Band of Horses Whisper on Tape, Rock Onstage

Ben Bridwell's Southern indie outfit recalls the Shins, just darker

By |

"You need tickets to Band of Horses?" the scalper asks, approaching a tall, skinny guy with a scruffy beard standing outside the Warsaw club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Ben Bridwell, Band of Horses' frontman, is taken aback by the question, but then smiles. "No, thanks, I'm good. But thank you," he says, turning to add, "Wow. That's a first."

Bridwell should be getting used to scalpers, considering his band's current U.S. tour has sold out. Their debut Southern indie-rock album, Everything All the Time, has sold more than 24,000 copies and hit the top of indie online store Insound's chart. The album induces a melancholic, dreamlike daze, with Bridwell's high voice swimming in thick reverb.

"I wanted the album to represent where I come from and what I grew up on," says Bridwell. "Which is a lot of Southern rock and indie rock, bands like Archers of Loaf and Superchunk." The album's songs, such as the emotional standout track "The Funeral," are full of dramatic shifts, moving from gentle harmonizing to powerful guitar-and-drum crescendos. The liveliest track is the catchy power-pop tune "The Great Salt Lake," which had the many bearded dudes in the crowd at Warsaw singing along.

Bridwell, a native of South Carolina, dropped out of his Tucson, Arizona, high school at age sixteen. Soon after, he met future bandmate and bassist Mat Brooke. The two traveled the country together for a couple of years before settling in Seattle, where Brooke started an indie group called Carissa's Wierd. When Carissa's Wierd lost their drummer, Brooke turned to Bridwell. "I didn't really play anything at all before that," says Bridwell. "It was really minimalistic drumming, so they kind of just showed me the ropes."

After a ten-year run, Carissa's Wierd broke up due to financial pressures, and Band of Horses evolved out of the empty practice space that remained. "I just kind of came down there and started messing around with the unused instruments, and eventually started making songs," Bridwell explains.

In 2005 they signed with Seattle's Sub Pop Records and recorded the album with veteran indie producer Phil Ek (Shins, Built to Spill). Ek (and others) can hear a resemblance between Bridwell's vocals and those of Shins frontman James Mercer.

"They both are amazing singers," says Ek. "They have a high, clear quality to their voices, and because of that, the reverb doesn't muddy their voice at all."

Naturally shy, Bridwell wasn't instantly comfortable in the role of indie-rock frontman. "It was a bit scary at first," he says. But his confidence onstage has spiked as the tour progresses. "When I perform now, it's almost like I'm in a dream world, like I don't even think that people are looking at me." Um, but they are. "He's adorable," one female fan at Warsaw says.

While Brooke is not on the road with Bridwell this time around, the singer is backed by guitarist Joe Ranone, drummer Creighton Barrett and bassist Rob Hampton.

Offstage, Bridwell's not quite ready to play the rock star yet -- in Brooklyn, he even waited in line for his own show after security failed to recognize him. He's a humble, fidgety kind of guy, and often seems oblivious to the mundane. His lyrics, as well, tend to be heavy and cryptic: "But to know me as hardly golden/Is to know me all wrong/They won," he sings on "The Funeral."

While their album may be hazy and ambient, their live show is exciting - perhaps due in part to the fact that Bridwell and Co. get fired up backstage to Chamillionaire's "Ridin' Dirty." "We've been listening to dirty-ass hip-hop on this tour," says the singer. "It gets us pumped up, so we're just a bunch of crazy bearded crackers just dancing like mad!"