We all love guitars here at Rock Band, so we have to cheer the rise of a band with a mighty three-guitar frontline. Hailing from Seattle, Band of Horses have become one of the underground’s most-praised bands, with edgy songwriting for the alternative crowd, classic-rock overtones for the geezers, and energized guitar workouts for everybody. The band’s recent tour brought them to the Hollywood Bowl and to Carnegie Hall, where they played on Valentine’s eve before heading to a month’s worth of European dates.
The latest addition to the lineup is guitarist Taylor Ramsay, who was fast promoted from opening act to extra guitarist to full-time band member. Ramsey brings slightly different reference points to the group: As a soloist he’s rooted in traditional folk and country blues; and he grew up playing mainly acoustic guitar. On tour he plays an opening set of traditionally-based guitar—and somehow gets the club audiences to quiet down and listen to it—before plugging in with the Horses. His solo debut,. A long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea, was released to tie in with the tour.
We recently chatted to him from his North Carolina home, soon before hitting the road.
Q: Have you had any experience with Rock Band?
A: You know, I did pick up one of those guitars and it turned out I’m not very good at it. Other than getting the rhythm thing down, I couldn’t go much further. But I’m looking at your site right now and it looks pretty cool.
Q: I believe you grew up listening to people like Leo Kottke and John Fahey, guys who played acoustic and had a pretty idiosyncratic approach. Were those the kind of people who insired you to pick up a guitar?
A: I listened to my share of plain old rock music as well. But the people who inspired me to pick up a guitar were the ones you mentioned, people who were really good solo guitar players. And those people are really heroes of mine. I like simplicity and I was interested in what they were doing. When it’s one person playing, the songs seem simple and the complexities are all within that one guitar player. I liked seeing one person take the guitar and make it sound like a band, make it sound like something that could be listened to.
My first guitar was rented and I had it before high school even started.
Q: Did you head in that direction when you first picked up a guitar? Do you remember the first one you played?
A: Yeah, my first guitar was rented and I had it before high school even started. I was learning the same rock songs everybody else was doing and wound up leaving my first guitar teacher. Then I got an acoustic and took it to high school. One day I broke a string and someone fixed it, but they tuned my guitar to this weird open tuning. And I said ‘Wow—This is so cool!’ That led me to all these other weird tunings, and now I use a lot of different ones. It’s good because if you get stuck in a rut on guitar, you can use a tuning that you aren’t super familiar with. And you’re hopefully going to come up with something that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
Q: You’ve been opening Band of Horses shows with a solo acoustic set. It is hard to get a rock-club audience to pay attention to what you’re doing?
A: I’ve had moments with that. But last time around I opened the whole tour and we played to as many as 2600 people in New York—With that size of a crowd it’s hard to get them into you even if you’re a full-on rock band. But I’ve been really impressed with the crowds, I don’t think we’ve had a bad show the whole time—I mean, other than the times I personally thought I could have been playing better. There’s been different groups of people and they’ve responded incredibly well; they’re all there to listen. And I have a lot of electric guitars onstage, so I use those for the solo sets instead of acoustic. There are some distorted moments there.
Q: Have you been able to bring that country-blues influence into Band of Horses now that you’ve joined?
A: I don’t think the character of the band will change very much. I think Ben [leader Ben Bridwell] still has the same focus, and you’ll still hear a lot of different elements in it. The more rocking songs we do, like “No One’s Gonna Love You” and “Marry Song-- Those may be different from what I do solo, but I really enjoy playing them. For the next record we’ll probably all be collaborating on new stuff, and I
Everybody’s saying that commercials are the new radio, and it feels that way to me. The radio doesn’t provide as many opportunities as it used to, but you’re hearing all these success stories that started with being on a commercial of some sort.
Q: Band of Horses had success lately when one of their songs was on a TV commercial. What are your feelings about that?
A: Everybody’s saying that commercials are the new radio, and it feels that way to me. The radio doesn’t provide as many opportunities as it used to, but you’re hearing all these success stories that started with being on a commercial of some sort. Everyone’s going out and buying the record and we’ve had great crowds in every town.
Q: What’s the best thing that’s happened on the road?
A: I got to meet Ron Wood [Rolling Stones guitarist]. We were on the Jools Holland show in England, and Ron was there—They always have a segment in the show where some legendary dude gets interviewed, and it was him that week. And we’d been doing one of his songs with Band of Horses—We’re doing ‘Act Together’ which was on I’ve Got My Own Album To Do, his first solo album before he joined the Stones. He heard we’d been doing that song, and in the middle of the show he tapped me on the shoulder and asked if it was true. So I got to shake his hand—That was great.