Catching Up With Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell

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Ten years in, Band of Horses have seen it all, from their early days as indie darlings on the front end of the roots explosion to their recent attraction as major-label rock stars. Now, as they sit as free agents, Ben Bridwell and the crew are taking their time to rediscover themselves as they prepare to write the next chapter in their already solid career. Bridwell gave us the scoop on the next LP during a quick stop into Louisville’s Forecastle Festival, as well as tips on his upcoming collaboration with Iron & Wine and his newfound love for Hot Country.

Paste : Band of Horses have finally had some downtime as you’re between albums right now. I know we had the Acoustic at the Ryman to hold us over. By the way, that was beautiful. It was a great way to hear you guys.
Ben Bridwell: Thanks man, thank you. We’ve got to tide people over. We don’t want people forgetting about us while we’re making a real album or whatever.

Paste : That might be one of the first times an artist has admitted, “You know what, this is a holdover record.”
Bridwell: Oh, there’s no doubt about it.

Paste : This is something just to keep your name out there.
Bridwell: I don’t even know if it worked. I forgot about it.

Paste : It’s worth noting, Acoustic was also independently released.
Bridwell: Yeah!

Paste : You guys have been on several labels throughout the years.
Bridwell: Now we’re not.

Paste : Now you’re not. Are you guys thinking about going the independent route or is this a shakeup?
Bridwell: It’s hard to tell. I think what we’ll do is like we did a number of years ago for our third album, just record it ourselves and see who’s interested after it’s done. It’s kind of nice not having anybody around mucking up the process besides ourselves.

Paste : Putting a magnifying glass on you.
Bridwell: Yeah.

Paste : What are you looking for in a record label? Because you, more than a lot of bands, have really had the experience of the whole spectrum, from Sub Pop to Columbia. I mean, you’ve seen every kind of side of it. You’ve got to have a really good picture of what you are looking for right now in a record label. What’s going to be the perfect relationship?
Bridwell: That’s a great question. I think obviously you want a little bit of the aspects of both of them. You want the personability of the smaller label and you want the distribution network of the big one. Maybe it’s possible to find a nice happy in-between there, but honestly I don’t have any expectations about it. I just want to do the thing and make a good album and then see who’ll [pick it up]. It’s usually who just wants it the most. Whoever’s got the most money for me! No, no, whoever seems like they care about it enough to really work it. That’s really why we went with Columbia for those last two records. They were really excited to grab Infinite Arms from us. At least that one.

Paste : Not Mirage Rock? I loved that record!
Bridwell: Yeah, it was definitely an album.

Paste : “It was definitely an album.” Are you starting to look back on that record differently than the last time we had an interview, when it was brand-new? If a band’s albums are like their children, do we now compare it to your kid growing up from being an infant to a teenager and you’re like “what a fuckhead he has turned out to be”?
Bridwell: I mean, yeah, yeah. It’s definitely the black sheep or whatever of the family, but I loved the experience of it. I loved working so spontaneously and having it be so raw and exposed. But the process we’re working in now is a bit more comfortable, where you’re kind of afforded the wisdom of patience, you know? And being able to let it steep and take some time with it. I don’t know. Maybe because I’m enjoying this process so much I’m able to look at that one and be like, “I don’t want to do that anymore!” You know? But after this one’s done, I’ll probably want to go back to doing something weird again.

Paste : So you guys are working on the new record?
Bridwell: Yeah, we’re about halfway through probably or something like that, but at the same time not putting any pressure on ourselves to get it done in any timeframe. There is no label to worry about so we just kind of pick it up, take a month or two break, pick it back up, work for a couple weeks, leave it alone. Hopefully next year sometime it’ll be done, and if it’s not, that’s okay too.

Paste : I think every band gets to this point in their career. I mean, you’ve been a band now for…10 years?
Bridwell: Ten years!

Paste : We see a lot of bands get to this point where it’s like “album, tour, album, tour, album, tour, break.” And then all of the press is “Oh they haven’t released an album in four years!” I mean, do you get in the danger of waiting a little bit too long?
Bridwell: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a real thing, you know? I’ve seen it with some other bands, especially bands like us. You know, we were with the class of bands growing up like Vampire Weekend and a lot of those bands went big time, you know what I mean? And we kind of stayed big enough, but we didn’t really do that huge jump thing, so I think it is possible for people to forget about us. I think we’re in that category. We have to be a little bit careful with that.

