by Sheldon Birnie
Good Old War are a three-piece indie folk band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Formed on the fly in 2008, the group quickly hit the road and has basically never left it. Stylus spoke with guitar player Daniel Schwartz shortly after their Old Market Square performance to launch this year’s Winnipeg Folk Festival was cancelled due to extreme weather.
Stylus: It’s a shame your concert this afternoon at Old Market Square was cancelled due to a thunder storm. You guys do a lot of festivals. How do you end up dealing with the weather? Does it get annoying, or do you just get used to it after a while?
Daniel Schwartz: Actually, today it was a little bit welcome. We had a couple things to get done. One of my guitars got broken in the airport. It got dropped. So I had to do a little bit of surgery today anyway. So it actually worked out that we got to get a few things done that we needed to get done today. In general, I think it’s kind of cool. You get a little taste of what the locals’ reactions are to the weather. Like in Winnipeg, it seems people are very proud of the violent weather, and I think that’s a really interesting approach.
Stylus: Have you been to Winnipeg before?
DS: No, this is out first time.
Stylus: Welcome to Winnipeg then!
Stylus: Since you are new to the city, can you give us some background as to how the group got started, and where you are at now?
DS: Sure. We got started about 4 years ago. There was a band called Days Away that Tim [Arnold] and Keith [Goodwin] were in. They had a tour booked with a guy named Anthony Green, who is the singer for a band called Circa Survive, who are a really great band here from the US who are friends of ours. Right before the tour, the band got wind that their keyboard player was going to have to go back to school. So they didn’t want to do the tour just for nothing. Since they already knew me, and we’d already started to work together, we decided to try something new. We even booked the tour as Days Away, but by the end of it was clear, even though we were writing songs in the van on the way to shows, working out arrangements on the fly, we had a real chemistry. Immediately afterwards we signed to a label called Sargent House. They’ve supported us greatly. After that we basically toured and put out three records and basically worked as hard as any band could work. We really started on tour and continue to this day.
Stylus: Since the band kind of came together organically, has the music evolved in the same way? Or did you have anything particular in mind as to how you wanted to sound or what you wanted to do as a band?
DS: The only thing we wanted to do was be in a band that could play anywhere. From a front porch to a stadium. That way, we could grow naturally. All that really meant for us was having an acoustic guitar based sound and filling it in from there. We found out really quick that we liked singing together, so the vocals became a really big part for us right away. So we ended up with a really big sound with just three voices and a guitar. And then on top of that, we knew that we could all play too. So having, additionally, a great drummer and a great singer, it sort of got to evolve very naturally without having to think about it.
Stylus: In terms of writing, do you all share writing duties? Does someone bring in a song and then you all work on it? How does that work?
DS: That’s a really ever evolving thing. The way we started though was Keith or I would bring in a song almost fully formed and we’d work it out from there. It changes all the time. But now someone will bring in a very close to fully formed song, like all the melodies and most of the parts, and then we work it out together. We all rewrite lyrics and we all have a lot of input. Since we all sing we make sure we’re all comfortable with what we’re saying.
Stylus: Can you tell us a little about your new record [Come Back as Rain]? It was released just a few months ago…
DS: This was the first time we recorded an album in what you could call “the proper way.” We had a producer, Jason Cupp. We were able to spend time on it for the first time. This is the first time we’ve been able to take a moment off tour to make a record. Our first record [Only Way to Be Alone, 2008] we made in a week. We played it all live, did all the music in two days, then did all the vocals the rest of the week. Our second album [Good Old War, 2010] we had to do in between tours. It took us almost a year. First of all we did it all by ourselves, produced it ourselves. We had to do it on breaks. We’d go on tour for a month, then we’d be back for a week and we’d be recording. Then we’d go on tour for another month. Just like that, it took forever. This time we had time to do preproduction. We had time to write everything, then edit it, then demo everything. That’s sort of the proper way to make a record. I think it really shows. I think it’s a cohesive statement for the first time.
Stylus: What can the Main Stage audience expect from Good Old War tomorrow night?
DS: They can expect a sing-a-long. Even if they don’t know the words, they’ll have a good time. They can expect to dance and sing. We will always go out of our way to make sure everyone is smiling. It’s a very positive, upbeat, fun show.
Make sure to check out Good Old War at the Main Stage on Thursday, July 5 at 6pm.