One of the most powerful features of music is being able to relate to an artist’s work and feel connected to the musician themselves. With honesty being their most dominant attribute, indie folk group GOOD OLD WAR have penned songs that are so brutally sincere, it’s been difficult for fans and new listeners to shake off the acoustic bliss embedded in the trio’s first two releases and past projects. While camped out in Omaha, Nebraska, during the middle of their current tour, we caught up with vocalist Keith Goodwin via phone to discuss the band’s third album, what it’s like to be a part of the Sargent House family and their unique approach to songwriting.
There’s a short documentary online of you guys in the studio recording Come Back As Rain and, in it, Dan says a great deal of the songs were recorded live. Did your surroundings influence what you were recording?
Yeah, when you’re in a good place with good vibes and no distractions I feel like you get good takes. The studio has great equipment, so the sound of the record I think is better than anything we’ve done so far. There are only two tracks that we did fully live. For the rest of them we did all the music live and then the vocals after that. But it was still cool. The way the room was set up, everybody could see each other and we could communicate while we were playing and that was cool. “Loud Love” was one of the songs recorded all live, and the other was a bonus track. There has been about three different names for this song so far, but I think it’s called “Take it Slow” now.
There are a lot of moments, like in “Better Weather,” “It Hurts Every Time” and “After The Party”, where it really sounds like you guys are having fun and you almost can’t help but smile when you listen to it. Is that a fair assessment of what it was like at that time?
Yeah, definitely. I remember doing “It Hurts Every Time,” and I was country line dancing and joking around during the solo parts. It’s a fun song.
Eleven songs made the cut for Come Back as Rain, but there were almost 20 other songs or song ideas that got left on the cutting room floor. Looking back a year later, did you pick the right 11 songs?
Listening back, there are other songs that I think about and that could have been sweet on the record but, the way I see it, it’s a record of the way you’re feeling at the time and what you think is the best at the time. So, looking back, I always think there are things I would’ve changed if I was doing it right now. But, then I think, “That’s just what it is. We’ll do something different next time”. That’s just me wanting to grow and make better decisions. I think it’s a good thing. If I look back and say, “That’s perfect. I don’t need to do anything different”, I wouldn’t be thinking ahead.
What happens to the rejected songs?
It depends on the songs. I think a lot of them will end up coming back. Maybe at the time we weren’t ready for them, but a lot of them are still really good songs. Some of them just may not be right for the band. You’ve got to know not to just put everything on the record. We’ve got a song that we’ve been working on for about three years that has the lyric, “come back as rain” in it, and we tried to record it in Omaha, and it just didn’t come out right, fitting with all the rest of the songs. That’s the other thing – it has to match. It has to be one full record. That’s part of the goal.
I think there’s an interesting story to tell about your group and your record label, Sargent House. It hasn’t been a label for all that long, but it has amassed a pretty interesting collection of artists in a short time. Does it strike you as a cool group to be associated with?
Definitely. I met Cathy Pellow over at Sargent House when I was in my old band, Days Away. It was when we didn’t have any management and we were kind of falling apart, but she wanted to help us because she liked the music. When that was actually ending, she told me she would do whatever I wanted to help. She was the one telling me, before I even had this band, that she wanted me to do some acoustic stuff and had faith in what I was doing and really helped me out. This was when she was just a manager – she wasn’t really putting out records. So, we started doing demos and stuff like that and she told us it would be hard to get a good record deal with just a couple of demos since no one knew who we were. She suggested, why don’t we just make a record and release it on our own, tour, build something, and see how it goes from there.
Good Old War’s Only Way to Be Alone was pretty much the first release that she put out as the Sargent House label. She had released a couple other records just helping other bands out, but this was when she started taking it seriously. Having been with her since the beginning, it does feel like a good place to be. I know her heart is in it, and that’s what I want. I want to be working with people who really love it and care about it. She’s also really smart.
Are there any opportunities you’ve gotten to experience as a direct result of being with Sargent House?
