NEW YORK (Reuters) - After two successful albums, South Carolina-based country rock group Band of Horses were riding high and, by all estimates, should have had an easy time finding money to make their third record.
But the band's members broke with tradition and decided against using music label cash in order to retain control over the rights to their songs, opting to fund the record themselves by licensing their previous records for corporate marketing -- an act some music purists consider is "selling out."
The result: it nearly left them broke, but it did produce their new "Infinite Arms," which hit record stores last week in a solid debut.
"The record was expensive and it did put me in some rough spots here and there," Band of Horses founder Ben Bridwell, told Reuters. "Sometimes people can catch flack for licensing songs and stuff, but if we weren't doing that, I wouldn't be able to fund this record. I got low, but was never about to go pawn my guitars."
That's a good thing for the band and its fans.
This week, "Infinite Arms" debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and in one week has sold 45,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The number more than doubles 2007's "Cease to Begin" first week sales of 21,000.
To date, Band of Horses best-selling album has been 2006's "Everything All the Time," with a total 193,000 copies to date. "Cease to Begin" is close behind at 189,000.
Formed in 2004, Bridwell's group has garnered a loyal following in the United States by tapping audiences who've enjoyed the recent tide of southern rock influenced acts such as Kings of Leon and My Morning Jacket.
While bandmembers have changed a few times since the group's first two albums, Band of Horses has settled into a five-piece unit centered around Bridwell's high vocal range, a distinction that brings comparisons to Neil Young.
"Infinite Arms" features 12 songs with a more layered approach to songwriting, as opposed to the more immediate and upbeat country rock tunes of their past.
Slower, more melodic songs like "Bartles & James" and "Evening Kitchen" find the band relying less on electric guitars and shifting to pianos and acoustic instruments.
"That's a good example of us being in the process and not having anyone to blow the whistle on us," said Bridwell. "The arrangements are deeper on this one."
To achieve the new sound, Bridwell isolated himself from the world, instead of working with his bandmates in a studio. The group's members recorded their own demo tracks. Then, they e-mailed songs back and forth to each other, fleshing out the tunes over time and distance.
"I have to get away from civilization," Bridwell said. "I'll get a cabin somewhere. I have to make sure I'm truly isolated and no one can hear me whining at the top of my lungs."
And now, with the first week success of "Infinite Arms" and dates opening for major acts such as Pearl Jam and Snow Patrol, Bridwell and his bandmates appear poised to leave their days of struggling to get albums made behind them.
This summer, they are touring through Great Britain, headlining clubs and major music festivals in Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and United States.
"It's funny, I've had to start thinking of lately because most people are asking me" about it, Bridwell said. "I don't have a good answer...I've been lucky to fall into this band, and to get as far as we have is mind-blowing. If I thought about it too hard, maybe it'd be detrimental."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte