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Interview: Band Of Horses – ”Fucking don’t say we’re not good anymore, listen first!”

13 november, 2016

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All photos: Tommy Östlund

Unedited English version of interview previously published in Swedish in Gaffa magazine.

It sounds like it was a fluke when Rick Rubin called you out of the blue and he eventually made sure you ended up releasing your new album Why are you OK within the Universal umbrella. But what was the original plan for the album?

– Yes, absolutely. Being self funded you get to a point when you realize it’s about time to start. You need to have some songs so you can start shopping it around or else they are going to repossess the car and take the house from you. No, it wasn’t that dire… Much like Rick had done about five years previous when it was the same kind of situation, I self funded our third album, we were free agents. It’s one of those things when if you believe in what you’ve got then you shop it around and you can weigh those things like financial help or who’s more enthusiastic and all those things. What is the right team. When Rick came in and wanted to hear Infinite Arms, our third album, it was pretty much right off the bat “that’s who I want to work with”. Thanks to him we signed to Columbia Records within the Sony system and now we fast forward to this past year. Same thing, we had amicably split with Columbia and Sony, we were like “you can’t afford to keep us around, this contract is going to kill you”, so we asked politely if we could be dropped. So we went our separate ways.

– So it happens that Rick comes around, I’ve selffunded the album and it’s getting a bit expensive now. He hit me at the right time. I played him some demos we were doing and what material I was thinking about for the record. His role was more of like a cheerleader, not someone telling us what to change all the time. He told us to go into the studio and trust our own confidence. A mentor. We had another sit down session near the end of the record, we had a lot of material recorded for real now. I had three more songs that I had a hunch about, like “I think we could really round out the record with these” because you can’t really have enough. I went out to play the last three to him. He got them as well, we snuck them under the gun and recorded them.

But you recorded them with Jason too?

– Yes, but they were garbage demos when I played them to him. It’s pretty terrifying to play that to someone with that kind of ear, you know. If anyone can see the forest for the trees it’s that guy. So anyway, now he’s under the Universal public system and guess what, he would like to help us get signed again and saves me from financial ruin. I’m very grateful, man. And so far the relationship with the new label has been really nice too, so we’re really happy.

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Sequencing an album, is it still important these digital days? People seem to be a lot for cherry picking songs from albums nowadays.

– Hell, yeah. Well, think about this: even for you writing a piece on this and you’ve been given the album. You’re not going to picking it apart as soon as you get it, you’re probably going to listen to the experience and get a whole vibe from it, hear it from top to tail. Other heads, old guys like me, I need that in my life. I need chapters of a novel. Something to hold on to like a book. It’s funny, though, I’d never realized the importance of it. Jason [Lytle] already halfway through the recording asked me how I wanted to sequence the album and I was like “well, we haven’t even recorded these other songs yet so how would I know how I want to sequence it?”. But that’s how he thinks, “If you have some idea we could craft what their common thread is, there might be interludes and things like that in some ways creates the glue of cohesion”. That was something I had never really even considered. Usually when an album is done for me I have no damn perspective at all, so you give it to somebody who has fresh ears at the label and they’re like “oh this makes perfect sense” and I go “how the fuck would I know, I don’t even know what songs should be on the damn thing”. So luckily he tipped me off to that. You can think of it out of lyrical themes as well, like is there a common theme and if so, is there a start to it? It takes a lot of the guess work out of it.

You’ve put the longest song first this time.

– Yes, this applies. It’s the start of the story. I knew I was going to get some pushback, it’s long as hell and really slow. I thought they’d make me move it from track one or split it up, because track two is always good to have a banger but luckily they let me get away with it. They understood it, because the first two really tell a story with the lyrical theme of the whole album which is the doldrums of parenting in the suburbs.

