By John wirt
November 20, 2012
Last month, on the day after Band of Horses released its fourth album, Mirage Rock, guitarist Ryan Monroe was enjoying a few days in New York City, walking around, drinking coffee and eating the free apples in his hotel’s lobby.
Band of Horses made another appearance on Late Show with David Letterman that day, too, two days after the group performed one of the show’s online concerts from the Ed Sullivan Theater.
Appearing on the regular nighttime Letterman broadcasts is always exciting for the South Carolina-based, nationally acclaimed Band of Horses.
“It’s never lost on us what an honor it is to play that show, in that storied theater,” Monroe said. “I grew up watching the show and dreaming of being on it one day. So many great artists have been on that stage.”
Band of Horses is great, too. Featuring poetic front man Ben Bridwell, the group wowed a huge crowd at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2010, for instance, with its sad yet powerful music.
The band’s songs are as much country as rock, including the haunting “Is There a Ghost,” bittersweet “No One’s Gonna Love You” and epic “The Funeral.”
The recently released Mirage Rock represents a different way of recording for Band of Horses. Glyn Johns, a British producer who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, guided the project at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles.
Johns’ list of previous clients includes an honor roll of names, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who and Eric Clapton among them.
“I’m really proud of it,” Monroe said of Mirage Rock. “We finally made a record that blurs the line between our live show and our studio work.”
Johns and the band recorded the album old-school studio style with almost no overdubs.
“Our producer didn’t want us to use any guitar pedals, just plug straight into the amps,” Monroe said. “So it was like a time-traveling art project with one of our rock heroes.”
Johns’ production for Mirage Rock reflects his work with the latter classic rock acts.
“That’s really the only way that he will do a recording,” Monroe explained. “And that’s how we decided that we were gonna work together. For us, it was a no-brainer.”
Prior to the making of Mirage Rock, the names of various big-name producers came up. Johns later attended a Band of Horses performance.
The producer, Monroe recalled, “was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this record, but I wanna get that, what I just saw on stage, on tape. I want it to be live. That’s the way I do it.’ ”
Band of Horses had already been considering making a back-to-basics recording, rather than spending the many months of belabored, perfectionist tinkering the group usually does.
Once everyone assembled at Sunset Sound, a legendary studio that’s been host to the Doors, Prince, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Fleetwood Mac, the Beach Boys, Whitney Houston and many more, Johns sought life and immediacy from Band of Horses.
“Glyn was looking for emotion,” Monroe said. “He wasn’t concerned about getting a flawless take. I’d come in the studio after a take and everybody was like, ‘Man, that was awesome!’
“But I’d say, ‘I flubbed a note in the chorus.’ Glyn was like, ‘Get over yourself, mate. No one cares. The energy was there, man!’ So I took myself out of it, looked at the big picture and saw that the energy totally was there.”
Nonetheless, Johns also knew when time was needed to develop an idea that worked.
“And he’s just the coolest dude in the world,” Monroe said. “When he bounces his head to the music, when he smiles, he looks like a kid. He’s just laughing and just loving it. It’s amazing to work with him. I hope we can do it again.”
As great as working with Johns was, Monroe consistently has the pleasure of working with Band of Horses’ primary voice. He and Bridwell have been friends since childhood.
“It’s such a treat every night, to sing with such a great singer who has such an original timbre. Ben’s voice still gives me chills, like it did when I heard the first Band of Horses record, before I was in the band.
“I couldn’t ask for more in a band leader. He’s the captain of the ship and we would have it no other way. No one knows what’s better for this band than he does. I trust all of his moves and all of the songs he believes in. And he’s the nicest, coolest, funniest dude in the world.”