We last chatted with Philadelphia-based band Good Old War back in April, when they were in town to play a show at Black Cat. They return to the venue tomorrow, but vocalist/guitarist Keith Goodwin, a recent father, is currently taking advantage of some down time to hang out with his son and rehearse for an upcoming tour this fall, which means he almost missed this interview because his nine-month-old son started to cry. Fatherhood aside, Goodwin, drummer Tim Arnold, and guitarist Dan Schwartz have spent several hours a day perfecting tunes off their latest album, Come Back as Rain. The emotionally charged record, already voted one of the best releases of 2012 by iTunes, will be the centerpiece of Tuesday night’s show at the Black Cat (the gig is one of three preempting a larger opening tour with Dispatch this September). Multilayered and richly acoustic, the record has helped shape a growing fan base around Good Old War’s raw, melodic sound. (It also doesn’t hurt that Mad Men actress Peyton List, a.k.a. Jane Sterling, stars in the music video for their latest single, “Amazing Eyes.”) We caught up with Goodwin to discuss writing the new album, touring with the Counting Crows, and his secret love for electronic beats.
You have a big tour coming up in September—what’s the band up to until that starts?
Well, we just got done touring with the Counting Crows for about a month, then we did some Canadian festivals on the way back—they were all really awesome. Now we’re just practicing for a couple shows we have in August, so we’re doing that and writing songs and hanging out with our families. We go back out on tour at the end of September for a solid three months, so right now’s our time to just practice for three or four hours a day and spend time with our families.
What was the tour with the Counting Crows like?
It was really good. It was a good opportunity to get in front of a lot people who haven’t heard us before. Hopefully everyone had a good time while we were playing. I think it was good for us; we sold a lot of CDs. Plus it was all amphitheaters, so it was fun to play outside in the sunshine.
What was the reaction from new Counting Crows fans who hadn’t heard you before?
Really good—we’ve been lucky to be on good opening tours with good bands. I like to open for bands because it seems to be a way to get people to come out to our shows and sell a bunch of CDs, and then hopefully the next time there’re a couple hundred more people at our shows. Adam [Duritz] is really hands on with everything, so we got to know him pretty well. We had a good time.
Where did the album title for Come Back As Rain come from?
I had written a song for my aunt when she passed away, and it was a line from that. We didn’t end up using that song, but we ended up going back to that line for the album.
What about that line resonated with everyone?
I guess it was like a moment in the song where it really kind of hit home for everybody. Then somebody brought it up, [saying], “What if [the album] is Come Back As Rain?” and everybody liked it. It’s something that means a lot to me personally, but the other guys liked it too.
Did you do most of the writing?
It’s collaborative. I bring songs to the guys, and so does Dan and so does Tim. When we bring them in, everyone puts their two cents in. There was a song or two where I just had the music and Tim helped me write it. There’re a couple where we write from scratch together, but lots of them start as an idea from one of us that we bring in and all work on until everyone is happy.
Did more emotional songs, like “Not Quite Happiness” and “It Hurts Every Time,” come from the band’s personal experiences?
I think anything I’ve ever done has come from personal stuff—music is the way for me to express the things going on in my life that mean something to me. It’s funny, Dan wrote “Not Quite Happiness,” and that one even got me emotional—I was thinking about what it meant to me and got choked up while I was singing it, and I didn’t even write it. But it hit home. But yeah, I’d say all of them come from pretty serious places.
Was the reaction to the album what you wanted?
All I want is for it to progressively get better every time we release a record, and sell more records, and play in front of more people—and it’s definitely doing that. So I can’t complain. What we’ve been doing is very DIY and a slow build—like I said, we get a lot of our fans from opening up shows, so it’s a slow build and I definitely think it’s been doing good. Hopefully it keeps getting better and better.
The video for your single “Amazing Eyes” came out recently—what inspired that song?
Pretty much [the idea] that even the people in your life you’re closest to can still look at you sometimes questioning what you’re all about. It’s just funny you can be so close to someone but still wonder about them sometimes.
How’d you guys score getting [Mad Men actress] Peyton List in the video?
We got lucky—[director] Elliott Sellers contacted her, and she was into it. So it all worked out pretty good.
Now that this album is wrapped up, are you guys still writing music in between shows?
We’re constantly writing. When we’re on tour for months at a time, I end up writing a bunch of programmed beats on my computer. I have a mini keyboard that I can play in the van, so I’ve been doing all kinds of stuff, like instrumentals and hip-hop-type stuff. When I get home and I can have a guitar, I start writing songs that are more appropriate—not that the other ones couldn’t be. I constantly have ideas, and I know Dan has tons of songs, too. So it’s good like that—even though we’re not dedicating this time to writing or recording demos and all that stuff, when we actually do get time to do that, we’ll have a lot of ideas already there.
Once you’ve built up a small inventory of ideas and songs, is it hard to edit and pick just a couple you like for your records?
I think that’s kind of the fun part; I like that part. When I sit with it for a little while and lay it down, I feel like I understand the song a little more—instead of just doing it and then it’s done and that’s it. It’s kind of cool to have it and get used to it and play it a bunch of times. We’ve learned to trust each other, I guess, so if someone has an idea that everyone thinks is cool, we can change it and it’s no big deal. But obviously, if it’s something where I wrote it and it’s like, “No, it has to be this way,” I don’t have a problem pushing it that way. But if someone has an idea to change something, it’s usually a good idea. I guess that’s also a lucky thing, to be working with people who make the songs better.
Will any of the hip-hop beats or the more experimental stuff ever make its way into Good Old War records?
I think it could. What it comes down to is, I feel like we’re just trying to write good songs that people like. “Calling Me Names” I think I started on the computer and it ended up coming out on an acoustic guitar. So yeah, I think it could. I also just like the way electronic music sounds . . . so sometimes I think maybe I’ll just keep working on this and do something with it. But I don’t think we’d ever make Good Old War sound like electronic. That’s not really the same—I feel like Good Old War is raw, organic, acoustic . . . you know?
Well, it sounds like you guys are creative and the option is there, if you ever want it.
Yeah, we all love all styles of music, so it’s fun to experiment. I’ve been doing in since I was in high school—programming beats—so it’s just fun. Especially with how easy it is now with computer programs, it’s really easy to make cool stuff when you’re on the move. So instead of just sitting there and sleeping in the van, I can do something that’s productive and fun and challenging.
Would you ever release some of that stuff on your own?
Maybe? We’ve been making records with this guy Anthony Green, and the last record we made we kind of did in that style—we did a lot on keyboard and drum machines. So we get a chance to do that kind of stuff. If I make cool enough songs and actually release them and they do well, I think it would be a cool thing. But I don’t really think about releasing stuff because I’m too focused on Good Old War.
Good Old War plays Black Cat this Tuesday, August 7. Tickets ($15) are available via Black Cat’s website.