Live at CMJ: Band of Horses

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photo by Doron Gild

review by Sheryl Witlen
interview by DJ Shannon
photos by Doron Gild

Band of Horses, formerly known as Horses, is a product of love for singer and songwriter Ben Bridwell. In 2004, after his former band Carissa’s Wierd dissolved, Ben and Mat Brooke sat down and decided to keep going with their artistic vision. While members have come and gone over the last few years, Band of Horses has stayed true to its sound by building the dusty roots-based rhythms, soaring vocals, and epic song structures that characterized their first self-released EP. After signing with local label Sub Pop, Band of Horses received critical acclaim and overwhelming press with their first release, Everything All The Time. Their most recent reclease, Cease to Begin, again showcases their creative talents and ability to captivate audiences with moody melodies and dramatic storytelling. The band has relocated to South Carolina and will continue touring throughout 2008. Current band members include Creighton Barrett, Ben Bridwell, Rob Hampton, Ryan Monroe, Robin Peringer and Bill Reynolds.

After their charged performance at the Gibson Showroom for KEXP, Ben Bridwell sat down with DJ Shannon and discussed false starts on Letterman and a new geography.

Shannon: I still consider you to live in Seattle even though you have since relocated, how has South Carolina influenced your music?

Ben: It influenced the music even from the first album, growing up there for sixteen almost seventeen years it is definitely where I come. I think anywhere that anyone comes from influences them. I write geographically anyways. I think the first record had it’s own little South Carolina imprint. This new record does as well. All the lyrics were written there, so there were sort of some homecoming vibes on that.

Shannon: Yeah, I hear that too.

Ben: I get that a lot and it’s funny because a lot of the songs were written in Seattle. The music and such, some of the lyrics were written in South Carolina. Really there’s not that much that has influenced it anymore than before we moved. I guess if anything just because that’s where I come from and that’s how I write. Geography really helps me, whether it’s touring or being in an inspiring place, or being in Seattle which inspired the hell out of me. I write about places a lot. Any place inspires me.

Shannon: Do you usually write when you are on the road or you just constantly writing?

Ben: It’s rare actually, to write on the road for me. I know a lot of people have the same thing, where you are just too busy. Any downtime i get the last thing I want to do is pick up a guitar when I am on the road. I just want to sit and watch TV or take a nap. Most of the writing is done when I set time aside or me and the bros all live so close together we’ll all get together and write random stuff. There’s really no schedule to it I guess it comes and goes. For the most part usually if I allow myself to sit down then I’ll find something.

Shannon: So while you are on the road are you usually aching to go and write the next one or are you sort of riding out the current album, Cease to Begin?

Ben: As soon as an album is done I am ready to write a new one because I am so tired of working on the songs usually. As far as recording and writing. As soon as those are done I want to write something better, something different. Yes, that’s usually the most motivating factor, not really being on the road, just once the album’s done, “let’s go back to work.” Talking about the first record and the second one we had to do so much press that talking about them so much makes me sick of talking about them. Let’s get some new songs to talk about.

Shannon: So I saw you when you guys when you were known only as “Horses” and you played two shows with Iron and Wine.

Ben: AWESOME.

Shannon: I had an ex-boyfriend who took me to the show because he was a huge fan and I was blown away. You just had this infectious smile the whole time you are playing.

Ben: Sometimes. It’s been a while since I’ve been frustrated to the point of showing my ass on stage or whatever. No, we have such a good time playing together. I am so lucky to be in the position I am. I really want to bring joy to the performance. I want them to leave with a good taste in their mouth and tell their friends and come back. I want to do this as long as I can. So, if it takes having a good time on stage and feeling good playing music, then fine by me. It is really a joy to be doing what we are doing.

Shannon: You do it very successfully, with getting people involved with your music.

Ben: Absolutely. I want people to be happy, I want my band mates to be happy and I want them to be proud to have me as their vocalist and the person that has to speak for them for the most part whether it’s stage or one of these interviews such as this one. I don’t want them to be embarrassed and I don’t want to embarrass my family or anyone, including myself. Just have fun, no matter what.

