Originally published in the April 6, 2015 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
The concept of horsepower was developed in the 18th century to compare the output of steam engines to draft horses, but it seems a befitting metaphor for A Thousand Horses, a band that uses the building blocks of country, rock and blues to unleash lethal ballads and jammed-up anthems à la their Southern rock predecessors. Lynyrd Skynyrd had horsepower. Marshall Tucker Band? No doubt. The Black Crowes? Damn right.
Southern rock has always been about horsepower, and the pedal is down in 2015. You don’t have to look much farther than a couple of Billboard charts for the burnt rubber. During the last week of February, Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke had the No. 1 country album, while A Thousand Horses’ debut single, “Smoke,” was cruising up the chart at No. 19. In fact, “Smoke” set a record for the highest debut by a new act when it opened at No. 28 on the Country Aircheck radio chart.
That’s a lot for A Thousand Horses’ four founding fathers—Michael Hobby (lead vocals), Bill Satcher (lead guitar), Zach Brown (guitar and vocals) and Graham DeLoach (bass and vocals)—to take in at the moment, while they refuel on assorted cocktails at the Tavern, a sleek gastropub in midtown Nashville. They use words like “crazy” and “unbelievable” to describe the success of “Smoke,” a fresh take on an old vice—a toxic woman—that Michael co-wrote.
“It’s insane,” says Graham. “I pinch myself a lot. It hasn’t even registered to us yet.”
“Yeah, people keep saying, ‘It’s not supposed to happen like this,’” adds Bill. “We just want to get out there and play it for people.”
Newberry, S.C., buddies Michael and Bill began building the base of the band when they packed their bags and headed to Nashville in 2005. Bill’s cousin Graham joined them a year later, while Zach completed the core in 2010 after meeting the guys through a friend of a friend. They didn’t have a name when they united, so they adopted the moniker of one of the first songs they wrote, and they’ve been gaining steam ever since. In keeping with the bigger-is-always-better theme of Southern rock, the guys increased their horsepower by adding more Horses, including three female backup singers, a fiddler and a keyboardist. That’s a lot of people to pack onstage, or into a tour bus for that matter.
“Our bus is definitely a rolling party,” says Michael, as we reconvene at a Music Row office three weeks after having drinks at the Tavern. “It’s a 300-square-foot apartment with 12 people in it.” It’s even more crowded when you realize that bassist Graham is 6 feet 3 inches tall, while frontman Michael is a towering 6 feet 4 inches and generally sports a Wyatt Earp-esque cowboy hat that cuts an imposing presence onstage.
Regardless of the cramped quarters, when you get all those Horses under the roof, they power down the road, which is exactly what they’ll be doing in May when they open for Darius Rucker on his Southern Style Tour.
“This is our first big, legit summer tour,” says Michael. “We are totally pumped to get this thing kicked off on May 14.”
“Yeah, right now we are putting together our party box [see sidebar] for the road,” adds Zach with a laugh. “You know, all the stuff we’ll need out there.”
One thing that is definitely in the party box is a sound system, because A Thousand Horses wants to be able to blast their new album, Southernality, which will be released June 9. The 13-track offering, which was produced by Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson), has the muscle to lay the hammer down on songs like ground-shaker “Landslide” or moon-howler “Trailer Trashed.” But the guys also know when to downshift, like on the addictive lead single, “Smoke,” or the virtuous “Sunday Morning,” which they co-wrote with Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes.
“It’s essentially five years of songs,” says Bill. “‘Landslide’ was written four or five years ago. ‘Smoke’ was the last song written for the album. Two days before we went in to record, Michael showed up with this song and we were like, ‘Wow. That’s going on the album.’”
“Southernality is our journey,” echoes Michael. “We’ve been writing and playing those songs for the last five years. It’s our journey since forming.”
From the sound of things, A Thousand Horses’ journey is only beginning. Fans can preorder Southernality on iTunes and download four songs instantly, including “Smoke.” But the best way to preview the album is by catching the band live. There is no shortage of horsepower. CW
A Thousand Horses made their Grand Ole Opry debut on Feb. 24, playing two songs—“Smoke” and “Sunday Morning”—from their upcoming album, Southernality, which drops on June 9.
“It was awesome,” says frontman Michael Hobby. “I checked it off my bucket list. I can’t wait to go back. You can feel the energy when you step on that circle. Everyone who’s come before you and everyone who will come after you, the history of it is amazing. It’s my favorite show we’ve ever played, and we only played two songs.”
Sidebar: Thinking Inside the Box
When the guys from A Thousand Horses got the call to join Darius Rucker’s Southern Style Tour on May 14, they immediately began to construct their “party box,” a collection of festive necessities for those days on the road.
“Right now, we’ve got a bunch of yard games like corn hole and ladder golf,” says guitarist Zach Brown. “But we’ve also got a stereo system, grill, tailgate chairs, canopy, cooler. It’s gonna be a big-ass box. It’s a work in progress.”