Hard-core classic rock fans know the name Glyn Johns. The veteran studio producer and engineer had his hands on the mixing boards for the Steve Miller Band’s Sailor, Eric Clapton’s Slowhand, the Who’s Who’s Next and Quadrophenia, and, most impressive of all, the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. So it shouldn’t come as a shock to hear that the Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell couldn’t believe his luck when this Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame producer agreed to take on the Lowcountry act’s latest album, Mirage Rock. But Johns’ presence at the helm was certainly intimidating.
“Glyn scared the crap out of me at first, but he really helped me out a lot,” Bridwell says. “I went to go woodshed some new stuff in the Smokies, and I listened to some of Glyn’s big-rock records on the way up there. It really stymied me. It seemed like a lot of pressure trying to show him songs and trying to write new ones to adapt to some things he was talking about.”
During the production process of Band of Horses’ previous albums, Bridwell was the man in charge, the bandleader who called most of the shots and made most of the final decisions. Once the band’s lineup solidified around the time of 2010’s Infinite Arms, the situation became slightly more collaborative. This time, however, Bridwell dropped his captain’s hat, let his guard down, and took Johns’ suggestions honestly and sincerely.
“Glyn checked the songs out and started showing me where my little songwriting trappings were,” Bridwell says. “I wouldn’t know a bridge if I had to swim across water, and little things like that that I never notice. You know, I can take criticism really well, actually, and coming from Glyn’s pedigree, you have to listen to him with closer ears. But you also can’t help but think, ‘Well, I’ve gotten this far on my own without someone telling me these things.’ You don’t really want to reinvent your own wheel and completely put everybody off.”
Fortunately, the first few weeks recording with Johns at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles went smoother than Bridwell expected, with Johns and the Band of Horses bandleader developing a strong rapport.
“Glyn encouraged me to keep a lot of song ideas for when we could all get together in a room as a full band,” Bridwell says. “He also forced me to break out an acoustic guitar before we ever went into the tracking room and play these songs in front of him and all the band members so we could pick them apart then. I’d always been reluctant to play guitar like that in front of my bandmates, my best friends. I guess I’d always been a little timid and shy when it comes to my playing and songwriting. Glyn was clutch, man. He reinvented how we work together as a band. Now, I can’t imagine not doing things this way.”
Previously, the only producer that Bridwell and his bandmates — drummer Creighton Barrett, bassist Bill Reynolds, lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey, and keyboardist Ryan Monroe — have worked with was Phil Ek, the Seattle-based studio wiz behind the band’s 2005’s Everything All the Time, 2007’s Cease to Begin, and Infinite Arms.
“With the band only working with one previous producer [Ek], it was definitely out of our comfort zone to go in a new direction with Glyn,” Bridwell says. “It seemed to be the right time to challenge ourselves in a new way. We got lucky with Glyn.”
A sneak preview listen of Mirage Rock, which will be released on Sept. 17, shows that Johns has captured the two sides of the band’s personality — the full-on, three-guitar rampaging rockers and the moody, atmospheric, piano-driven ballads. It’s an impressive collection of power chords, chiming riffs, thumping rhythms, and anthemic lyrics.
“The album title describes the whole thing that is Band of Horses,” Bridwell says. “It sounds good from a distance, and then you get close and realize nothing’s really there. The lead single ‘Knock Knock’ is actually the least similar to the other ones. It’s the most poppy one. The rest of it definitely has some of the same maudlin sadness here and there, but not as much as on the first records. There’s more rock ‘n’ roll than just rock.”