Band Of Horses: Rock and Roll, the American Way
When they started getting their heads around making a new album last year, the only thing they knew for sure was—now that they had the backing of a major label—that they wanted to do something different. First thought: Hire a new producer. So they assembled a wish list—Daniel Lanois’ and John Cale’s names were both on there. But then, the band’s management suggested that they try to enlist Glyn Johns, who had just worked with another client of theirs, Ryan Adams.
Johns wasn’t on their initial short list, but once his name came up, everyone was completely star struck. Johns has a résumé that is so solid he doesn’t need to carry around a résumé. He’s produced some of the best albums by The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, The Eagles and dozens more. He engineered the Beatles’ Let It Be. You can’t scroll more than a couple songs down any classic rock playlist without running into Johns’ work. So, without knowing what they were going for, they flew Johns out to a show in Washington, D.C., to see if he’d be willing to take them on.
“I was confused when I first saw them,” Johns admits. “The material was so varied, from manic rock and roll to country ballads with fabulous harmonies—and everything in between. I wanted to clarify what the band wanted to achieve.”
So he sat them down and asked them, “What kind of band are you?” In other words, he was requesting that the band define—or, perhaps, redefine—themselves. And at least take responsibility for how they play.
“He was like, ‘I heard you guys doing all sorts of stuff. So what are you? Are you like a super mellow, vocal band or are you like a super angular indie band?’” remembers Monroe. “And we came to the conclusion that we don’t have to fucking choose. We never have to. We never want to be put in a corner. For this record, we have a little bit of all of that and I think, from here on out, our records are going to have a little bit of both of those things.”
You make it up as you go along, or so the American Story goes, and if you don’t like it or if you get bored or whatever, then you’re free to reinvent yourself. Flip the script. And so, Band of Horses have done likewise, further fulfilling their narrative.
Infinite Arms is dreamy. Unworldly. Perfect.
Mirage Rock is a remarkably different album than Infinite Arms. It’s guttural and earthy. Most surprising for anyone who has listened attentively to previous Band of Horses releases, it’s completely raw. It’s from the garage, not the heavens.
Despite being on a major label and despite having a proper recording budget and despite having a big-shot producer, there are rough patches throughout the album. This was by design (and I should mention that this, too, is a very American approach to art). Granted, most of this is the result of having Johns on the project. It’s a reflection of his aesthetic and his style (See: My Generation, Exile on Main Street ). Johns likes to record straight-to-tape without many overdubs. He also uses vintage analog equipment which makes too many overdubs virtually impossible, anyway. He has the band play live. He has them sing and play their instruments at the same time. And he doesn’t use Pro Tools.
“He wasn’t concerned so much with a song’s performance, but if it had some sort of energy that he was looking for, that’s the take that he wanted to be the keeper,” says Monroe. “I’d be like, ‘Man, I flubbed that note on the bridge.’ And he’s like, ‘Oh man, get over yourself. Nobody cares about that one note. It’s the overall thing.’ And he’d go, ‘That’s rock and roll, isn’t it?’...We learned to deal with small errors and Glyn seemed to think that those were the beautiful parts. And to be honest, those are some of my favorite parts of a lot of the records that he did.”
Because Reynolds was more of a producer than an active bassist before joining Band of Horses, he was able to appreciate the authority that Johns demanded in the studio. “When you trust somebody, you can just go with playing bass and the rest is on them,” he says. “Glyn immediately commands respect because he’s been doing it for so long. We knew that he was going to do stuff that maybe he had done with bands in the past and that it wasn’t the style of recording that’s done nowadays as much. It’s different because he likes rough edges and, as a band, it’s hard to sometimes listen to your rough edges. But, as a listener, that’s what people actually look for.”
That’s rock and roll, isn’t it?
“In this day and age, we’ve been in the studio enough times to know that you can do anything you want,” says Reynolds. “You can make any record you want with a computer—so we didn’t have a computer. We did it all on tape. It was fun to keep it rough like that.”
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