Credit: Ford Fairchild

Country-rock quartet A Thousand Horses debuted noisily in 2015 with their swaggering, middle-fingers-way-up collection Southernality. The electric set earned the band their first No. 1 country airplay song (“Smoke”) as well as opening slots on reigning ACM Entertainer of the Year Jason Aldean’s and Darius Rucker’s massive summer tours — which is to say, they haven’t had tons of downtime to work on their second record. “We’ve been super busy,” frontman Michael Hobby tells EW, laughing.

But after some piecemeal writing sessions from the road, and even some recording sessions abroad, the group returns on Friday, June 2 with Bridges, a rowdy new project that features six brand-new, studio-recorded songs as well as seven live cuts, most of which were taped in London’s fabled Metropolis Studios. EW is thrilled to premiere the collection in full prior to its release.

“We haven’t had new music out in about two years,” Hobby says, “and so we wanted to give our fans something new that we were proud of and that represents the direction that we were headed — which is why we called it Bridges.” Alluding to a longer album on the horizon, he adds, “It’s bridging the gap of what’s to come.”

A hard, Southern-rock edge remains constant across the new tunes — the opening combination of “Blaze of Something” and “Burn Like Willie” scorches — as does the outfit’s preoccupation with blue-collar life in the American South. Hobby and guitarist Bill Satcher grew up together in Newberry, South Carolina, a one-stoplight town that continues to provide inspiration for the songsmith. On “Weekends in a Small Town,” Hobby recalls late nights at the local Sonic and early Sundays settling into a well-worn church pew.

“That was my life,” he says of the cut. “Every time I go home and I see my buddies that I grew up with, we do the same thing. You know, a big night was when you got to go to Sonic and you’d put a little Jack in your Coke and everybody kind of circled up. It’s always going to be like that. There’s always going to be weekends in a small town. I wanted to write about that.”

Right beneath that familiar grit, though, is a new, refined sense of groove. The band teamed up with Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton) for Southernality but they enlisted studio wiz Dan Huff (Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts) for some of the new material. “He’s an incredible musician and an old rock guy,” says Hobby of Huff. “We just got in the room and Dan joined the band for a second and we jammed and played like we always did.”

The frontman admits that the stadium-sized tracks are subconsciously born of the last few years of touring enormous venues with Aldean and Rucker, but he says that despite that dramatic change, the band’s goals have remained the same. “We want to be able to give people a special experience when they come to see us perform, to help them get away from everything and enjoy it. That’s what music is for.”

He adds, “It’s amazing to be accepted and to have the response that we’ve had and to have people relate to our stories and tell us what they mean to them and how it affected them.”

Bridges, out June 2, is streaming in full above.