It’s a ‘cocktail on a beach with the sun shining,’ kind of moment when you get to see one of your all time favourite bands twice in a week.
Photos by Kyle Ford
I had the great privilege to do so with Band of Horses, and I cornered their charismatic frontman Ben Bridwell for a quick chat about his early days, drumming, road tripping, speed freaks and everything in-between. Ben is a straight-up southern legend who wears his heart on his sleeve. No messin’. The band had their favourite guy, Spud, tattoo them backstage before their show at the Sydney Opera House. Who does that? Has it been done before? Hat’s off to one the most amazing show I’ve seen. Hands down. Enjoy …
You grew up in a pretty small town right?
Yeah – Irmo in South Carolina. Tickle me Irmo. I don’t know how many people are there, I know it’s not a lot. It’s a satellite town on the edge of the capital of South Carolina. The capital is supposed to be big, but no-one likes it there so, we lived in Irmo. Then I lived in Tuscon. When I moved there I thought it was going to be like Egypt. I didn’t know shit about fuck. Honestly. And well I still don’t, well I know a bit more. I honestly thought it was going to be like sand dunes. Not this lush place with everything growing. And speed freaks. I had never seen speed freaks before. We’d had dope fiends where I’m from, everyone was into heroin. So it was weird to be around speed freaks. And I’d never seen goth kids either.
Portland Oregon. Tried to move up there, lived in my car, lived in a fucking dope hotel. And then we ran out of money, so we were sleeping in the car again. Then a big snow storm hit and we were about to move into this place, basically a squat, but it was still a place. And then the damn snow melted and flooded the Willamette River that runs through Portland. It flooded the house and everyone had to dip out and we decided to drive back to South Carolina.
You had your speed to help get you back?
Ha ha. I had a god damn fucking drum stick. I would just play drums on the steering wheel to keep me awake, I was the only one that would drive. I am a bit of a control freak, I was like “I got this.” I didn’t really trust my two friends, they were really into drugs and shit. I became like their caretaker.
Are you still in touch with them?
One of them, she actually sings on the new record in the song In a Drawer. She (Jenn Champion) and another awesome woman who played drums on our first record. I quit that band so this girl Sera Cahoone got hired as the drummer, thanks to me quitting.
I didn’t know you started out as a drummer.
Well I didn’t – I don’t know I banged on some bongos I think. It was like Cafe Core or some shit. Then they got a real drummer, who got picked up by another band and they asked em to come back. It didn’t take much to drum for them, they showed me the shit and I got the hook in me. But I believed in the band more than I believed in my own self-preservation and I resigned, so their band could be better.
Was that a big decision for you?
Nah, it was the right thing to do. And by that time, I was really into mixed tapes and shit, I was just always the word of mouth guy. I just wanted to get good music into people’s worlds, I started my own little pet label, and I was putting out their records. This was in Seattle, I moved back that way after all that shit. I met Creighton in Charleston when we were 18 or 19 at a party, and thanks to a Dinosaur JR. song. I had to dip again, I had to go, and moved to Seattle. I went to Olympia – which sucks ass, it’s the capital of Washington State, it’s Riot grrrl central, where Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Team Dresch, and all the great Riot grrrl bands came from. But also great underground music. Like fucking Unwound and fucking even Kurt Cobain was living there, and even fucking Ad Rock from the Beastie Boys was living with Kathleen Hanna. It was a big scene right there, but it was too small. I was so close to the big city finally so I was like “fuck this!, I don’t like it” and took a bus up to Seattle. Slept rough before my friends joined me. We slept outside for a month, but got enough money to get the first months rent on an apartment.
That first apartment must have been something.
Yeah it was, I lived with Isaac from Modest Mouse for a second. We’d hang out and listen to new Modest Mouse, like the second record when it came out.
My pals Mae and Megan Delaney – were buddies of Isaac – do you know them?
No fucking way – they worked at the Cha Cha. That’s bananas. Small ass fucking world. Cheers to that. They’re from the old days too. There was still this hangover of grunge around then. Modest Mouse were about to blow up. A lot of other bands had inflated expectations, because of what had happened at that time.
I wanted to ask you how important is space and time to your songwriting? Particularly from starting out, sleeping rough, all the way to now where you have responsibilities, you’re a dad.
A lot. It’s not something you can control. Like everything goes into the soup right? Like everything you do, a story you write, or anything we all do as people. Everything affects your day and how you spit it back out.
Thanks Ben – looks like you have to go – have an excellent tour.
Full tour dates here