Band Of Horses – Gone to Carolina
What Carissa’s Wierd hadn’t done, however, was prepare Bridwell for stepping into the spotlight. Prior to Band Of Horses, his sole experience as a leader had been in an adolescent punk-rock band with Barrett. Their repertoire consisted mostly of Descendents covers, with the Misfits’ “Last Caress” thrown in for variety’s sake. They played exactly two shows, one at a skate park. “There are tapes out there somewhere,” Bridwell admits ruefully.
Initially, Bridwell buried his vocals in effects. That timbre quickly became one of Band Of Horses’ biggest calling cards, garnering Bridwell comparisons to everyone from Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips) and Jim James (My Morning Jacket) to Neil Young and Brian Wilson. He even quit smoking before recording the new album, to better care for his voice.
He’s still acclimating to center stage. “I don’t like the nasal quality of my voice,” he says. “Sometimes it just sounds [like] big, hairy nose singing.” He flaps his fingers under his schnoz, exhaling hard through his nostrils, by way of illustration. “But to get to belt out songs every night is the most euphoric experience, and I can’t believe I didn’t try it earlier.”
Though Bridwell had composed the bulk of Band Of Horses’ debut, his plate was fuller with Brooke completely out of the picture. So be it. “Even if it was all going to be on my shoulders, it really didn’t bother me,” he says. “I knew there was a lot of work to do, but the songs were going to be there.”
Bridwell already had some material prepared or in final stages of incubation. The simple, heartfelt “No One’s Gonna Love You” had long been a staple of the live set. “Detlef Schrempf” and “Ode To LRC” were written around the time Creighton and Hampton signed on full-time. But the bandleader fretted that his new batch lacked variety.
“I was scared at first,” he says. “Because those songs were the first three I wrote for the record, and they were really melancholy. I remember doing interviews when Everything came out, and people would ask, ‘What’s next?’ ‘Well, I’m kind of bummed to tell you this, but I think I’m writing a fuckin’ slo-core record.'”
The next surprise came in fall, when the band pulled up stakes and moved east. This time, official word was that the move was prompted by a desire to be closer to family. Creighton and Bridwell had spent their formative years in Charleston, South Carolina, and life in Seattle simply wasn’t what it once had been.
“When we lived here, we were basically involved in the whole bar culture,” says Bridwell, who includes a stint pouring drinks at the city’s storied Crocodile Cafe on his resume. There were shows to see, gigs to play (Barrett and Hampton were in a group called the New Mexicans)…and many libations to drink. “We were partying a lot here. And it was great. We had a fantastic time. But at 29, hangovers hurt a lot worse,” Bridwell admits. “I just can’t keep up like that. I don’t think any of us can.”
A resounding groan of affirmation goes up among his colleagues. “What I consider a good time has changed a lot after five years,” Hampton confirms. “When I’m home now, I just enjoy hanging out at the house with my girlfriend.” Bridwell, Barrett, and Reynolds surf as often as possible when off the road. “You can’t go get us out of the water,” says Bridwell.
The new surroundings in South Carolina helped Bridwell finish writing the material — including some more upbeat numbers — for Cease To Begin. So did closing ranks with Barrett and Hampton. Having mastered the rudiments of recording demos on his computer, Bridwell would test-drive initial ideas with his bandmates. “I’d play things to Rob and Creighton, and see if there was any interest,” he says. “Then I could go back and write some lyrics, and see if I knew where a song should go.”
To record the album, the band once again tapped Phil Ek (Modest Mouse, the Shins, Built To Spill), who had produced their first disc. Rather than returning to Seattle, the band did the lion’s share of the work at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, North Carolina. They downplay the influence of environment on the songwriting, but there is a distinctly southern flavor to the knee-slapping “The General Specific” and also “Marry Song”, a slow, yearning number that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an early Linda Ronstadt LP.
“It was cool to get Phil out of Seattle,” Bridwell says. “Normally, he gets to go home [after a session] and do whatever he wants. Instead, for two weeks, we were living together. We’d all go to sleep in the same space, we all hung out together afterwards. It was all BOH, all the time.” That camaraderie minimized stress and curtailed sophomore-album jitters.
It also encouraged a broadening of the circle. There were no keyboards on Everything All The Time, but Ryan Monroe plays a pivotal role on Cease To Begin. His don’t-shoot-me-I’m-the-piano-player fills on “General Specific” rank among the record’s liveliest details. Monroe’s contributions also breathed extra life into “Marry Song” which was originally written on autoharp. Likewise, Bridwell credits Barrett and Hampton for salvaging “Is There A Ghost”, transforming it from “a crappy acoustic demo” into the album’s rousing first single.
Bridwell is eager to see this type of cross-pollination flourish. He’d like to see Band Of Horses evolve into a many-headed monster a la the Byrds or Fleetwood Mac, with multiple songwriters. “That’s the direction we’re headed in,” he says. Guitarist Tyler Ramsey is already an accomplished composer (he recently released his second solo album, A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea), and both Barrett and Monroe are both rapidly coming into their own as writers. “Ryan can crank out two songs in three minutes,” Bridwell boasts. “Note he didn’t say good songs,” Monroe demurs.
Bridwell continues, with animated manner. “In the past, it has been me slaving away and then going, ‘I have eight songs after seven fucking months.'” Cease To Begin may mark the end of that modus operandi. “This record will probably be the most independent Band Of Horses record,” he says. “On the first one, Mat helped a lot. This one was done in my house, just fucking around and constantly self-critiquing shit, trying to make things better.
“Now that we have a solid lineup, it will finally be Band Of Horses as it was meant to be,” he concludes: “an actual Band Of Horses.”
ND contributing editor Kurt B. Reighley is a Seattle-based writer and DJ who saw Band Of Horses when they were just Horses. Which, a couple of childhood carousel rides excepted, is as close to being equestrian as he will probably ever come.