Band Of Horses are set to release their fourth album Mirage Rock on 17 September. Produced by veteran producer Glyn Johns - who has not only worked with the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and many others, but is also father of in demand producer Ethan Johns - the album represents a bit of a shift from band's last effort Infinite Arms as they embraced some truly classic ways of working. For the inside track on the record and working with a production legend we went straight to the (Band Of) Horse's mouth, aka frontman Ben Bridwell.
How the devil are you? "I'm good. Just waking up over here in Salt Lake City. It's good, man, it's clean. Good to talk to you dude."
When did you start work on Mirage Rock? "Well now we've got kids and stuff, it's hard to write at home. So a lot of the songs started getting written on the road, on the big tours we did for Infinite Arms. So there was a lot of writing in hotels and, when I was at home, writing in my garage. We kept playing stuff to each other and ended up with 50 or 60 songs! As we got closer to putting the thing together we were lucky enough to hook up with [producer] Glyn Johns through our management. He'd done the last Ryan Adams record and we share management with Ryan. So we started sending stuff to Glyn and culled the heard."
A lot of bands say they can't write on the road, you were happy doing that? "That muse is still a bit mysterious. Sometimes it will be just a random idea that I can't seem to finish and then you get those lucky times when a song comes from top to tail in one sitting. When I say we had 50 to 60 songs, they were written songs, like, done. The process of writing on the road isn't that mysterious though, you get a day off, sit in your hotel room and try to go to work. Just getting some solitude and digging in, whether it's silly and jokey or very serious. I write whenever I can really, just because of the responsibility we have now, settling into our middle age and realising how lucky we are to be making a living out of this, you don't take anything for granted. So any time we get, if you can, you've got to get some work done."
Can you hear any differences between the stuff you wrote on tour and the stuff from your garage? "Not so much that, but I might pick up a strange instrument if it's in front of me, like a Mellotron or a melodica or something. I don't so much notice a difference because of where I'm sitting, just what tools I have in front on me."
Mirage Rock is 11 tracks long, how did you get down to that from 60? "You need a good outside influence, someone who doesn't really have a dog in the fight. With Glyn, we had someone coming in from the outside with a fresh perspective who obviously comes from a different school of thought. We have things that might be a bit messy or shambolic but he comes in with a fresh ear, wanting to hear some rock'n'roll stuff. So obviously he leans to that, and then there's a few songs that we think sum up the sound of Band Of Horses, which might not be as comfortable to Glyn, so we created a mixture of that. We just had to figure out where the middle ground was."
Did you feel an album suggested itself to you then? "It's still mysterious to me. There were certain ones I thought were a shoe in and as we got together in the studio they didn't quite work, or Glyn didn't think was strong enough. I just never can tell. I guess that's the allure about doing this, I really don't have any hard views I'm going to throw in, I'll go with the flow. If someone really feels strongly about something I'm willing to try."
So there's no sense of a theme to this album? "Honestly, as much as I'd like to say there is, right now I don't feel it has that kind of common thread throughout because it was culled from that many songs, but there might be a cohesion I'm not seeing right now. I might not be seeing the forest for the trees. If anything I guess, it would be a bit of a tribute to working with Glyn. Doing some songs that, not only pleased him, fly the flag to his whole legacy. We really embraced where Glyn was coming from. It does switch up lyrical themes, which is why I'm not sure how it flows together and lord knows I'm not listening to it now I've approved the masters! [laughs] I don't know what it is, but I'm ok with that because I don't look too much for a big meaning in what I do."
So other than his influence on the songs, did Glyn's involvement change how you worked in the studio? He's old school... "It was old school as you can possible get, honestly. Beside him wanting us to be in the room together and play together - including the vocal which I've never done before, which was terrifying - everything went onto tape. There were no computer consoles allowed in the control room, let alone for recording, and everything was analogue, even the mixing. It was like a performance, he wasn't even using the automation on the faders. So every mix is totally different and can't be recreated. So it was old school as his first album probably!"
So the razor blades were out to cut tape? "Oh my God, absolutely! He was flipping the tape to do some strange backwards vibes on a song called Dumpster World. They were techniques you rarely see, people just don't use them any more."
Does that put pressure on you as a musician? You've got to get it right, no fixing it in the mix... "There's a bit of pressure in that way, you have to get that take, but at the same time it takes some pressure off as you have to embrace its frailties and the warts and all approach. Hey, we're a fucking rock group and this is what we sound like when we play most days out of the year, so why not embrace that and let the hiccups be heard by people? It's a tough thing to do, but it does free up the process."
So other than working with Glyn, was your commitment to this approach a comment on people using too much technology, personal preference, etc? "It's barely either of those, it was mostly because that's the way Glyn does it. To be honest just because it's recorded analogue, if you're songs are shit then there's no recording process that will fix that. We're not trying to carry some torch for analogue or anything like that, it's just a tribute to how this guy works and if anything else, it's us trying to mix up things from our last record, which had a lot of thought put into it and there was probably some over-thinking and editing. This is the other side of the coin."
Come clean then, Glyn Johns has worked with a lot of legends, did you push him for any old war stories? "Oh man, it was incredible! He had a very workman like ethic to being in the studio, there wasn't a beer cracked or a glass of wine drunk until you're done with your work and that work day started around nine ever day and went till seven. By then you're pretty worn out by playing one song over and over, but that's around the time those stories come out. You want to go back to the hotel to relax or write for the next day, but it's impossible to walk away from Mr Johns when he's telling you some of these stories. It couldn't have been a cooler way to learn about his and rock'n'roll's history while taking a bit of time machine back into that process."
Do you have any personal favourites on the album yet? "Yeah, I do actually. My favourite one would probably be Slow Cruel Hands Of Time. Mostly because I'm a bit oblivious to my own craft sometimes, and that was a really shitty demo that I didn't think had any chance of making it even to the point of playing it in the studio, but the guys in the band urged me to bring that one out. Both Glyn and myself weren't feeling it until the whole band played it, then it took on a new life. Lyrically the theme is very cohesive, whereas a lot of my songs can bounce around subjects a lot. So I'm really proud of that one and Dumpster World, which is so damn funny to me. They're both great steps forward for us."
We really liked the song title, A Little Biblical... "Yeah! If there's one thing I'm not good at it's naming albums and song titles. Every thing I've done has come down to the 11th hour with the label saying, Please name this shit so we can start putting the sleeve together. So most of the time the titles have to suffer."
You're going to tour via by train later in the year with Willie Nelson? "We're so excited about that. It's a dream come true being around the dude. Like Glyn these people are legendary, of course, but to learn from them and to be around them... they're gods in my mind."
You're not worried about delays on the train? "No, I'm not. It's funny, Mumford & Sons and those guys did the last one and a friend of mine from London, who's a lighting director, went with them. He sent me updates from the train, he just had a blast. So I know from the inside it's really inspiring. It sounds like the coolest thing you could ever imagine to me!"
And you get to see part of America you wouldn't normally. "Exactly! We've got a small rail service in America besides AmTrak and I've ridden that across the country. Compared to driving - which I've done so many times over the last 20 years - it was really refreshing. It's a different route and there are towns on that route that normally we'd have to pass over, so it's a nice change of pace really.
Who have thought it, rock'n'roll and trains? "Hell man, what a life [laughs]" Paul Stokes @Stokesie
For more head to Bandofhorses.com .