Melody-minded Sub Pop recording artists Band of Horses — singer/guitarist and main songwriter Ben Bridwell, drummer Creighton Barrett, and bassist Rob Hampton — are on a big roll, not just from Seattle to the Carolinas, but from comfy garage-status to serious international acclaim.
The trio, led by Columbia, S.C., native Bridwell, relocated from Seattle to the Lowcountry last year after a roller-coaster two-year stint in Washington state (extensive tours with Okkervil River, Shearwater, and Iron and Wine, the release of a self-titled EP, a bit of homelessness and poverty, etc.) and the release of a smash-hit collection titled Everything All The Time.
They just completed a two-week U.S. tour up the East Coast with support from local act Cary Ann Hearst & The Gun Street Girls and have been busy trekking between Charleston and Asheville, N.C., for recording sessions.
They headline a special event at the Music Farm on Tues. May 8, cosponsored by the City Paper and Jack Daniel's. Billed as the "Jack Daniel's Studio No. 7" show, fans and the uninitiated may participate in a free online ticket giveaway at the City Paper web site (www.charlestoncitypaper.com) or the Jack Daniel's site (www.JDStudioNo7.com) by clicking on the banner ad, verifying their age (must be 21 or older), and signing up for passes.
"Dude, it's fucking crazy!" laughs Bridwell, speaking by phone from his new home in Mt. Pleasant. "We're so busy, it's hard to get caught up. But it's good to be out there."
He and the band recently started laying down new tracks for the follow-up album at Asheville's Echo Mountain Recording facility. The sessions have welcomed a new batch of tunes as well as a few new faces in the lineup.
"I had a dozen or so songs prepared and I knew before going in that most of them were a bit melancholy and slow," says Bridwell. "Our producer, Phil Ek noticed that we maybe had too many slow songs, so we started toying around with a few song ideas that I had just drunkenly recorded in my house and retooled some things to round it out. It's similar to the last album, but a bit looser. We didn't use click tracks and tried to feel it a little more and not worry about making it so perfect. Maybe it'll sound sloppy [laughs]. There are some rockin' jams and some boring-ass slow ones."
The recording work in N.C. brought the Horses together with a member of one of their favorite indie-rock bands of the 1990s — bassist Matt Gentling of Archers of Loaf.
"Matt's excellent, man," says Bridwell. "His girlfriend, Jessica Tomasin, manages the studio in Asheville. We met at a show up there at the Grey Eagle and she invited us to check out the facility. We had no idea that the bassist from Archers would be there! We got to hang out with them. It's a rad studio, too. We kept in touch and set things up. Then we decided to shift the lineup a bit and we took a stab and asked Matt if he'd be interested in playing bass with us. Somehow, he agreed to do it!"
Gentling stepped in as bassist for the recent Horses tours and he plans to go the Europe with them this month. Hampton has since switched over to electric guitar duties, while Bridwell's former bandmate (from his old band Carissa's Wierd), Robin Peringer (also of Modest Mouse and Elliott Smith's band), signed on for various guitar work.
Columbia-based keyboardist Ryan Monroe, (a childhood friend of Bridwell's) has signed on for the upcoming tours and studio sessions as well.
"It's a pretty full lineup," the frontman says. "Matt has already done the touring thing already, you know, 200 shows a year, so he can't commit to all the shows coming up," says Bridwell. "We'll rotate between him and Bill Reynolds, who used to play in Asheville band The Blue Rags. They're both great and they'll tag-team it this year."
The collaborative approach to expand the sound and membership of the band seems to reflect the high morale of Bridwell and his core bandmates.
"We'd been through some leaner times as a band," the bandleader says. "As a trio and four-piece, sometimes it didn't sound like we're were doing the best we could. It finally came to the point where I said, 'You know, I don't play guitar that well ... and Rob's a better guitarist than bassist,' so we moved him to guitar and got a true bassist and better guitarists. Out in Seattle and on some recent tours on lean footing, we had some strange lineups with a bunch of different people [laughs]. This seems to be the most cohesive lineup we've ever had. The idea is to make the songs sound good and blow people away."
Will Ben Bridwell fall into some sort of "front man" role, a la David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, or Michael Stipe, replete with signature microphone stand stylings and wild wardrobes? Could he become something of a Bono of the Lowcountry ... or the Mick Jagger of Mt. Pleasant?
"Ha! With two extra guitar players, I almost don't need to play guitar anymore," he laughs. "I'll just walk around and pick up the panties off the stage."