Band Of Horses: Rock and Roll, the American Way
Photo by Christopher Wilson
For Bridwell, the experience of being in the studio with Johns was truly something of an earth-shaker. It was a learning experience—for the band as a whole, sure; but also, for Bridwell as a human being. The vulnerability of the warts-and-all approach may have left him feeling a little exposed in a removed, “hope you like this one” sort of way.
In the studio, Johns insisted that Bridwell engage in a more immediate dance with his devils: The sessions for Mirage Rock began with the band coming into the studio in the morning—well before conventional rock and roll hours—and grabbing some coffee. Then, at Johns’ insistence, Bridwell would demo his songs live, performing them on acoustic guitar for his bandmates.
“I don’t even play guitar in front of my kids at home,” says Bridwell. “It was really scary.”
While Bridwell is intent on keeping Band of Horses as a band of brothers, he’s still too painfully shy about his songwriting to collaborate with anyone in person. Any of his co-writers most likely achieved that distinction through the miracle of high-speed Internet. Not only won’t he play guitar in front of his toddlers, he won’t write any music at home, even locked in his bedroom. He’s too frightened that the walls have ears.
For previous song cycles, Bridwell would usually rent a cabin in some far- off woods where nobody would be able to hear him fumble around in the dark, searching for some far-off melody. He likes to write music in the kind of forest where if a tree falls, it doesn’t make a sound.
After touring ended for Infinite Arms, Bridwell wanted to maximize quality time with his wife and kids. Being a good father and a good husband is something that’s incredibly important to him. He wrote many of the songs on Mirage Rock in hotel rooms while the band was still on tour. Others he wrote in the band’s storage unit or his work shed.
“Even knowing that somebody’s on the other side of the wall in a hotel, or if I’m at a cabin and I see other people show up for vacations or something, I’m looking out the window half the time just wondering if they can hear me complaining or singing or whatever you want to call it,” Bridwell says.
However, he wrote one song during an aborted 10-day writing retreat in the Smoky Mountains near Pigeon Forge, Tenn., this past January. “It was just a fucking nightmare,” Bridwell recounts. “I was such a mess. I ended up leaving early because I just felt like I had a case of writer’s block.”
When he showed up to his cabin, he accidentally tripped the alarm, couldn’t turn it off and, the next thing he knew, he was dealing with police. He had also brought Johns’ catalog with him as if to size himself up against the producers’ past clients.
“I started listening to a lot of music instead of actually writing,” says Bridwell. “Glyn had given me some tips as to how I could improve some trappings in my own songwriting and so I started listening to music and trying to see how other people do things…It just took me out of what came naturally for me, so I started to over-think a bit. And stress. It stymied me, man.”
He did write a song on the first night that, at first, he liked. But the more he listened to examples of more classic songwriting, the less confident he was in his own abilities. “So I just put the song away, man, thinking it was a total shitter.”
When sessions for Mirage Rock convened, and the band considered somewhere around 60 potential songs, Bridwell’s bandmates loved that particular sketch and all but forced him to polish it off.
This is where the democratic side of the band comes into play and, good thing for it, too: In typical Band of Horses fashion, that song ended up being Bridwell’s favorite on the album. Mine, too. It’s called “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” and it sounds like vintage Band of Horses.
“Even though there are a lot of mellow moments on Mirage Rock, for me, it feels like our most rocking record and that’s mostly because Glyn added the ‘and roll’ part to it,” says Bridwell. “There’s the rock, that any band can bring, but that ‘and roll’ part—I think—is interesting and different for us. It really does feel like more of an art project with Glyn. Like we’ve taken a step in this time machine and who gives a shit if it ain’t so much of ‘Funerals’ and ‘Salt Lakes’—this is a project that we’re doing with this incredible contributor to what is rock and roll as we know it.
“If you think about it, everybody’s always like, ‘That rocks’ or ‘Man, you guys rock!’ I want it to be like, ‘You guys, ‘and roll,’ man!’”
And so it is that I can stand confidently by my first sentence for this article. However, I would like to add one word. After all, Band of Horses is a great American rock and roll band.
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