By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"Whatever, man. No problem." Despite a publicist's snafu concerning time zones that left him waiting hours for a phone call, Ben Bridwell is relaxed, true to his easygoing and affable reputation. The lead singer of Band of Horses is en route with the rest of his band to Ohio after a show in Detroit. "Last night was kind of the first weird show," he says. "We just sounded like such garbage from the jump-off that it was like 'Fuck, man. We're screwed.' But we just kind of smiled our way through it and got it over with."
Such self-deprecating humor is typical of Bridwell and his Seattle bandmates, a bearded and tattooed lot who could just as easily pass for the type of Northwestern crab fisherman you see on the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch. While they may ride in vans instead of boats, they definitely drink like men of the sea: "As soon as we get out [of the van], it's time for an ice-cold beer," Bridwell says. "Next thing you know we're all fucking drenched, soaking wet and drunk as shit."
Bridwell is certainly no stranger to the ways of the road, having cut his teeth as a drummer for Seattle indie-folk darlings Carissa's Wierd [sic] alongside guitarist Mat Brooke, who fronted the band along with singer-songwriter Jenn Ghetto. "When Carissa's Wierd broke up, me and Mat, we had joined forces," Bridwell says. "Mat had worked so hard for, like, 10 years creating that band, and I think the pressure of starting over again was a bit daunting to him. We played around a little bit, but it never really took flight, so that's when I started writing these songs and started the band without him." It wasn't long before Brooke rejoined Bridwell, however, forming the core of what would become Band of Horses.
Hearing the band's Sub Pop debut, Everything All the Time, it's amazing to consider that Bridwell has only written songs for a few years. Woebegone anthems like "The Funeral" and "The Great Salt Lake" rival the best of fellow Northwesterners Built to Spill and Modest Mouse, while soft-spoken indie hymns like "St. Augustine" bring to mind the heartbreaking folk of labelmate Iron and Wine. (Not surprising, given the fact that Bridwell and Iron and Wine's Sam Beam hail from the same South Carolina town. In fact, it was Bridwell who first passed Beam's demos around Seattle, leading to his record contract with Sub Pop.) But hearing Bridwell describe his own songwriting process, it doesn't sound nearly as mystical.
"I would just go to the practice space and fuck around with whatever was in front of me...'cause I don't know what the hell I'm doing really," he says. "I'm not in any way talented at any of these instruments, but...every one of them is hiding a melody from me. I see it that way at least."
With both Bridwell and Brooke switching between a slew of stringed things (including banjo and lap steel), Band of Horses has a knack for expanding the sound of conventional, guitar-based indie-rock (aided on disc by the able ears of Seattle producer Phil Ek). Cloaked in reverb, Bridwell's high tenor soars over the band's spacious arrangements, creating a sound that's drawn a slew of comparisons to fellow reverb-worshippers My Morning Jacket.
"Oh, I've never heard that one," Bridwell says sarcastically. "It's so funny; before any of the reviews or any of that shit, I always got the Neil Young thing...that's really the main influence there. I really didn't even consider the My Morning Jacket thing until all the damn reviews came out. It's grown to such an obnoxious extent that it makes me want to take a totally different direction and approach to how we do the next record. But then there's the other side. You just gotta keep doing what you do. I can't sing another way--that's my fucking voice, you know what I mean? It sucks, but it's good to be in such good company; I admire and enjoy those bands. What can you do? That's that press, man. You're fucked either way, whether they like you or hate you."
Despite a mountain of great press, Bridwell is still hopeful that the critics will eventually see things his way. "I remember when I first heard Grandaddy," he says. "I thought, 'How much does this guy sound like Wayne from the Flaming Lips?' And as I listened to Grandaddy more, those things...they go away, and you hear Lytle's voice for what it is. Or when you first hear the Decemberists, people are like 'Oh, it sounds exactly like Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel.' Now if I listen to the fucking Decemberists, I don't really hear that anymore. So hopefully, God fuckin' willing, people will eventually hear my voice for who I am."