About 25 minutes into my phone conversation with Keith Goodwin, singer/guitarist of the Philly indie-folk trio Good Old War, a female voice breaks into the line. It’s the band’s publicist, who facilitated the call.
“You guys’ll need to wrap this up in about five minutes,” she says, and then she’s gone.
“Wow,” marvels Goodwin, “this is the first time ever that I’ve done an interview that had a time limit.”
“That’s when you know you’re hittin’ the big time!” I offer.
Goodwin laughs, but it’s true—less than three years into their existence, Good Old War seems poised for a breakthrough on a national level. Thanks to more than a hundred shows around the U.S. in the last year, the fan base beyond Philadelphia is growing significantly. And a terrific self-titled album—the band’s second, following 2008’s Only Way To Be Alone, due next month on Los Angeles indie Sargent House Records—has been generating enough advance buzz to keep GOW’s new management and publicity teams busy fielding a flurry of interview requests.
The swelling interest is definitely warranted. With tunes sonically familiar but not quite derivative, Goodwin, drummer/multi-instrumentalist Tim Arnold and guitarist/vocalist Dan Schwartz push their acoustic strums, accordion hum, and laid-back percussion in directions warm and inviting more often than bittersweet. The songwriting is sharp and sophisticated. But the main draw is the accomplished, absolutely stunning vocal harmonies—think Simon & Garfunkel (“That’s Some Dream” is a distant cousin of “The Boxer”) or Crosby, Stills & Nash at their most magnetic.
Because of all the touring—Good Old War has been a full-time endeavor for a while—the album took a year to stitch together. In Bon Iver-esque fashion, the songs were conceived and the basic tracks recorded in a remote house in the Poconos in snowy January 2009. “It was like Survivorman,” Goodwin laughs. “It was just us up there—the only time we would leave the house was to get groceries, and even that was pretty treacherous. After a month, we were all ready to go home.”
The band finished up the album this past winter in the nearly-as-deserted Avalon, N.J., with the help of longtime friend and musical collaborator Anthony Green of Philly post-hardcore heroes Circa Survive. Good Old War actually got its start as Green’s backing band on his 2008 solo LP Avalon; this after Goodwin and Arnold’s old emo-leaning band Days Away—which they were in for much of the last decade—dissolved in late 2007. Schwartz, who’d previously played in Unlikely Cowboy, was recruited, and the band’s adoption of an acoustic-based approach was immediate.
“We all love folk music,” says Goodwin, “and our old bands were so loud and rockin’, it was like, we all couldn’t really imagine doing that our whole entire lives. You know, bein’ 40 and playing super loud music.”
Along with the change in sound came a change in attitude, one that’s certainly helped build the band’s current momentum.
“For the first couple years I was making music, I would avoid any kind of interactions with people,” Goodwin admits. “I’d get in my shell—hide in the van playing video games. The whole thing made me feel awkward. But after a while, I realized that that interaction is what really means the most. That connection with people takes everything to a whole different level where people are excited and happy about what you’re doing, and you feed off of that and want to make great music for them. It’s totally fulfilling. That was definitely missing for a long time in my life, and now that I have it I realize how great it is.”
“Now we have the time for everybody,” he laughs. “As much as we possibly can."
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