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Band Notes: Good Old War

We catch up with the Philly three-piece’s Keith Goodwin to talk Counting Crows, musical inspiration, and getting “Mad Men” stars to appear in your video.

Good Old War. Photograph by Andy Patch.

We last chatted with Philadelphia-based band Good Old War
back in April, when they
were in town to play a show at Black

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,
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

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

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

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

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

Good Old War plays Black Cat this Tuesday, August 7. Tickets ($15) are available via
Black Cat’s website.