Interviewing Ben Bridwell (Band Of Horses)

BEN BRIDWELL, founding member and lead singer of Band of Horses had never envisioned himself, back in his teens, as being involved in music in any way other than a fan.

That, as we all know, changed after he moved to Seattle, where, with time, he started Brown Records, which released the first two Carissa’s Wierd albums. After the split-up of Carissa’s Wierd, Matt Brooke, one of its former members and longtime friend of Bridwell, helped him to learn play guitar. This also encouraged Bridwell to write his own material and thus the world gained a phenomenal artist.

From Band of Horses‘ first album, Everything All the Time (2006), which includes widespread hits such as The Funeral, to their second, Cease to Begin (2007), including the also famous single No One’s Gonna Love You (like I do), through to their third, Infinite Arms (2010), which carried a Grammy nomination in the Best Alternative Album category, to Mirage Rock (2012) and Acoustic at Ryman (2014 – LIVE), which features stripped down versions of ten of their best known songs, the wild galloping of their sound remains free and untamed.

SRM: Ben, as I’ve just mentioned, your work with Band of Horses was rewarded with a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Album; how do you think your former high school teachers, who asked you to drop out from school, took these news? Maybe, it was a good thing for you to leave the educational system at that time, after all, wasn’t it?


BEN BRIDWELL: Ha! I definitely don’t regret my decision to leave.
It could get a little sticky explaining to my kids when they’re older but, I’m quite pleased with the way things have turned out. I would doubt that the teachers even remember me. I was in trouble more for not showing up to classes than for behaving poorly. I kept mostly quiet and left for good after a year and a half of high school. 

SRM: How do you think regulatory education could be adapted, or even modified, as to bring out people’s real skills as well as their true callings and support them in their development?

BEN BRIDWEL: It may sound obvious but a major problem in American public schools is the lack of funding. Teacher salaries have long been an issue and the problem has only gotten worse in the ever struggling economy. Also if they had programs that teach kids how to listen to Dinosaur Jr and smoke weed all day then I can think of a couple of kids that might’ve stayed in school.

SRM: That would be a hell of a program… (laughing). After Carissas Wierd’s break up, what was that motivated you to work so hard in order to be able to create and play your own music? How did you live that time when you founded Band of Horses?

BEN BRIDWELL: Well I didn’t want that band to break up but it was out of my control. I really enjoyed the life on the road, the practicing, and dreaming of bigger things. Also I really hated the shitty jobs I had to keep between tours. Now, those jobs were all I had. Also I’d become very opinionated about music and jealous of other bands doing so much better than we ever did. I figured I have no place to complain until I try the songwriting myself. At least that way I’d only have myself to blame if I were to make a career out of washing dishes for minimum wage.

SRM: Hidalgo (2004) with Viggo Mortensen and Omar Sharif and Seabiscuit are two of my favourite films: in both, the strong and noble spirit of the horse is extolled. What does the horse represent for you, Ben?  

BEN BRIDWELL: Strength, beauty, and unpredictability come to mind of course. I have a strange moral dilemma when it comes to riding though. The depressing thought of this beautiful beast being tamed purely for the benefit of man vs the elation of actually controlling such a force of nature. I love to ride, and I’m secretly terrified by a horse’s power at the same time. I admire and pity the horse. 

SRM: It’s not so strange, having that particular dilemma; I share it. The sound of Band of Horses is characterised by a deep, beautiful sense of melody, and ballads and up tempos have a way to surprise in the fluidity and gusto of their harmony variations.

The Funeral, from you first album, Everything All The Time, has been used in numerous TV series, films, video games and advertisements.

What’s the philosophy behind its lyrics, the base of its conceptual story?

BEN BRIDWELL: The basis of The Funeral was just really the start of me whining about my aversion to social occasions and Holidays. The pressure of say New Year’s being the best party night of your life, or Christmas being this forced togetherness. I was quite the pessimist in those days when I wrote the song.

Now I quite like the forced togetherness and celebration around meaningful holidays. I still think a lot of them are dogshit in origin, but can enjoy the party in my new-found mellowness. I think I added some more personal story in the song concerning mortality and probably related it to a romance at the time, but I haven’t thought about it for so long. I’ve blocked it from my memory enough to still enjoy playing the song every night.

