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Band of Horses will soon be upon our shores, touring as part of Big Day Out 2013 and playing a couple of sideshows. With both the Seattle outfit and Australian fans now being well-acquainted with last year’s Mirage Rock, Band of Horses’ fourth studio album should fit seamlessly alongside older material during their live set.
This should be especially true when considering that Mirage Rock was recorded live in the studio to tape. Looking to create a less polished album than its predecessor, 2010's Infinite Arms, the indie rock act in turn made a record that was tour-ready while still retaining some of Band of Horses’ charm.
As lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey explains, his second record with Band of Horses was a more exposed experience, where mistakes were laid to bare and the protection of excessive production cast aside in an attempt to capture the feeling of performance and the vibe of being on the road.
Being an established band signed to a major label and working with producer Glyn Johns, did Band of Horses feel any added pressure to deliver a successful, more commercially viable album when writing and recording Mirage Rock?
Tyler Ramsey: There probably is, but I think we try to ignore that and just do what we’re gonna do. I don’t think this [Mirage Rock] was an attempt to do that at all. I think it was just really an attempt to capture the fact that we’re out on the road so much and doing live shows; we really wanted to capture that in a studio, in a way.
So I think that was more what we were going for. It wasn’t necessarily trying to pull out all the stops and trying to make a hit record or anything. I think it was more just documenting what we’re up to, in a way.
I think it was (Ben) Bridwell that said Band of Horses aren’t really a singles band. Would you agree with that?
TR: Yeah, I mean I think that too. I mean, I think we’re a good live band: we try to put on a really good show and I think that’s what we’re going for. And, you know, there have been hits for the band in the past. Not necessarily hits, but for us things that stand out on the records that came across to people.
But I don’t ever think that’s what he’s [Bridwell] going for or what we’re necessarily going for. If it just happens then that would be awesome, but I don’t think anyone’s sitting in a room trying to mathematically figure out the equation for the next hit song or anything (chuckles).
Was the intention to make Mirage Rock more haphazard than previous BOH releases or was that an outcome of Johns pushing the band to record live together?
TR: Yeah, that’s interesting; I don’t know whether Ben [Bridwell] had it in his mind to do something a little more raw. I think that probably was the case, we wanted [something] maybe a little bit more raw and less pro-tools-y approach to a record.
And then the fact that Glyn [Johns] was along for the project, it worked out to be a more … I think it’s got a little bit more energy in a way, but it’s definitely got a more raw approach.
Mirage Rock is your second album with the band. Did the more hands-on approach help the band feel more like a cohesive unit, and for you individuality, did it help you feel more a part of the band?
TR: It felt pretty much the same. We worked on that last record, on Infinite Arms as a band. So it was hard not to feel like you were in the thick of it and doing everything you could to help out, even though it was still kind of semi-early on in at least my creative participation for recorded music in the band.
But it felt like I was giving it everything I could to make it, just to bring ideas to the table and go down whatever avenue it took to make the songs sound good. And this one’s the same way: it was more pared down, but I had a responsibility to make sure that since we’re going to do less overdubbing, I had to make sure that my guitar parts were maybe more essential than the approach of going in and thinking I’m going to lay this part down, but I’m also going to do fifteen other tracks (chuckles) to make it sound really cool.
This time it was just more in the moment, making sure that whatever I needed to do was getting done quickly and concisely.
Is it kind of a strange paradox that because Band of Horses recorded live and on tape it takes an increased focus, and yet the record comes out slightly more shambolic?
TR: Right, yeah that’s interesting. I mean, it’s just that thing where he [Johns] was going for capturing the performance and kind of the vibe, or whatever, of that performance on that day. It wasn’t like we’re going to sculpt this thing until it’s shiny and perfect. It was more about embracing what we could pull off and embracing maybe some mistakes here and there, and just kind of going for it and getting more of a human feel to it.
This is something that is becoming slightly more rare in a lot of music these days: the human touch.
TR: Yeah, it depends on what [and] who you’re listening to. There’s plenty of people doing that, but the stuff you hear on the radio, is not necessarily so. I think a lot of people get into a position and they start to really go for it, and like make it bigger and bigger and cleaner.
