An interview with Band of Horses’ Tyler Ramsey

Authored By Charlie Moss

Tyler Ramsey, lead guitarist of Band of Horses, first met the band in Nashville as they were recording their second album, 2007’s “Cease to Begin.” He and longtime friend, Bill Reynolds, were working on Ramsey’s second solo album, “A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea.” After a series of encounters leading to Reynolds joining the band as bassist, Ramsey was asked to open for them at a show in South Carolina. He did. Then he joined the band.

Band of Horses has just released their fourth studio album, “Mirage Rock.” They play at Track 29 tonight as part of their world tour supporting the album.

I chatted with Ramsey over the phone about his dual career as a solo musician and lead guitarist for a band that is on the road to becoming one of the most popular bands on Earth. Really.

Nooga: So, you guys are coming to town on Friday, playing at Track 29. Have you guys ever been to Chattanooga before?

Tyler: We were there for our day off, for whatever reason, not long ago at all. We were just kind of passing through. Man, it’s a beautiful little city. It’s really cool. I don’t think we’ve played a show there yet, though. Not that I remember. Yeah, I was really blown away. It was just a really beautiful place. That whole riverfront area is all developed nicely.

(N): That’s one of my favorite areas of the city. So, I’d like to talk a little bit about your solo stuff and Band of Horses stuff. You released your third solo album last year, “The Valley Wind.” Tell me about it.

(T): Yeah, it came out right around this time last year on Fat Possum. It’s been out a while. I’ve had fun trying to get around, doing shows. I made the rounds, as many as possible.

(N): I’ve listened to some of it and I really, really like it. You actually recorded that album in Nashville. And you actually live in Asheville, N. C.

(T): Yeah, I live in Asheville. Been there for quite a while.

(N): But you’re originally from Cincinnati, right?

(T): I was born in Cincinnati. I think we stayed there until I was one. But, yeah, it’s where I was born.

(N): Would you say the South has influenced you as a songwriter?

(T): I think it has, for sure. I mean, we left Cincinnati and moved to Jackson, Tenn., and then we lived up in the north for a little bit. We lived outside of Green Bay, we lived outside of Chicago, then we moved to Nashville. I went to high school outside of Nashville. And then I moved over to Brevard, N.C., lived there like a year. And then went back to Nashville. And then bounced around for a while and then went back to Asheville. But I think, really, it’s been a huge influence on me. Whether or not I wanted to admit that when I was in high school in Nashville, thinking we were in country music land or something. Probably one of the bigger bands I connected with early on was R.E.M. when I was a freshman in high school. I mean, they’re a southern band, too. And, also, moving to Asheville, I really was getting into a lot of southern, like, country blues, and ragtime guitar players and that kind of thing. A lot of those people were from around that area, you know, like Doc Watson lived close by and Etta Baker lived in Morganton. I went to her house one time and sat down in her living room and played guitar with her. You know, that kind of thing was just really huge for my guitar playing and also, I think, my songwriting, for the stuff I’m doing as a solo artist. It’s pretty heavily influenced by that kind of music.

(N): Nice. That leads into another question of mine. If you could pick one artist or band that has had the biggest influence on your career, who would you say that is and why?

(T): Oh man, wow. That’s a huge question.

(N): Yeah, that may be a little unfair.

(T): Yeah, I don’t know if I could pick one because it was, and still is, an ever-evolving thing where, you know, I’ll hear somebody new and really latch onto what they’re doing and I could name a bunch of them over the years and they influenced me heavily at certain times and whoever that would be would kind of fade into the background a little bit and then I’d see something new. It’s always somebody new.

(N): Would you consider Band of Horses a Southern band?

(T): You know, I think I would. Because Ben was from South Carolina and his family is, I guess, all from Georgia and that’s what he was raised in, you know, in the South. And then, I guess moving out to Seattle was the catalyst for him getting involved in music, and, you know, starting his own band with Band of Horses. And, you know, I think, when I first heard them, I didn’t associate it with that. I didn’t really know his background. The first time I saw them, I knew they were from Seattle, and that’s where they had come from. But, hearing the records now and knowing everybody involved, I’m sure it’s a strong influence on everybody.