SRM: I can also totally relate to that blocking-from-memory-and-live-on strategy, too, as many others out there probably do… Ryan, Tyler and Creighton have been with you in BOH for several years now but the full line-up changed several times. Have you had the feeling that, at some point, what you created, started to have a life of its own, like if it was almost organically evolving by itself? Or, on the contrary, have you always had a very clear idea of its sense and purpose and that’s why the line-up had to change, in order to adapt to that vision?

BEN BRIDWELL: Before the current line-up it was always in flux. Even before the first album came out there were ex members of Band Of Horses. Most of these past members filled their roles perfectly for that time but for one reason or another couldn’t continue with the natural progression of sound or my sanity. With my limited technical ability it’s always been necessary to have decent players in the band for both the records and the live shows. After finally fitting all the pieces together with Creighton, Ryan, Bill, and Tyler it feels like the band has matured beyond the idea of my voice being the heart and soul. Not only do their personalities make being in the band a pleasure for me, but each talent is key to what I consider one of the best bands around. And I don’t mean myself in any way. I really mean those 4 guys.

SRM: Understood. About Infinite Arms, your third album: Which songs felt to you like a process of reaching ‘further beyond’, both musically and spiritually?

 

BEN BRIDWELL: It was exciting to showcase everyone’s songwriting talents so that easily felt like a step in a brave new direction. But even besides that, there were a lot of subtle touches that moved us into new directions. Some of my favorites would be Tyler’s guitar intro to For Annabelle, the drama in the strings of Factory, and the raw intimacy of Evening Kitchen.

SRM: And of course, Infinite Arms, the single that you mentioned on another occasion and which I really love, too. There’s something almost mystical to it… Or, perhaps, the most accurate way to describe it would be ‘earthy’ and that is what I find so mystical…

BEN BRIDWELL: I think we’ve just begun to fully realize our abilities for this band. Hopefully we can make good on our potential and put out recordings that will live forever. Maybe we already have.

SRM: I suspect so; good music has this way of becoming immortal…

[

HEARTBREAK ON THE 101 BY BAND OF HORSES – LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN

FACTORY BY BAND OF HORSES – ALBUM: ACOUSTIC AT THE RYMAN * LIVE


RELATED LINKS:
Band of Horses’ Official Website >
Join Band of Horses on Facebook >
Follow Band of Horses on Twitter > & Instagram >
Band of Horses at Soundcloud >

Interviewing the musically irresistible Gemma Ray

Original photo of cover image by FREDRIK KINBOM (Guitarist/Songwriter/Singer), check out his work at fredrikkinbom.com >

MOJO describes GEMMA RAY as ‘wondrous’, NME says she’s ‘untouchable’, and a host of other publishers and broadcasters have nothing but words of praise and reverie for her songwriting. From experience, I can say that she stole my heart, and ran away with it on a Motorbike. At least she left me with Milk For Your Motors. Ah, Ray, you wicked songstress, ‘the road’ is long… We’ll see each other again.

In the meantime, may the world know about the words we exchanged.

Photo by ANDREW MORTLOCK (Director/Animator/Editor), check out his work at andrewmortlock.com >
In 2015 The Griswolds “Beware the Dog” directed by Andrew Mortlock was nominated by Rolling Stone Magazine for “Music Video of the Year”.

SRM: Gemma, it’s a pleasure to interview you, thanks for taking the time to answer this Q&A. You were born and raised in Essex, what are the memories associated with music that first come to your mind, what was your favourite album as a little girl?

GEMMA RAY: I didn’t really listen to music in an album format as a child as I didn’t come from a musical household. The only song I can remember my mum playing was ObLaDi, ObLaDa by the Beatles which successfully put me off them for life. I do remember the theme tune for the TV series Tales of The Unexpected scaring and exciting me in equal measures as a child, and with hindsight I think that’s been my biggest formative musical influence.  As an adult, composers such as John Barry (RIP), Krzysztof Komeda and some 60’s Italian composers conjure up that same magic feeling for me – they have something so sublime, otherworldly and unique that transports me into a different world – Their records are like portals into a better place.

