Ben Bridwell on album No.5, monster tracks and being saved from ruin
Drew Heatley

13:33 24th May 2016

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Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell is relaxed as we speak in Central London. Having just played an intimate acoustic gig at a Shoreditch bar the night before to celebrate forthcoming fifth album Why Are You OK? Treating fans to BoH classics, rather than saturating it with new songs. 

“We put out an acoustic record a couple of years ago (Acoustic at the Ryman), but we didn't bring it overseas at all, which is a bit shameful,” he says. “It was nice to bring a taste of what we were doing at that time to London and give the fans the reimagined experiences of those songs. We’re still trying figure out how to play the new stuff – particularly in an acoustic environment.”

Deciding where to fit new tracks into a set list is one decision that Ben and the band will have to make, but determining how the new album is received by fans is out of their hands.

“I don’t know where it stands (among the rest of our work) – I’m always the last to find out. I lost perspective a long time ago during the album-making process. But I know it’s us. It’s different in that the textures are a bit different with the new producer (Jason Lytle, frontman of indie rock troupe Grandaddy) – he brings a lot to the table. There are plenty of contrasts and things that are new, but there’s a lot of textures that are constant throughout our canon.”

Recruiting Lytle as producer was a decision that brought a lot of different styles to the studio and drew out everyone’s creativity.

“Jason is a tinkerer. With Grandaddy records he’s been a control freak; he’s always produced himself so it was hard for him to step outside of himself. There were times where I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and say ‘this isn’t a Granddady record; this is a Band of Horses record! I love you, but we’ve got to include the other guys – and include me, motherfucker!’ He really had a personal stake in it, being our buddy anyway, but also being a fan of the band, he really wanted to make a great record.”

2016 marks 10 years since debut LP Everything All The Time – but album number five is far from reflective of that milestone; in fact, the birthday nearly passed the band by.

“I didn't think about the tenth anniversary until two days before it hit”, Ben says. “I saw it on the calendar and thought: ‘crap, we haven’t even done anything for this!’ All of it came flooding back. It’s well timed as we’re trying to re-stoke the fires of our fans and remind them that we’re here – it’s been four years since we put out a record. I wasn't thinking about it during the process of making the record, though – it’s just happenstance.”

It’s been a long wait for Why Are You OK? and Ben says the gap wasn’t intentional, rather it’s illustrative of a more organic record-making process – and that comes without regimented time limits.

“(Mirage Rock) was very much ‘get cracking – don't overthink shit, go and play your instruments like you know how to and don't fuss too much’. That’s because the album before (Grammy-nominated Infinite Arms) was choc-full of process – overthinking and overcooking. I thought we needed to take our time and not overlook anything. I knew we wanted to have a fuller sound again; I wanted to pour over it and explore some more sincere themes, instead of speaking in riddles so no one knows what I’m talking about. That was fuelling the fire and that takes time.”

Shortly after Mirage Rock was released in 2012, Band of Horses mutually agreed with label Columbia to part ways (“I had a feeling that they were going to drop us anyway because it was going to take a while for us to get into the black with our contract”). Four years later, Why Are You OK is being released through Interscope and American Recordings. The latter was founded by music mogul Rick Rubin, who acts as executive producer on the new album.

“He helped me when I was questioning material. I’d go to his, play him some demos and we’d just chat. He’s a great mentor – and he saved me from financial ruin by signing us to American Recordings and Interscope, just like he did with Infinite Arms, he got us back in the major label system yet again.”

Much has already been made about the potential inspiration behind this new Band of Horses record (“Oh the ‘suburban ennui’? Yeah, there’s that”), but the driving theme for Ben is one of honesty.

“At times I’ve tried to be deeper than I really am and that’s where I get in trouble. This record is about ‘real-ass shit’ – speaking more openly about what’s happening in the day-to-day humdrum ‘dad’ life, and not being afraid to say things about people around me, even if they could decode it and know that I’m talking about them. It’s a tough thing; it’s easy to get a bit gun-shy when you think about the people who might be listening.”

Album opener ‘Dull Times/The Moon’ is a seven-minute epic and is illustrative of the importance placed on the LP as a format – something that is in danger of being lost in the era of playlists and the shuffle button.

“The order is extremely important. Jason wanted to know the album sequence all the time so he could conceptualise it. He needs the full spectrum so he can put all the right eggs in the right baskets. I’m usually the worst at that – picking a single, sequencing and naming the songs. I’m not good at those things. This is the first time I considered all that throughout the process. I respect the art form of the album. I need that more dedicated listen.”

Past Band of Horses albums have produced monster tracks like ‘The Funeral’ and ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ – and for all the importance of the album, it’s these singles that put the band on the map. And that’s something Ben’s grateful for.

“Thank goodness for them! That’s what brought people to us – ‘The Funeral’ playing in every damn movie that ever came out! Teenage kids say ‘I like Band of Horses’ because they heard us on a TV show I’ve not even seen. I never expected that. I didn't even want to finish ‘The Funeral’ – I wanted it on the next record. I knew ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ was pretty good because I had it for a while – I’d written it while we recorded our first album. We started playing it live and people started telling me it was a good song – that’s probably how I knew! I’m grateful to have those songs.”

Whether this new LP spawns another track that cracks pop culture remains to be seen – Ben’s favourite song is constantly changing (it’s currently ‘Dull Times’). It might be impossible to predict the future, but Ben hopes there won’t be another four-year wait for the next Band of Horses record.

“Right now it feels good. There’s a good vibe between the band and the fans and it’s only gonna get more intensified as we bring the songs out to the people. I hope it’s a quicker turnaround but at the same time I don’t want to speed up the process in any way. I foresee good things to come.”

Relaxed and confident, Band of Horses are back – and they’re ready to show everyone that it was worth the wait.

Band Of Horses release Why Are You OK on 10 June. Their upcoming tour dates are as follows, for tickets and information visit here

Tue July 05 2016 - LONDON O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
Wed July 06 2016 - LONDON O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
Thu July 07 2016 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall

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