Hag is quite an unusual title of a song. It sounds like this unhappy, beautiful love song. Please explain…

– First, you’re the first one to pick this up or ask me about the title for days here. It was written on a Hagström air organ. Even my wife said “Nice, asshole…” and I went “no, no, it’s the Hagström air organ!”. So it was a bit of Swedish love there, I believe that’s a Swedish company? So there’s that, but I remember deliberately setting out to write a song to try to make people uncomfortable in the audience. That was the goal. So you can look at people and ask them the question “are you really, really in love, or are you just comfortable?”. I don’t think I achieved that in the end.

A line like “I spend half the time indifferent and the other half alone” sounds pretty sad to me…

– Yeah… You know, we’ve all had our little tinges in relationships, we’ve all been in that part, right? So hopefully it’s universal and my wife doesn’t think it’s about her, ‘cause it wasn’t intentionally written to be concerning our situation. I’m good. I don’t want to scare her.

– When I wrote it, like I said I was on the air organ. I’m a terrible keyboard player, much like guitar, like “Okay, keep your fingers in the right position and move ‘em and you can get three chords out of this thing!”… (Laughs) I rarely sit and think “this song is going to be about that”, I’ll just sing phonetic garbage to get the meter for a melody. Then a couple of words will come along so I can form a story that pertains to me while hopefully making it more universal. That one was for me about deliberately trying to fuck with people.

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Was it Paste Magazine that called Casual Party “dad-rock”? You didn’t take to that?

– Yeah, they did. I didn’t mind that so much, I just thought that the review of the song was a little bit off. But I think the guy just missed the point. It seemed like he was ready to hop on the bandwagon that a lot of those writers turned to piggyback on. Like they knew we couldn’t be good anymore and they just might say it first. Fucking don’t, you should listen first!

And that song isn’t so much of a dad-rock song, is it?

– No, it’s youthful! And going back to those tunings I make it feel like I’m returning to the first scene of the crime. I don’t know how much higher I can sing to sound less like a dad? You know, it sounds like a damn 13-year old girl singing! (Laughs)

– There’s this double-life kind of thing we’re living here. Playing rock music, slightly adored at times. Anything you want is handed to you anytime you want it, you know. It’s a terrible way to live, really, getting exactly what you want all the time. So then the coming home thing, my real life isn’t like that at all. My wife’s making friends and I have to go to some dinner party with people that you don’t know or you do know, but they might be a tough hang. They might be strictly conservative or anti-progressive. You feel like “oh, this is going to be brutal!”, some of that stuff. You have to bite your tongue through some of the topics that come up during conversation, because you’re in someone else’s home. I’m not so blunt myself, I tend to be a bit of a pleaser. I can usually grin and bear it but sometimes better than others. At times people are terrible and you feel like leaving, always knowing you’re soon going to cause an argument. So I try to air on the side of just getting through it for my wife’s sake, at least. There are all kinds of things, like dealing with parents at school events having to endure all kinds of people that are, like, functioning members of the society, not neck tattooed rock’n’rollers. It’s a little bit different. I hate small talk.

This summer you’re going out on the festival circuit again. How do you feel about that?

– Great! I like festivals but I also like theatre gigs and tiny rock clubs. They all present different challenges and opportunities. Obviously you can go deeper into your catalogue setlist wise with your own show but I like the challenge of how you can curate 35 minutes of pure pleasure. I don’t mind the atmosphere of a festival. I grew up in a small town and not going to festivals as a young punter or whatever, so the novelty’s worn out on me. I like discovering new bands that way as well because when I’m at home I’m not about to ask my wife if I can go to a show, that’s just not going to happen. Too many kids…well, not too many! Goodness. Sorry, the youngest!

– Sometimes with the monotony, the rigamarole of touring you’re going to be in a bad mood, you may not want to go out and talk to this or that band again. More times than not I’m just glad to be there doing this for a living and glad to even get the opportunity to get out of the house. (Laughs)

On the 30th of June you play the Bråvalla festival here in Sweden and the day after…

– Oh God, now what…?

…Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are playing there too. I noticed there’s a gap in your own tour schedule that day before you go to Belgium. Will you stick around and go up on stage with them?

– Oh, I thought you were going to tell me about some band I’ll want to see, because every time I’m at a festival I’m always missing something because I’m not able to see it. It’s always “Get your ass off stage, leave the gear, get in the van and to the airport…” as we’re off to Glastonbury or somewhere else. So you can never allow yourself to get your hopes up. One summer we followed Nick Cave and Grinderman around and being a big fan I thought we would finally be able to see them, but hell no, we were always missing them. That’s the thing, I never know and I almost don’t want to know until it’s just time to find out.

I thought since you worked with them some time back.

– Yeah, we hung together last summer at some festival in Denmark, I think, and I hadn’t seen them since we recorded the song together. Since then, they went into the stratosphere, man. So it was crazy to see them. That record, when I did my track with them, I had no idea that was ever going to happen. There was a hunch from someone at our old label Sub Pop saying “this band is making some really big stuff and I think something really big is about to happen”. So I went “Okay, I’ll trust your intuition” and told them “I’ll do it as a favour. Pay me the lowest scale, like a guitar player coming in or something.” But they went “No, no, you wrote that part so we’re splitting it even ways”. I said no, but they would not let me turn down their offer. Then the record goes bananas. Thanks so much, I’ll have some more kids! (Laughs)

Do you have any specific, strong memories from playing festivals?

– God, there are so many things, tragic, hilarious. I remember being at T In The Park in Scotland and a lot of the time you get teamed up with the same type of bands. MGMT somehow had been billed before us and in the interim between booking them, slotting them and showday their song Kids took off and the tent is fucking filled to the brim, people couldn’t even see into the tent. People were climbing up the scaffolding and shit, just mayhem. We were sitting there watching them and thinking “how in the shit can you go after that?”! Besides the songs being great, look at this teenage enthusiasm! This is like the fucking Beatles! They’re handsome, they’ve got models everywhere. Many things have happened over a decade but I often remember that one, I was just gobsmacked. “Okay, let’s go so we can get paid and get the fuck out of here”.

– But I love festivals, you see a lot of artists perform that you wouldn’t have otherwise. You get teamed up with some death metal band and end up on the same flights becoming best friends. A lot of bands are so competitive, maybe they’re just younger. There are some that think they’re hot shit, God’s gift, brats. You see them throwing tantrums and stuff. One thing that festival culture has taught me is that we’re all here just working. You’ll see bands that has been around 30 years, like NOFX, who are out there still making young people dance, and they’re still into it and enthused by it. Even if you think my band sucks we can still be friends. You can lean on each other and be a sense of support. A lot of us are old men now, we have feelings and shit now. (Laughs) Not like before when it was all about me, me me! Ha ha! No, I was never like that.

One good thing about festivals to me is that you get to check out bands that you maybe wouldn’t normally have done.

– Absolutely. At least a couple of us will get out and go wander around. At some festivals it’s easier than others. You don’t want to distract and be taking pictures for fifteen minutes, it’s awful. People are taking selfies and more and more start coming. But I remember one time I heard some sound outside so I bee-lined out of the bathroom . It was this band from England, Goldheart Assembly, I didn’t know them and I became a fan and took them on tour for a couple of times in the UK. Just from that moment because I was outside instead of hiding in my bunk sleeping I discovered a band that I thought was really great.

Alright, I’ve got one last question. Since you started out social media has exploded. For a band of your stature you seem pretty accessible. How do you cope?

– Yes, it takes a lot of time. It’s a tough one too, being a parent for one, being on your phone. We all have to make sure we’re in the moment more. Even only for safety’s sake. That said, we just celebrated the tenth anniversary of our first record and we didn’t do any reissue campaign or anything like that because we were so engrossed in rolling out our new album. It snuck up on me and I thought we needed to commemorate it somehow. So went to a chest, like a military chest, and noticed there were some stuff in it that I’ve saved up over the years.

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