Songs come first
Band of Horses bassist talks songwriting, harmonizing, and joining the band at just the right time
“As an artist, as a bass player, my favorite thing is playing behind a great singer,” said Bill Reynolds of Band of Horses during a recent phone interview. “Nobody wants to hear you wank off on the bass.”
Reynolds assumed bass duties following the release of the band’s second album, 2007’s Cease to Begin, and immediately embraced his supportive role. Indeed, lead singer Ben Bridwell’s distinct, reverb-soaked vocals are the centerpiece of the folk-tinged sound that has made the indie-rock band an internationally successful touring act. And as someone who has a deep appreciation for the work of Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, Reynolds feels strongly about playing to bring Bridwell’s voice and the band’s close vocal harmonies to the foreground.
“When I’m playing bass, I’m not thinking, ‘How cool is my bass part?’” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘How can I make this guy sing better?’ My job as a bass player is to make sure Ben feels supported and feels like he has something to lean into.”
The Blue Rags, Reynolds’ former band, was signed to Sub Pop Records when the Seattle-born (but now Charleston, S.C.-based) Band of Horses (of the same label at the time) released their breakthrough hit, “The Funeral.” He described being a big fan of the group prior to meeting them in the studio and learning they were in need of a new bassist. Reynolds said he knew right away that he “was the right man for the job.”
Of joining the group just as they were beginning to experience significant success, Reynolds said, “At that point, they were still touring around in a van and everyone was blown away that [the band] had taken off so well, so I got to be a part of the early realization that it was working. It was fun to watch.”
Many of Band of Horses’ standout songs are heartfelt slower songs, a good handful of which—“The Funeral,” “Is There a Ghost,” and the more up-tempo “Laredo”—have become indie-rock classics. When asked if he ever takes a step back to appreciate how their work has struck an emotional chord with such a wide audience, Reynolds said the connection listeners have made to the music is fully apparent.
“I don’t have to take a step back,” he said earnestly. “We’re working at a high level and I don’t ever take it for granted. That’s the highest compliment you can have as an artist, to touch people like that.”
Since he became a full-time member and the band’s lineup was set after Cease to Begin, Reynolds said the quintet’s songwriting process has become much more of a collaboration.
“We all bring songs to the table,” he said. “For Mirage Rock , I wrote a lot of songs. I’ll write the music and Ben will put lyrics on it, then we’ll take it in and the band will realize it through their eyes, whether that means a different drum part or putting it in a different key.”
Though there are plenty of the band’s signature atmospheric rock tunes on the new album, much of Mirage Rock has ’70s acoustic-rock feel, in the vein of The Eagles.
Reynolds said that during the band’s recent tour of Australia, the new songs receiving the best crowd reactions were lead single “Knock, Knock,” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone,” which features the tight vocal harmonies Reynolds considers Band of Horses’ trademark.
“That’s something we have that will always be ours,” he said. “That’s a strength; to have three people who can really sing together.”