There’s not much interest in or love for a certain horse race in this corner of the musical world – not just boring but cruel, often enough deadly, and that’s before even getting to the life destroying betting – but the day after the afternoon before is a good time to remind ourselves that a pack, a band even, of horses can elevate not just deflate.
In this 2016 interview with Band Of Horses, our second conversation in almost as many years after a Chicago breakfast with the full contingent of the (South and) North Carolina crew, Wind Back Wednesday finds the principal Horse with his hands full, and his heart content.
IN CONVERSATION WITH BEN BRIDWELL, the frontman and main man of Southern rock (and a bit of country, blues and pop) group Band Of Horses, you will regularly hear one word, balance. And it’s not hard to see why.
Bridwell has a day life and a night life. So far so normal. But the night life is more solo, more quiet, more concentrated than most. For good reason.
“Oh man, four kids – there’s really not a whole lot you can do until everyone is in bed,” he says. “You kind of get to that thing where it’s like ‘alright it’s 9 o’clock the calm after the storm, shit, I've got a lot to do here’. Even when there's not a lot to do, like now when the album is all but done, I'm still in panic mode at the end of the day because I've got to get all of my adult time, my relaxing time, my hanging out with friends time in quickly.
“Then it’s midnight and I’m ‘shit I’ve only just begun’ and you’re awake for your second chance at life. It’s hard to calm down.”
The flipside of this of course is that Bridwell has two pretty full and satisfying lives, when some of us can barely manage to enjoy one.
"Oh my God, yeah. I feel incredibly lucky to be somewhat relevant in the creative arts," Bridwell says. "At the same time, it can be a bit confusing you know, this double life that we do lead. I'm out here promoting the album in Los Angeles then I'm going to take the redeye flight home [in a small town in South Carolina] tomorrow night and will be arriving right when everyone's waking up and be handed at least a couple of babies told ‘ok, back to being servant’ in the queendom of my house.”
Bridwell says the survival technique is to balance the hectic and the quiet “so you’re not completely jammed by the whole thing” and you can hear that balance at work on the new Band Of Horses album where there’s the pulse of a frantic life and the reverie afterwards.
"Hopefully, we are pulling from all of that stuff. We’ve subscribed to both sides of the coin our whole career and I think we thrive in that middle zone of trying to find a balance in contrasts."
Or as we might know it, life.
"Oh absolutely,” he says. “Look at our biggest songs and it’s the bombastic and the nuanced: that’s the common thread in our songs and our whole lives. Sometimes there’s also some malcontentedness with this joyful gratitude. We’ve always been a study in contrast. But I’m married and you learn you better adapt or you get left behind.”
Band Of Horses have learnt to adapt and demand, change and make change, in other ways too, such as making the most of different producers. Four years ago they worked with The Legendary Glyn Johns (apparently there is a contractual obligation to refer to the man who has worked with the likes of Led Zeppelin, the Stones, The Beatles etc etc etc .... this way) and told me at the time how that was like some life goal achieved.
On the new album they’ve had a less legendary but nonetheless idiosyncratic producer in Jason Lytle of the country/electro/folk band Grandaddy. It was a choice made with intent.
"With Jason, I needed more than your traditional producer. I needed all that he brings to his own work: his melodic sense; his deft touch in the studio; somebody who writes lyrics with the pressure of being the lead dude in a band,” Bridwell says. “There is a lot responsibility in that and we share that in our bands [that] it’s up to us to lead the way and take care of them.”
Taking care of them might mean "making sure the record is good enough so they will have a job" but it might also mean "making sure they also have their stamp on, and a chance to express themselves in, the recording of the album".
And Bridwell knew that Lytle had been there and deal with that.
"I needed more than a buddy, I needed more than someone who knows how to make sure a song is structurally sound. I needed all hands on deck.”
He needed, you guessed it, balance.