By Lindsey Lowe Osborne
One thing I ask every musician (or band) I interview is this: Why music? I ask them because I want to know why it’s worth it for them to live out of suitcases, play midnight shows, and pour their hearts out for people via song and rhyme when they could instead drum their guitars for hobby on the weekends and take up one of those occupations for normal people.
Inevitably, they always tell me how they’ve fallen in love with music, with making it and playing it and sharing it—the whole shebang. They tell me that even if they never make it big, it’s worth it just to sing and play. They tell me that if they have made it big, playing to rooms full of people who love their music is better than they thought it would be. And they thought it would be good.
I asked the members of Good Old War, who are playing a show for us Birminghamians at Saturn on Aug. 8, the question, too. I think Keith Goodwin, who provides the vocals, bass, keys, and guitar for the group, had the most honest answer I’ve seen yet: “At first, it was because my friends were playing music and I knew I could sing. Then it got me girls. That was cool,” he says. “Eventually I started connecting with music on an emotional level and then connecting with people through that music. There was no turning back from there. It became, ‘It’s just what I do.’ I’ve always told myself I’ll make music until I can’t anymore.”
Joining Goodwin is Dan Schwartz (guitar and vocals) and, for a time, Tim Arnold (drums, bass, keys, and vocals). The group produced their first album, Only Way to Be Alone, in 2008. 2010’s eponymous album and 2012’s Come Back as Rain followed, with the band playing some 280 shows a year to promote their music. As Goodwin explains, they threw themselves into sharing the product of all of their hard work, and the trio became a tight-knit group in the process. “When we started this band, we had no idea what we would sound like. We just had a mutual respect for each other and believed that our talents combined would be cool. We heard the sound of our band for the first time after we spent a week at the Jersey Shore recording our songs with Jason Cupp,” he says.
“A few months after our first record came out, we found ourselves at home and off the road. We wanted to work on music full time and Cathy Pellow at Sargent House made that happen by giving us a deal, allowing us to focus 100 percent on music. (Thanks Cathy.) We started recording Good Old War right away. We spent months recording the record ourselves. As touring picked up, we started rehearsing five hours a day five days a week for those shows. For Come Back As Rain, we wanted to capture the energy of the live show. We had become a tight band from touring and we wanted to show it off. We toured a lot more on that record. We were lucky to play shows with talented acts who inspired us to put on better shows.”
During the writing process of Broken Into Better Shape, released last month, Arnold decided to step back from the group for personal reasons. Though it was difficult for the other two to let him go, Goodwin says the change gave them the opportunity for a different sound. “Having already done a bunch of writing and demoing, Dan and I decided to finish making the record without him. It was a challenge not having Tim to write and arrange with, but we were also free to make the band sound however we wanted,” he says. “Without Tim we definitely made a different sounding record than any of our previous recordings. I liked making bigger arrangements. It was a fun to push our songs in directions we had never taken them before.”
Schwartz says that he, too, is happy with the way the new album turned out. “Right now our new album is my favorite because it’s new and we’re living it,” he says. “I think ‘Broken Into Better Shape’ is really hitting home right now. Keith mostly wrote that song. His lyrics are probably my favorite on any Good Old War song and I love the electric guitar stuff I got to play on it.
“It’s surprised me that it’s actually possible to survive as an original musician playing original music that we love,” Schwartz admits. But it’s like they sing in “Broken Into Better Shape”: “Love, if you want the truth—anything’s possible.”
8/20: Alabama Shakes at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. For fans of Dawes, Dr. Dog, and Heartless Bastards.
8/29: The Dirty Guv’nahs at Iron City. For fans of The Vegabonds, Old Crow Medicine Show, and The Black Cadillacs.
9/5: X at Saturn. For fans of Germs, The Dickies, and Minutemen.