Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
A&E >  Entertainment

Band of Horses’ latest pushes own boundaries

Ben Bridwell and Band of Horses perform Tuesday. (File Associated Press)
Ben Bridwell and Band of Horses perform Tuesday. (File Associated Press)

Five studio albums in, Band of Horses’ frontman and primary songwriter Ben Bridwell says he’s still the last to know when a song he’s working on is any good. The band’s latest release, “Why Are You OK,” is a musically confident record about artistic trepidation, a document of an indie rock star’s fears of growing up and becoming complacent.

“It wasn’t turmoil, but there were some rocky seas involved,” Bridwell said. “Not in my personal life, but in my head.”

There was a four-year gap between the release of “Why Are You OK” and its predecessor, 2012’s “Mirage Rock,” the longest break between Band of Horses records. During that time, the band, which performs at the Fox Theater on Tuesday, migrated from Columbia Records to legendary producer Rick Rubin’s Interscope label.

“The critical expectations had started to weigh on me a little bit, and the professional expectations of being on a (new) label,” Bridwell said. “I kind of got knocked down a little bit. I had to somehow transcend that while being true to my creative side. I wanted to make sure I was being true to myself and not trying to play hurry-up just to get it done.”

Bridwell formed Band of Horses in 2004 in Seattle, and the group, which has gone through some lineup changes since, is now based out of Bridwell’s native South Carolina. Bridwell says he wanted to push the sound of “Why Are You OK” beyond the band’s neo-folk trappings. While “Mirage Rock” was sometimes deliberately ragged, the rough edges have been sanded down on “Why Are You OK.”

“I deliberately went into this project knowing I wanted a lush sound, and I wanted it to be overwrought and overthought,” Bridwell said. “I wanted it to be the polar opposite of ‘Mirage Rock,’ which was live and improvised. I wanted this to be synthetic and pored over. … I wanted to let myself be weird without fear of it being too amateurish.”

The album’s opening track “Dull Times/The Moon” serves as something of an overarching statement, of “the dull times and monotony of daily life,” Bridwell said, “and trying to be inspired.”

“Blank state and maudlin / In need of something to say,” he sings on the track. “Get to solving this thinking problem / Dissolution at the start of the day.” Later on “Casual Party,” Bridwell bemoans boring conversation at a late night function: “The job, the babble on, the recreational hobbies / Oh no, it never stops.”

“Why Are You OK” was produced by musician Jason Lytle, and his defunct band Grandaddy is an obvious influence on the record. Some of the songs, most noticeably the short instrumental “Hold On Gimme a Sec” and its melancholy follow-up “Lying Under Oak,” sound uncannily like holdouts from Grandaddy’s catalog.

“He had a very heavy hand. But if a song was doing its thing, he didn’t muck about with it,” Bridwell said. “He paid very close attention to every little detail. He’s a control freak in the best sense of the term.”

Bridwell describes the recording process as one of friendly collaboration, with various players – J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., Archers of Loaf’s Eric Johnson and Matt Gentling, Sera Cahoone from Bridwell’s former band Carissa’s Weird – popping in to make musical cameos. Rubin, whom Bridwell describes as a calming, paternal presence in the studio, was also heavily involved in shaping the album’s sound.

“These people I’m such a huge fan of got to put their fingerprints all over this thing,” Bridwell said. “I wasn’t trying to lean on them to legitimate our indie rock-ness; it was more like, I really need help, and I’m their biggest fan. They can put their personality into a song and make it grander than it would be.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter

Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.