Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell speaks to Jamie Martin about the inner conflict between pleasing his audience and staying true to his art
With their latest album Infinite Arms lauded as one of 2010’s best releases, Seattle’s Band of Horses seem to be taking the reins with great enthusiasm and passion.
The album fully showcases the talents of their new lineup and the evolution of frontman Ben Bridwell as a songwriter. For Arms, Bridwell has recruited talents such as guitarist Tyler Ramsey and Ryan Monroe on keyboards to give another dimension to the new material as well as old favourites from their two previous albums. Bridwell is sweaty and exhausted having just finished the encore, but he is accommodating and polite when O-two asks for an interview.
It’s clear that Bridwell and the band get a rush from performing live and connecting with their rapidly expanding fan base, but the dedication of their fans can be somewhat of a double edged sword; “Thinking that people would want to get married to the songs because they remember these experiences,” he says. “It’s incredible to have that kind of impact on people’s lives but that’s also the only thing that screws with me. There is a bit of responsibility with that, but I can’t let that interfere with what I do to keep it pure for myself.”
It is obvious that the integrity of his songs is the most important thing to Bridwell, but he does not bear that burden alone as Infinite Arms sees input from the entire band in the writing process. “We do demos of the songs once we all get together. It’s like you follow a template. You know what the person is going for so you try to do it tastefully without stepping on the toes of what the song needs. You have to live with this.”
He continues: “This is a documentation of your band and a documentation of history. You have a responsibility to make it as well as you can. So I am trying to find the perfect balance between searching for some sort of idea of perfection but at the same time completely disregarding that whole mentality and just doing what feels good and what sounds natural. Sometimes what sounds loose is my favourite music.”
While he has a deep admiration and love for the fans, Bridwell strikes O-two as a man who does not pander to other people’s expectations of the band. There is a front and foremost appreciation for his art that is essential to stay true to.
“If there is anything I’ve learned on this third record, it is that some people don’t really get it as much. Some people wish we could write another ‘Funeral’ [from 2007 debut album, Everything All the Time] or something.
“You have your whole life to write your first record and then you have six months to write your second. Then you take your time with the third one and possibly sink your own ship. My thing is, whatever comes naturally to you is what you have got to do and don’t think about anything else. It’s art, so why let it be anything else?”
For some songs, like the opening track ‘Factory’ on the new album, the lyrics are simplistic and bare, but their basic nature is what makes them work. Bridwell is strong in his belief that he shouldn’t have to create lyrics that feel inappropriate to his songs.
“I couldn’t do it,” he says. “I even had advice from a really smart producer who heard it. He advised me that the lyrics might be too simple but I can’t do anything other than what I do. I could try but then it wouldn’t be pure,” he explains, before adding: “It’s not written for anyone else, it’s written for me.”
In an industry with its fair share of misguided notions, it is refreshing to see a band with such conviction. It is equally refreshing to meet a performer who does not seem to have an egotistical bone in his body. When asked if he thinks of himself as successful, Bridwell does not list off his musical accomplishments and record sales, but looks to his family and his art as his great achievement.
“Absolutely. No doubt man. I got a family. I can support them with my job and I love what I’m doing. To me that’s success. I don’t need another rung on a ladder unless it’s just expanding my own musical horizons. It’s only about art; it’s not about money or success.”
So what does the future hold for Band of Horses? “Having been able to self-produce this last record was liberating as hell, so it would be nice to think that we can continue with that. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do and I’m not sure if it is the move that we actually will make, but the fact that we learned that we could do it was so cool and it opened up a lot of possibilities for us.
“On this record, I had to showcase Tyler, Ryan, Bill and Creighton. I had to sow those seeds for what is the future. It is really a cohesive unit that I hope will last forever. Luckily, people have received it well and we are very lucky for that, but it is created for us and it’s all about the fact that we are having fun. That’s all that matters man.”
Infinite Arms is out now.