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Shannon: I know Cheryl touched on this on the air, but just you said you were a drummer and then just coming to the front. I always see you as a frontman.

Ben: I think it is strange. Towards the end of Carissa’s Wierd, I knew it was over and we still had a tour to finish out I definitely was thinking maybe I could do it- get into singing. I always wanted to sing anyways. I never been a guitarist or a songwriter. So now, I guess the first album was really hard to get the confidence to come out and write songs and feel comfortable enough to show them to other people, even with the guys I was playing with. It was super embarrassing. So now to even think that I didn’t do it before, it just feels like it was this key piece of my life that was missing. It is so much of who I am now that I couldn’t imagine living without it. I need it.

Shannon: Well, even I used to work on Johns’ show for three and a half years just assisting him and picking out songs and bringing him different bands and then I started DJing two years ago and it was sort of like, where is this going? I feel like that is on the same level.

Ben: Nice! Exactly, ever since I was a little kid I always wanted to be on the radio. I used to call our local radio station in South Carolina, which is WNOK and I would call them every morning because they had this little show where you could get on and wish your friends a happy birthday. My thing was I would call them every morning and wishing myself a happy birthday to the point where they got used to it. I would do it three times a day. Then I discovered the redial button and I would call nine or ten times and I could get on there and say hello and wish myself a happy birthday and dial it right back and be like, “again.” So I’ve always had this fascination with radio. Moving to Seattle I got to work at the Seattle University radio station. They gave me a little show and only two people have probably ever heard of it. I’ve always loved radio, even talk radio, I can imagine it is such a great job. There are certain aspects of this business even writing that really intrigue me. If this comes to a crashing halt at some point, I’ll come and be your intern or something.

Shannon: I need an assistant.

Ben: Keep me in mind.

Shannon: I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen you play live-it has been at least ten times and I’ve always said your my favorite Seattle band. Every time I see you, you have a different lineup.

Ben: I know. This still continues. We’ve had shake ups. Tyler hasn’t even played ten shows with us yet. We’ve been in flux since we began, even before Matt joined the band. Unfortunately either people wanted to go, or it didn’t work out chemistry wise. It’s funny because that last year that we were toured on the first album it was seriously a different touring band every tour. It was exciting, but at the same time no one really got comfortable. You couldn’t really enjoy your spot.

Shannon: Who was actually playing on the album?

Ben: From today? Everybody but Bill our bass player and Tyler our other guitarist. Four of us. Four out of six ain’t bad. No one that was on the first album made the second album, unfortunately. I think the group that we have is here to stay. I hope.

Shannon: How was your Letterman performance last night? Was that kind of surreal?

Ben: Last night, I don’t know if you heard. We were the first band to play Letterman that stopped the song in the middle and started over. We must have done five rehearsals. So, everything was wonderful until it was time to play. All of the sudden everything was attitude and then just sounded like total dog excrement. We started it and it was immediate panic, like “Oh God, We are about to embarrass ourselves in front of millions of people.” I just said “STOP!” and all the production assistants were asking what was going on. Five seconds later we started over and it was one of the best plays we had all day. It is surreal but now being a seasoned veteran now that we’ve done it twice, it is just not as scary. The first time had that happened, I don’t know what I would have done. I don’t know if I could have gotten through it, but now I really enjoy it. I got to have my dad there, my uncle and my girlfriend there. It was such a great opportunity for one, for people to hear our song because it helps spread the word, obviously.

Shannon: What song did you play?

Ben: “Is There A Ghost.” The first one from the album. It is good for people to see how we interact on stage and hopefully they will want to come out to our shows.

Shannon: I went to another one of your Neumos shows and you started “The Funeral” over twice, and I joked, “He did that for effect.” And by the time you played it the third time…

Ben: It’s the pressure because it’s the song that everyone wants to hear, but it’s always that the hardest song is the one chosen as a single, the hardest one to play. “Funeral” back then was really hard for us to play. I wish it would have been planned out just to tease them a little bit.


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