When Rolling Stone Country hailed A Thousand Horses as the best up-and-comer at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, it was the latest in a whole series of accolades that got the band even more fired up.
A Thousand Horses is a fresh fusion of classic sounds – a hybrid of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Black Crowes and Exile on Main Street-era Rolling Stones, wrapped up in a modern-country context. The band’s Republic Nashville album, Southernality, is as wild and free and powerful as the name A Thousand Horses implies. This is the result of years of a road-doggin’ pursuit, determination and an against-the-odds struggle that found its rewards by bringing great music to the people.
“This is the life we all love and have chosen,” says guitarist Zach Brown (no, not that Zac Brown – this Zach Brown). A lot of people have taken notice of what A Thousand Horses is doing. There’s the Rolling Stone Country review, there’s an allegiance of fans in towns all around the South who’ve been digging on them for the past four years, and there’s been many in the Nashville music community who’ve been more than enthusiastic from their first listen. First on board was record producer Dave Cobb (Jamey Johnson, Jason Isbell), who was willing to work for free during the band’s lean years, just to be a part of it. Then came top-shelf booking agency CAA (Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Brantley Gilbert), who found an increasingly steady supply of clubs and bars to keep them on the road. Concurrently McGhee Entertainment Management (Kiss, Darius Rucker) bought in.
Finally, A Thousand Horses benefited when Scott McGhee played the music for Republic Nashville president Jimmy Harnen. On one listen, Harnen was blown away by the number of great songs he heard. He enthusiastically shared the music with Big Machine Label Group President and CEO, Scott Borchetta, and they signed A Thousand Horses to the same label as Florida Georgia Line, The Band Perry and Eli Young Band.
“Big Machine Label Group is arguably the best in the business and we were thrilled that they were so excited about the music and our band,” says Brown.
Michael Hobby is a passionate frontman whose vocal style underscores the gut-level commitment he makes to the music. Bill Satcher and Zach Brown add honest, blues-fueled guitars that layer sweat and soul on top, while bass player Graham Deloach drives a steady, firm foundation underneath it all.
Three “boho-chic backup singers” – as Rolling Stone Country referred to Kristen Rogers, Whitney Coleman and Brianne Angarole – round out the nine-piece band with a Southern Gospel/R&B authenticity and confidence.
“They’re such soulful singers that add so much to our sound, in the studio and on the road,” comments Satcher.
The back story on how A Thousand Horses came together isn’t all that different from the story of Alabama, a country band that defied genre convention when it introduced Skynyrd and Creedence Clearwater Revival influences in another era. Satcher and Hobby went to high school together in Newberry, South Carolina, and Satcher’s cousin, Deloach, dropped in from Savannah, Georgia, every summer. All three musicians bonded, and they began playing random dates. A friend eventually introduced them to Brown – who hails from Lawrenceville, Georgia – and A Thousand Horses became a full-fledged band.
They moved into a house together, started rehearsing and working their asses off to find a place to play. “We’d find clubs and contacts any way we could and call them week after week,” Hobby says. “Finally somebody would bite, and you’d get a gig in Florida, and we’d drive 12 hours to play for anybody who would listen.”
There were signs that A Thousand Horses was special, though one of those early gifts also tested the band’s endurance. Songwriter Desmond Child (Bon Jovi, Aerosmith) was friends with Hobby, and through a chain of contacts, they got an unexpected call from Interscope.
“It was like something you see in a movie from 1985,” Satcher says.
They played two showcases for the label in Nashville, got signed and soon had a recording deal, a manager and a booking agent.
“It was random as shit,” Hobby says. “You couldn’t write it in a book.”
Just as randomly, it disappeared in less than a year. Before any music could ever be released, they lost the deal. The manager and booking agent bowed out, too. As a result, the four horsemen found themselves with lots of questions. Who were they? Why were they together? Was that all there was?
“We took that entire summer off,” Deloach reflects. “We didn’t really play, we didn’t write. We just had to take it all in.”
In the midst of that period came another random offer to put one of their songs, “Suicide Eyes,” on the soundtrack to the remake of Footloose. It was enough to convince them to keep going. The musical direction they would pursue was unclear at first – the band’s collective backgrounds ranged from classic rock to traditional country to punk to old-school R&B. But their common ground was Southern rock, and they put the focus on regional inspirations – the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band – as they plowed ahead without any outside intervention.
“We were writing songs again by ourselves, and it was 100% our vision,” Satcher remembers. “We discovered ourselves all over again.”
Their identity is truly branded in the marshes and Bermuda grass of the region where they grew up. There’s a reason they call their album Southernality.
Whether it’s the Stonesy swagger of the opening “First Time,” the heart-felt country of “Tennessee Whiskey” or the thumping celebration, “Trailer Trashed,” the band has delivered an album that reflects the rebellion, attitude and heart that both the youth and working men and women of America live every day.