INTERVIEW: Good Old War Prepares For Their Headlining Set At The Avalon
The up and coming indie-folk trio hailing from Philadelphia will headline the stage at the Avalon this Sunday, March 25th. With an opening lineup featuring The Belle Brigade and Family of the Year, Good Old War is expected to charm the audience with their undeniable harmonies and sing-along style.
Dan Schwartz, guitarist and vocals of Good Old War, graciously took time out of his busy touring schedule to chat about their new album, their national tour, and their current musical obsessions.
Let's talk about Come Back As Rain. How is this album different than your previous two albums?
“There are a few things. The main one would be that we did it in a studio and were able to take our time with it. The last album we did completely on our own at home. Basically we were doing all the recordings by ourselves and the first album we had to do very, very fast. We did it in about 5 days in LA. This record was the first time we got a chance to take our time with it and really you know, we had pre-production and we even all sat down with all the lyrics and we wrote all the lyrics in a way that made everybody comfortable so that you know, everybody had a big hand in writing every single song this time. I think that thematically, we were just more concise more than ever before, and we also had a chance to make it more live...to actually have a chance to play the song and demo them and try them again and get them to exactly where we wanted them to be.”
Like you said, you guys worked so that everybody was comfortable with it and that everybody had a hand in the new album. You guys don't really have a traditional lead vocalist frontman. You play all in a line on stage with nobody front and center. Is that also a conscious decision?
“Well I think that we are 3 kind of equal members. Obviously there's different places where one of us might be more in charge than the others, but I think that since we all sing together so much, it just felt funny to you know, put the drummer in the back or something like that. Like people wondering where the ghost voice is coming from. So, since we all write and we all sing, it felt right for us all to be a part of the same thing.”
There is this energy and vibe about you guys that really resonates with your audience and shows in your harmonies. What do you try to accomplish in your live performances?
“I think in our live performances, we're trying to create a moment where everybody feels like they did something together. You know, when you go to a live show, a lot of the time it's all about a performer like "look at me, look at me, we're so great!" And I think for us, we really want to do things like where we go down in the crowd and sit in a circle and everybody's around us. We're trying to create a thing like when we left the show that we did something. And everybody was moved and taken somewhere, and it's not just everybody watching us and talking about "oh that was a great guitar solo" or something. We just sort of want to do something together with the audience and have a good time, a good moment.”
I think you guys totally accomplish that. I feel like it can be described as a campfire atmosphere almost.
Exactly, exactly. I know I personally have hippie parents and I think we all come from a very kind of 60's mentality with all of our families. That's just the kind of world we were brought up in. A very inclusive place, and that's kind of where we all met and how we get along so well... it’s the music that we were all raised on and the attitudes we were all raised with. And yeah, it's just supposed to be inclusive and fun and just enjoyable. And you can still deal with the heavy topics without having to lose any of that enjoyment.
Last January, you were just down the street from the Avalon playing at the Music Box with Guster as an opener…How does it feel being a headliner for your own full-fledged tour that spans the US and canada?
It's a huge surprise that we can. When we're out there, and the crowds are filling up the rooms and we're actually seeing these results from all the touring that we've done because we've constantly toured REALLY hard for the last 4 years. I think just to be able to see people coming, enjoying it and really being there for us, and seeing the smiles on their faces is just crazy. It's one of those things that we don’t really want to intellectualize too much and just are happy that it's happening. And I think that's kinda where we are. Just like "ah this is so great." That's about as much as we want to think about it. You know, just to be as good as we possibly can basically.
You guys have played your fair share of music festivals such as Coachella last year, and most recently SXSW. Festivals are a completely different animal than regular shows are…What's your take on them?
I think that Coachella and SXSW are very different. SXSW you feel a little bit like a product. You're kind of shuffled in. The interesting thing about SXSW is you really can sort of measure your progress there because the fans leave after the band before you and you get a whole new set of fans that are just yours for your show, and then they leave right after you play, and a whole new set of fans comes in for the next band. And it's just an odd way to do things and I’m not sure how it really works for everybody, but it's an interesting way to see who's really there for you, more than anything else. Coachella was more exciting and we were very nervous and excited to play that show because we were surrounded by people that we really admire. It was more of a big stage, we were in front of all these people, and we're with people we can call "peers" of ours that we really look up to. So that was more of a like “alright, it's time to buck up and try to do this thing for real,” you know? At this point, we just want to be the best possible band that we can and always be ready for any situation.
