“It’s a bit hopeful, isn’t it?” Catching up with Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell

March 21 marked the 16-year anniversary of indie rock darlings Band of Horses’ debut album, Everything All The Time, which emblazoned the band’s soaring guitars and front man Ben Bridwell’s trademark wail on college radio airwaves and inside increasingly bigger music venues beginning in the mid-aughts.

This month, the refashioned Band of Horses line-up led by Bridwell released its sixth studio album, Things Are Great, which was composed pre-COVID but tweaked over several rounds to capture the pure BoH essence that recalls the band’s earliest work. Listen to part of my discussion with Bridwell and read the full transcript below.

On the Record: A Q&A With Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses

Celia Gregory: Hi, Ben. 

Ben Bridwell: Hey, there. How we doing? 

CG: Hey, good, my name is Celia. How are you? 

BB: Hey, Celia. I’m doing well. How’s your day going? 

CG: I’m pretty good. I just bought a house, so I’m like moving a lot of stuff and it’s always fun. So you’ve spent some time here? Yeah. 

BB: Yeah. We actually did your rehearsals and stuff there. So we actually spent quite a bit of time in the past year, even with the pandemic and stuff. We were there quite a bit. 

CG: Where are you based right now with that cool living room situation? 

BB: Oh, I’m in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. I’ve lived here since moving from Seattle. I moved back to town in 2007. 

CG: Well, the first time I saw you was at New Brookland Tavern. I went to school at [University of South] Carolina and it was when you were still Horses before the name change. And my buddies’ band opened for you and that was really special, to then now see you playing bigger places and festivals, it’s cool. A full circle moment for me as a college DJ turned NPR DJ. 

BB: Wow, were you on, like, what was it – 90.2 [FM]?

CG: 90.3 [WUSC FM].

BB: Yeah, I grew up in high school listening to that station and got a lot of information on music. 

CG: Well, it was really fun. And I really do love this new record [Things Are Great]. So when it was our opportunity to talk to you, I was like, “I got it.” So much time has passed since you released an album before this one [Why Are You OK]. And when I think about what’s happened in our country and in the world since 2016, I can’t really even piece together how many things you were channeling in this album. Could you care to share some about the songwriting and maybe the timeline of how old some of these songs are?

BB:  It’s funny because it was, you know, done and boxed up before the pandemic hit. So it’s kind of strange. It seems like some of the themes might be influenced by those hardships — I think I just got lucky with that. But at the same time, I guess around the time that the album was coming about was while I was going through a divorce, dealing with child custody stuff and lawyers and band breakup stuff — band members leaving. And not to mention like the Trump stuff was going on and white nationalism. And I don’t know, there’s plenty of fodder there. 

CG: A cornucopia. Things are great, as they say. 

BB: It’s a bit hopeful, isn’t it?

CG: Maybe a little bit facetious. But the songs sound hopeful, and I think the sound is true Band of Horses. One of my favorite tunes is “In Need of Repair.” I feel that like on a cellular level right now. Is it about you? Is it about a friendship, or both/and? What went into that one? 

BB: When I’m writing about a certain thing like that, a lot of times it is directed back at myself, but other times there’s another cast of characters that, you know, make little cameos and things like that, and I’ll dance around a little bit on subjects. Oftentimes, I’m trying to write from that person’s perspective about how it went down with me. But I think there’s definitely some breakup talk going on and feeling broken, you know, at times just feeling busted up and beyond repair, you know. I’m still working on it, honestly. 

CG: Yeah, well, it is hopeful that is in need of repair and not, say, FUBAR. 

BB: Yeah. Good point. We can’t say that on the radio, come on!

CG: Regarding making this record, you co-produced this one. So what did that allow for you creatively, as band leader and THE consistent member of the band, the sound and brand?

BB: I think it was just finally time to say like, “You know what, going into album number six, if you don’t know your stuff by now, if you don’t know what you sound like by now, you’re never going to know it.” So when we had made the previous iteration of the record, had it mixed and done, we did it with my friend Jason Lytle and had Dave Fridman mix it — two studs. I had to make the conscious decision to say, like, “You know what? This isn’t good enough.” I feel like we’re kind of …not getting hijacked, but the record’s not how I want it. I need to write better songs. The only reason that my name’s on the sleeve like that is because, well, I finally had the courage to say good isn’t good enough. 

CG: And you insisted on great. 

BB: Yeah, it was, Things Are Good and now it’s Things Are Great. 

CG: Last time I saw you was at the Railbird Music Festival in my home state of Kentucky last year. And if I’m not mistaken — and you can correct me on the record — I think you were so overcome you were moved to tears at one point. And hashtag-same, you know, like then everybody was in that moment with you, and I know you performed a lot since then. You’re about to go on the road to the Black Keys, but can you talk about, I don’t know, the live music experience and what that means to you as a performer and as a still creating music and being able to experience that face to face again? 

BB: Oh my God. I mean, dude, seriously, even just the act of being able to exert that much energy and singing and having that yanked from you. You know, it’s like, “Oh, this is detrimental to my health.” My body has gotten used to even just this exercise over the past 16 years or something. I don’t want to go running. Unless it’s from the cops, I ain’t going running. So that is a big deal. 

I think there’s a huge feeling of gratitude to be able to get that experience back with folks, also. Not just the act of singing, but that exchange with people – to see their faces, to see them become more joyful or more introspective, because some songs aren’t all that joyful. To be able to share that exchange with them is very impactful for me. I’m so grateful. But I’ve also been through a lot, and I do feel a bit broken sometimes. So yeah, I’m a whole lot weepier than I used to be. 

CG: So you are excited to get back on the road, I can imagine, from what you just said. 

BB: Yes, so, so excited. We’ve got a chance to do a couple of things, you know here and there. Nothing exactly as sustained as we used to be able to do, but we have plans. On paper, it looks really nice what’s coming up for us. We have a big U.S. tour, maybe some Canadian and Mexican dates here and there too. We’re on tour with the Black Keys and then we have our own tour in Europe right after that. So there’s a lot of work to do here. I’m just fingers and toes crossed, hoping that this thing will leave us alone for a little while…or for good. 

CG: Well, now that this baby is into the world and people are enjoying it, but you’re home for a minute, what does preparing for tour, or otherwise just restoring yourself, look like right now in Mount Pleasant? 

BB: Oh my God, I feel like I’m always on my heels, honestly, like I got my kids finally staying with me and stuff, overnights and stuff like that. So I’m always cleaning house. If I’m not doing that, I’m doing interviews or cleaning house because of interviews. You wouldn’t know it, but I’m like, “I got to take a shower for the Zoom interview,” you know what I mean? 

CG: Wow, thanks.

BB: Yeah, you’re welcome. You wouldn’t know that either. But yeah, I’m always going to the dang store. I’ve got four daughters. So between that and hoping my dog doesn’t tear down the fence because she’s huge…I guess there’s still a little bit of a hangover from the pandemic, where it’s like, “Wat television series have I not watched yet that I’m going to start and just dig into for like a day and a half?”

CG: There are worse ways to spend your time. 

BB: It’s true. I feel very lucky. Don’t get me wrong. 

CG: Well, thanks for sharing some time with me. Again, love the record. Can’t wait to see you play again sometime and have a joy experience with you from afar. 

BB: That would be great. You be well, thank you.