This June is shaping up to be a pretty big month for A Thousand Horses. The country-meets-Southern-rock band’s earworm of a single, “Smoke,” just hit number one on the Billboard Country Airplay chart this week, and their debut full-length Southernality is set for release on Tuesday. They’ve been out on the road with Darius Rucker, and their brief respite from the tour will be spent with the one-two punch of slots at CMA Fest in Nashville as well as Bonnaroo right down the road in Manchester, Tennessee. In anticipation of the album’s release next week, the band has shared Southernality track “Sunday Morning.” Paste caught up with frontman Michael Hobby about the new album, working with producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton) and weird Bonnaroo eats. Check out the interview below. Southernality is set for release June 9 via Republic/Big Machine Records.
Paste: Tell me about this song in particular, “Sunday Morning.”
Michael Hobby: That song is a pretty precious song to us on the album. We actually all four got the opportunity to write with Rich Robinson, from The Black Crowes. We did it kind of old-school style, and we all got in an old church in Nashville, a church turned into a little rehearsal facility—it’s kind of a little secret spot, so I won’t tell you what it’s called. He came into town and we set up for three or four days and just jammed as a band, played guitar and wrote songs. That was one of the songs that came out of it, and we didn’t finish it in the writing sessions. What we did is we took it and over the course of several months, we got really busy and we’d write some of it as we’d go, while we were out on the road. We actually finished that song in the studio when we were making Southernality, as we were recording it. It was a very special song to us because we got to write it with Rich, but also because of how organically it kind of came together and the time it took to do it.
Paste: Southernality is coming out next week. Tell me about the process of putting together the album. Was “Smoke” always the single?
Hobby: There’s several songs on the album that we’ve had and that we’ve played on the road for a long time. “Travelin’ Man” is a song on our first EP that we ever put out, and I don’t think we’ve ever played a ‘Thousand Horses show without playing that song. “Landslide,” “Tennessee Whiskey” we wrote two or three years ago, we’ve been playing them forever. We just kind of selected songs throughout the whole process.
“Smoke,” which is our single now that just went number one, that was the last song written. I wrote that two days before we started making the album. I sent it to the guys, and they’re like, ‘Well, we gotta put it on the record.’ So we learned it the next day, and then the next day we recorded. That’s the first song we recorded, and it set the tone for the whole album. It was our first single and our first number one, which is kind of crazy, especially for an eleventh-hour song.
We road test a lot of songs when we’re out on tour. We feel like that’s a good way for us to gauge how we like playing it. We just did a new song yesterday, at sound check. We finished writing it on the back of the bus and we immediately took it inside and the band learned it. I think playing it is a good indicator of whether you’re gonna like it or not.
Paste: You guys worked with Dave Cobb on this record. Tell me about how that came together. What was that like?
Hobby: We’ve been working with Dave since the band was formed in 2010. We had a major label deal with Interscope for literally about six seconds. We met Dave then and we did a five-song EP. We lost our deal, lost our management, lost our booking agency. And Dave was always still right there. He was like, “Well, fuck all that. You guys got some more songs you wanna record?”
We made this album on our own, independently, before we ever signed to Big Machine or Republic. We threw together what little money we had from touring, and personally, and went in with Dave. Dave, who was like, “I’ll do it,”—and pretty much for it for nothing. “We can do it in my home studio.”
We figured if we could sell two thousand copies in a year, we could pay for the album. That was our goal. As an independent band, you have to set goals like that for yourself. As soon as we got done with it and mastered it, somehow our manager played it for Jimmy Harnen at Republic Nashville and he offered us a deal. He’s like, alright: What do you want to do? We said we’d love to go back into the studio and cut some new songs, tweak the ones we have because we didn’t have a whole lot of time for peanuts. He said “Call Dave. Y’all go back in with Dave and let’s make this thing.”
So we went in last September and finished, made the whole record at Southern Ground Studios in Nashville. We were in there for about three and a half weeks straight, and out came Southernality. The baby was born.
Paste: So album release week also happens to be CMA Fest week, and you’re playing Bonnaroo.
Hobby: Music today is such a wide open lane. There’s country and there’s rock and pop, but nowadays people listen to just all of it. We don’t necessarily say, ‘Oh, you’re a country band.’ It’s just, ‘You’re a band and I like your song.’ So, for us, we’re doing CMA week in Nashville and then we go and do Bonnaroo, we were fortunate enough last year to play ACL and to also do what you might call country fests. I think it’ll be exciting to play Bonnaroo—we’ve all been to Bonnaroo several times and have always wanted to play it.
Paste: Oh yeah?
Hobby: Oh yeah, I love it. I’ll tell you one story. We went, Graham [Deloach], Bill [Satcher] and I, and our buddy got us artist passes because he had a buddy, he was working Bonnaroo. We all went down there, took Graham’s little two-door Tahoe and we slept on the ground classic Bonnaroo-style. We didn’t have any money or anything, so we would make sandwiches with mayonnaise, mustard and Doritos.
Paste: [Laughs] Gross!
Hobby That’s all we had! So we would eat that, and we bought some like, gallon jugs of water of course. We just had the best time in the world, just kids running around Bonnaroo. You wake up at like seven in the morning because it’s so damn hot you can’t sleep, and I still think my feet are black from walking around. But it’s always a great experience for us, and to come back this year and officially play it for the first time? We’re really looking forward to it.
Dacey Orr is Paste’s multimedia editor. She has no interest in trying Doritos-mayo-mustard Bonnaroo sandwiches. You can follow her on Twitter.