Philadelphia’s acoustic pop trio, Good Old War, bring their buoyant and infectious anthems to the Independent in support of their latest record, Broken Into Better Shape.
Clapping, whistling and intuitive sing-alongs are almost subliminal when listening to the catchy tunes of Good Old War, who teamed up with big names like T-Collar to help shape their latest record, Broken Into Better Shape. “Tell Me What You Want From Me,” features everything a pop song requires; an upbeat drum track that confronts the listener within seconds, digestible guitar melodies that are more creative than flashy, a backbone composed of groovy synthesized bass lines and a contagious chorus that most people can relate to. Singer Keith Goodwin and Guitarist Dan Shwartz have created a formula that showcase their talents, comprising music from intricate guitar riffs and thoughtful and intelligent vocal compositions hinged on the spirit of pop, folk and rock n’ roll. We caught up with Goodwin to talk about their latest record, writing with top-notch songwriters and their transition into acoustic music.
Your latest record, Broken Into Better Shape, is probably your most produced record to date. You worked with Jason Lehning (Alison Krauss and Union Station) and Vance Powell (Jack White) on the record. Were you going for a bigger sound and how did they affect the overall outcome of the album?
We definitely wanted to take the sound we had and make it bigger. Jason was great and kind of helped us get our ideas out there and brought a bunch of musicians to play on the record. He knows how to deal with artists in a way where everybody feels good all the time. It was funny cause we gave him the rough mixes and he was like, “well, I’m gonna do my thing with it.” We were like, “that’s why you’re hired!” He kind of gave it a bit of an edge.
You had co-writers on a few songs, including the track “Fly Away” with Emile Haynie and “Tell Me What You Want From Me” with Tinashe Sibanda, aka T-Collar. What was the process like for you?
It was awesome. We asked them if they wanted to write these songs and they were down. It was interesting getting in a room and seeing how they work, and it worked out great. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s fun either way.
Did you already have rough versions of songs or did you start from scratch?
It was different each time. With “Fly Away” we had all the versus and we knew we wanted a chorus, so we started working on that with Emile, and then we decided we wanted a bridge and came up with that. Everybody has their own thing that they bring to the table, lyrics or whatever. Some people have their specialty and sometimes you start from scratch. Only one song we started from scratch, “Don’t Forget,” we wrote in Nashville. It came out really fast but it worked. “Tell Me What You Want From Me” and “Small World” was basically built from a beat.
I’d imagine that a lot of artists have too much ego to work with another songwriter…
“Small World” was written by the three of us, but it’s just the same as lining up with another songwriter and bouncing ideas off each other. That’s why we don’t mind because we’ve done it in the past already with each other. It’s like having a new member of the band. But yeah, I get that. I feel like I was like that a long time ago. Since I’ve been in this band I’ve sort of let go of that ego. We trust each other and if you have a mutual respect for each other than it works.
You wrote close to fifty songs for this record. How difficult was it for you to narrow it down to ten tracks for this record? Are some of the castaways still in live rotation?
It was very difficult. We kind of just went off showing it to other people, producers and songwriters, and getting our friends and family’s reactions. But all the other ones aren’t gone. There are good ideas in all of them. “Amazing Eyes” we wrote a long time ago and it didn’t make it on a record until Come Back As Rain.
Your previous band, Days Away, was a bit heavier. What drove you to playing a more stripped down acoustic style of music?
At the time we were young so we didn’t really know how to make a band work. We didn’t really have great guidance. We’d go out on tour and bring a crew and wouldn’t have a sound guy. We’d have like 7 or 8 people on tour and come home without much money. One of the things we wanted with Good Old War was to keep it a small band. We want to go on tour, but you can’t do what you love if you’re not making money. If you’re in a smaller band you can do that.
We decided to go acoustic due to a lot of things. I wasn’t hearing my vocals, and a lot of that was not having a sound guy, but one of the most important things to me is hearing my vocals and playing acoustically allowed us to do that. We didn’t even have to plug in and people could hear me.
I met Dan who was a great guitar player and songwriter and had been playing with Tim, who was in my old band, Days Away, and we had been playing since high school. So when we started playing Tim switched to brushes, and we started singing harmonies.
There were some issues with Tim being in and out of the band to join his family. So just to clarify, are you touring as a duo or a trio?
It’s the three of us again. We just played our first show last night. It took a little figuring out but it sounds really good.
You toured with fellow Pennsylvania natives, Dr. Dog. Do you keep up with those guys?
We’re all good friends. It’s the same thing with Alison Kraus. We’ve been lucky to be on tour with bands we love.
Dr. Dog just released a song dedicated to the Phillies mascot, the Phanatic.
They did, it’s awesome. We heard that song probably four years ago when we sang “God Bless America” at a Phillies game. The guy that was touring us around showed it to us. Dr. Dog gave it them but they just released it online.
Good Old War play the Independent on January 27th