Since the release of their 2008 debut, Only Way To Be Alone, the members of Good Old War have brought their music around the world. Filling venues with songs that are firmly rooted -and propelled- by layers of harmony, the shared vocals of their records and live performances reveal traces of the strong collaborative nature that the group was founded on. Eliciting a natural bond as musicians and songwriters, Keith Goodwin remembered how the longtime friends had first developed their sound when they chose to begin a project together. “When we decided to start the group it was mainly because we liked each other’s songwriting,” he recalled during a phone conversation with Pancakes and Whiskey. “Then while we were trying to figure that out, before we had a name for the band or anything, we were doing these shows at the place I was working at the time, at this bar. We were doing all cover songs. We were doing, you know, like Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkle, and just kind of classic rock with a lot of harmonies. That’s when we realized that we could do that because we were like, ‘Oh that sounds pretty good, maybe we can do that in our own music,’ and that’s pretty much where that came from.”
Currently on tour in the US after a string of European dates supporting Brian Fallon, Good Old War’s latest album, 2015’s Broken Into Better Shape, was their first release since the exit of drummer Tim Arnold was announced the previous summer. Describing how the writing process had always involved the entire band, Goodwin spoke about how the former trio would work through any potential material as a unit, even if a composition was originally conceived of or written individually. “Even if we write songs separately, we bring them in and we all talk about them and we may make changes just so that everybody’s happy with them,” he began. “That’s kind of how it was in the beginning and then the more we did that, the better we were at writing together.” Although even now, the musician noted that the practice is one that benefits from constant change. “We try to write in all kinds of different ways- keep it fresh,” he said. “Obviously, if we’re at home and we’re not with each other and we have an instrument and we just start writing something, then that’s always good. And then also, we’ll just try to get together one day and be like, ‘Let’s write a song.’” Noting how he and guitarist Dan Schwartz have continued to sharpen their ideas alongside each other, he pointed to their mutual regard for one another as musicians and how that has ultimately strengthened their work as a band. “We respect each other’s opinions and we make each other’s songs better,” he said. “We’re going to keep that going as long as we can.”
Discussing their most recent record and the song from which it takes its name, Goodwin said that “Broken into Better Shape” was written as a response to watching several close friends struggle with addiction. “One of them actually said something to me that was sort of disturbing and that’s where that song started. He was like, ‘I’m one more mistake from losing everything,’ and coming from one of your best friends…I didn’t realize how bad his problem was before that,” he said before later adding, “Basically, I was trying to write it from their perspective in the future, being like, ‘Things have gotten better and things are better than ever,’ that kind of thing.” Returning to the phrase, “Broken into better shape,” anytime the question of an album title was brought up, Goodwin said that the line was something that he, Schwartz and their friends and family had all responded to, even before the band members realized how much it applied to the themes and ideas that stretch across the record’s ten songs.
Pushing past the pace and tone of previous collections, additional tracks like “Tell Me What You Want From Me” and “Never Gonna See Me Cry” find the group experimenting with different sounds. And while each step in a new direction reflects their shared motivation to continue to try new things with each new album, Goodwin spoke about how Arnold’s departure alone had made recording Broken Into Better Shape feel considerably different than anything they had ever done before. “We didn’t know he was going to leave and we had maybe half of the songs written for the album,” he said. “When he was there we wrote the songs kind of the same way we would always write the songs. Once he left, putting together the album was a totally different experience. It was kind of a fun challenge. I mean, making something new is always a fun challenge, but that opened up different possibilities and we could try different things. There were conversations about should it just be acoustic or -we we’re already on the route of making the songs sound bigger than they had in the past- so we didn’t really want to go backwards.” Continuing to travel down the road they had envisioned from the start, the musician said, “We were just trying to serve the songs individually and put down any idea that we could think of. We set out to do that in the beginning so we just stayed on that path and saw it through.”
Broken Into Better Shape Is Available Now
Don’t Miss Good Old War At Philadelphia’s World Café Live on 6/3
Article: Caitlin Phillips