March 14, 2012

Good Old War: Getting Better All The Time

Good Old War
If the members of Good Old War share an abiding ambition for the music they make, it’s that each new record should be better than the last one. With their latest, Come Back as Rain (Sargent House), the indie-folk trio — Keith Goodwin (vocals/guitar/keyboards), Dan Schwartz (vocals/guitar), and Tim Arnold (vocals/drums) — nurture the fluent harmonies and shimmering acoustic guitars that distinguish their sound while reflecting an increasingly concerted effort to grow and progress over time.

“Even when there’s no new album to make, we’re still all writing, constantly,” Arnold explains. “We all sit down, look at lyrics, look at structure, look at what chords are being used, what key it’s in, whether it’s going to sound good, what words are being used. And we all get together and work it out and build it with three people.”

The songs that comprise Come Back as Rain had mostly been written before recording sessions began at ARC Studios, an Omaha, Nebraska compound owned by Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes. “Of course when we got there we changed stuff, naturally, added different things,” Arnold points out, adding, “We try and get prepared every time we go into the studio.”

It’s been just four years since the release of Good Old War’s full-length debut, Only Way to Be Alone, but they’ve nonetheless come a long way. Arnold agrees. “We’ve just all gotten more comfortable with each other as musicians,” he says. “If we’re just jamming we know where each other’s going to go; we have signals to subconsciously use on each other to go in certain directions. After a while with playing with someone you just get into a rhythm. It gets easier.”

That’s not to say it’s gotten easy. With a headlining tour now underway and showcase performances scheduled this week at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin the stakes continue to rise. “We’re very hard on ourselves when it comes to the live stuff,” Arnold insists, stressing that such consideration occurs well before they take the stage. “We go into the studio and if we have a song, we’re like, ‘It needs to be able to be played acoustic and sound just as good. Let’s not put too much stuff on here, keep it kind of simple so when we do play it live it’s not going to be a huge departure from the record.’ We’ve got to keep that in mind the whole time.”

As with any other musical group in which each member has an equal say creative disagreements are bound to happen, culminating in some rather heated moments. “There is definitely tension,” Arnold concedes, “but for the most part we trust each other. We lean on each other sometimes. And when someone has a very strong opinion on something, it’s usually like, ‘Fine. If you really feel that strongly about it, then let’s do it.’ And it usually works out.”