Band of Horses’ Bridwell: From street to stage

Courtesy PhotoBringing in the big guns: Band of Horses’ new album “Mirage Rock” was produced by rock veteran Glyn Johns.

Ben Bridwell has come a long way with his folk-rock outfit Band of Horses. The band broke through with its third album    “Infinite Arms” in 2010 (which earned  a Grammy nomination for best alternative album) plus the right to name the producer for the new followup “Mirage Rock.”

Glyn Johns, who worked with the Who, Faces and Beatles,  helped expand the sound in songs such as the arena-friendly “Knock Knock,” the reverb-drenched “How to Live,” the 1960s-jangly “A Little Biblical” and the CSNY-evocative “Dumpster World.”

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But a little over a decade ago, the singer was literally homeless, living on the street.

Bridwell, 34 — who brings his group to Oakland tonight — recalls the difficult times with brutal honesty. He was living in South Carolina when he got into trouble.  

“I burnt down this house, I got thrown in jail — it was a really bad little go for me,” he says. So he headed to Olympia, Wash., then Seattle, where he homesteaded in a moving-van lot.

“They left the doors unlocked at night, so I’d just climb on a truck and sleep in the back with the door cracked,” he says. “Which led to a very interesting morning when the truck I was sleeping on cranked up and threw me out the back, in my sleeping bag with my tape Walkman, right in the middle of morning rush-hour traffic.”

He moved to church steps, procured an ID and a post-office box at a local homeless shelter and found a job before he found an apartment.

“I got hired with my sleeping bag on my back at the Crocodile Café — I got so lucky,” says Bridwell. “They put me in the dish pit, and I worked up to line cook, cocktail server, then bartender. Then I started my own label  and everything just snowballed.”

On “Heartbreak on the 101,” the closing track on “Mirage,” he sings, “It’s cold outside, I need a place to lay/ So I rest beneath the bridge with the friends that I made.”

Now a settled father of two, Bridwell  wants to remember his struggles. He says, “So I initially named the band Horses after the Will Oldham song, because I would listen to that on my Walkman before I went to bed, with its ‘Sleep outside at night and don’t take fright’ line. I wanted to keep my ego in check if things ever did go bonkers. Which they have!”

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