It wouldn't be entirely inaccurate to say that Band of Horses' present incarnation was born in Nashville.
Though frontman Ben Bridwell and his South Carolina-by-way-of-Seattle crew had been successfully trucking for a bit, it wasn't until they met guitarist Tyler Ramsey and bassist Bill Reynolds in Music City that the band solidified into its current lineup — a lineup that also features Ryan Monroe on keys and drummer Creighton Barrett. Now back in town for a two-night engagement at the Ryman, they're looking forward to once again taking that revered stage, cranking out beloved anthems like "The Funeral" and looking out at packed wooden pews.
"Nashville's my favorite town — I'm always intrigued by it," says Reynolds, on the phone from Los Angeles. In addition to those two little gigs, "I'll probably go to Noshville, Robert's, visit a few studios and get a new pair of boots. Maybe Gruhn ... "
"Electric Music" from last year's Mirage Rock includes the line "and I hear it on the interstate in Nashville, Tennessee." It's sure to be among the songs played this weekend, and sure to ignite shrieks when our city gets its shout-out. "You know," Reynolds says, "at one point the lyric was going to be Knoxville. But we thought Nashville would be cooler."
Though their earnestly booming, guitar-forward sound and stage persona (dudes like to jump around) would be perfectly suited for arenas like Bridgestone, playing the Mother Church invites some special consideration. "With two nights, we're able to stretch our legs out, and do different arrangements of the songs," says Reynolds. "Do an acoustic section, take a break, and do one electric. Or vice versa. It's about embracing the Ryman and letting it do its thing to us. We all grew up on the records of people who played there, like the Louvin Brothers."
Band of Horses, it turns out, hasn't always had the best of luck when it comes to touring — but that isn't really their fault. In 2011, they lost out on a slew of dates as an opening act for Kings of Leon when Caleb Followill's "exhaustion" forced the band to cancel their tour. Then last year, The Railroad Revival — a traveling bill Band of Horses was slated to share with Willie Nelson and Jamey Johnson — fell through due to what the tour promoters cited as "complications."
"It was hard to imagine that ever happening, though," says Reynolds. "And I love Jamey. He's one of the only people left in Nashville with a beard."
Band of Horses has often been billed as "alt-country," but that's not always a fully accurate label. There are hints of vintage influences like Eagles and Neil Young, but most of their songs capitalize more on Bridwell's tenor howl and the sort of wistful-and-woeful, chugging choruses that beg for sing-alongs — equally bellowed by drunken frat boys and thirtysomething fans who grew up on '90s Seattle bands. Mirage Rock takes a more bare-bones, rock-forward direction: It's no coincidence that "mirage" rhymes with "garage," and those notes of The Rolling Stones you hear in there? No accident either.
"When we were making [2010's] Infinite Arms, we were Brian Wilson," says Reynolds. "When we made [Mirage Rock], we thought, 'How would the Stones do it?' " The result is a "kind of live, one-take-Jake" effect that replaces the twinkling, light-show-friendly riffs with a little more rawness and grit.
Bridwell is currently working on a solo record, Ramsey continues to craft on his own material (occasionally opening Band of Horses' shows), and Reynolds has taken to producing, recently collaborating with Shannon Whitworth — but it's all with the intention of keeping everyone on their toes. "You can't sit and slam your head against the wall trying to do something forever," says Reynolds. "You have to take a break for a second, think about things differently. The band always comes first, but if there is a window to do something else, we take it."
And Band of Horses is indeed working on new material together, which they'll debut on tour. "We'll throw something out there we have never played before and see how it works, and then we know if we need to change the tempo or rewrite it," Reynolds says. The direction of the music, he adds, will deviate both from Mirage Rock and Infinite Arms. Their goal is simply to make something "that sounds like we all love it."
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