Band Notes: Good Old War

The Philly-based three-piece’s drummer, Tim Arnold, talks touring, Twitter, and the mystery of Taylor Swift.

By: Tanya Pai

Call it the T-Pain backlash: It seems like these days, that overproduced, Auto-Tuned-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life sound that used to be so omnipresent is (thankfully) being passed over in favor of a softer, more folksy style.

Enter Good Old War, the Philadelphia-based group made up of Keith Goodwin, Daniel Schwartz, and Tim Arnold. The trio (whose name comes from a combo of the members' last names) puts out dreamy, infectiously poppy tunes that turn lyrics about complex subjects such as lost love, guilt, and regret into something as sweetly and simply enjoyable as a summer afternoon on the porch. They just released their third album, Come Back As Rain, on March 6, and play the Black Cat this Saturday. We caught up with drummer Tim to chat about the new album, social media, and the "sketchy parts" of DC.

Do you have a favorite or least favorite part about touring?

Playing shows is a lot of fun, but right now I'm kind of ready to go home and chill and not drive anywhere every single day. Sometimes it feels like things are out of control, you have to do certain things; but when you're home, you get to be like, 'What do I want to do today?" On tour you're forced into situations, but they're fun situations. But we have to do it. And then I'll get home, and be home for two weeks and think, "I gotta get out of here, I gotta go somewhere." Once you get the bug, you can't stop traveling. It's just our life.

So what do you do when you actually get a moment at home?

I usually like to take a walk or a bike ride, go to my favorite bars, see my friends. You know, mix it up a little bit.

Do you have a favorite city to hit while you're on tour?

We love going to Philly. It's always good to play your hometown. New York's fun, DC is fun, of course! But there's probably not a specific place we love the most.

Have you guys played DC many times before?

We're from three hours away from DC, so we've played there a bunch, and we love it. It's kind of got a similar charm to Philly; we've played in pretty sketchy parts of DC, and it felt like home.

Tell me about how Good Old War got together.

Keith and I were in a band [Days Away] back in the day, right out of high school. I went to college for a year, Keith moved to Cali with the band and then came home, and I joined on keyboard; I pretended to play keyboard, then decided to switch to drums. We toured for seven, eight years, and then dissolved. And as the band was dissolving I'd moved to Philly proper from the 'burbs, and I met this girl, and she knew Dan. He was a great guitar player, and I started jamming in Dan's band. And out of the ashes of both of those groups we started playing. Our label gave us a chance to make a record, and then our friend Anthony Green took us on tour, and we were literally writing harmonies in the van on our way to shows.

I saw on Facebook that you guys had to cancel a couple of shows this month--can you tell me what happened?

I had bronchitis for a month, so I was in some serious pain. And then Keith was having some back pains that were pretty bad, and he had to go to the hospital. But we're all better now! Touring is hard.

Speaking of Facebook, it seems like you guys are pretty active there and on Twitter. Do you manage those accounts yourself, or is it a publicist?

We do our own, I'm mostly on Twitter and Instagram. Management helps us run it; they give us the news updates, like where we're playing, since they have all the details. But all the goofball things are from us.

Do you think social media has played a role in your trajectory as a band? What about in the songwriting process, seeing how fans react instantaneously?

Yeah, probably in a huge way. You get to kind of remind people you're there, and you have conversations with people all over the world. In terms of songwriting . . . I never really thought about it. It's possible. But when we write--speaking for myself--I think about what the song's going to be about, and just try to let it ride.

You just released your third album, Come Back As Rain. Can you tell me about the writing process?

For this one we wrote cooperatively. We'd all sit together and take a song apart, add things, talk about it, make it a Good Old War song as opposed to one person's song. We had help from music producer Jason Cupp, too. It was a good writing experience. We all got our hands dirty.

Would you say your sound has evolved drastically from your first album to this one?

I think it's different, since we wrote it differently. We're always growing, and it's cool to see the evolution to where we are now. It's a good evolution. But it's usually the three of us and an acoustic guitar anyway, so I think we'll always have that base sound.

Is there a song you guys have made that you like or identify with the most?

I love them all. They're all my children [laughs]. Maybe some a little more than others, but I love them all. We really make sure we all love a song before we even think about releasing one. "Not Quite Happiness" gives me goosebumps; it's deeply personal, it really resonates with me, and I like the intensity.

USA Today described your sound as a cross between Taylor Swift and the Beatles--would you agree with that?

[laughs] Well I'm not really familiar with Taylor Swift, but I've heard of the Beatles. We love them. It's hard to describe your own sound--a lot of people say we sound like Crosby, Stills & Nash, or Paul Simon. But we looked into all types of stuff--we'll go from Aphex Twin to country-bluegrass to reggae. It's not a conscious thing [to choose an influence]. We just say, "Let's write the song that comes out of us," and those influences get in there. I'm sure even stuff we don't like gets in there.

Seems like that harmony-driven, acoustic sound is getting increasingly popular, what with you guys and bands like Fleet Foxes and the Civil Wars. What do you think it is people find so appealing about that type of music?

I think it's because it's real. It's people singing together, it's organic, it's a departure from the average Auto-Tuned, super-produced stuff on the radio. It's a breath of fresh air for a lot of people.

Who do you listen to in your spare time?

A lot of Rufus Wainwright. His new record is just phenomenal. I also really like Andrew Bird. There's a lot of good music out there these days.

Was being a musician always the plan? Or did you have a backup?

Since I was 13 I was obsessed with playing music. I kind of went to college because it was something to do--like you think after you get out of high school you gotta go to college. So I did, but I didn't; I never went to any classes, I just partied really hard. I majored in art for one semester, then switched to music. But for the thing I was trying to do, school was a waste of money. You can't go to school to become a rock star. You just get started.

You guys recently performed on Conan O'Brien's show. What was that like?

Really cool. But it's very different from performing a stage show. You have to get there really early--sound check is at like 9 in the morning, and then you wait until 4 to shoot the song. Also people in the audience are sitting down, and no one's drunk, except for us [laughs]. It was cool! It was like--showbiz, like this big professional production.

So what can we expect from your live show?

It's a big old sing-along, a campfire, a hoedown! The main goal of the night is to have fun.

Good Old War play at Black Cat this Saturday, April 28. Tickets ($18) are available through Black Cat's website.