It’s interesting. I find a lot of the things that are approached in that way, for me at least, are kind of harder to listen to or accept. I like human music. I like music with flaws, or if the singer’s pitchy then the singer’s pitchy. It’s kind of strange that everything is just corrected …
I guess imperfections give music accessibility. People listen to songs that are often about imperfections, and if the music is flawless, then it can become difficult to relate to.
TR: Right, but obviously people still relate to that. I mean, the biggest hits you hear on the radio are the ones that are, maybe it doesn’t sound like a human sometimes (chuckles). It sounds like vocal processing to the Nth degree and things like that.
I think for us we really do. Playing live shows, if you make a mistake – maybe a band misses a verse or something or someone hits a really bad chord or something – I think the audience actually loves that kind of stuff. You’ll get a reaction out of people that you wouldn’t normally get.
If you play a whole show and it’s just perfect, there’s dazzling lights and there’s crazy stage setup and everything, that’s awesome and it works, but I think people really tend to react to that human side of it…they might actually get something wrong and that’s OK. It kind of brings everyone together in a way.
Does recording the music live in the studio give you a greater affinity and a deeper connection with the songs when you play them live onstage?
TR: It depends: the last record we did a lot of work on it, Infinite Arms, and put a lot of tracks down and really liked when it came time to perform that thing live. It was kind of a puzzle that had to be put together, at least for me.
At least I might have had two guitar parts on this song, what are the essential parts and what’s got to come across in the live show. And I kind of sorted through it: which ones worked and which ones didn’t.
For this record, it’s been a blast to play it live because it really was approached that way. It was like a light, this is the part, really. There might be something added on top of it, but this is really like hearing it, you know, my part in the studio.
So I have that already there for the live show and it’s really fun to go out and play it. And now we’re already expanding on some of the songs and just having fun with them because they’re really basic things that can be played with and run around, and you can have fun playing them live.
In a previous interview Bridwell said that the band was mentally in a more positive place when recording Mirage Rock compared to Infinite Arms. What was troubling Band of Horses on your last release and what changed for Mirage Rock?
TR: You know, I don’t know. I’m not sure what kind of place; we were all in different places for both ones. I think it might have been the fact that maybe Infinite Arms might have gone on for a little too long.
With breaks for going on tour and coming back in, I think you tend to really over-think things when you’re given time. Like if you can record a record in a week and be done, you’re obviously going to think about what you could have done to make it better. But you can’t have that opportunity and then go back into the studio.
So we had all these opportunities to be in the studio and try all these ideas. Then we’d go on tour for a while or go home and have another scheduled studio session and maybe go home and be like, ‘Oh, that’s not working. I’ve got to rethink that’. And everything gets in your head a little bit and there’s way too much opportunity to over-edit yourself and correct things.
So I think maybe the flow of this one [Mirage Rock] might have had something to do with that. Compared to that one [Infinite Arms] it was a quick process. With Glyn Johns guiding it and giving us direction, it just seemed like something that was maybe completed easier. And he wouldn’t really let us go there in our heads to over-think what was going on.
Reading interviews of Bridwell, he seems a little unsure of his songwriting abilities. Is that an accurate portrayal of him or perhaps the band overall?
TR: I wouldn’t necessarily say that, I don’t really know. For me personally, I’m not cranking out song after song after song everyday, so hopefully when I come up with one, hopefully I think it’s good (chuckles).
It’s tough when you actually deliver to an audience, and hearing responses from people and the position that Ben’s in now. It’s being analysed more by a lot more people, obviously.
So I think maybe sometimes that can get in your head, but really I think we like what we do and otherwise we probably wouldn’t continue to do it (chuckles).
Band of Horses will soon be in Australia for Big Day Out 2013. Are you looking forward to Australia?
TR: We always have a great time over there and we’ve managed to make some friends, some really solid good friends that we get to see every time we come over. There’s definitely a connection that we have with the people that we’ve met. So it just seems like … if we have that many friends over there the audiences are always friendly to us. So we’re hoping to put on the best show we can and have obviously the best response we can and hope the people are having fun.