Two weeks ago, Band of Horses released "Whatever, Wherever," the latest in a series of new songs and videos from their fifth LP Why Are You OK, out this Friday. Shot at frontman Ben Bridwell's home in Mt. Pleasant, the video's soft, warm images invite the viewer into a scene that is humble and, well, normal. A blissfully content 38-year-old Bridwell barbecues with his dad while the kids run through a set of sprinklers or jump into the pool. There are bubbles, freshly boiled peanuts, and games of cornhole, and the band — Ryan Monroe, Tyler Ramsey, Bill Reynolds, Creighton Barrett, and Bridwell — jams in the basement studio. It all underlines the simple pleasures of spending time with close friends and family, something the singer cherishes more and more these days.
In fact, Bridwell wrote each track on Why Are You OK in his home's basement studio, a new approach to songwriting for the singer who's embraced his family-man status. Even the album title is taken from the time his four-year-old daughter got a hold of mom's iPhone; the autocorrected phrase that resulted was "Why are you ok," which she then texted to her sister's teacher. For Bridwell, stopping to find the humor in that incident, which he saw as "genius," helped him to zero in on the here and now. It's that sense of being in the moment that essentially informed the whole record. "It's not hard to be a bit emotional or honed into emotions now, having four daughters and a wife and sometimes even a nanny stop by. It's like I'm a serf in the queendom," he says moments before a red-eye flight to Charleston from Los Angeles. "It's funny, I get to live double lives, you know? I go out in my work life, or touring life, and it's like, 'Hey, man want a million cold beers? You want a comfier chair? You want, like, a better hotel room?' And then I get home and it's like, 'Hold these babies, I'm takin' a nap!'"
See? Normal. And it's a life that suits him far better than the one the Irmo native left behind when he traded Charleston for Seattle 20 years ago. Back then, Bridwell worked at Andolini's and Juanita Greenberg's, both formerly on Wentworth Street. He says, "I'd put the pizzas on the handlebars and burritos in the bag and deliver them on my bike." He lived on Nassau Street, where one night he accidentally knocked a candle over and caught the house on fire the same week he was hit by a car while delivering burritos. The same week still, he got arrested after breaking up a fight at Zebo, a former bar at the corner of Wentworth and King streets where BoH drummer Creighton Barrett worked as a line cook. Feeling utterly defeated, Bridwell soon sold his surfboard and boarded a one-way train to Seattle, taking Barrett with him.
Ten years later, they both moved back to the Holy City with very different lives and began to put down roots, start families, find their Southern groove again. Listening to Why Are You OK, it's clear Bridwell's in a great place. "A lot of [the album], I think, is just the navigating of these adult waters," he says. "It seems so fucking dadrock — I don't want to sound like parentcore or whatever — but at the same time I'm secure and so gifted in my life. I've been given a great gift of a healthy, beautiful family and have an occupation where I get to be creative, and I'm so grateful for everything I have ... It might seem like really boring to people on the outside that still get to go around and finger each other or whatever all day and stay out all night in some transcendent fucking coke conversation. [Laughs] Like, enjoy your damn life, but, sorry, there's bigger things out there, man, and that's just not me anymore."
Why Are You OK also came together by way of Grandaddy's Jason Lytle, who Bridwell speaks of as if he too is family. Lytle produced the album despite having no experience other than producing his own records. The two initially met up in an old, converted California water tower-cum-vacation rental to discuss the project. "But we got there, and for two days I didn't play a single damn demo that I'd written. We just listened to other music, talked shop, and talked crap. So by the end of it, I was like, 'Will you do this damn thing or not? If you gotta dip out, I'll understand, and we'll miss the hell outta you, but I hope this fuels your project as we go as well.' And it certainly did," he says of the upcoming Grandaddy record. "He said yes, and it's fueled his project, which is nearing completion as we speak. So we got to co-inspire within that framework, which was actually comfortable for us."
But writing for Why Are You OK was admittedly a challenge for Bridwell, between the desire to be truthful and to protect the precious subject matter that is his family. "I was shying away from that so much that I got into a pit of despair and writer's block," he says. "I didn't even know what the hell to talk about anymore. And I was like, 'Well why don't you start by being damn honest for one, and then maybe you'll get over it. Then you can hide behind metaphors, but don't skip A and go straight to B and C, here,' you know?"
When Bridwell's not busy with Band of Horses, he kicks back and collaborates occasionally with local acts, like Brave Baby and SUSTO. He calls them friends and credits them with helping Bridwell feel even more at home in Charleston. He's encouraged by what they've created. "We happen to be in one of those moments where they've all congregated, and there's some magnet that brought them all together," Bridwell says. "And those moments happen so rarely in any town. We have a scene here. And these humans are such good people, and there's no element of competition involved with what they're doing. They're all a bunch of lovers. That's so inspiring, especially after living in Seattle and seeing the exact opposite, where everyone's pissed off at each other. Here, they're all in it for each other, and they're all doing it together. And that's exactly why Creighton and I moved back down there."