Going into the sessions that produced last year’s Mirage Rock, the members of Band of Horses were sure of two things: they’d written some of the best songs of their career, and they weren’t going to record them in a slick, big-city recording studio.
They were wrong about one of them.
Once Glyn Johns entered the picture, the Horses had to abandon their dream of hiding out in some remote locale, unpressured by the ticking of the studio clock and untempted by urban diversions. The man behind the console for such epic recordings as the Who’s Who’s Next, the Eagles’ Desperado, and the Clash’s Combat Rock insisted on using his home base, Hollywood’s high-end Sunset Sound Studios. Given the chance to work with such a fabled producer, the younger musicians soon conceded the point—although the end product sounds anything but slick.
“I’ve definitely had to learn to live with mistakes,” Band of Horses guitarist Tyler Ramsey says on the line from his Asheville, North Carolina, home. “There are things that I hear on my part that I’ve learned to like, for sure. It’s like any of the older records that you listen to: there’s mistakes all over that stuff. It’s only recently that people have started being so uptight about everything and correcting every possible wrong note, or moving beats around, or Auto-Tuning vocals. The records that we all probably grew up on are ones that have mistakes in them. That’s just kind of what we’re used to hearing—and it’s part of humans playing music together, you know!”
Humans playing music together was definitely part of Johns’s agenda for Mirage Rock. Rather than have the band focus on soaring harmonies or lush, multi-tracked instrumentation, he went for a raw, almost live sound, and the results suggest he was onto something.
“Glyn’s got his way of working in the studio, and that’s the way that he worked with us,” Ramsey reports. “He wanted us to set up like we do on-stage and just kind of go through it. We’d start in the morning, choose a song that we were going to work on, pick at it for a while and figure out some arrangement ideas, and then just play it until we got the right take, without a lot of thinking that we’d be able to come back and do tons of overdubs. It was more like ‘Get it right the first time.’”
What it all means, though, is something Ramsey’s less comfortable talking about. Although he’s an accomplished solo artist in his own right, he contributed only one song to Mirage Rock, the strangely comforting “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone”. Singer Benjamin Bridwell wrote the rest, and no matter how moving they might be, they don’t always make literal sense.
“Ben never really explains what he’s talking about, and I don’t ask,” Ramsey says, when asked if Mirage Rock has an overall theme. “I definitely like the way he writes lyrics. I appreciate his style; it’s interesting to me. But I don’t have a full grasp of what the songs are about, sometimes. I’m just playing them.
“That’s not a very good answer,” he adds with a laugh, “but I don’t know!”