There is an ongoing discussion amongst musicians and bands, regarding the use of songs in films or TV shows, commercials even. The bands, who never put their songs into the hands of movie producers or haven’t been approached to do so, are quick to judge the musicians who did. However, collaborating with other media productions has its benefits.
Many who are fans of BAND OF HORSES today might have heard their first song ever on an episode of The O.C. or Gossip Girl, both musically curated by Alex Patsavas. Those are classic TV shows for teens, especially teenage girls, who grew up in the mid 2000’s and probably changed their taste in music forever, for the better. Ben Bridwell, lead singer and creative mind behind BAND OF HORSES, agrees. ‘What’s wrong with this? This is great, this is amazing! They used it well, it’s cinematic and it served both purposes. What’s the problem?’ And it’s not only about them putting out their music in a different format and gaining new fans by having their songs such as The Funeral, The General Specific or a cover of The End’s Not Near (It’s Here) placed at a crucial moment of a TV show. It’s also about how it helps them along as musicians:
‘We got to pay the rent on it. Or got a van to go on tour! More and more shows like Gossip Girl or The O.C. helped usher in films as well. So you have big budget movies buying a song from four dirty kids who still live with their parents. There’s no problem!’
All the other musicians yelling ‘Sell-Outs!’ don’t know what they’re missing out on, because they’re too busy shaming other musicians.
‘If you give a little, you get a little’
Bridwell thinks that it is difficult in today’s music industry to get one’s music out there, especially for artists starting out. There are less radio station everywhere and it’s getting harder to find the good ones, especially to play indie music. Sometimes it seems like not a lot of variety in music is being played on the radio. There is a certain amount of luck involved having your brand-new record played on the radio.
If Bridwell could give one advice to new bands it’s this:
‘Do your god damn promo! Nothing beats being there and showing them that they [radio DJs] care. If you give a little, you get a little. Even if it’s just about the face-to-face interaction with you. Then you’re truly working together.’
To him, all forms of media from traditional broadcast media to new online platforms are all equally important to help musicians gain a following.
Earlier this year he also discovered how important social media to music marketing is. But he also realized how moving the exchange with fans on Twitter or Instagram can be. When it was the tenth anniversary of the release date of the first BAND OF HORSES album (Everything All The Time), he asked his manager for the passwords of the band’s various social media accounts and went on there to commemorate the record. ‘I got to taste that whole world first hand, interacting with fans in a really beautiful way and getting to hear experiences they had in the decade of our existence.’ A worthy way to celebrate a decade of BAND OF HORSES.
On June 10th the newest and fifth studio album of Ben Bridwell and his gang, going by the title of Why Are You OK, is being released. Those are four words his little daughter typed into a touchscreen back at home. Without even knowing what she was doing, she typed some words, which questions life in a very existential way. The new album is influenced by family life and feels more down to earth than ever. Maybe a bit happier as well. Does having a happy family life stifle creativity? ‘It’s a myth that misery breeds great art. It’s an overblown myth. I think people use that as a crutch to be difficult or self-destruct or self-abuse,’ says Bridwell. Though he admits having less time to write made it difficult to find a new rhythm in his creative process. Who helped him break the writer’s block was fellow musician and friend Sam Beam, from IRON & WINE.
‘He helped me be reminded of some of the more simpler aspects of being a person that creates. If you get a bit lost in the process or bogged down by the outside forces at play, it can be a really unhealthy thing. So he just helped guide me through that, big brother style.’
Bridwell & Beam both grew up in the same small town in South Carolina and were both signed with Subpop early on in their careers. ‘Before we became Iron & Wine or Band of Horses we were just nerd kids who loved music. Always talking about music, trying to share music with one another,’ says Bridwell. Though they are not hanging out as much as they used to as they have what Bridwell calls ‘a million daughters between them’ now, they came together last year and did a covers record by the title of Sing Into My Mouth, paying tribute to TALKING HEADS, John Cale, Ronnie Lane or Marshall Tucker Band. ‘It’s like a celebration of our fandom. And a chance to raise the hood of the car and see what the engine looks like in a song and see the mechanics of how people wrote some of your favorite songs. It’s very interesting.’ It’s record that’s well worth listening to. It’s like a mixtape of favorite songs, with a little twist on it.
Especially having a family now, Bridwell is grateful to have a life in music, being able to pay his rent and a living for his family that way. It’s a unique position, which BAND OF HORSES has enabled him to be in. He knows that it’s also thanks to his loyal fans, who always buy the newest album or come to the next concert near him. ‘We’ve got the luxury of being like “We’ll be okay, we’ve still got The Funeral.” We can play that and people will show up.’ And he’ll keep on playing classics for exactly those loyal fans.
The challenge of raising kids in a digital age
Is he ever scared of his children growing up in a world as digital as ever? ‘There’s like a fine line for me in between being a grumpy old man and a young rascal. If you don’t adapt, you get left behind. That’s just the way it is. With any technology. If you want to be old and grumpy and wither away into obscurity, you have that option, it’s a free world. But don’t be sad if you notice the world moving at a different speed than you.’ He describes his approach to life way organic than before. Be it, because he simply doesn’t have time anymore to sit in front of a screen the whole day. Being a parent has made him re-think being on his phone all day and digital technology in general:
‘As parents we also have to realize it’s not going to go away. And you can’t just hide in a forest and raise them like wolves. I guess we could, but we’re not going to. So it’s just something we’ve got to learn to be smart with. This goes for us as parents too, not setting the example of looking at our phones all the time. Especially Americans, they’re just staring and not even interacting at dinner together. No, live in the damn moment!’
It’s a digital world with a steep competition for young musicians, music scenes as splintered and fragmented as ever. How difficult is it to get noticed today, if not impossible? Bridwell is positive that real musical talent will always be discovered:
‘Well, you hope that the cream rises to the top. Always, right? And those that work hardest at their craft, they will shine through. But then you also find bands, that have been left by the wayside through music or rock’n’roll history. It’s like, how did that not connect? Why did this band get the fame and the fortune, if that’s even a good thing, and this person had to go back to work and kind of left the music creation thing a bit deflated or defeated, because opportunity didn’t come their way? Again, you hope that cream rises to the top and often it does, but still it didn’t get scooped up.’
There is a line in a song called Monsters from BAND OF HORSES‘ first album and it goes: If I’m lost it’s only for a little while. To Bridwell it’s what describes the main idea of the band: ‘If I’m going to say something so hopeless, it’s only a fleeting moment and good times are ahead. There is a balance of the sweet and sour, the light and dark, the loud and quiet. Those things for me really define the band.’ And the same idea seeped into his general outlook on life and music. ‘Just be your damn self, work hard and maybe some luck will help push you along.’ Don’t dwell on the negative forces that are sometimes too overwhelming in life. Work hard, be true to yourself and luck will come your way. With a smirk he adds: ‘And sell out, quick! Get on Gossip Girl, man.’