Text by Mila Zuo
Photograph by Robin Laananen
“It’s really the only thing I ever wanted,” Ben Bridwell, singer of Band of Horses, says about playing music. While their debut album Everything All the Time is a splendidly lithe and catchy work, Band of Horses’ live show imparts a kind of mesmerizing dialectical energy: Bridwell’s onstage presence is at once self-conscious and unusually confessional. His high-pitched voice delivers a contained urgency, compelling listeners to open their hearts and ears to his melancholic songs of hope and observation. The band finds its musical peers in Cass McCombs, friends and fellow Sub Pop band Iron & Wine, and Mt. Egypt, whom Band of Horses will soon tour and record with.
When I caught up with Bridwell, a sweet, energetic twentysomething covered in tattoos, the Seattle-based band was about to play a show sans Bridwell’s writing partner, longtime friend and Carissa’s Wierd [sic] bandmate Matt Brooke who had to return to Seattle to tend to his newly opened bar. Bridwell, who also bartends at said bar, says he has “moved around forever and just done everything before this,” but seems genuinely enthused about the “this,” as music has always been his passion. “Ever since I was a kid, my parents were music freaks. We’d keep our doors open at night and they’d blast music and have parties all the time. We grew up listening to music so it’s always been kind of everything [to me],” Briwell says before listing off childhood favorites like Otis Redding, the Rolling Stones and Spyro Gira.
Bridwell met Brooke and Carissa’s Wierd co-songwriter Jen Ghetto while traveling in Arizona. After the three relocated to Seattle, Bridwell started a record label to put out Carissa’s Wierd’s records. When Wierd’s drummer left to join Modest Mouse as the second guitarist for The OC-approved indie-pop darlings, Bridwell was asked to fill his spot. Without prior experience, Bridwell began playing drums for the band, then moved to bass and eventually slide guitar. After Carissa’s Weird dissolved, Bridwell and Brooke reformed as November 16th, then finally as Band of Horses.
The current Bridwell/Brooke incarnation boasts Bridwell as a first-time songwriter. Bridwell says, “When Carrisa’s Wierd broke up, I had to go down and practice because I’d never really written songs before. And I had to do something. So I started just picking up everything that was around us in the practice space that wasn’t getting used, just dusted them off and would write with anything I could.” He adds, “I guess I just try to let it come to me a little bit and just try to mess around a little bit and hopefully find a melody somewhere.”
While each song on the album grows more endearing on every listen, the standout track is certainly “The Funeral,” a gracefully gorgeous and unforgettable tune which repeats the haunting line, “At every occasion, I am ready for a funeral.” Bridwell’s voice echoes over a delayed guitar track, driving drumbeat and a simple, yet heartbreaking melody. To my surprise, Bridwell tells me they almost didn’t record that song due to technical difficulties, and then in what seems to be a characteristically self-deprecating manner, Bridwell adds, “I was like, ‘That song sucks, fuck it.’” Bridwell has since changed his mind about the song, and much to the delight of their fans, “The Funeral” closes out many of their sets. Recently debuting on the internet, a video for the song centers around ’60s film footage of a man who drinks himself to oblivion.
When we talked about Bridwell experiencing the stage as the almighty frontman, Bridwell humbled himself with charming, albeit atypical naivety. “You know I don’t think of it like that. I honestly, thank God, I don’t think that they’re looking at me.” He adds, “Even though when I go to shows, I look at singers and I’ll be like, ‘Dude, I wonder if people do that to me.’ Well, they probably do, but then I’m like, ‘Nah.’ In my mind, it doesn’t happen.”