Interview: A Thousand Horses Are Ready for Their Country Music Debut
A Thousand Horses are set to release their debut album, Southernality, on June 9, with Big Machine Label Group. The group independently released a self-titled EP in 2010, and, rather than spending the last few years pursuing a record deal, they decided to make their own music on their own terms -- which is exactly when fate stepped in.
"We came off the road and got the money we had together to go in and make an album on our own, with [producer] Dave Cobb," lead singer Michael Hobby tells The Boot. "We called him and said, 'Hey man, we don't have any money for this, but this is what we have. Can we make an album?'"
Cobb graciously offered to record the new project in his home studio, allowing A Thousand Horses -- Hobby, guitarists Bill Satcher and Zach Brown and bassist Graham DeLoach, plus their five-piece band, which includes three soulful female backup singers -- to make precisely the album they wanted to make within the budget they had. The end result earned the attention of Jimmy Harnen, executive vice president of BMLG and president of the group's Republic Nashville label, who offered the band a record deal.
"I think that we have that Southern rock side of us, musically especially," Brown says. "And I think we always have written songs that tell stories, and that's bringing the country into it. It came naturally to us.
"We kind of had a regrouping period after that first EP, figuring out, without any outside influences, who we were as a band. What are we? What comes out of us naturally," he adds. "Some of the early songs [for Southernality], "Tennessee Whiskey," "Landslide," "Heaven Is Close," those are some of the songs that came out of that time period."
Adds Hobby, "We've all been influenced by what we grew up listening to. I had older brothers, so I was engulfed in different styles and genres of music, from my first concert being Alan Jackson, to my first Black Crowes record I got, to my brother bringing home the Cranberries' album. I think that goes for all of us. Mixing those influences into the music that comes out of us now shows a testament to all that we listened to growing up."
But for insight into the 13-song Southernality, the band says you need look no further than its title track.
"It's a combination of two words: 'southern' and 'personality,'" Satcher explains. "The song itself is a feel-good song. It's a fun track. It plays off some Southern stereotypes, like 'yes ma'am' and sweet tea. It's all in good spirit. I think we chose to name the album after that song because, in some way, it sums the whole thing up."
Still, they all concede that narrowing down the songs for Southernality was a formidable undertaking.
"Sometimes, it's like trying to pick your favorite child in certain ways," Hobby says. "We collectively as a band kind of decide what we want to do song-wise. Everyone's got to be on board with whatever song we go in and cut for an album. It's always a tough situation. You're always trying to write a better song, beat another song, that you end up putting your album together."
The project's lead single, "Smoke," just became A Thousand Horses' first No. 1 song, on both the Mediabase and Billboard Country Airplay charts, making them the first new act of 2015 to earn that top spot.
""Smoke" was one of the last songs written," Hobby recalls. "I wrote it two days before we went in and cut. I got the demo that night, and I was really excited about it, so I sent it to all the guys. The next day they were like, 'We need to put this song on the record,' because it felt like a special song.
"You never have any expectations of a song, how well it will do," he adds. "But, we just all liked it. We wanted to play it; we wanted to cut it."
Adds Brown, "I think it tells the story. For me, it's one of my favorite stories on the album. I love the metaphor and all of that. I think it's something that people can relate to. I think a lot of people have had relationships like that."
Although there's been a five-year gap between projects, A Thousand Horses certainly haven't been idle. In fact, they've spent most of that time on the road, keeping fans all over the country entertained.
"I think one of the coolest things is, we've always been a touring band, since the very beginning," Brown notes. "That's our thing, playing live. So all the years that we've been writing the songs for this album, we've also been on the road; we've been playing shows around the country."
"Very nice of him to invite us out," Hobby says. "This is our first big summer tour with a package like that, with Brett Eldredge and Brothers Osborne. It's going to be a lot of fun, and we can't wait."
And while they spend most of their time together on the road, the four guys insist that they also spend time together when they're off the road.
"We get picked on by other bands about that all the time," Hobby maintains. "We'll get off the road -- it doesn't matter how long we were out together -- get home and kind of hang out for a little while, and then it's always, someone always texts somebody on the chain, 'Hey man, what are you doing?' We'll all go to dinner with our wives and girlfriends -- go grill out at a buddy's house. We hang out when we're off the road."
A Thousand Horses, Southernality Track Listing:
1. "First Time"
2. "Heaven Is Close"
4. "Travelin' Man"
5. "Tennessee Whiskey"
6. "Sunday Morning"
8. "(This Ain t No) Drunk Dial"
10. "Back to Me"
11. "Trailer Trashed"
12. "Hell on My Heart"
13. "Where I'm Goin'"
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