Frontman Ben Bridwell discusses the Minnesota influence on his group's last record and the making of their new one.
When Band of Horses plays an outdoor show in Somerset, Wis., Friday evening -- sandwiched between My Morning Jacket and Trampled by Turtles on a beard-rock lover's dream bill -- Ben Bridwell might feel as at home in the north woods as the Minnesota-bred fellas in TBT.
"How are things in Minneapolis?" the singer excitedly asked the second he got on the line last Friday. Even many Twin Cities fans who can sing along to all of Band of Horses' Grammy-nominated 2010 album, "Infinite Arms," were unaware that a good chunk of its songs originated locally.
A native South Carolinian who formed his band and signed to Sub Pop Records in Seattle in the mid-'00s, Bridwell has some pretty rich Minnesota connections, too. He's married to a Shakopee native, Elizabeth McCann. Although they reside in his home state nowadays, the couple lived in the Twin Cities when their first daughter was born (they have two).
Bridwell, 34, looked back fondly on that time while talking by phone last Friday, just a few hours before the opening date of his band's tour with My Morning Jacket. With his always self-deprecating sense of humor, he also looked ahead to Band of Horses' fourth album, "Mirage Rock," due Sept. 18.
It's a peculiar record for the harmonious fuzz-rock quintet, boasting some of their mellowest and most intimate songs along with their wildest and noisiest, and twangiest, too. The producer behind it, Glyn Johns, has worked with Bob Dylan, the Stones and the Who. So you can imagine Bridwell's excitement.
Q What were the circumstances of you living and working up here?
A I know your city quite well. My wife grew up there, and all of her family is around there, all proud Minnesotans. We moved up there when my wife was very pregnant. So we didn't go out and do a lot of the young-persons kind of stuff. We'd go see some shows when we could. And we went out to eat a lot. There's a lot of good food that I miss there. And really good people, honestly. I really identified with the Minnesota Nice thing. We have a similar thing in the South where I'm from, but you never know if it's being nice for nice sake or if you're just covering up something.
Q And how did you wind up going to a cabin in northern Minnesota to write a lot of the "Infinite Arms" songs?
A I'll often do some woodshed kind of stuff, go out in a cabin and complain loudly by myself for a few days, and then try to write. The one up there was just a random rental, which I like. You never know what you're going to get with those kind of places, and that kind of anonymity can be great.
I was in a town right by Hibbing -- Virginia, I think. There's a Jammer Lake up there, like it's referenced in the song ["Throw me in the deep of Jammer Lake," from "Laredo"]. We've always used the word "jammer" to mean just about anything. A "jammer" can be a tent or a lighter, or, "Nice jammers, lady." So when I was driving up there, I passed the sign for Jammer Lake, I thought, "Incredible!"
So I wrote "Laredo" there, and "Compliments," and "Bartles & James," which we renamed "Neighbors" for copyright infringement purposes. I also wrote "Northwest Apartment" at a practice facility in Minneapolis. That record has a lot of Minnesota stuff on it.
Q So that explains all the lake references in "Laredo." Did you know there are actually no lakes near Laredo, Texas?
A Yeah, right [laughs]. That's totally a Band of Horses thing, trying to mask what the narrative is really about either through heavy doses of vocal effects, or you change your phrasing enough so it's hard to tell what exactly you're talking about.
Q Your records always feel tied to certain places, with "Cease to Begin" influenced by your move back to South Carolina, and the Minnesota influence on "Infinite Arms." Where does the new album come from?
A There's also a lot of South Carolina on this one. I have this, like, storage shed at home, and whenever the girls are off at school and Liz, my wife, is off to work, I can go sneak in there and work for a few hours, sort of clock in.
So there's that, and then I've been writing a lot of stuff on the road, too, since I have two kids now. Being the responsible daddy that I am, when I get home it always feels like I'm making up for lost time. It's hard for me to justify going away just for a writing trip. So a lot of this stuff was written in hotel rooms. I figure it keeps me out of trouble. Normally, I'd go to a bar or even do a little sightseeing, and I don't do a lot of that now.
That sort of comes across in the new song "Shut-In Tourist." It describes the feeling of all your friends being out and seeing these exotic places, and I'm in another damn hotel room trying to write another song that no one can figure out.
Q Where does the title, "Mirage Rock," come from?
A It's based on when you get that question, "What kind of music do you play?" There's freak-folk and all those terrible genre names, so I thought it would be fun to make fun of us when someone asks that, and say, "It's kind of like garage-rock, but it's a mirage, man, because from a distance it might sound really good, but when you get up close to it you realize there's nothing there."
Q What did you get from working with Glyn Johns, besides great stories?
A Obviously, his legacy is something great, but even just as a friend he exceeded expectations. It made it a very personal thing working with him. And yeah, just getting stories from that guy was awesome. He'd always bust them out at the end of the day. We'd have some long days working on the same song over and over. He only had this house he rented to go back to. His wife and family were all back in England, so he figured, "Well, I'd better pull out some stories to keep these guys here." And next thing you know, a few more hours have passed by.
Q How would you explain the wider sonic variety on the album, with the songs bouncing sharply between soft and mellow and noisy and nasty?
A In the very beginning, Glyn said he was confused about what kind of band we are. He asked, "Are you in that airy, harmony-laden, Beach Boys kind of breed? Or are you this eyes-down, bang-it-out kind of rock 'n' roll band?" I'd never been asked that question before. My only response was, "I think we're both of those, and somewhere in the middle."
He needed to know what kind of album he was going to help us make, so I think there's a little of both of those sides, and some bread crumb kind of songs to where we've been as a band. A song like "Feud" is the kind of discordant indie-rock kind of stuff we grew up with, like Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, Sebadoh, Archers of Loaf. Then you have the Beach Boys kind of stuff with "Shut-In Tourist." Then there's the tear-in-the-beer shit like "Long Vows."
Q How kindred-spirited are you guys and My Morning Jacket, bearded Southern boys with what seem like very similar influences and senses of humor?
A Yeah, it's a good pairing. We've spent time with them before and have been friends over the years. I'm as indebted to that band as I am, say, Neil Young, Flaming Lips or Built to Spill. They're influencing us to this day. I'm looking forward to just getting to see their shows every night for free.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib