By Juliet DeRose
It’s shortly after 1p.m. on a typically hot Friday in June. While most are drumming their fingers in their cubicles, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the weekend, Keith Goodwin, Tim Arnold, Dan Schwartz and their tour van roll on toward Clearwater, Florida. There, they’ll be doing a CD signing and live acoustic performance at a Best Buy shortly followed by a show at the Orpheum in Tampa. In the midst of their first headlining tour with support from Yukon Blonde and Audra Mae, they’re in their element. Next month, they’ll join bluesy songstress Brandi Carlile for a few dates before they embark on yet another tour into the fall. Collectively, they form Good Old War and although they have Philadelphia roots, the success of their sophomore album and summer-long tour are putting them on a national perspective.
Just two weeks after its release on June 1, Good Old War, a 17-track behemoth of harmony-infused folk-pop hybrid, reached an impressive number two spot on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. The album, originally planned as two EPs, also reached the four position on the Folk chart and number 23 on the Independent Albums chart. Moreover, it placed number one on the iTune’s singer/songwriter chart and is currently featured on iTune’s “Indie Spotlight: singer/songwriter” playlist.
Along with its self-title-ment, the album lends each part of its epithet to an instrumental track. “We made those songs because they represent each of us,” Tim Arnold, drummer, singer and occasional accordion player, claims, “Keith’s (Good) is whimsical, very cheerful and happy, mine (Old) is a little strange and dark and Dan’s (War) is guitar-oriented and very mellow and pretty.” Those tracks represent the crux of the album: little idiosyncrasies that work in a collaborative effort to form a cohesive product. After all, their moniker is derived from a part of themselves: Goodwin, ArnOld and SchWartz (They decided to forgo using their entire names for fear of sounding too much like a law firm.)
Rising from the ashes of Keith and Tim’s previous project, Days Away, Good Old War was formed in 2008 after Dan, formerly from alternative-country band, Unlikely Cowboy, completed the trio. Unlike the harder rock sound of Days Away, Good Old War represents simple, old-fashioned storytelling backed by hauntingly beautiful melodies. “We knew we wanted to make [Good Old War] way more stripped down and mellow in a way than Days Away wasn’t; it was way too loud,” Tim says, “[Days Away] was like, ‘We’ve got these songs, now let’s play the craziest shit we can think of over top.'”
Since their first album in 2008, Only Way To Be Alone, the band has kept busy touring, recording a split EP with Chicago-based acoustic folk band and fellow label mates, Cast Spells, which was released in December of last year, and recording Good Old War (Sargent House).
The most refreshing aspect of the triumvirate is their genuinely candid nature; they are the dreamers, creators and manufacturers of their sound. While creating the new album, backdropped against the desolate Pocono Mountains, they explored a different avenue through only relying on each other: no producer, no studio.
However, this process of self-reliance has its pros and cons. “When you have a producer and a studio, it’s more formal because you have more help and more things at your disposal but you’re on a time schedule; you have to get your shit done right away,” Tim says. “But when we’re sitting comfortably in a mountain house and it’s just the three of us, we have all day and all night to do whatever we want. It’s much easier but also much harder because you have to rely on yourself and your band mates.”
Although it may not be obvious at first, most of the tracks off Good Old War center around heartache and times of despondency. For example, “My Name’s Sorrow” laments, “I think I was meant for an uglier time/ My harmony’s all out of tune.” But, ironically, the songs are backed by such pretty, uplifting melodies (suggesting a reggae influence). Tim explains, “We have a funny disposition in our instrumentation of things but maybe not-so funny of a disposition in our lyrics.” Regardless of their disposition, the combination of poignant, revealing lyrics and melodious rhythms makes Good Old War uncommonly innovative.
Their Twitter account self-describes them as “a band of brothers who sing together in glorious harmony wherever we may roam” but is the harmonizing trio really just like brothers or does the constant exposure to one another and vigorous tour schedule divide them? “We actually all slept in the same bed together last night. We got to the hotel room and there was one king-sized bed so the three of us slept together and…we all snore,” says Tim, unashamedly.
Tomorrow, they will head to Orlando for another show then proceed to meander up the east coast, filling venues and spreading their songs like gospel. The tour is half-way over and it may be easy to get stuck in the moment: playing a new venue each night, hundreds of miles from home where, for the first time, fans are coming out to specifically see them, singing along like children around a campfire. But, just like the infectiously catchy hook from their track “World Watching” claims, “Got to keep moving, got to keep moving on…”, so must they.