Paste : I think that the fact that the song “No One’s Going to Love You” is on an uncountable number of mixtapes means no one’s ever going to forget about you. If you could make royalties off of mixtapes, you guys would be set.
Bridwell: That song and “The Funeral” being in every damn movie, I think we’re at least, we’re in the conversation. But the main important thing is that we take our time and have a good experience with the album. Then we’ll get on tour and people will probably show up, I hope.

Paste : A couple months ago, we were talking to your old buddy Sam Beam of Iron & Wine, and he tipped us off that you two are finally working together. And I say finally because you were both so integral in each other’s birth of career, but it’s taken this long. It took him moving to Carolina.
Bridwell: It did. There was about 10 years or longer where Sam and I grew up in the same town. I helped put his music in the ears of Sub Pop and Howard over at Thrill Jockey which set the wheels in motion for him to get signed, and he did the same for me when I started Band of Horses. Took us on the road and got our music in the ears of Sub Pop, so we kind of got each other signed to Sub Pop, but it’s taken about 10 years for us to really collaborate on something, so we just knocked out a covers record.

Paste : That’s what it’s going to be? It’s going to be a covers record?
Bridwell: Yeah! We just did 12 songs in like 10 days. We blasted through a bunch of them. His band’s incredible, and they just work so fast that I was so amazed and enthralled by them that I just kind of watched and sang when they asked me to. They surprisingly didn’t ask me to pick up any guitars or oboes or anything.

Paste : Were there any parameters on what you guys were looking for in the covers?
Bridwell: No, we wanted to split it up evenly, like just songs we always wanted to cover and never had a chance to. We were just brainstorming even after a day’s work. I remember an old mixtape he had of some stuff he’d done or something.

Paste : Let me guess: you found his mixtape and were like, “’The Funeral’s on here, too?!?”
Bridwell: Yeah, exactly! “You should cover that song.” No, no. It was like, I’d have an old cover of him covering Marshall Tucker Band or something and I’d remind him of it and he’d be like, “Well, let’s just do that tomorrow.” So, it was really free, and it turned out really cool. I mean, maybe things like covers records don’t have a whole lot of legs but…

Paste : For the fans though, it’s really interesting.
Bridwell: I think it’s really cool, and it’s not just like a couple dudes with acoustic guitars. The depth that his band, those kinds of textures that they provide are bringing new life to the song.

Paste : Do you have any country songs? Because the more and more I look at your Twitter feed, there seems to be this small obsession with Hot Country. What’s going on right now?
Bridwell: Dude, God I love it so much.

Paste : That’s the question. Is this ironic? Is Ben being ironic? Or has he swallowed the pill?
Bridwell: I have. I have drank the Kool-Aid or whatever. I love it so much, man. I think it started with just riding with my kids. I’d come home and we’d listen to the radio. We’d listen to modern country. I heard Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” and I was like, “This smash song is my favorite thing in the world. Hook, line, sinker.” And now it’s so annoying because even on our bus I’ve got it tuned to the modern country countdown on the TV, and I know every song. I’m making people mixtapes!

Paste : See, there’s something I’m afraid of here. There’s a conversation with Jason Isbell where he says “All these musicians on tour listening to crap, and when crap comes in, crap ends up coming out.”
Bridwell: Gladly! If that’s crap, I would love for some of that to rub off on me man. Those people’s song structures are insane. There’s like a million choruses, you know, and post-choruses and pre-choruses.

Paste : Everything’s a chorus.
Bridwell: It is, it really is. It’s all sing-alongs. A lot of it is tongue-in-cheek and modern vernacular and stuff that’s kind of silly to hear, but I don’t know. It does something to me. It lights me up. I love it.

Paste : I’m obviously not the same fan you are; you’re probably getting this. But maybe through the filter of Ben Bridwell, this could be something I could choke down.
Bridwell: I’m going modern country. I’m just going to scrap the whole “Band of Horses” thing.

Paste : Head to Nashville. Do the songwriting under the florescent lights.
Bridwell: I’m going to have like 10 people help me write like four words.

Paste : A third for a word. That’s the old Nashville thing, right?That’s how you get paid. A third for a word.
Bridwell: See, you’re teaching me stuff already, man.

Paste : So now with country on one side of this and your kids on the other, you’re really set up to take over dad rock with Band of Horses. The king of dad rock!
Bridwell: Yeah, a little bit, man. With all these kids everywhere and the beards and aging body, I think I’m just going right in there man, you know?

Paste : I am so much a fan of everything you guys have done, so I figure whatever you end up doing on this next record is going to be fantastic.
Bridwell: Unless it’s not.

Paste : Unless it’s not. And then I’ll lie to you.
Bridwell: And then we’ll do an interview again.

Paste : The Circle of (Band) Life.