For the past eight years, Boston's rising stars Girls Guns and Glory have been making a name for themselves through relentless touring (about 200 gigs a year worldwide), the release of four critically acclaimed records, a slew of local awards, including being the Boston Music Awards first act of its genre to win Act of the Year, and international awards (Independent Artist of the Year at the French Country Music Awards). And, now, the hard-working band is refining their focus to the roots of rock 'n' roll with a twist of country on their fifth album, "Good Luck," due on February 4, 2014 on Lonesome Day Records.
The foursome (Ward Hayden on vocals/guitar, Paul Dilley on electric and upright bass/piano, Josh Kiggans on drums/percussion, and Chris Hersch on lead guitar/banjo) found inspiration for this record from early '50s rock 'n' roll icons such as Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, and Buddy Holly, as well as country greats like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
The early rock 'n' roll inspiration is somewhat of a full circle moment for Hayden. "This style of music was in the house I grew up in," explains Hayden. "My mom was a fan of the earlier country music and early rock 'n' roll, but I didn't have real taste for it until I was about 20. I had this beat up old Oldsmobile that didn't have a radio, only a tape deck. My mom would lend me her tapes of Johnny Cash or Hank Williams so I'd have something to listen to. I fell in love with the sound; it was everything I had been looking for."
Fast-forward to today and GGG is looking back to that era of music for a more rock 'n' roll-focused record with producer Eric "Roscoe" Ambel (Nils Lofgren, Steve Earle, The Bottle Rockets) at the helm. "We were familiar with the work he'd done with Steve Earle and The Bottle Rockets and he was Joan Jett's original guitarist. Right after we made our fourth record 'Sweet Nothings' in 2011, he heard us on the radio and contacted us, asking about our plans. It's funny because we had been talking about trying to get in touch with him and there he is calling us out of the blue," explains Hayden.
It was this serendipitous coming together that really solidified the sound of "Good Luck." "One of the ways we really benefited from Roscoe was that he had seen us play live several times and was able to see what the audience reacted to the most," continues Hayden. "Even though we play a variety of styles of music, he saw that fans really reacted to the more rocking songs. We wanted to focus this album on making more of a straightforward rock 'n' roll record that would translate well to the live show and he really helped us accomplish that."
Of the band's musical evolution over the past few years, Hayden says, "Our sound has been evolving from country to where we are now. I label what we do now as American music. It's really rooted in various American forms of music whether it's rockabilly or hillbilly boogie or traditional country or rock 'n' roll. I consider us a rock 'n' roll band blended with classic country music, but this new album is really more of a straight up rock 'n' roll album."
The 10-track album kicks off with the heartfelt, feel-good rocker "All the Way Up To Heaven," which sets the tone for the album thematically. "It's about finally winning in love and feeling that thrill of getting something good and having a true appreciation of it. For a lot of our older stuff, my muse was a long-term relationship that had not ended well. For this record, I didn't have that same muse. I have an appreciation of finally having something good and developed that appreciation from having something that was less than good before. We went from 'tear in your beer' types of songs to the feeling of 'I own every star up in the sky,' a lyric from this song," says the singer.
The record was written over the past two years with the exception of two songs, "Shake Like Jello" and "UUU," which have been in the band's repertoire for about four years. "We never really had a place for those songs because we were viewing ourselves more of a country band than a rock 'n' roll band and those two songs are definitely more rocking. They fit perfectly on this album," he notes.
Another key track showing off the band's love and appreciation for all things rock is "C'mon Honey." "I think this is my favorite song on the record because it has these elements of punk and the Ramones mixed with Eddie Cochran rock 'n' roll. Roscoe and I both love the Ramones, so this sound is kind of the result of that," he says. Lyrically, the song was inspired by a night out with the band where every member had a lovers' quarrel with their significant other on the same night. The next day, "C'mon Honey" was born.
Another song close to GGG's heart and the band's Northeast roots is the ballad "Centralia, PA." "Chris and Paul are originally from Eastern Pennsylvania and we tour a lot in that area. We found out about this coal-mining town there called Centralia that was destroyed by a coal fire over 50 years ago. It's a ghost town now because it's unfit to live in. I became fascinated by the tragic story of the town and we kind of wanted to put Centralia back on the map with this song," he says.
While the band had the luxury of time while writing the album, recording it was just the opposite. They laid down 10 tracks in just six days of somewhat short recording sessions of just nine or 10 hours at a time. The speed of the recording is a testament to the band's musical prowess. "We went in there very prepared and knew to use our time effectively and efficiently. The songs were pretty much ready to go, with the exception of 'All The Way Up To Heaven' because having banjo wasn't originally the idea. Same thing with the saxophone on 'Be Your Man' – those were the missing elements for those songs," he explains.
Unlike on previous recordings where auxiliary musicians were brought in to play special parts, every instrument on "Good Luck" was played by the band members themselves with the exception of the saxophone of "Be Your Man." For instance, Hersch, who was rated one of the Top 20 Roots Guitar Players by the Alternate Root magazine, plays banjo on "All The Way Up to Heaven." Dilley plays piano on "Shake Like Jello" and "Built For Speed," and Ward traded in his trusty acoustic guitar for an electric six-string marking the singer's first time playing an electric. "We wanted to do as much ourselves as possible. That was another one of Roscoe's influences; he said these are songs for electric guitar not acoustic as we originally planned. It's made it so our live show now has electric rhythm guitar as well," says Hayden.
As for the album's title, each band member threw about 10 ideas into the hat and "Good Luck" was the only one that everyone could agree on. Hayden explains where it came from: "I picked up this really cool token that featured all these different good luck icons like a four-leaf clover, a wishbone, a swami looking into a crystal ball, and the all-seeing eye. And that's exactly what we wish for this album – good luck. But there's also the sarcastic way to say good luck and with the state of the music industry today it's kind of like, 'yeah good luck.' The guys liked both the literal and sarcastic meaning of it, so it stuck."
"Good Luck," which was produced and mixed by Ambel and recorded by Mario Viele at Cowboy Technical Services Recording Rig in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is available on CD, vinyl and iTunes on February 4, 2014 via Lonesome Day Records, an independent label that specialized in Americana and Bluegrass with previous releases including Fred Eaglesmith's critically acclaimed Tinderbox and Cha Cha Cha.
And for a fitting close to a wild and wonderful 2013 Girls Guns and Glory took home Americana Artist of the Year at the 2013 Boston Music Awards and Ward Hayden won for Male Vocalist of the Year. And, Girls Guns and Glory is currently on the road...as usual!