Two weeks ago, just before their stint at Splendour we caught up with with Ben Bridwell, front man of Band of Horses, he opened up about a range of topics, from their recent album release Why Are You OK? to their long-awaited return to Aussie soil.
Band of Horses made an impressive appearance at Splendour in the Grass two weeks ago and followed it up with sideshows in Sydney, and Melbourne. But their trip to Oz was only just the beginning, we chat to them about it all.
HAPPY: You guys played Splendour in 2010, and are about to play a set at this years’. Did you guys get to check any other bands out while you were there?
BEN: Yeah last time we did. We got to see Paul Kelly play. Our friend Peter Luscombe plays the drums as well as in great other Australian bands. He’s an alumni of Paul Kelly’s, we watched his show. And we saw The Drones play that year actually. I saw Dan throw his telecaster, like slide it in a way, across the stage, 20 feet away and it landed right at his amp, and sat straight up without damaging it one bit. It was awesome. So thanks for reminding me of that!
HAPPY: Your new album Why Are You Ok? is your 5th album. Could you tell me a bit about your creative process, and how that might’ve changed throughout the years since your debut Everything All the Time?
BEN: Yeah, it has changed. But it’s essentially the same. Life has changed in the 12 years since I started writing that first record. So, yeah there are little differences throughout the day. But generally I’m just locked in our little practice space, trying to figure out how to even attempt to play guitar. I’m still at the same level at least. But yeah man, I just tinker around. I just try to find something that will enthuse me, or that is interesting for a second to hold my attention. Sometimes it works and I just kinda follow it as far as I can. And hopefully it becomes a song for Band Of Horses.
HAPPY: So would you say its kinda gradual as in you fit it together piece by piece, or is it more like “okay, Iv’e got an idea. Lets go”?
BEN: It’s rarely “I have an idea. Let’s go”. Sometimes I piece it together in one sitting. Like there’s one song on the album called Barrel House that I did in one day, and I think I played the guitar and was like “That’s kinda interesting” and then found a melody or something, and by sundown it was done. And the rest of [the songs] took months or years to complete. You really just don’t know how its going to go.
Rarely is it like “okay, I’ve got a fucking axe to grind”, or “a bone to pick” and just kinda get down and dirty with it. It’s usually just accidental, luckily. There is exercising of the demons for sure sometimes. You know, just shit that is is on your mind. But sometimes you don’t really know whats on your mind until you dig. You know? I think most of the time I need to pour it out of me slowly.
HAPPY: How do Band of Horses or you yourself keep it fresh? Do you find yourself in a lull where you just churning out the same kind of stuff?
BEN: Yeah probably. But that’s usually when I think that I’ve got something good though. I’ve rewritten the same song six times. I guess there are times when its just really not working. Even in the seed of a song or something. We’re like “I just don’t know, I’m not feeling this, today is just not that day” and we’ll keep going at it. But I would do the same thing 12 years ago. I’d go to the same space everyday. I used to work at nights so I’d go there everyday. And no matter what I’d stay there for at least 4 hours.
Mostly with the belief that 1 day out of two weeks work, if I found something good, it’d be worth it. It’s one more to hold on to and you can build from that. I still work within the same thing – if I’m sluggish and feeling like the song is stupid or ‘what am i even doing this for?’. It’s like ‘okay call it tomorrow, today didn’t work’ but I don’t give up. It’s kinda habitual in a way.
HAPPY: Thats’ really tough. It’s slugging away at it for sure.
BEN: Welcome to my hell, Georgia.
HAPPY: But I guess theres a big payoff. You guys get to play big shows and go touring. Is it a lot of fun?
BEN: Yeah. Well sometimes. It’s a lot of work honestly. Airports are the worst. But there are a lot of great parts. The good outweighs the bad. We actually get to be a part of peoples lives, and maybe make them feel something. Theres that personal connection. That shit’s awesome. So, I don’t know, it can be shit at times but we feel really lucky to be in this position so we work our butts off for it.
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HAPPY: Listening to the album, I noticed that in the back end of it you kinda delve into a more country style. Was that an intentional thing to maybe connect yourself to your South Carolina roots?
BEN: Well, there wasn’t any goals or anything like “okay now we get to show our country side“. We’ve always kinda done a bit of country even from the fist album with Weed Party and Monsters and all that shit. We’ve always had that floating around in our catalogue. With this one I would say it’s just that those are the songs that fit within the sequence the best. So yeah, it’s kinda like “we’ve caught your attention a bit in the first half and now we can fuck off a bit,” and flex our muscles on the songs that we can’t help but write.
Those influences of our are part of who we are, and we’re it as well. It’s never been a deliberate thing. Sometimes I’ve even tried to shy away from it a bit. Like don’t sound like some damn hick or whatever. But it’s who we really are. We cant hide all your sides just because we’re worried about perception. One’s gotta do what comes naturally, and just hope people accept us for who we really are.
HAPPY: The music community would usually understand that quite a bit I think?
BEN: It’s a fickle mistress. Don’t get it twisted. They can be a bit cruel when you try to step out of your little box. There are times where certain bands can get away with stepping outside their comfort zone and do it with grace. And sometimes people do not want you to sound too different.
HAPPY: True. Last one, are you excited to play at the Sydney Opera House?
I am. I am excited to play in the Sydney Opera House. Its one of those places that is legendary. You know your on hollowed ground. You wanna play to the room and work with the room, and not be intimidated by it. Playing a legendary spot you kinda have pins and needles, you don’t know what to expect. We just don’t get invited to those place very often. I don’t know there’s an anticipation that comes with it and a very fine focus. Where its like ‘Okay, I want to know how to be adaptable to the environment and make it a really good experience for those people who paid their money.’ I am really looking forward to it.
Why Are You OK? is out now. Get it here.