SRM: I’ll pretend I haven’t heard that bit about the Beatles… (unidentified entity locks the ark and throws the key into the sea). At what point did you realise that you could make of your passion your profession; was it when Bronzerat Records was set up? Because, as far as I know, the label was created with the aim of getting your material heard by the public; was this your first professional support?

Motorbike by Gemma Ray, from the album Milk For Your Motors

GEMMA RAY: I’ve never viewed making music as a profession – just something I have always done obsessively, out of instinct, which grew and grew until songwriting became my main focus. Bronzerat were born of many things, one of them to put of a 7″ that another label were taking too long to do, and we grew together. Andy Bronzerat was playing drums in my band at the time, and he was one of the few people I met in London that made music like the world was going to end tomorrow. We inspired each other.

SRM: That’s amazing when it happens, indeed. Gemma, your works are a beautiful mix of a myriad of genres, at the same time as new, fresh, powerful. You have an incredible ability to create ambience, texture, feeling and thought, all within the same tune.

I feel that film may be an important source of inspiration to you; is this assumption right, and if so, what is the type of film that would best fit any of your albums?

GEMMA RAY: I’m waiting for the right filmmaker to make one specially for it!


Although the video Miranda Bowen directed for 100mph, from my album Lights Out Zoltar! definitely captured everything that song was about, which blew me away… 

I’m not sure that any films directly inspire what I write, although they certainly inspire me as a whole. Wickerman is something I never tire of and, more recently, I loved the cinematography of the Swedish version of Let The Right One In.




SRM: Ah, yes, that’s one of my favourite movies, too. In fact, I was lucky to interview (he doesn’t give many interviews) the author of the book, John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also collaborated with the script writing for that film version, check it out >. One of my favourite songs of yours is the soundtastic -I make words up; it’s incurable, I’m afraid- 100mph (in 2nd Gear), which you mentioned earlier. Gemma, please, would you share with us the story behind this composition?

GEMMA RAY: I write a lot when I drive, and this song was written when I was driving a Morris Minor to my sister house and the engine sounded how I felt. It’s about the struggle of getting from A to B but ending up at Z.

SRM: Yeah, I know that feeling. (Wait… Did she say that she writes when she drives?) I love the originality in your album titles, like, for example, Milk For Your Motors, same as all the previous, in particular, the funny What a Shame about Gemma Ray!, especially since I kind of guess its double-meaning, but, I’d also love to know about it in your own words… Gemma, what’s the shame?

GEMMA RAY: Bronzerat thought of the title because I’m a bit accident prone and the album was a happy accident…  and obviously it’s a pun on an album that already exists so it seemed appropriate enough to me!

SRM: (And it ties up with the whole writing and driving thing… dangerous, dangerous Ray…) When you sing, it comes directly from your soul but what songs would you say have a special place in it?



GEMMA RAY: I loved recording with Matt Verta Ray for many reasons but his approach was a big part of it all – recording for the love of recording other than to set out to make an album – it had a big impact on me.

I guess my favorite is maybe I Got A Crush On You – because I recorded that straight after playing a show in a NY basement, and Matt invited me to come and see his studio afterwards.

That was when I recorded it, as well as Bolt In The Door, with no expectations.


It’s such a beautiful song to sing, and along with the lush sounds coming from all of Matt old vintage gear it reminds me of just closing my eyes and sinking into a cloud of reverb and delay and ‘blissing out’.

SRM: Ha! You’ve just made a whole new verb up… Seems we ‘suffer’ from the same tendencies (No, hang on, that’s actually a proper verb, according to Merriam-Webster; You… trickster…) Again, I am absolutely delighted to feature your wonderful talent, Gemma. Thank you for your time and all the best on the road.

GEMMA RAY: Thank you very much, same to you.

LATEST ALBUM, THE EXODUS SUITE, OUT MAY 20th, 2016

FREE download the stupendous taster ‘There Must Be More Than This’ RIGHT HERE >
Or directly order THE EXODUS SUITE >


RELATED LINKS:
Gemma Ray’s Official Website >
Bronzerat Records’ Website >
Follow Gemma Ray on Facebook >