A Thousand Horses
Saturday, June 17
Drive across the rural South with the window down and the radio on. Hit scan and listen as muscular country, drawling rock, high gospel harmony, low-country blues and old school soul meld together into something special and distinct.
That’s the sound of A Thousand Horses and the exciting new band’s debut, Southernality. The 13-track Dave Cobb-produced Republic Nashville album yielded the No. 1 RIAA Gold-certified hit “Smoke” before it was released in June. And fans have responded to the unique, hypnotic song in a way that shows the band’s all-genre mix of classic influences remains in the DNA of young music fans in the digital age.
“Subconsciously, our audience grew up listening to those albums that we all love too and the reaction so far has just been exciting,” lead singer Michael Hobby said. “To me country music’s always been cool. I grew up on it. There’s a wider audience now. The lane seems to be a little bit wider for artists like Eric Church and Jason Aldean to push boundaries. People call it Southern rock or people call it country or people call it rock ‘n’ roll. To me it just feels like it’s all just music now.”
Hobby is joined in the creative core of A Thousand Horses by guitarists Bill Satcher and Zach Brown and bassist Graham DeLoach. Their friendship and similar interests have helped them create a distinct swamp boogie that fits right in with country music’s current party paradigm. The sound clicked immediately with fans and ATH has since made its television debut on NBC’s TODAY, Fox’s Fox & Friends and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! The group also earned a CMT Music Awards nomination for Group Video of the Year and performed on the show the same week it made first appearances at CMA Music Festival and Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.
Southernality – a blend of the words Southern and personality – rolls by in an easy gallop. It’s a night drive with the top down, a bucket of beers at a waterside roadhouse, a walk arm in arm next to moonlit breakers. “Smoke,” which set a record for the highest debut by a new act when it opened at No. 28 on the Country Aircheck country songs chart, offers a perfect entry point to the vibe as Hobby sings about a woman’s intoxicating presence in his life.
“I think a lot of people are relating it to their lives,” Brown said. “We’re seeing a lot of people post the lyrics on social media. I think ‘Smoke,’ lyrically in my opinion, it’s a really good story. I think it’s one of my favorite lyrical songs on the album. It’s easy for people to take those lyrics and apply it to something in their lives.”
The song reached unanimous No. 1 status the first week of June. Its power comes from the band’s chemistry, which was evident even in the earliest days when Hobby and Satcher met while checking out guitars at the only music store in Newberry, South Carolina. DeLoach, first cousins with Satcher, entered the picture summers and holidays while visiting from Georgia.
The trio moved to Nashville because it seemed like the natural place for their sound and soon invited friend of a friend Brown to join. They all lived together at first, writing songs, mapping out an ambitious approach. It was a special time when they formed the bond that would lead to their first record deal with a Los Angeles-based rock label trolling for talent in Nashville.
Cobb, whose work with Jamey Johnson, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton has garnered high praise, immediately bought into the band’s vibe and stuck with the group when they lost that first record deal, along with their manager and booking agent. The group persevered, found a new manager in Scott McGhee of McGhee Entertainment Management and landed a rare second chance. Cobb recorded the album at the Zac Brown Band’s Southern Ground Recording Studio in Nashville.
“They are a true band of brothers,” Cobb said. “They’ve been together through thick and thin. Also, make sure you never give them a key to the minibar.”
Alcohol did indeed play a role in shaping the album, but their parents’ record collections and older brothers’ listening habits had more to do with their wide-ranging influences. Southernality feels a little like another band of brothers, The Black Crowes. And The Rolling Stones and Lynyrd Skynyrd in Muscle Shoals. Tom Petty a few weeks after he met The Heartbreakers. And Led Zeppelin in the thrall of Howlin’ Wolf.
“I have two older brothers and they were always jamming all that stuff,” DeLoach said. “And I remember my oldest brother said ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’ was his favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd song. So he’d drive me to school and stuff and crank Lynyrd Skynyrd. And I grew up in Savannah, Georgia. Gregg Allman actually lives like right outside the city, so it was always a big deal: ‘There’s a Gregg Allman sighting!’ He’s like hanging out. So, a lot of Southern rock.”
Dig deeper, though, and new layers appear.
“My first live concert was Alan Jackson on the Midnight in Montgomery Tour, so there was a lot of Garth Brooks, a lot of Alan Jackson, a lot of Confederate Railroad and a lot of Alabama that my brothers loved and I always grew up listening to.”
These more mainstream country influences can be heard in album standouts like “Sunday Morning” and “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial,” the band’s second single.
The best way to hear the album, though, is to catch the band on the road with Darius Rucker’s Southern Style Tour this summer. ATH’s core members augment the band on the road, adding a drummer, keyboard player and three backup singers to really bring home the nostalgic feel of rock’s three-guitar era.
“The whole concept behind this thing is we’re a big band,” Satcher said. “We wanted to showcase the whole thing. I think we’re able to paint the picture of certainly what it’s like on the album, the full vision we had when we wrote these songs.”
“It’s been five years, all just traveling in a van around the country, sharing food and sleeping in that thing,” Hobby said. “Now we’ve got a record coming out and a single on the radio. It’s pretty cool.” Added Brown: “We had a period where we were back to Square 1. What do we do? Do we call it quits or do we keep going? This is what we do.”