One cool thing is that she had a music video production company, so we were making really sweet videos for like nothing, while other people were spending like $20,000 or $30,000 on them. I thought that was a big help. Having extra content, and not having to spend tons of money, for an independent band, is great. She also has relationships with people over at MTV and iTunes, so they’ve been able to get our songs featured. That’s the main thing. We actually have new management now. Sargent House is our label and we’re with Bill Silva Entertainment as management. The combination of the two is just awesome. Our day-to-day managers are Tom Gates and Ryan Chisholm. Those two guys are super go-getters. They’ve gotten us tours with Allison Krauss & Union Station.
How long have you known Dave Davison of Maps and Atlases?
Probably just as long as I’ve been over at Sargent House. Five or six years maybe?
Did you know him that well when he lent his guitar-playing talents to one of the songs on your debut album?
Yeah, we were buddies. He’s one of the sweetest guys ever, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. It’s easy to become friends with somebody like that. We just kind of hit it off. We both liked what each other were doing. Another funny side note, he was actually born and raised in my small town of Langhorne, Pennsylvania before he moved away to Chicago. His grandma still lives there, so occasionally he’ll visit and come stay at my house. He’s the type of dude who, as soon as he gets there, will pick up a guitar and just start playing new songs, you know?
Yeah, he’s a pretty good guitar player.
He’s an amazing guitar player!
Yeah, he does that in one of the first videos I saw of him. I just thought, “Wow, this guy’s amazing”.
A couple of groups that I can’t help but think of when I think of Good Old War are America and Crosby, Stills and Nash – not so much the sound, although there is that too – but also because they’re both three-person bands. Why is three a good number for you guys?
Well, coming from a six-piece band where we traveled and toured for seven years or something and would come home from tours with $50 in our pockets – a six-piece rock band is not the easiest thing to mix when you don’t have the money to pay a sound guy. So, after doing it for so long and kind of being a little beat up over it, we thought, let’s just keep it to the three of us and keep it acoustic. We can roll up to a place and if it’s a bad sound system, or we don’t have a sound guy, we can just play acoustic. If the songs are good and people like them, then we’ll sell CDs and sell t-shirts. I remember we were walking home from one show with a couple hundred bucks each; it was just like, well, we can actually do this and be comfortable and pay bills.
It sounds funny saying it, but after being in that situation, that was one of the main things. We don’t want to be a large band that barely makes any money. In the beginning, it’s super hard. Nobody knows who you are and you’ve got to win people over. So, we just decided to keep it simple. It’s about the song and being able to hear the vocals and the meaning of the songs. I feel like it’s worked out pretty good for us.
Because of those similarities, do you consider either America or Crosby, Stills and Nash influences on you at all?
Well, our parents grew up listening to that music. My Dad and his buddies would sing harmonies to Crosby, Stills, Nash songs and stuff like that. Actually, when we started this band we were playing in a bar that I worked at for extra money covering those songs and Paul Simon and classic rock songs. We started learning how to put those harmonies together and that’s kind of when we realized that we could do that kind of thing, by playing those songs.
What was Austin like for the four or so days you were there this year?
It was great. We played in this gorgeous Presbyterian Church. We came right down by the pews and just started singing acoustically. The sound and acoustics in churches are just awesome. I think that was the best part.
I noticed you’re playing in Toronto on April 20. Have you played many shows on April 20th? Do you have any expectations as to how the crowd might be acting on that day in particular?
Well, yeah (laughs), we have played a few shows. It’s always fun. Everybody’s in a good mood. It’s funny, when I was younger in my old band, we played in Burlington, Vermont, on that date and it was great. That’s a very liberal, pot-smoking town and I remember a few of my buddies were smoking a little bit of pot and a cop rolled up to them and said, “Hey! Do you guys want to go the park? Everybody’s up there smoking pot!”. A police officer! I’m used to being terrified of police officers and this guy’s just like, “It’s 4/20! It’s cool!”.
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