A lot of the indie-rock, nu-rave, Vice style bands emerging at the moment, I find, seem to create an almost blinding mass of sound all merged into one genre. With this blindness I’ve found my natural increase in other senses has led me deeper into things I like and the need to find a more original sound takes over. The further I look, the more interesting it gets. This increase of senses brought me to the stage front of ‘The Band of Horses’.
If you haven’t heard the Band of Horses, then Ben’s distinctive voice added to the small American band sound and thought provoking song writing will suck you into a world of your own. This may be the world he was in, or may be somewhere else completely different, but as long as you get taken somewhere (innuendo intended) you’ll guarantee to put a smile on his face.
I speak to Ben Bridwell and Ryan Monroe shortly before their Birmingham gig.
Band of Horses come across as a small town American band. Would you agree with that and how big is Seattle?
Ben: Seattle is pretty small I guess for a major city but we haven’t lived there in over a year, now we live in smaller places. Everyone lives in the Carolinas so I guess some of us do live in small American towns.
What do you think of the UK?
Ben: Some places are better than others. There’s a different feel. Going to Dublin and Glasgow we got a different kind of enthusiasm from the crowd.
As in more or less?
Ben: It seemed like less in Glasgow. I didn’t really like the venue. It was like there were some ghosts hanging out there or something. It’s great. I enjoy coming to Europe now, more than when we started, it was a bit scary. I still haven’t figured out how to eat properly.
Do you get a better response back home or here?
Ben: It’s about even. We play some big venues there and smaller venues there, same way here. So it is about the same.
And what do you think touring does for the band, obviously it is going to help raise popularity, but do you think touring out of America is crucial?
Ben: It seems to definitely be working. I’m not sure if that’s because of touring or just because of publicity, but I definitely don’t think that it hurts because that’s how you really get into peoples bones or whatever, seeing it live.
Would you rather play back home or play over here? There are a lot of people who say they don’t like to tour. They don’t like the travelling and the late nights.
Ben: I don’t know, I always think the grass is greener, back home I want to be on the road and when I’m on the road I want to be home. Playing shows at home is a little bit trickier because so many people have to get guest list and shit. The worst thing ever about being in a band is how many family members and old friends, I mean it’s great to see those people, it is just everyone has them at the same time, all in the same cities, you know, so I’ll say touring abroad, just so there is no guest list.
Ryan: Yeah, just us and the music, that’s about it, oh and the bus.
Ben: We just get down with no one to deal with.
Ben, apart from drumming in Carissa’s Wierd, did you do any solo work or was that your first band experience?
Ben: That was the first thing I really got into and then I did the Band of Horses right after it so, no, that’s it so far.
Have you touched the drums since?
Ben: No, I’m terrible with the drums. I could never play the kick drum so I used the floor tom as my kick. I play hand over hand with the snare in the middle. Which is so fucking weird looking. I’d like to get into it again if I had some time, I’d take some lessons.
Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round?
Ben: Exactly (laughs) it’s embarrassing. I have no idea what I am doing.
What’s your singing background? Where did you learn, because you have got quite a unique singing voice, do you have a choir background?
Ben: No none of that stuff, as a kid I guess I wanted to do it subconsciously. I didn’t really sing that much as a kid either so it was just something that had to be done. So I started singing.
Is there any religious background? You have got quite a gospel sound going on.
Ben: Never even went to church, nothing like that ever, thank God.
Ryan: Thank God you never went to church??
You didn’t write any of Carissa’s songs, but were you writing at the time? Is that something you always wanted to do?
Ben: I had a feeling the band would be breaking up. People were getting kind of tired of it. Not me, I just wanted to get on the road so bad and because of that I decided that I should think of pursuing it. But even once they broke up I didn’t have the confidence to actually do it. I really pulled out some hair for a while before figuring out that I had to get some sort of drive and really focus on it and do this. Yeah it really just came naturally.
A lot of your songs contain prominent words, but lyrically are quite hard to follow, like ‘The Funeral’ for example. Is that intentional and does it all make sense in your head?
Ben: To me it makes perfect sense but I also skip subjects a lot so it doesn’t seem too streamline or too autobiographical. It leaves some mystery there. It also then leaves people choosing what the words say and what the story is telling them. It’s the best way to interpret music I think, your own little adventure in your head.
So what happened with the new album going from songs like ‘The Funeral’ to ‘The World is Such a Wonderful Place’?
Ben: You can’t tell but the lyric is ‘If The World is Such a Wonderful Place’. You can’t really hear the emphasis on if so now I’m really like IF! There is plenty of negativity on this record too, don’t worry.
Your music is played on a lot of American soaps and TV shows like The O.C and One Tree Hill, how does that come about?
Ben: It’s funny, for some reason we work well with TV and movies. We’ve been lucky to get those kinds of opportunities. I don’t think I have even seen any of them, I’ve seen TV commercials but I have never seen the soaps that are on.
Does that work on royalties?
Ben: They pay like a sink licence. They pay a flat rate. We try to negotiate, like, you are a fucking massive show, you cannot pay us 500 bucks to use the song when you have mega amounts of money, so we try to tug of war with them. We’ve lent our songs to documentaries or even films, people who have small budgets we give it to them or do it for a very cheap price, so just try to milk the rich people.
Does that pay well? Better than touring?
Ben: Yeah, commercials and shit pay pretty sizeable. So yeah it is good money that you can put away and try and buy a house at some point or something.
I know the band has been through a few member changes. Does that put a lot of pressure on you to decide whether someone fits or do they generally know when it’s not going right?
Ben: I feel like everyone that has been let go by me, has kind of made their own bed at the same time. They either had an attitude problem with people or just didn’t try to fit. Because I started so green and didn’t really know what was going to happen, having to spend so much time with people. All of a sudden I was thrown into a torrent situation with two guys I didn’t really even know. That was the original rhythm section and they were nice guys, there just wasn’t a personality match so eventually as they shot themselves in the foot with their attitudes I could finally start sneaking in the people I wanted to get, which I now have done.
Did you find you had to break friendships or was it quite amicable?
Ben: No, anyone that I’ve let go, our friendships are still intact, but these guys they had to give me a lot of unprotected sex. That’s really important.
Ryan: If either one of them has sex all of us just sit there and take it.
Ben: It’s important…
Ryan: That’s one thing about being in a band – you got to have unprotected sex.
That’s my headline right there, ‘to be successful in a band, basically, you’ve got to be a taker’. Are there a lot of tracks that you record that don’t make the cut and don’t make the album?
Ben: There are only two on ‘Cease to Begin’ that didn’t make it. One of them was Ryan’s, I think Phil our producer just wanted to keep some consistency with what we’ve done so far, at least for that record. The other song that got cut was not a very good song and with ‘Everything all the time’ there were three or four bad songs that just didn’t fit.
What happens to those?
Ben: I figure that if albums still exist we will reissue them with an expanded edition, with new tracks and then people get to buy it all over again. At the same time some are embarrassing enough that I don’t really care. I’m fairly certain that we’re going to take the song of Ryan’s that we now play live and it’s an essential staple to our set and I’m sure we will re-record that one or use that version.
Words: Jonny Cazzola
Image: Richard Homer