There’s, like, over a thousand songs written in Nashville every day,” enthuses Bill Satcher, guitarist with A Thousand Horses. “There’s a lot of really great music going on. I don’t know what it is, maybe there’s something in the river here…”
Indeed, since moving to America’s capital of rootsy rock’n’roll this gaggle of denim, hats and hair have done their bit to contribute.
A Thousand Horses are cut from the same cloth as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers, but they appeal to under-30s as well. Their 2015 single Smoke shot to No.1 in the US Country Airplay and Canadian Billboard charts, and racked up the number of YouTube hits usually reserved for pop stars. Debut album Southernality entered the Top Country Album chart at No.3, with tracks such as the lovable singalong This Ain’t No Drunk Dial and First Time bringing gloriously old-fashioned tropes of girls and whiskey to youths and old-timers alike.
As Satcher and singer/guitarist Michael Hobby tell us, their new album Bridges was written largely on the road, which has been their main home for the last two years. It builds on their blend of classic southern rock and contemporary flair, and brings a layer of matured depth.
“I think as a whole it’s like a reflection,” Satcher says. “Each song is definitely like a snapshot of our lives. And sonically we were trying to experiment. We know what we do well, but we still wanted to move forward as a band. We love these songs, they’re some of the best we’ve written so far.”
The band have been enamoured with the whole creative process since the beginning, and Hobby doesn’t see this changing any time soon.
“When I got my first guitar I fell in love with it totally,” he says. “I fell in love with writing songs, coming up with ideas, making shit up… I was going to concerts all the time, seeing bands, and you’d go home and practise, feeling inspired. That kind of never stopped.”
To fully understand A Thousand Horses you have to go back to Newberry, South Carolina, where Hobby and Satcher met as 14-year-olds in the local music shop. This small town in the heart of the southern Bible Belt might not have the musical kudos of country capital Nashville, but it quietly holds its own.
“Newberry is a very small town but it has an incredible music scene,” Satcher enthuses. “The guy that owned the music store had multiple open-mic nights a week, there was music in bars and coffee shops around town, around the little downtown square… and on Friday night there was this jam in the square where everybody would sit outside and go round and play songs.”
“And there was an opera house, a small theatre which seats four hundred people,” adds Hobby. “We were able to see people like The Temptations coming through every year. So it was a big help. That and getting out and performing at a very young age.”
The two friends made their live debut together in a local ‘battle of the bands’ competition, where they came first and won a thousand dollars (not horses… sorry).
“It was the first set of songs that we ever wrote,” Hobby remembers. “We went through every round and ended up winning the whole thing, and the local rock radio station played it. It was great, it was a really good thing for us.”
It also helped that they’d grown up in music-loving families. For Hobby, who was raised on a farm out in the sticks, a mile or so from a large Baptist church (“You put on your Sunday best, you were there every Sunday no matter what”), it was his elder brothers’ rock, country and hip-hop records that set his musical tastes in motion. His second-cousins, Chris and Rich Robinson, of Black Crowes fame, were an influence as well.
“When I was younger I’d go to Black Crowes shows all the time, that was really cool,” Hobby recalls. “And then the older we got we’d jam together.”
Their relationship grew as A Thousand Horses came into being; Crowes-esque qualities continue to feed into their songs, and Rich Robinson even co-wrote the track Sunday Morning for the Horses’ debut album.
“We set up in a church in Nashville that had been converted into a recording studio,” Satcher explains, “and we just went in there for three days and jammed and sat around and talked about lyrical ideas, and came up with Sunday Morning.”
Satcher, meanwhile, grew up in a house full of Beatles records and Led Zeppelin and other classic rock staples, as well as a healthy dose of records by singer-songwriters such as James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.
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“I’ve always loved bands,” he says simply. “I’ve been listening to The Beatles since before I can remember. And my dad was a huge music fan. He never played or anything, but we always had a ton of albums in the house of all kinds of genres. But I’ve always been drawn to bands, so when I started playing guitar that’s what I wanted to do. It looked like fun.”
Ultimately, however, Newberry had its limits. In 2005, Satcher and Hobby, straight out of high school, moved to Nashville, and there Satcher’s cousin Graham DeLoach joined them on bass, followed by Zach Brown (not Zac Brown) on guitar. By 2010 they were officially a band, with this core foursome taking on the bulk of hard touring, joined gradually over the years by the ensemble – backing singers, a drummer, fiddle and keyboard players – that we’ve seen on stage. Lengthy, earlier runs when they slept in vans and strangers’ houses because they couldn’t afford hotel rooms were all part of the ride.
“We toured with Blackberry Smoke, we did a run of shows with Gregg Allman which was like a dream come true…” Hobby says.
On a slightly less ‘rock’ but undoubtedly successful note, A Thousand Horse had a song featured in the 2011 film Footloose. “We went to the premiere. That was fun,” Hobby remembers. “That was one of our first big breaks.”
hese days the four main Horses are all married, but back in those earlier days the band’s house was something of a hangout for local rock upstarts.
“We had a garage, we rehearsed there, and The Cadillac Three would come over and rehearse in our house when we weren’t there,” Satcher remembers. “It was awesome.”
They’re still firm friends with The Cadillac Three – frontman Jaren Johnston and drummer Neil Mason co-wrote new song Weekends In A Small Town with Hobby – as well as with fellow new-generation Nashvillians the Brothers Osborne and southern compadres Blackberry Smoke. It’s a thriving community, the team spirit of which seems to streamline into ATH’s shows – joyous nights of southern charisma and infectious tunes.
“Nashville’s a songwriters’ town, y’know,” Satcher says in agreement, “there’s a great songwriting community there. But there’s also a lot of incredible young artists and writers. It’s a really exciting town to be a part of, seeing art being created around you every day.”
“It’s the power of it [live music],” Hobby enthuses. “It can inspire you no matter what stage you’re at in your life.”
Bridges is out now via Big Machine Label Group.