Band of Horses
A conversation with Ben Bridwell
Interview by Adam McKibbin
Since releasing their acclaimed debut, Everything All the Time, in March 2006, Band of Horses have experienced an unusual range of highs and lows, both within the music industry and outside of it. On their new sophomore record, Cease to Begin, frontman Ben Bridwell and his cohorts—a lineup that has been frequently changing since the band's inception, but now seems to have stabilized—consider some of these events while building on the rich, reverb-resonating and twang-tweaked Americana of their debut.
Earlier this year, Bridwell ran afoul of the indie blogosphere after becoming frustrated by fans at a San Diego area gig and flipping off a blogger who was taking an amateur video of the band's requisite performance of their biggest hit to date, "The Funeral." Catching up on the eve of Cease to Begin's release, he talked about that fateful show, his inner Iggy Pop, Carolina comfort and Seattle sports.
Was the songwriting process a lot different this time around? For the debut, those songs came out of a pretty casual cycle of songwriting, when you were just playing around after Carissa's Wierd broke up, with no real expectation. Was it more pressure this time?
You know, it really wasn't. If anything, this one was even more casual. It was like "Who gives a crap? Write the fucking record and shut up about it." The first record definitely had a lot of Mat [Brooke] on it—his influence and guitar playing. This one obviously doesn't have those kinds of sounds. This one will probably be the most solo Band of Horses record that I'll ever make. Now I feel like the band that we have, and the songwriting talents that are within our grasp, that we'll start making more collaborative efforts in the future. This one was just kind of like "I don't care, I gotta get the sophomore record done anyway—might as well do it fast and write the record I want to write without breaking my back and being too concerned." It became a really fun experience. Even though I did put time into the songwriting, I tried not to be a spaz about it.
Once again there's a pretty even mixture of slower, starker songs and the more shit-kickin' rockers. How deliberate is that mix? If you happened to write a dozen slow heartbreakers, would you run with 'em?
You know, I don't think we would. I think when I was writing for this album, it seemed like it was going to be really melancholy. There were a lot of dark times before I moved, and it seemed like every song I was writing was going to wind up being really slow—and we did wind up with a bunch of slow songs. "Is There a Ghost" was originally a demo from my computer that Phil [Ek] saw and thought "Hey, that would be a great song to make into a rock song." We were at lunch and Creighton [Barrett] and Rob [Hampton] worked on it; we came back and they said, "We turned that song into a rock number." And it was perfect. We still had a heavy amount of slow ones, but, hey, now there was the other one to mix it up. So, no, we wouldn't be able to have too many melancholy songs—we'd have to change one of them and make it more even keeled.
How do you think you've grown as a live performer since the early days of Band of Horses? Are you embracing your inner Iggy Pop?
Yeah! I feel like I'm closer. I'm really enjoying it, anyway. We did this secret MySpace show, an all-ages thing in Seattle, and Seattle crowds are pretty polite anyway, but with an all-ages show, you won't hear a single thing between songs. I was really excited to play and knew it was going to be quiet and a little bit uncomfortable and all that. I think every day I get a little bit closer to absolutely loving that part of job, loving to perform for people. Maybe it's brought me out of my shell even more than a year ago. I would love to reach the inner fucking Iggy Pop inside and just be able to go crazy. But, no, I'm content and happy to just be up there.
The last time we talked, you were saying one of the hardest things was filling the time in between songs. Have you developed a shtick?
No, not so much. That will be a constant battle until the end, I'm afraid. I'm still saying stupid shit in between songs and mumbling and people can't understand. I think I'll forever be a douchebag that unfortunately has a microphone in front of me. [laughs]
How was your big show at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, from your vantage point?
It was fun—I was a bit nervous, really. It seems like whenever we hit those big landmark shows, I tend to clam up. Playing for that many people kind of made me freeze up a little bit. But afterwards, I really enjoyed watching the show and being at the place. It's a great venue to watch a show. But I was a bit freaked out during our performance and couldn't really enjoy it as much as I'd like to.
In addition to the size, there's such a sense of music history to it.
Absolutely, man. That shit will get into my head sometimes.
I don't want to belabor this point because I know it's been covered elsewhere, but I did want to talk about that blogger backlash that happened recently. When we were kids, the coolest things you could say about bands were that they: 1) didn't give a shit what critics thought and 2) did give a shit what their fans thought. Now that everyone has a blog and all the fans are critics, how do you reconcile that? How do you keep from being affected by outside noise but still be someone who's in touch with the fan base?
God, you know, it's funny—every day I think I want to distance myself more from any sort of blog or Internet stuff. It's such overkill now. It doesn't feel good to even know those things exist. I really can't stand those things. I just want to play shows. After thinking about all that stuff that happened, the only thing I can come to is that the only way to stay in touch with your fans is to play shows. They'll understand where you're coming from, they'll get you—you can be right in front of them and show them you're not a shithead. Sure, we had this one misstep because Pacific Beach is a crappy place to play a show. I'm not afraid to say it. There are really great people in San Diego and we'll come back and play for them again. But Pacific Beach sucks. All of a sudden, one misstep gets magnified and everyone picks it up and puts it on their blog and it's this weird new form of making celebrity out of… me? It's a slow fucking day if I'm a piece of gossip, you know what I mean?
I think it's a sick human condition—we need to know every little detail of personal lives, every little piece of scandal we can pick up on. The blogs are just another form of that sickening of culture. The worst part is that people take that as news; someone sees that thing about San Diego and now their opinion is "Oh, that fucking douchebag from Horses hates playing 'The Funeral' now, so any time he plays it, he's going to flip you off!" No, assholes, I fucking love the song! I love to play it. It's just that playing it in Pacific Beach… isn't the most fun time in the world, so I got pissed off.
My friends at Sub Pop reminded me that the percentage of the population that actually reads that shit is so fucking small. It might seem like it's millions of people, but even the percentage of people that go to Pitchfork is pretty small. So fuck 'em. You know? Play a show, that's how you get in touch with your fans. I'm not afraid to talk to people after shows or take pictures with people—I fucking love our fans. But I think blogs are stupid. I want to blow up the Internet. [Laughs] But if it's one of the parts of the job, I'm willing to accept it.
The song title "Detlef Schrempf" really stands out on the new album [Schrempf is a former NBA player]. Is that title a total lark? Or is there some deep hidden meaning?
There's not. There are some Seattle themes going on with that one, so I gave it the "Detlef" working title and I just couldn't bear to change it once it was time to send all the little kids off to the pressing plant. But the Seattle themes warrant a Seattle name, I think, and "Detlef Schrempf" works great.
I hadn't thought of his name in a long time.
I'm like fucking bros with the guy now, because of the song. [laughs] I've been in email contact with him. Detlef is my friend! He's the most famous friend I have, I think.
He's a good one. Hell of a shooter.
Fuck yeah, he is!
What led you to close the chapter on Seattle and move back closer to your roots?
It was basically just wanting to be closer to the family. It was really an easy decision. I'd thought about it—and even complained about it—for a long time, so I think it's one of the smartest moves I could have made. It's a pleasure living there. I love Seattle, too, but I feel like I made the right decision.
Do you take the Mariners fandom with you even when you leave Seattle?
Oh, that's still intact. I'm not so much a Seahawk fan—maybe I was a fair weather fan for them. It's really hard because the scores come in so late, but I'll go see a game whenever I'm in town if I have the option. It's not fun being a Mariners fan. It's not that fun being a Georgia fan, either. I would have to question my sanity if one of my teams actually did do well.
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