South Carolina native Ben Bridwell spent the early aughts playing with cult Seattleites Carissa’s Wierd, but has since become best known for fronting Band of Horses, a group that has released four critically acclaimed albums of reverb-soaked indie rock. While his main band takes a break from touring, Bridwell has decided to debut some of his more stripped-down material under the moniker Birdsmell. His solo tour concludes in Athens on Friday. In advance of the show, Flagpole chatted with Bridwell—who also happens to be a lifelong Georgia Bulldogs fan—via telephone.
Flagpole: A lot of bands have aped Band of Horses’ sound. Do you find that flattering?
Ben Bridwell: That’s funny; it’s never crossed my mind, actually. I feel like I write so much with my influences on my sleeve—especially that first album [Everything All the Time], you can hear a lot of My Morning Jacket, Built to Spill, Flaming Lips, Neil Young. When you’re writing, you can’t help but be influenced by the stuff you love. But it’s never crossed my mind that we would be on the receiving end.
FP: The My Morning Jacket comparisons showed up a lot in the beginning.
BB: Mmm-hmm. And it still happens. I know when I’m borrowing a piece from my favorite bands, like Pavement or Archers of Loaf. I still do it to this day. It’s one of my favorite things about making music: the fact that, in a way, I’m paying tribute to my favorite stuff.
FP: There is a distinctly Southern vibe to Band of Horses.
BB: I think a person can’t help but be influenced by where they’re from, not only in music but in everything they do. I remember when I lived in Seattle and I was playing drums for [Carissa’s Wierd], and they asked me to sing backup on one song. Even back then, I had a drawl with the way I sang. It’s just part of who I am, and I don’t shy away from it. I love where I come from, and the history of where my family comes from. I’m not a South-is-gonna-rise-again dude, that’s for sure. It’s just who I am.
FP: Why did you decide to go the solo route?
BB: I had an album kind of hanging out for a while anyway; I finished it like two years ago. I wanted to get out and switch things up just for inspiration’s sake, to get out and risk everything in front of people. It’s tough—Band of Horses has gotten a bit more popular than I could have imagined, and there’s pressure to make sure we deliver. It’s nice to be able to let loose a little bit and experiment more.
FP: These were songs written expressly for this purpose—they weren’t Band of Horses sketches?
BB: Well, they kind of were. Some of them I knew weren’t in the same realm—either too aggressive, or some of them are just really stupid, just dumb. But some of them I had recorded before we did [2012’s] Mirage Rock. We had these songs in the can if we needed to reference them and beef up the versions I had. And one of them actually ended up making it—the song “Shut-in Tourist” made the cut for Mirage Rock, and it’s a totally different kind of vibe.
FP: When I set up this interview with your publicist a few weeks ago, I was very much looking forward to discussing the dominance of Georgia football this season.
FP: Where do you stand on Todd Grantham?
BB: That’s a tough one. I’ve never been a “fire Richt” guy. At some point, the writing is on the wall. The numbers don’t lie. Last year we gave up a lot of points as well. I think it will work itself out one way or another, and my opinion doesn’t make much of a difference.
FP: Do you think [Aaron] Murray will be a first-round pick?
BB: I don’t know. I would love that for him. I don’t follow the NFL much. You know, I loved the crap out of David Greene and D.J. Shockley, but besides Matt Stafford, we haven’t had the best luck getting our quarterbacks into the league in a starting role. I don’t really know how they’ll assess [Murray’s] abilities. Obviously, he’s not that dynamic of a runner.
FP: Are you able to make it to any games?
BB: The last game I went to was [in 2009] when we beat South Carolina at the last minute. Usually what I’ll do is, my uncle lives down there, and my cousins. We’ll go and tailgate and then go back to his house and watch it in the comfort of his living room—in a more controlled environment. I can’t imagine I’ll be able to get to any games [this season]. But I’m looking forward to playing Athens, and hopefully I’ll get get a hall pass to stay the day after the 40 Watt show and watch the game at my uncle’s house.
FP: Do you want to give a prediction for the score of the Auburn game?
BB: I’m so superstitious about Georgia football. I don’t want to jinx us. I’m one of those people who will, like, move seats. I hope we beat Auburn. I hate them more than any of our rivals. After the Nick Fairley/Cam Newton stuff, I just despise their football program. I’m just gonna predict that we kick the shit out of ’em.
FP: I appreciate you chatting for a bit.
BB: Go Dawgs.
WHO: Birdsmell, Bryan Cates
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 15, 8 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $21 ($11 w/ student ID)
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