With a name so equestrian-themed, the boys of Band of Horses sure canter more than they actually gallop, given their signature slow beats that make up a big part of all their 4 albums to date. They are everything hereditary of the Coastal South –humid, decaying, and full of Spanish moss and rusty beer cans that turn up in the surf. Ironically, it’s exactly how they describe their own music to be like. Mere days before the release of their fourth studio album, keyboardist Ryan Monroe took the time to talk to JUICE about what it’s like being in a band whose entire cast sport full beards.
It has been an amazing journey for you guys since your formation in 2004. In less than a decade you’ve got 3 albums that topped the charts in both US and the UK, and the new one, Mirage Rock, that’s coming out just a few days from now. Is it gonna be another true blue Band of Horses album or can we expect something newer and fresher?
We took a different approach in making this record. It’s a closer representation of what we sound like on stage when we play live. The other records were more like album records. When we play live we try to put a little more prep into the songs so they transfer better live. With this record, we just put up some mic and tried to capture the feeling of our band when we play live. So that will be a difference for sure. It’s a better representation of what the band is like live in stage.
Wow, we look forward to it! But with a title like Mirage Rock, is it a metaphor of how rock is dying in this new age of music where it’s all about pop and club music?
Oh wow, that could be one way to look at it. It’s really actually kind of a joke. It’s a play on the words “garage rock”. We wrote the song ‘Mirage Rock’ that will be featured in the deluxe edition CD. But yea, it’s more of a play on words because we’ve got a lot of songs that are garagey. It also means that our music fades away when you get really close, like a mirage. It’s quite self-deprecating really. Yea that’s it. But I like your version better (laughs).
So you guys did a cover of Cee Lo Green’s song, Georgia. What made the band want to do that cover?
Well, Cee Lo Green did a cover of our song, No One’s Gonna Love You, and we wanted to return the favour by doing one of his songs, Georgia. Ben is a big Georgia Bulldogs fan, which is a college football team in Georgia, and yea, we were just looking for a song that would sit with our style. That one fitted the criteria. We figured we’d return the favour with this song since Cee Lo did such a beautiful version of our song. We just really wanted to return the favour.
You guys seem tight. What’s your relationship with Cee Lo like? Are both parties fans of each other’s music?
Oh yea! I love Cee Lo. He’s one of my favourite vocalist and songwriters out there today. He’s a great music writer.
A lot of your music videos involve a whole bunch of photographs put together to make a form of slideshow that tells a story. So what’s the inspiration behind that style of video?
Our friend, Chris Wilson, he’s with us all the time. He’s always photographing us, and taking photos of the places we’re at. He’s the one who’s done all of our album covers, and he’s also the one who runs all the projections when we play live. He’s a very cool part of the puzzle. So it was just natural to use all that we already have and make it into the story that goes with those songs.
Now let’s talk a little about your lyrics. A lot of the lyrics to your songs are rather vague. The ambiguity has confused more than just a few listeners. The band’s lyricist himself, Ben, has admitted during one of your previous interviews that he himself forgets as to what he was writing. Do you think a song should have meaning? Or are the vocals just an accessory to the instruments?
Oh yeah, that’s the way Ben writes the lyrics (laughs). I’ve always been a fan of songs that sound a bit like a mystery. They can have a deep meaning to Ben himself, or they can be completely up to us. We don’t like to make anything too literal for fans to figure out. It’s kind of a literary adventure-style, you know how some things can mean different things on different days. But all is valid. One song can mean one thing to someone else, and another thing to someone else. I think that’s important, that people can take what they want from the lyrics and what they feel from the song.
So what’s it like being in a band that has so many member? You used to be a six-member band at one point. Is touring a lot more fun?
Yea, we have five members now, five people I think is all we need. We all write songs separately and we write songs together, so there’s definitely no shortage of material, which is a good sign.
Is it a lot more fun touring together? What about recording or when you guys are simply jamming together?
Yea, sometimes, we just kinda set up the computer and mess around with some sounds. Most of the time we’re just trying to get a laugh out of one another. A lot of times we send songs through the Internet. None of us really listen to the same sounds, so the Internet really helps with sharing ideas.
Are you all very close?
Oh yea, we’re all like a family. We love each other, and hopefully that comes across in our music. I’m glad I’m with these people, whom I have so much respect for. We’re all like brothers.
So you guys toured South America for the first time at the beginning of this year. How’s the crowd energy like there? Are they a lot different from your usual crowds in the North, or maybe Europe?
It was really exciting because it was the first time we played in South America. They gave us a really warm welcome and they had so much energy. It was such a warm welcome. The energy was through the roof. I’d love to go back as soon as possible. We were there twice in two months, it’s so beautiful down there in Rio, I love it.
Do you think the band’s music has changed a lot from when you guys first started out? I mean that was like a whole 8 years ago.
It’s changed in that we’re exploring new territories with songwriting and you know… The first record was mainly Ben writing all the songs. We’ve all been together for five years now, so we’re always up for shaking it up and challenging ourselves. But the essential part of us is still there. There are no chronic differences in each record, but we do try to keep it fresh. We change it up a little bit. It’s always fun to recreate something new, you know?
Would you be willing to experiment with newer sounds? Like maybe with faster tempos or maybe even branch into a completely different genre?
Yea we like to play some fast songs, but we also like to play slow numbers. It’s a whole balancing act. We like it all.
Many bandmembers have left the band over the years. Do you think that affects the music of the band in any way? Like does it somewhat interfere with the chemistry of the band, or the whole process of coming up with something new?
I think Ben was just looking for the right chemistry ever since the beginning of the band. Since 2004, he’s just been trying to find the right players. The five of us have been together for the past five years, I think we’ve finally found the right chemistry, and now we’re just playing with that chemistry, see what we can come up with. We’re at a really good place, a great place, right now. So we just go up there and play our favourite songs.
Now don’t get us wrong, we love the whole beard image. But is there a possibility that one day you guys would go without it?
(laughs) Yea, it’s just that we don’t have the time to shave. It’s not like an image we’re trying to keep up. We’re just on the roads a lot and we don’t have the time to properly shave. We’re lazy and we don’t care. (laughs)
So what’s scheduled in store for the band in the next coming years?
Hopefully we’ll have the luck to tour even more places and more great stages. We’d love to go to some countries that we’ve never been before. This is our job and we love it. We love it very much. We hope we’ll be able to play our music for as many people as possible around the world.
We love a band who embraces their masculinity, and nothing speaks manlier than a full beard.
Mirage Rock is out in stores now. More on the band at www.bandofhorses.com.