Band of Horses is known for their indie progressive hits “The Funeral” and “Is There a Ghost.” But with their newest album, Why Are You OK, they move away from their previous sound, producing their most thoughtful record yet. The Daily Texan spoke with frontman Ben Bridwell about writing music as a father, maturing in the music industry and his favorite music festival experience.
The Daily Texan: This album feels more slowed down and focused than some of your previous releases. What changes did you want to see happen on Why Are You OK?
Ben Bridwell: I wanted it to be taxing. I wanted it to be a pain in the ass, chock-full of ideas. I wanted it to sound big and lush and insane, as insane as the moments felt making the record, which were chaotic and intense. At this time of our lives, trying to navigate the personal waters of becoming middle-aged and having a family [while still] navigating the waters of the musical life we’re in. I think we did a good job of reflecting the chaos in our lives.
DT: Since your last album you’ve become a father of four daughters. How did that affect your writing process?
BB: It’s changed in a really cool way. Before, I was allowed to escape into my own head and have some peace and be alone. [Now], I have one headphone or ear in the music and one of them out, waiting for the door to get knocked on. There’s one foot firmly planted in reality and one in the mystery of creative art. I think there’s an interesting balance to the whole thing. I can’t just crawl up my own ass and do whatever I want. Reality beckons at every turn.
DT: How was this new life an inspiration for your new release? How did it shape the album?
BB: In many ways, whether it be the title of the album to the stories themselves littered throughout. [The title came] from the phone autocorrecting some garbage sentence [my daughter typed] — letters she was putting together on my wife’s phone — “Why are you OK.” I thought it was intriguing. Everything is vulnerable to becoming a part of the larger story. The songs are seeped in a ton of reality from my family life. Some of the stories might sound a bit dire if you think, “If this is confessional songwriting, this fella’s in trouble.” Some of the darker things are pulled from a different timeline. Some of it’s purely out of imagination. Some of the darker things aren’t what’s going on — or are they? I just write what the hell I can muster up and hope for the best, honestly.
DT: What about the last lines of “Hag,” which read, “It unfolded like a dream … Like the way dreams are supposed to be”? Is that something from the past or now?
BB: I wrote that song with the intention of embarrassing people in the audience. I wanted a couple in the audience to be like, “Oh, shit — is he talking about us?” I try to make the songs a bit more broad so others can take it and run with them. We all want to transcend that boundary between the writer and the listener. I was trying to see if I could give a little razzmatazz for that couple in the audience who is only in it for convenience at this point in their lives. That line was pulled from personal experience. Meeting my wife unfolded like a dream. Love is like no other thing out there, it’ll dazzle you.
DT: Were there any songs you particularly struggled with for this album? I heard “In a Drawer” took you seven years to perfect.
BB: It wasn’t like I was sitting there for seven years. I would shelve it for a while and think, “That one’s kind of lost its steam for me, so bye-bye.” It’s always one that’s tugged at me. I was like, “Man, one day I’m going to get this thing right.” That one took all of my energy I could find to get it across the finish line. A couple of those songs we kicked around for quite a while and couldn’t find a place for them. We recorded them different ways at different times and it just never clicked. The last song on the album, “Even Still,” we’d had for a number of years. The lyrics were there, the music was there, but we never recorded it in a way that seemed interesting enough to include on anything. Very few [songs] come easy for me. I would say 75 percent of that record was like pulling teeth. It’s poured over. Lord knows, I got what I asked for.
DT: Do you think the ability to work on an album like this is something you’ve always had, or something that’s come with experience?
BB: I think it’s come from experience. I had to learn to trust myself a bit more on this album and to stand up at times for what I thought was the right way to go when others might not have agreed with me. That experience of being on a couple different record labels, of being in the music industry for a decade, I don’t think I would’ve had the guts to do some things for this album that did make it the finished project that it is. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that without having a more keen sense of self or more trust in myself had it not been for going through some times of taking advice that wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I’ve learned enough to know that if this album sucks, I did it the way I wanted to do it, and I can be proud of that. Hopefully, I can continue on that path and not carry on with something I don’t believe in.
DT: Who were some of your biggest influences when you were starting to make music?
BB: I was covering things as obscure as Tall Dwarfs from New Zealand, weird, lo-fi, punk rock stuff like Otis Redding and Gram Parsons. I was listening to Granddaddy, Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket. They were a huge influence on us. It was a lifestyle. Pavement was my favorite band, and they still sneak in there quite a bit. Also, the stuff from your childhood that you grow up with, a lot of soul music. I don’t know how all the ingredients get into the soup, but I do know that it gets in there somehow.
DT: What has been your most memorable music festival experience?
BB: The Roskilde festival in Denmark in 2008. It was under a huge tent and we were getting ready to hit the stage behind the curtain. All the fans were sitting there chanting. I couldn’t really tell what language they were speaking and who knows what the hell they’re saying. It must’ve been the right point of the day where they were perfectly drunk. It still gives me chills to this day thinking about that. We had so much power. It’s those moments that make you want to do it again. I don’t know what the UT chant is, but … Hook ‘Em Horns!