Good Old War's Dan Schwartz: "Is That a Word? Sing-alongable?"
Philadelphia's folk-pop trio Good Old War just released their third album, Come Back as Rain, and stop in Dallas tonight before heading off to Austin. Guitarist Dan Schwartz took a few minutes to chat with us about sing-alongs, SXSW and other bands from Philly.
Given how many shows you've played over the years at SXSW, you must have discovered a couple of bands that blew you away, or at least one off-the-wall gig that sticks out, right? I can't say I've ever had enough time when I've been there to see a bunch of bands, actually. But one of our craziest and most revelatory moments has been at SXSW. I remember one show where we got to the venue and just knew that we wouldn't be able to get all of our gear inside, so we only used acoustic instruments. We knew we had to make the show happen. It was a great show where we played off of the stage, in the middle of the crowd as they stood around us and sang along. We've done that a lot since, but SXSW was the first place we did that.
There's definitely a greater number of bands that use roots and acoustic sounds to create great pop songs getting major attention these days. Do you have any theories as to why that is? Well, I can only speak for us, and I know that for us, it's just a matter of loving great old songs and really loving sing-along songs. We're the kind of guys that will be at a party and break out a guitar and have everyone singing along to something. Electric guitar and drums can't be busted out as easily like a couple of acoustic guitars can be. We just wanted our band to be like that.
With the emphasis on the sing-along factor being so up front, does that mean the melody is more important than other components of songwriting? The main thing is trying to get across what we're trying to express in the song, more emotionally than lyrically, even though the lyrics we write are important. Obviously, with all of the harmonies we sing, melody is huge for us. The best way to write for harmonies is to have a melody that's very sing-alongable. Is that a word? Sing-alongable?
Sure, we'll go with that. So yeah, a great melody, great lyrics and good guitar is the most important and we build around that.
The bulk of the band has a rock background, and Philly isn't exactly known as the roots or folk capital of the world. How did you guys end up playing this style of music? In the band before this, Keith [Goodwin] and Tim [Arnold] were in a six-person, loud rock band with a ton of gear and it was often hard to focus on vocals or lyrics. It was a great band, but they wanted something simpler that could be done anywhere. When I hooked up with them, it was this really serendipitous thing where we just had a moment where we all realized we wanted to play in a band that we wouldn't feel silly about playing in when we we're old. It was less about how good we were technically and more about making songs people wanted to listen to. But there are some great folk-based bands out of Philly. Dr. Dog is one, and Hezekiah Jones is another great band like that.
Needless to say, you are at a very cool spot in terms of your musical career. You're headlining tours, getting videos played on MTV and all of that. From a basic level, how insane is it to go through this? We're just trying to not wrap our heads around it too much and just enjoy the fact that we get to play in a band for a living. That's the main thing, really. As long as we're good and we focus on rehearsing without getting wrapped up in things that are outside of simply being a great band, we'll be doing what we want to do. We just want to make sure we're ready, in case bigger things do come our way.
That's all good and it makes total sense, but are you telling me that you avoid giving each other high-fives or something when you hear one of your tunes on the radio or see one of your videos on television? No, no, we're thrilled about it all, and we welcome it all, of course. This is all we want to do. We just want to be really good.
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