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Band of Horses

No Place Like Home

Oct 01, 2007 Fall 2007 - Beirut Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share

Artists are often a nostalgic lot. From Paul McCartney dreaming of just one more gig at the Cavern Club in Liverpool to Neil Young returning to the Canadian prairie of his youth for inspiration, the places that formed you as an individual have the ability to awaken feelings long lost through the business of life. The saying goes that “you can’t go home again,” but sometimes going home can fuel great art. With Cease to Begin, Band of Horses goes home.

“I think there’s definitely some sadness in leaving one place and going to a new place,” says vocalist/guitarist Ben Bridwell, explaining the melancholy mood that accompanied him when Band of Horses moved from Seattle to his original stomping grounds in South Carolina. “Just like the first record has a lot of good and evil forces battling each other within a song—the lighter and the darker side—this album is very much like that to me. It’s about relationships dissolving and leaving one place and going to a new place. There’s no fictional stuff in the songs. It’s just what’s going on, how I interpreted it. Just being near family and the nostalgia of being home seems to have an effect on a person.”

Given that the whirlwind of press hype and touring obligations thrust upon the band after the release of last year’s debut album Everything All the Time had its effect, too, Bridwell can be forgiven if he felt a longing to reconnect with his home of Irmo, South Carolina. Having lived on the West Coast for nearly nine years, many of those spent as a member of the experimental pop band Carissa’s Wierd, he had routinely returned to the Carolinas for Christmas, but band obligations kept him planted 3,000 miles from home. Then a strange thought struck him. If he was on tour all the time, he didn’t really live any particular place anyway. He might as well move home.

“So me and Creighton [Barrett, drums] and Rob [Hampton, bass], we just packed it all up and moved. It was a long time coming, and it was the perfect opportunity,” Bridwell continues. Still, he admits that he came home a slightly different person than he was when he left. “In South Carolina, everyone is drunk driving everywhere. I guess maybe I’m getting older or something, but I don’t really want to go to college bars and see people fight each other. It’s different not being around a common peer group of people [in Seattle] who are not right-wing jerk-offs that want to punch your face in. Not to say that everyone there is like that. I’m one of them; I’m a South Carolinian, and I don’t want to diss my people.”

Though Bridwell swears he doesn’t hear it, objective ears might detect an increased country music influence on the album, with the lush brotherly harmonies of “The General Specific” and the haunted balladry of “Marry Song” evoking the music that has echoed through the Carolinas for decades. “The first record has a couple twangy moments on it,” he allows. “Maybe ‘The General Specific’ is a honky-tonk stomp or whatever, but there was more banjo on the last record. I just feel like it’s kind of the same that way. There’s hints of it, but it’s never outwardly country or anything.”

Of course, having grown up in the South, Bridwell is familiar with the country music tradition, and some natural seepage into his music would be expected. “Just being down in the South, you catch wind of it,” he explains. “My first interest in country music was actually as a junior high kid. Like, hearing when Garth Brooks first came out, and George Strait and Randy Travis were all over the radio, and Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson—all that shit. All of my friends went out and immediately started dressing like cowboys. And they went to Structure and got these really ugly multi-color shirts and a pair of boots and a hat and went to do line dancing shit. When ‘Boot Scootin’ Boogie’ or ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ came out, they were teaching us how to do that shit in school at recess. And like any trend whore, I was into it, as well, but I didn’t really catch the magic of country music that I know now. As an adult, I’ve picked up the country artists that I like or the western swing and all that. But I’m also into African psychedelic music and reggae. I just dive into any genre that I can get into and find out what I like and what I don’t like.”

Eventually, Bridwell discovered that he liked indie rock, too, with a copy of Pavement’s Westing (By Musket and Sextant) leading him to an obsession that ran from Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh to fellow Carolinians Archers of Loaf. But despite having a family full of musicians, he was the first to attempt to make a living from the musical trade, landing in Seattle in the late-’90s and playing in the aforementioned Carissa’s Wierd until their 2003 dissolution. Despite years in bands, when it came time for him to front his own, he was admittedly ill-prepared.

“Those were the first songs that I’d ever written, for one,” he says of the songs that formed Band of Horses’ debut. “I’d never been in a studio before, other than to play drums. I’d never had to be a singer or a guitar player. We couldn’t play the fucking songs, including me. I didn’t know how to sing. It was a fucking huge learning process, where we needed to know how to do that stuff real fast, because time is money in the studio. It was just a lot of realization like, ‘Fuck! I understand that my voice is flat, and I know I’m not giving you what you want, but I don’t know how to make it better for you.’ Now I know how to correct myself if I’m doing something wrong. Even the other guys in the band at the time on Everything, there were a lot of hiccups with them, as well. We all had a bit of a rough go with that one, but it all turned out fine,” he laughs.

That’s an understatement, and by the time the songs for the second album began emerging, Bridwell had proven himself an amazingly quick study in the craft of songwriting. His tone is heavy with disbelief when he says, “[Cease to Begin] was way too easy a record to do,” as if by saying it might retroactively jeopardize the quality of the album. Making that even more surprising is the fact that founding member (and fellow Carissa’s Wierd alum) Mat Brooke left the band before the recording. Soon a resolutely mellow set of songs began spiraling out into a far more eclectic album, their laidback pulse becoming enlivened by surging guitar lines and deepened with darkly ethereal balladry. It’s the sound of a man sifting through the feelings and memories of leaving one life and rediscovering another.

“I’m not sure if being home did it, but everything was a lot easier,” he admits. “Even from a lyric-writing perspective, I wasn’t as nervous as I was for the first record. Just to have more of a narrative and not hide behind a curtain. But I sure did love coming home in-between sessions to get to spend time with my family. It’s a beast, being in a touring band like we are, being out all the time. Whether it’s relationships with family or girlfriends, it’s really hard on people. It’s easier to have the time off and be relaxed…” he says, pausing with a deeply satisfied breath. “Fuck, yeah.”


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March 23rd 2010

The band often draws comparisons to My Morning Jacket, largely due to the vocal similarities between Bridwell and My Morning Jacket lead singer Jim James, the occasional Southern rock tendencies that the two groups have in common

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March 24th 2012

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March 27th 2012

Brilliant interview! I’m very pleased to see that man in this article post. I would like to say thanks for published such brilliant topic my pal. Keep it up though!

Melvin Bozena
July 2nd 2012

Brilliant interview indeed! I have been long time fan of band of horses. I love Ben Bridwell’s pop music. He always plays fantastic and wonderful song. Thanks! :)