(N): I know that Glyn Johns produced Band of Horses’ newest album “Mirage Rock.”

(T): Yeah

(N): What was that like? He’s a legend in the business. How did that come to fruition?

(T): Well, he has worked with Ryan Adams and our management company works with him. They made his last record, “Ashes and Fire.” We were trying to figure out who the producer was going to be and our management brought up the possibility of working with him and everyone got excited about that. Suddenly, he’s coming to see us play and we got to meet him and hang out, just trying to check out what we do live to see if he wanted to work with us, and us doing the same thing, seeing how it would be to hang out with him. And we hit it off really well. And I think it was, leading up to the studio time it was really intimidating, just because we didn’t know how he was going to operate in the studio, we didn’t know what it was going to be like, to go in there and record the way he does records. The second we got in there, he was really comfortable, and easy, very encouraging, and very easy to work with. So, it all worked out.

(N): Doesn’t he have a recording process where it’s all analog?

(T): Yeah, for sure. There was no computer involved in the making of the record. There were no monitors in the control room. It was all going to tape. He’s got his way of doing it that he’s chosen for a long time and that’s what he still does. He knows what to do to make that kind of analog, that kind of classic record, because he made those records that we all listen to and admire so much.

(N): Right.

(T): It was definitely a different experience. It was a beautiful thing. I think, even the fact, that there weren’t these squiggly lines on the screen in front of you, you hear the music a little bit more rather than staring at information on a screen. It’s a really interesting thing.

(N): You wrote “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone” and then you also co-wrote “Shut-in Tourist” and “Heartbreak on the 101.” By the way, I’ve got all your albums but this one I like especially. “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone” is a really pretty song and I really like the lyrics. Can you talk about it?

(T): You know, I don’t. I’m still trying to figure that one out.ha ha. It’s hard to really say. I’m a fan of letting people come up with their own meanings of songs. I think that’s why people connect with music and particular songs. I don’t think it’s a very abstract thing. I think it’s a pretty clear song, lyrically. It’s not mysterious in any way. That’s a really vague answer to the question, ha ha.

(N): Yeah, I tend to over-analyze things sometimes. I recently read this interview with Joss Whedon where he talked about the importance of a creative shift rather than a vacation to re-energize, that it’s necessary for artists to pursue different creative outlets. Would you say that’s what you’re doing with your solo career and Band of Horses. Is you solo work kind of a way for you to have a creative outlet you don’t necessarily get with the band?

(T): I don’t know about that, really. I mean, I definitely agree with that statement, that you have to, rather than completely shut everything down and go to the beach and sip margaritas for a couple of weeks, it is a good idea to take artistic energy and focus on something else. I’m a big Joni Mitchell fan and I know she has that balance with songwriting, uh, you know, like, I think I heard an interview where she would paint instead of writing songs to keep her from hating it. I always thought that that was a really important thing, to have some alternate creative outlet. I think I’m always trying to just write the song. There’s no shelter in trying to write one for myself or one for the band. It’s always something I just feel like I need to do.

(N): Last question. What can we expect from your show on Friday night?

(T): Well, we’ve been trying to incorporate songs from all of the records, really, and trying to make sure the set is really, you know, kind of takes you through what we’ve done and what they’ve done in the band from the beginning and hopefully, anybody who comes through the door, whether their fans of the first record or the new one. We’re just trying to really play all of the songs we can from all of the records and have as much fun as possible. Maybe pull out a few songs we haven’t played in a while. Keep ourselves on our toes, in a way. We don’t like to get too comfortable.

(N): Tyler, thank you so much for your time.

(T): Awesome. Thank you so much.

Updated at 10:09 a.m. on 10/12/2012 to clarify a sentence.