You always have a little surprise at every show. Do you have anything planned for the show at the Avalon this Sunday?
Yeah, we're going to be doing a bit of a show. It's a big place, and we want to make sure that there's a little bit more to the show than there usually is with us because, you know, we're very organic. Usually we don't have lights or anything like that, so there will be a little bit of something that we don’t usually have. But really, I think the big surprise is going to be a big sing-along. We’re playing a lot of new songs, and a lot of old songs, and hopefully it will be a great high energy show. I think it will be a higher energy show than people might be expecting.
Do you have a favorite city to play at? You seem to have a large fan-base in Texas, but are there any specific cities that stick out in your mind as really great audiences?
There are definitely places that we've had really great moments. LA definitely has to be in that list for sure. It's like one of those staple cities. People are always saying, "they go so hard in LA and those are the roughest crowds," and same with New York, but we've had some of our greatest shows in both of those cities. We’ve headlined the Troubadour a couple times and it was incredible both times. So I have to put LA up there, and I have to put San Francisco, New York, and obviously Philly because that's where we're from. We've been surprised though; we've played shows with very few people in very strange places and have had some of the great nights of our lives. I think for us, it's great when everything's perfect and you have a ton of people there and everything is just going right. But sometimes the greatest moments of a band, the times that really sort of define that band, at least for us, have been the times where we were really working hard. You know, playing for a crowd that wasn't totally on our side, that we had to win over. Like in Portland, Oregon or something like that. Where we discovered we can play the full show on the ground with just an acoustic guitar, and we can have a vibe with them.
As a band, you seem to really take things one step at a time. You have an organic sound to your music which is what a lot of your fans like so much, especially in the midst of the dubstep and electro music that's really prevalent these days. Do you have any thoughts on that whole trend?
We actually love electronic music and all listen to a lot of electronic music. Tim is really into IBM and pretty much everything. We're taking influences from all those places too, and we really love a lot of the music that's happening right now. The Dream was a big influence on our new record because we just really like how he writes those songs. And I think if you’re doing this and you're not open, you're going to miss something that could've helped you. One thing we do more than anything in the band is share music. Tim is definitely our ambassador for the most part on that.
Along that line, what are your current obsessions? What do you play on the tour bus?
It changes a lot. I know we all have different things. I listen to a lot of country... I've always listened to a lot of old country. But at the same time, I'm also listening to hip hop. I know tim has been listening to a lot of southern hip hop like Gucci Mane. We also love a lot of 90's R&B which is kind of silly. There's a lot of R.Kelly played in the van. We have this monster slow jams album that we got from when we went to visit this label one time. They put out these compilations of early 90's hip hop and R&B and it's been worn out in our van.
That's a definite surprise. I don't think people would expect that from you guys.
I mean, we still listen to obviously the Beach Boys, the Stones, and all those bands we always listen to. But yeah I mean, lately Grimes has been getting listened to a lot, you know that girl? I think it's just one girl, but everybody would like her. She's really good. I also really like this band, Kaiser's Orchestra... I think they're from Norway. There's a lot of crooners playing all the time. We all like crooners, like Harry Nelson. Big on vocals.
So, if you could work with or go on tour with any artist in a perfect world, who would it be?
I’ve been asked this one before and for me, it's always the same two. It's always Paul Simon or Paul McCartney. Those are my two favorite songwriters. If I had 10 minutes with either of them, it would change my whole life. I love the Paul’s... I'm into the Paul’s.
To wrap it up, what does the future look like for Good Old War?
I think it looks very similar. Hopefully we have one big announcement. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say, but we're going to have a big performance that the whole nation can see in the next week or so. Hopefully it'll be announced in the next couple days. And yeah, it's basically going to be a lot of tour, and hopefully another record in the near future. We're already writing for the next record, so hopefully we just get to have a nice long career with people loving us and us loving everybody else. I think we're just taking it slow, and taking it patient, and watching it grow one fan at a time. We’re enjoying the growth that we're having right now, but hopefully we just get to do this forever.
Catch Dan and the rest of Good Old War at the Avalon this Sunday, March 25th with Belle Brigade and Family of the Year. Their newly released album, Come Back As Rain, can be streamed here.
Reach Joanna Chiang here.