Guitarist/vocalist Pete Adams leans into the refrigerator at One Horse’s Fairmount practice space and proclaims with an almost lecherous glee, “Time to break out the drinks.” He looks over the door at his assembled bandmates and asks, “Anybody want a Coke?”
That’s pretty much the extent of the party atmosphere at One Horse rehearsals. Day jobs, families and a host of standard adult responsibilities have made Wednesday night practices more important than Thursday morning hangovers.
“It’s like bowling night,” says guitarist/vocalist Ryan Hawkins with a laugh. “Rehearsal means I’m picking up a 12 of 7-Up.”
“We’re all thirtysomething. We’re all married with children, every one of us,” Adams says. “We can’t do three nights a week and stay up until 4 in the morning if the mood strikes. That helps us when we practice one night a week on average. I think we sound pretty decent for what we put into it.”
One Horse began a half dozen years ago, like most bands in the Cincinnati scene. A handful of longtime friends (Hawkins, Adams, bassist Matt Ahrens, drummer Nick Allen) in and out of a variety of local outfits — one a Grateful Dead cover band — got together to split rent on a practice space and finally freed up time for a long-promised jam at a friend’s annual hog roast. When the chemistry proved to be potent, the group was named, songs were learned and gigs were booked. After rotating a few utility players in and out of the group and doing a four-song demo in 2005, keyboardist Tim Maggart joined in 2007, and One Horse settled into a solid format.
“Little by little, we weeded out the stragglers and became this five,” Hawkins says. “That’s when the original material started to hit the table, and it all got interesting.”
While everyone contributes to the One Horse process, Adams and Hawkins are the band’s primary songwriters.
Their differing styles — Hawkins’ hippieish Jam/Blues tendencies and Adams’ Pop/Americana influences — combined with the band’s input results in a sound hovering in the triangulation of R.E.M., Wilco and the Marshall Tucker Band.
“It’s like harmony,” Adams says.
“Two disparate spheres of influence and operation came together to make this one thing. A lot of the stuff that (Hawkins) and I come up with just falls out somewhere. We can’t really go, ‘I set out to write this in C major diminished augmented 7th and I’m going to telegraph the bridge like that Fountains of Wayne song.’ It’s sort of organic.”
“It’s all on feeling and not on theory,” Hawkins says. “Somehow we meet in the middle where we bring that open jam element to structured songs.”
One Horse’s six-year evolution comes to fruition on the band’s just-released debut album, the Erwin Musper-produced Post Time, a prime example of the productive creative tension that drives the quintet.
“Having two songwriters in the band is awesome — it stretches us in a lot of different directions,” Maggart says. “We truly feel like we could go 100 million different ways. Part of the process is condensing it down to the bare elements of what makes the song work. I like to see those two play off each other as the writing process happens.”
The band worked on Post Time’s songs for well over a year before sitting down with Musper and realizing that they were ready and able to hit the studio. The advance work paid off: Post Time’s evocative Americana/Pop/Jam hybrid has earned them playlist adds at local NPR affiliate WNKU and KRVM in Oregon, hundreds of hits on their MySpace page (onehorsemusic.com) and spurred a California production company to inquire about licensing One Horse’s music for film and television. It’s a huge step for a band that, for a long time, has viewed themselves almost as hobbyists. The possibilities that loom ahead of One Horse are potentially large.
“I think the album showed us if we take it seriously we can come up with something we’re actually pleased with,” Allen says. “And we were the hardest to please because we had such high expectations. This showed me that I’m a lot more serious about this now. Do I have any more time? Not necessarily, but I want to maximize the time. My goal is to be a go-to band in Cincinnati when big acts come through and they need somebody to throw in front of them. That’s where I’d like to see us. I don’t want this to just be bowling night.”
“This is a lot more serious now than it’s ever been,” Hawkins says. “I’m not hanging my hat on it, but I’m not betting against it either.”
With Post Time garnering a good deal of positive attention, One Horse is poised to take that next-level step. Their supportive families are urging them on, and they’re pursuing as many gigs as their schedules will bear. The most important aspect for One Horse now is making their songs and sound as pure and unaffected as possible.
“We’re students of the radio from day one,” Adams says. “That’s where the mainstream-ness comes in. A lot of bands seem like they want to be weird as they can be; ‘Let’s fuse Samba with Bavarian waltz and put a rapper on top of it.’ Yeah, but it’s unlistenable.
"You’re artistic and neat and you sure are interesting, but it doesn’t make me feel good when I’m driving down the highway on a sunny afternoon. We draw on the history of Rock & Roll and distill it into something listenable and intelligible. And lyrically, I think we’re both trying to be a little more than just, ‘Hey, baby, take your pants off...’ ”
“I’m still looking for that one,” Hawkins says to a bandwide laugh.
“We want some pants to come off, don’t get me wrong,” Adams says. “Actually, I have four kids, I’ve had enough in that department. Pants on.”
ONE HORSE will host a CD release party for Post Time May 9 at Studio 8 (formerly The Blue Note).