Band Of Horses
When Ryan Monroe answers the phone from his London hotel room, he’s just awoken. He sounds slightly groggy but still maintains his affectionate and slightly southern drawl. “We’re using London as a homebase for some European press,” says the Band Of Horses multi-instrumentalist. “We just arrived from Rome,” he continues. “I think I gained ten pounds over the week we were there. The food was amazing. The whole city was incredible; I’d never been.”
Monroe best prepare himself for a wash of new opportunities, because with the release of Mirage Rock, their fourth full-length, Monroe and the band appear poised to take the reigns as bonafide arena-rock masters. With a fortified balance of classic Horses soaring anthems and heart-warming countrified acoustic numbers, Mirage Rock runs the gamut of potent, wide-reaching rock. And Monroe couldn’t be happier.
“We’re excited as hell,” he says. “It did kind of sneak up on us though. It seemed like there was a long time between the completion of (previous full-length) [Infinite Arms] and until it was actually released. But this process was a lot different. We just got into the studio and knocked it out in about six weeks, then it came out a couple months later. We’re ready to get out there and play these songs live.”
Excited as Monroe may be, the very title of the record is remarkably telling for a band that seems to be hitting their stride. Mirages by their very nature are unattainable. Best known for near-perfect cinematic rockers such as The Funeral and Lamb On The Lam (In The City) Band of Horses release classic rock-influenced and southern-tinged bangers in a dependable manner. So has the band then come to terms with the fact that the perfect Band Of Horses song is impossible to capture, or have they finally mastered their very own formula?
“Absolutely not,” laughs Monroe. “We discovered that we’re a rock band that can do whatever we want,” he says, giving insight into discussions held during the writing of Mirage Rock. “Country stuff, indie rock stuff, we’re up for it. So we don’t know if there is a perfect Band Of Horses song, but it certainly won’t stop us from trying to find it.”
Never a band to shy away from their influences, the decidedly classic rock-vibe of Mirage Rock shouldn’t be considered a departure from previous records by any means, though the vibe is more pronounced. Knock Knock sounds akin to an amped-up Creedence Clearwater Revival and Dumpster World owes heavily to Neil Young’s Harvest-era recordings.
Perennial fans of classic rock, Monroe insists Mirage Rock wasn’t a product of what the band was listening to at the time. Instead, he defers credit to producer Glyn Johns, who’s worked in some capacity with The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and The Who.
“Glyn Johns had a lot to do with that classic rock sound. He’s a legend in that realm. His way of recording was live on the floor, all of us in the same room and singing into the same mics.”
As Monroe continues, it becomes obvious just how vital Johns’ presence was to the making of Mirage Rock.
“Glyn, being the great producer that he is, just found the songs that sounded really good together,” Monroe says of the band’s ability to maintain a balance between deft acoustic tracks and their soaring counterparts. “He asked us flat out during our first session, ‘What kind of band is Band Of Horses?’ We were kind of scratching our heads, until we realised we can do whatever we want. We’re in control over the art we make. Frank Zappa said, ‘Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.’ And I think that’s very true.”
In something of an oxymoronic move, Band Of Horses decided the only way to progress was to move backwards; though Mirage Rock is the band’s first album exclusively on a major label, they resisted the urge to polish their sound. Instead, the band adhered to Glyn Johns method of recording straight to analogue tape. It’s a method Monroe believes suited their rough-around-the-edges charm.
“Glyn helped us realise that we’re never going to make that perfect record. So we just tried to get in there and capture some of that emotion on tape. Trying to make the perfect record, well, you’ll just end up pulling your hair out.”
“And that’s what happened on the last one, Infinite Arms,” continues Monroe. “It was a real surgical process. Whereas this record had no effects, no Pro-Tools, just analogue tape. It helped us become a better band. We just needed that sixth gear. Who better to have an outside perspective than someone who’s seen it all and been through it all?”
Rustic and booming all the same, Mirage Rock is another step on the ladder for the five-piece. It’s a step which may land them comfortably in arena rock territory. Yet for Band Of Horses, the top of the ladder isn’t visible at the moment, nor is it a mirage. Regardless, Monroe knows the band wants to strive for it.
“I think our whole lives will be the search for that one perfect song, and everything in between will be the records we make.”
BY JOSHUA KLOKE
Mirage Rock is out now through Sony Music. BAND OF HORSES is part of the Big Day Out 2013 lineup, taking place at Flemington Racecourse on Saturday January 26. They also play a sideshow at The Palais on Wednesday January 23.