s a cool little tale there, where we’re tied up and we’re stuck in the party, but we’re all not pissed about it at the same time. He reminded us to smile, and I thought that was really good. He really captured something about the song that you might not notice at first, which is, yeah I can complain about some whack ass party, but there’s also some relenting in there as well. It’s like, well this is your life, you can only kick and scream so much.
You’ll be performing at Splendour In the Grass this coming July. Having played back in 2010 already, what are you excited to revisit at the festival?
I know for one, that I should be careful if I don’t use the toilets this time as I got my ass kicked by a damn kangaroo last time. We were watching Paul Kelly play, and I dipped over to the hillside to relieve myself, and as I’m enjoying the evening, I see what looks like a damn Golden Retriever running down the hill straight at me. I went, “aw man somebody’s dog got out… Oh shit it’s a kangaroo!” Probably pissed myself running away from that damned thing. So I’m looking forward to using the toilets [laughs], for lack of a better answer.
You’re also playing a show at the iconic Sydney Opera House. What can fans expect from your new live show?
Oh my God. Well it’s funny, something that we’ve learnt over time going decades strong, is how to play to the room, while also maintaining your sense of character; but also not over sanitising it. The Sydney Opera House presents an interesting challenge, in a way – I want to respect the room and even just the acoustic dynamics of the room itself, and also respect the huge history that that place has.
I would say that you’ll probably see us trying to work within the framework of the building itself. We want to make sure we’re not completely trying to burn the place down [laughs] with scorch and shit, but you’ll probably see a good taste of that side as well. With the new songs also, it’s been like a shot in the arm for us, just to play new songs that we really like, and I think they really represent the band well and sit well within the cannon of Band Of Horses.
Can we expect to hear old Band Of Horses classics as well as new songs?
Oh hell yeah! No doubt about it. That comes with knowing the damn room! As well as knowing the people that paid the ticket price, absolutely. We aim to please, you know, and we are afforded the luxury of getting to satisfy ourselves with that too, so yeah we’ll play some new stuff and absolutely make sure to provide and evening’s worth of entertainment that will leave people wanting more!
Band Of Horses will perform on Friday, 22nd July at the sold out Splendour In The Grass festival. If you missed out on tickets, be sure to catch them at Melbourne’s Forum Theatre on Sunday, 29th July, as well as the Sydney Opera House the following evening.