It’s been a decade or so since we’ve heard new tunes from The Good Fear. When the Fayetteville outfit put out their excellent new LP Long Gone Brand New in late April, we received a solid batch of midtempo indie tracks that felt like the band was simply picking up where it left off. The LP seemed like a natural transition from 2009’s Keep in Touch and with it came a renewed sense of hope for the indie rock genre. Long Gone Brand New isn’t flashy or necessarily innovative. Rather it’s a record that plays to the strengths of its creators: a collection of well-written songs with great melodies, strong lyrics and beautiful harmonies.
Though the record has been out a few months, the band — which consists of Todd Gill and Zach Holland on guitar and vocals, respectively, Damon Singleton on drums, Bryan Brown on bass and Dustin Bartholomew on keys and guitar — will host an official release party for the album on Friday at Smoke & Barrel. The album is already available on streaming platforms and in physical forms in select locations (including Block Street Records), but copies will also be available at the show Friday night.
The band recently took the time to chat with Shindigmusic to talk songwriting, influences and what’s next for them. You can view their responses below.
Shindigmusic: First off, this is a really excellent record. It’s a great mixture of modern rock and indie sounds with a dash of classic acts like The Band and harmonies and melodies in the vein of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Eagles. Can you tell us a little about your musical influences and how that impacts your writing?
The Good Fear (Zach Holland): So glad that somebody gets it! I think the subtleties of all those elements and the influences we try to meld often get overlooked or ignored altogether and people just lump us into some kind of undefined indie category or, even worse, emo! Others hear rock drums and harmonies and immediately call us a Beatles knock off. I will never take offense to being compared to the Beatles, but that’s something people say if they haven’t explored the genre much for themselves.
There is no singular vision in TGF, and we rarely approach writing with any preconceived design or sound (although we are dead set on making a hard rock album next). Any member’s influences might impact a song, and we all tend to listen to a pretty wide variety. I listen to a lot of old rock, R&B, and soul. I have come full circle on the Eagles, and it has become an obsession to find live a Capital Centre ‘77 concert DVD. I think it might be the greatest live rock performance I have ever seen, and my theory is that if nobody had ever heard of them, everybody would love them. As it is, everybody loves them but hides it or is sick of hearing them. Understandable, but their blend of melodic rock and harmonies with light and dark themes is great, and their musicianship is way above most rock bands.
We often hang out after practice and introduce each other to new music. We were recently listening to Weyes Blood, a great new record, down at the studio. Some of the guys still listen to indie rock stuff. I listen to a lot of amateur music and friends’ bands. One major influence on my songwriting is Fiona Apple (and Jon Brion). She has always snuck into my writing and phrasing ever since Tidal, back when I first began writing songs. So I would say we often find ourselves starting with a Fiona Applesque song, taking it to the band and it becomes a mash of country or rock guitars with some indie rock riffs, then I might shoot for a poppy R&B or soul melody which we eventually add Tom Pettyish harmonies to, and finally add a female vocal harmony or duet to bring it full circle. Of course, it’s never done that consciously or methodically, but if it ends up in that territory, it tends to deliver a satisfying blend of original and familiar. We also go to lengths to ensure that the song is interesting enough to hold our attention and not just strumming and humming. I am always looking for places to add drama, and this is also where the rhythm section does its most to add a lot of dynamics. Sometimes we might step over the line of tasteful to be interesting, but I’d rather be riding that line than safely in the boring territory that holds up popular music in most genres.
If there’s any influence or comparison to The Band, it’s in our whatever-it-takes approach. The Band is known for the distinctive blend of instruments, horns, keys, etc., and odd harmonies, but they describe it all as just using what was at their disposal: an odd blend of players and no particular vision besides making the best of it all. I would most like to be thought of as Southern Rock. I think there is something Southern about our music, and I don’t see why Southern Rock can’t expand beyond 1975.
Shindigmusic: Speaking of writing: how does your songwriting process work? Do you all contribute or is there one primary idea brought in and things build off of that?
TGF: (Todd Gill): Our songs are usually brought in by one person who already has a strong verse or chorus worked out. From there, the band works together to complete the music. Lyrics are almost always the last step, and sometimes come together at literally the last minute (in the studio).
Shindigmusic: Long Gone Brand New is a killer record as a whole, but the songs I keep coming back to are “Autumn Leaves of Oklahoma,” “Like a Ghost,” and “Wandering.” And I think I like those songs because they’re well-constructed and seem to really tell a story. Can you describe a little bit about your approach with those songs, both lyrically and musically?
