Band of Horses takes its name in the most literal way. As in the wild, where stallions form loosely organized bands, the American rock group, surviving numerous changes in personnel since its inception in 2004, exists more as a musical collective than anything else.
“Early on I thought we needed better players — and don’t forget there’s so many ex-members of this band,” admits founder lead vocalist and guitarist Ben Bridwell. “Like it ain’t just Bill and Tyler who I asked to leave. If you look on Wikipedia it’ll show you there’s over 10 that are gone. So it’s a constant evolving lineup. I hope people just don’t think that is me being ruthless. I’m still friends with almost everybody who has ever been in the band.”
The group, currently composed of Bridwell, keyboardist and guitarist Ryan Monroe, bassist Matt Gentling and drummer Creighton Barrett, seamlessly blends the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll, country and folk, as first heard on its 2006 debut album, Everything All the Time, produced by Phil Ek, who’s worked with the band’s Seattle-based contemporaries Modest Mouse and Fleet Foxes. As a transplant to the city of Seattle, Birdwell, a South Carolinian, started out on the drums in the “chamber rock” band Carissa’s Wierd and tended bar with his fellow bandmates, Jenn Champion and Mat Brooke. When he formed Band of Horses, he took the reins both as as bandleader and guitarist.
“When I started, I was a crappy drummer in a slow-core band that broke up because it wasn’t going nowhere,” Bridwell remembers. “All of a sudden I had to figure out how to do guitar stuff. Now I’m stuck with all these weird tunings that don’t make sense to anyone else. I was fucking around figuring things out as I went along, but looking back I realize the way I played guitar was the main identity of the band.”
pic by by Pooneh Ghana
In 2010, Band of Horses released its third album, Infinite Arms, marking the group’s first record put out by a major label (Columbia). The work, a polished production stocked with finely-tuned harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys, manages to retain the same aura of intimacy found on previous works. It earned a Grammy nomination, reached 7 in the Billboard 200, and won the band a large and international following.
Band of Horses’s latest work, Things Are Great, marks Birdwell’s most autobiographical project, best described as an album about relationships, particularly professional ones. This sixth studio album, put out in 2022, revisits all of the stylings that once contributed to the band’s early success: an accession of emotionality layered over sharp guitar riffs and Birdwell’s brazen vocals that stick to your soul as if a molecular bond were occurring. It ironically features formerly sacked members, guitarist Tyler Ramsey and bassist Bill Reynolds, who departed the band in 2017.
Band of Horses has always possessed a sort of ineffable gift. The harmonies and swirling guitars are somehow cinematic yet utterly personal. Their music has an inherent lift, delivering meaning well beyond its well-honed lyricism, sometimes simply due to its sheer beauty. The new album transports its audiences back to a time when the band’s songs made for musical mantras.
“It’s always a bit overwhelming to hear about the role you play in people’s lives, and how the songs resonate with some of their big moments, like when they fall in love, or lose that love, or just lose someone close to them,” says Birdwell. “But really, I think the thing that connects all the Band of Horses albums is I’m always complaining about something.”
Band of Horses plays BeachLife Festival May 6.