For Ryan Monroe, the multi-instrumentalist for Band of Horses, October can’t come soon enough. The band will embark on The Railroad Revival Tour, a unique eight-city tour that’s based around a group of artists boarding 16 railroad cars and traveling from the South to Northern California, stopping to play in parks, parking lots and open fields along the way that serve as pop-up one-off venues. The artists with Band of Horses, though, are Willie Nelson, John C. Reilly and Jamie Johnson. “It’s pretty much the most exciting thing we could possibly imagine”, he beams.
Calling from a tour stop in Detroit where they are on tour with My Morning Jacket, Monroe talks about the band’s new album, Mirage Rock – the follow-up to their Grammy-nominated 2010 album, Infinite Arms, piracy concerns – or lack thereof, and his solo album, A Painting of a Painting on Fire.
ScoreBoard: You seem to have the greatest kind of success, based on word of mouth, touring and making great music. That must be a nice feeling.
Ryan Monroe: I appreciate you saying that. Everything’s great, man. We couldn’t be happier. We’re enjoying each other’s company and playing some new songs for the fans.
ScoreBoard: People that have heard the new songs live have been buzzing about the new album. How is this one different?
RM: Well, pretty much any difference you can think of is there on this one. The last one was a very surgical process. It took us a year and a half to do it. We produced it ourselves, did it on Pro Tools, did a lot of overdubs and did lots of thinking about it. This one we got a producer, Glyn Johns [Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin], who I’m sure you’ve heard of. There were no computers in sight. We did it all to tape, we were all in the same room playing, so it’s definitely the most raw recording that we’ve done ever. The next one could be more like Infinite Arms or it could be more like this but we’re really excited about getting in there and recording the songs the way we play them live. When you hear them live they’ll resemble the record quite a bit because that’s how we did them. Glyn saw us play live and he said, “That’s what we need to get on tape right there.” He was really surprised that we were more of a rock band. I guess he heard the records and thought we were a little more chilled out or something. He wanted to capture that energy on tape.
ScoreBoard: You probably didn’t expect that experience with a producer of his caliber, did you?
RM: He was super laid back about the whole thing. He was listening for the energy of the song. His idea was to get a song a day done and you come in and play him the song we would record. Basically I got the impression that if you couldn’t play the song on an acoustic guitar with one person, it wasn’t worth recording. It got Ben [Bridwell, singer] out of his comfort zone. As it turns out, a lot of the songs can survive just one dude and a guitar, so there you go. [Laughs] The last album leaned on certain parts – it was like a puzzle. This is just a more stripped-down rock and roll record. He wasn’t really concerned about the flawless performance. So we would play the same song 30 times in a row until we got the energy he wanted and I came in and told him, “I messed up. I think I flubbed a guitar note.” And he’s like [in a British accent], “No one’s worried about your one guitar note – it’s rock and roll!” [Laughs] So we’re like, “OK, man, if it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for us.”
ScoreBoard: Does that make your job easier live?
RM: Yeah, when we were rehearsing the tour for Infinite Arms, we were listening to the record and I was trying to figure out what parts and nuances were expendable. What’s the most important part? Should I play the stringed part on an acoustic? There was none of that for this. There was no guesswork. Everyone had their parts. There’s no decision making. [Laughs]
ScoreBoard: This Railroad Revival Tour is going to be quite an experience.
RM: Yeah, we’re going to be on a 25-car train with Willie Nelson, John C. Reilly and Jaime Johnson and from what I hear, some of the train cars are going to be designated as recording studio cars, party cars, restaurant cars…like a traveling circus, man. Basically we’re going to be on a railroad track from Duluth, Georgia to Oakland. With the exception of Memphis and New Orleans, we’re going to be in smaller towns that aren’t used to getting big rock shows, so we’re going to pull up in a train depot,
set up a stage and hop back on the train and go to the next venue with Willie Nelson. When Willie comes calling, you do whatever.
ScoreBoard: Being on a train with Willie seems worth it in itself.
RM: Yeah, man, I’m seeing flyers online and it looks like one of our friends Photoshopped our name on there. It doesn’t seem real. It’s awesome.
ScoreBoard: Had you spent any time with him before?
RM: Yeah, we actually played with him at his favorite little bar in Maui (Charley’s). It’s a cool little dive bar. We actually went to his house the night before and played poker with Woody Harrelson and a bunch of people from his crew. We had quite a nice [pause] relaxing time. [Laughs]
ScoreBoard: With the new album out, are you worried about the growing piracy concerns with most albums out there on torrents for free?
RM: It’s something we don’t really worry about because it seems to be such a common thing. It’s hard to win that battle. I’ve heard Jim James [My Morning Jacket] talk about this and he put it best, like, “You know, if you can’t afford it, steal it. If you can, buy it. We have to get back on the honors system.” I really like that idea. We want you to like the music but if you honestly cannot afford it and you can grab it, grab it. If you can afford it, don’t be a dick and just pay for it. That’s how we make a large part of being able to put it back into making another record. If you stream it somewhere and like it, pay for it. You can spend your money on a lot worse shit than music. I couldn’t justify not paying for a record if I could afford it because it would make me feel good giving the money because hopefully they’ll continue making records I like.
ScoreBoard: And then there’s your solo record, which I suppose is also out there for free somewhere.
RM: I’m kind of excited that there are a lot of torrents where people are grabbing the record. It’s kind of a hobby for me and I’m basically just trying to get my music out there. It’s a side thing and I’m going to lose money on it either way so I’m kind of stoked that people even care to put it out there. But it was fun and hopefully I can put out another one. All of us are always writing stuff in hotel rooms and playing stupid songs to make each other laugh and some of them actually turn out to be cool songs. Some of them fit the Band of Horses thing and some of them don’t, so we’ll throw them on a different record. Why not?
ScoreBoard: Tyler [Ramsey, guitarist] has been doing solo sets opening the shows. Will we see you do that?
RM: Oh, man…you know how we were talking about Infinite Arms and how some parts relied on each other things? The songs on my solo record – I could only play half of them on an acoustic guitar. I’d need to be an octopus to pull some of them off. But yeah, I’d do it but I wouldn’t because Tyler would open the shows. It’s just a side thing. I just made a bunch of songs and put them out there. I’m not trying to get out there.
ScoreBoard: None of you seem to be. In fact, there’s very little about the band personally and individually out there.
RM: I think there’s something to be said about trying to keep some sort of mystique in rock. We really don’t plan it that way. If you like the music, you like the music. We wouldn’t want you to like the music because you like this person. We’re just musicians. Sometimes we put little nuggets out there but that’s usually the management’s idea, which is great. Everybody [with us] is awesome. So we’ll do a radio thing here and there. We’re trying to get our music out there and that’s the most important thing. And, you know, we all like each other. We’re like a family.
ScoreBoard: With such a variety of songs to pull from now, what kind of set list will we hear on the railroad tour?
RM: It’s kind of interesting. It’s different every night. We like to change it up. It makes Ben’s job more difficult with so many songs so he’ll probably be pulling his hair out eight stops down the line. I think a lot of the new record will appeal to Willie’s crowd because it’s more down home rock and roll stuff. But we’re excited – we’re already excited about making the next record.
For more information, check out BandOfHorses.com and RyanMonroeMusic.com.