One of the most captivating things about Everything All the Time, the debut album from Band of Horses, is the melancholic imagery of "St. Augustine." In the song, singer/songwriter Ben Bridwell sings of the rusty nostalgia one gets from haunted Southern cities, and how, despite our big-city dreams, those of us who came of age in those places are never able to completely shake them off. "St. Augustine" closes out Everything All the Time on a plaintive note that could only come from someone who has experienced such longing.
Bridwell didn't grow up in America's oldest city, nor did he find his fortune in the Hollywood of that song's lyrics. But the creaky comfort he sings about is very real. After years of living in Seattle and finding a small modicum of attention for his first band — Carissa's Wierd, which dished up lush, sad-eyed pop for nearly 10 years — and then even more attention for Band of Horses, Bridwell is finally back in the state of his youth, South Carolina.
"I'm in Mount Pleasant, actually," Bridwell says of the Charleston-area marshland suburbia he now inhabits. "I've got this awesome house right on a lagoon with all this awesome wildlife. Creighton (Barrett, drums) and Rob (Hampton, bass) live right down the road, out in the country. We practice out there so we can be loud. It's great. It's so nice living down here and being back home."
South Carolina is an easy place to come home to. It's especially easy if your debut album also happens to be selling a decent number of copies while maintaining its 8.8-on-Pitchfork credibility. Though before this conversation, I didn't know Ben Bridwell from Ben Gibbard on a personal level (despite the fact that Bridwell's brother was at my wedding and we all attended the same high school), the strange attraction held by South Carolina is something to which I can relate. Therefore, I'm not surprised to hear that Bridwell didn't mind leaving Seattle.
"Miss it? Not so much," he says. "I've still got some really good friends there, but I had been homesick for a really long time, so I'm really happy to be here and living here for good."
While South Carolina bands aren't typically high on the rock-crit radar (hello, Hootie & the Blowfish!), Band of Horses isn't a typical South Carolina rock outfit. Merging the cavernous beauty of Carissa's Wierd with the front-porch sensibility of Iron and Wine (fronted by fellow South Carolinian Sam Beam), Band of Horses' sound hits a smart and warm sweet spot that's unaffected by either indie-rock irony or touristic twang. It's a sound that's earned them considerable attention, including a string of wins at the recent PLUG Awards (for Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Americana Album of the Year) and slots at high-profile festivals in Europe and Australia. The band plays Langerado festival in South Florida the day before their Orlando date, and one must wonder which side of their epic intimacy falls away when playing such large-scale gigs.
BAND OF HORSES
with Cary Ann Hearst, Gun Street Girls
8 p.m. Monday, March 12, 2007
"You're just playing with a bunch of awesome bands outside," says Bridwell. "`The festivals` can be a little bit of a hassle to feel comfortable enough to perform. There are never soundchecks, so you never know what it's gonna sound like, and, of course, there are a whole lot of people. But all the ones we did turned out really well … wait, we did one that was bad, in France.
"We had to play after Franz Ferdinand on the main stage. There were thousands of people out there after Franz Ferdinand and we had to go up? Who the fuck set this up? It was really late, too, like one o'clock in the morning. And we had to be there at like eight o'clock in the morning, so it was a really long day of drinking too much and being kinda miffed at the whole situation. So that was bad, but sometimes, those shows are really great and you feel like you click with thousands of people."
With the exception of the Langerado date, this Southeastern tour (their last live dates before heading into an Asheville, N.C., studio to record the follow-up to Everything) will find Band of Horses in front of considerably smaller audiences, which was somewhat intentional, considering half of the band will be recent additions to the touring lineup. Along with Bridwell, Barrett and Hampton, Ryan Moore (keyboards), Matt Gentling (ex-Archers of Loaf bassist) and Robin Peringer (Carissa's Wierd, Modest Mouse) will be along for the ride. Though they will have only practiced for less than a month together, Bridwell isn't worried.
"We're all good friends," he says. "So it'll be OK."
How very South Carolina of him.
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