TGF (Zach Holland on Autumn Leaves of Oklahoma): This song has been written, recorded, rewritten, at least three times; once by a totally different band I was in with another singer singing it. I wrote the original song in 2001, upon moving to New York City, and it had a totally different lyric and melody. I had some help arranging it in that band. I kept the arrangement, and many years later began reworking it. I don’t recall why. (I was) probably TGF was looking for new material, so I just played the chords at practice and started writing new words on the spot, as tends to happen. Once we had it ready for recording, (Dustin Bartholomew) added the idea for the intro, and we looped the beginning sequence. I improvised the keyboard sax, intending to later add real sax. I bought a real sax, learned a scale, practiced, then never even got around to trying to record it that way, because we were happy with the key sax. (Bartholomew, Barry Brown) and I added a lot of guitar and vocal tidbits, mostly improvised in our studio while recording. We were taking a Beck-style approach. I have heard he layers in the studio for a while, then later edits. So this song took a lot of mixing to get it right, but we wound up keeping most of the tracks, except an overdriven drum intro Damon didn’t like. Finally, I decided to redo the primary vocals. At that time, I was reading the Brian Wilson biography, and I was listening to a lot of him and his brother. I did the final vocal in my best Dennis Wilson impression. I did stack some Beach Boys-type harmonies, but they didn’t work, so we scaled back to only two or three. I don’t think I ever even let anyone hear those. That complex harmony stuff is hard!
As far as lyrically, it’s me remembering one of those days as a kid when you are feeling pretty good, probably a sunny, cool day when you are feeling the changing of the seasons, and the grass is yellow in autumn. I was trying to remember what details I could about a non-specific day, sitting inside, looking outside through a screen door. It’s a suburban scene — homes underwrote (I work in the exciting world of mortgage financing). The “Autumn Leaves of Oklahoma” phrase was the right number of syllables to match the guitar riff I liked, and it has something bittersweet about it, like everything else in Oklahoma. The last lyric I wrote was the bit saying “you can’t go home, but you can be one,” about fatherhood and the reality that looking back is fleeting, but there is opportunity for new experiences. We are long gone and brand new.
Holland on “Wandering”: This was a rare occasion when I did start with a specific influence and idea: Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” was the model for this song. We did not copy it, and, naturally, we could not match one of the best songs by one of the best artists ever, so we added some of our own flare to get over, but I am happy with the result. I wrote the song and lyrics while living in Little Rock around 2012. TGF was not active, but I had been traveling up to play with them in Fayetteville for a few years, and I had been touring with another band, coming in and out of town. We had a two-year-old. Little Rock has much more intense weather than Fayetteville — at least when it comes to tornado threats. The sky might get green or purple and the wind is intense, and we had a few occasions that sent us into the hall under the stairs with a guitar and a flask. I wrote it on one of those occasions. My wife, Heather, does the female vocal part. (Editor’s note: Zach and Heather also have a side project band called Thunder Comfort that takes its name from the song.)
Gill on “Like a Ghost”: “Like a Ghost” is one of the oldest songs on the record (besides “The Good Fear”) and it’s a wonder it ever got this far. The chorus bubbled up in our practice space over a dozen years ago, but we didn’t find a verse that worked until three years later. Even then, it didn’t sound natural, so it was shelved for another four years until Dustin finally wrote the intro which also glues the two parts together. It needed either a bridge or an outro, but it wasn’t until another few years that I brought in a stray piece I’d written and tried it as an ending, which was the last piece of the puzzle.
Shindigmusic: Seems like you guys are very in tune with nature and your surroundings. Does living in Arkansas influence your writing?
TGF (Holland): Yes, see “Wandering.” Every year, older I get, the more I notice that my emotions are tied directly to weather and seasons; so, whatever the weather, wherever I be, is probably me.
Shindigmusic: What was the first band or musician to inspire you to play music?
TGF (Brown): For me it was back in junior high, going over to a friend’s house and seeing he and his brother play music in their garage. It blew me away that they could make these huge sounds together with just some drums and a guitar. I remember thinking “I want to do that!” That drummer was Jeremy Lord from an old Fayetteville pop-punk band that some people might remember called Rofkar.
Shindigmusic: What are your goals for your band and your music in the coming year?
TGF (Brown): Well we can’t really do any touring due to family and work obligations. What we’d really like to do is keep working on new songs. This record took so long to make that we’ve actually got a number of new and almost finished songs stashed away. We plan on getting those finished up and recorded and released. It will most likely not be another full-length and will be online only. We’re excited to keep going.
Shindigmusic: If you could tour with any two acts, who would they be?
Shindigmusic: What are your three desert island discs that you can’t live without?
TGF (Singleton): David Byrne’s Grown Backwards, Beck’s Sea Change, and Paul Simon’s Graceland. These are timelessly satisfying albums to me!
Shindigmusic: The album release show is Friday. What can people who’ve never seen you perform before expect from your live shows?
TGF (Dustin Bartholomew): Hopefully a tight, well-put together set of original music played with plenty of passion and energy. We’re always a little louder than we probably should be, but we’re working on that. Probably a few awkward jokes between songs. I think that covers it. Also, I want to mention that our friend Justin Peter Kinkel Schuster (Water Liars, Marie Lepanto) is playing with us that night as Constant Stranger, and we’re very excited about that.
Shindigmusic: Finally, following the Smoke & Barrel show, will you be doing a proper full-scale tour to promote the record?
TGF (Holland): Yep, I mean … nope. We will make it down to Little Rock soon though. For now, we are hoping to remind NWA that we are still here, or we are back, or whatever, we are Long Gone Brand New.
PHOTO CREDIT: Clayton Taylor