NEW YORK (Billboard) - When Band of Horses’ deal with Seattle indie label Sub Pop came to an end, its members found themselves with a familiar dilemma and two choices.
Some of their peers, Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie among them, had chosen the major-label route — a path that promised more resources but could result in backlash from fans and the risk of getting lost in the major-label shuffle. Others, like the Thermals and the Shins, chose to remain on indies, keeping their cred intact but limiting their chances of mainstream success. Band of Horses split the difference and signed to both an indie and a major. The rock act’s new album, “Infinite Arms,” will be released Tuesday (May 18) on Brown/Fat Possum/Columbia.
“When we started recording, we didn’t have a deal,” says lead singer Ben Bridwell, who also founded and runs Brown Records. “As we got to the point where we were doing overdubs in L.A., we started inviting people to hear the songs.”
One of those lucky few who heard the tracks was Fat Possum Records founder Matthew Johnson. “I was a fan of the band, and I got introduced to them last October,” he says. “I liked the fact that after they made records in Seattle, they hauled ass back to South Carolina and were hanging out getting drunk with their friends at the furniture factory. We definitely bonded over drinking in the morning.”
For his part, Bridwell says he felt “a kinship” with Johnson and also appreciated the fact that Fat Possum has strong relationships with indie retailers. But he also knew that a major could provide other benefits and struck a deal with Columbia, too.
“This situation is really the best of all worlds,” says Ed Alexander, the band’s product manager at Columbia. “We are all working together, but each using our areas of expertise to make sure the band does well.”
Johnson says Fat Possum will focus on distributing the deluxe boxed-set version of the album, which will feature both CD and vinyl copies of the record as well as photo prints by longtime band collaborator Christopher Wilson. The set will be exclusive to indie retail stores. Alexander says Fat Possum will help promote the record to college radio. Columbia will concentrate on NPR, adult alternative album and modern rock stations.
“Infinite Arms” will also be stocked at Starbucks stores nationwide. If the experience of former labelmates Fleet Foxes is any indication, the coffee chain should help drive sales — in the case of the Foxes, sales of their self-titled debut rose 149 percent the week the album became available at Starbucks, sending it up nearly 100 places on the Billboard 200 chart.
Alexander says the band has licensed three songs to the season finale of NBC’s “Chuck” and adds that more deals are likely forthcoming. “Music supervisors love them,” he says, noting that the song “The Funeral,” from the band’s first album, appeared in a Ford Edge ad as well as numerous films and TV shows. “They certainly don’t take everything, but they are willing to consider offers.”
The supervisors and fans who loved the band’s simple, honest, Americana sound won’t be disappointed with the new album. Much like the group’s two previous efforts, the songs are primarily driven by smart, sentimental lyrics, although the band isn’t afraid to deploy a strategic string section or sweeping solo here and there.
“The album is our most collaborative effort by far,” Bridwell says. “It’s not a one-man show anymore. Other people are taking on vocal and songwriting duties. And while we started working with Phil Ek, who had produced our previous albums, we wound up taking the reins from him and producing it ourselves.”
The band is currently opening for Pearl Jam, an experience Bridwell describes as “exciting and nerve-racking. We’ve played big festival stages before, but the shows on this tour are the biggest indoor spaces we’ve ever played.” After a month with Pearl Jam, Bridwell says he expects to spend the rest of the summer touring.
“I see them going in the direction of Tom Petty or Neil Young,” Alexander says. “They’re not just another indie band anymore. They can reach an older audience and a different audience and still keep their core base.”