Girls Guns and Glory, Ward Hayden (vocals/guitar), Paul Dilley (electric and upright bass/piano), Josh Kiggans (drums/percussion), and Chris Hersch (lead guitar/banjo), found inspiration for their most recent release, Good Luck, from early 50’s rock and roll icons including Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry as well as country greats like Johnny Cash. The album earned them numerous accolades including a spot on Rolling Stone’s 10 New Artists You Need to Know. Front man Ward Hayden graciously took the time to talk about Good Luck, their soon to be released live tribute album to Hank Williams and much more.
You grew up in a household where classic country was predominantly played. But Girls Guns and Glory’s sound encompasses many different styles. Is that a result of what you listened to as you got older or the fact that all of you bring something different to the table?
Probably a bit of both. We all came from different backgrounds and grew up listening to some of the same music, and some different. From the time we started the band and then began this project, we refined our focus to include a classic country, early rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly style of music.
You have said that when you were young, you really didn’t have a taste for country music. What made you embrace the music?
Well, it’s funny because growing up, every now and then a country song would catch my ear and I would think it was cool, but it didn’t really resonate with me on any level beyond sort of being background music. When I was twenty and finally had some life experiences, the kind that kick your heart around a little bit, I listened to some of songs again and the lyrics and the stories they told just made sense. I connected with them on a deeper level and had one of those moments where I felt like I had found what I had been looking for. It was a eureka moment if I ever had one! (laughing)
Was that also a eureka moment to pursue music professionally?
Music was always a pipe dream, but never much of reality. When I started listening [to classic country], I was just a fan, I wasn’t performing or playing any instrument. I would try to get my friends into it, but truthfully no one was into what I was listening to. I always tell the story that no one would ride in my car because they hated the music I listened to; my friends wanted to listen to what was more popular at the time. Funny thing is, ten years later and a lot of them are fans of the music now; it just took them a little bit longer to get hip to the good stuff!
You were ahead of your time then!
I’m like an 80 year old man trapped in a young man’s body (laughing). I have always strictly been into the older stuff. I think it had more sincerity to it and the music came from a more legitimate background.
When did the four of you come together as a unit?
I started playing right at the tail end of 2005 and then all of the guys currently in the band came together right around 2010. In my opinion, that was when the band really came together, got serious and refined our focus. We wanted not to just have fun playing on the weekends, but make a profession. We planned out career goals, increased our touring and five years later we’ve turned it into full time job; making a living writing songs, playing shows and still having fun.
You guys are truly road warriors performing over 200 dates yearly.
In the last four years, we have toured all over in the states and made it to Europe a few times as well. This year the volume will not be as much, but the shows will be bigger. We cut our teeth in the bars, but we really prefer listening rooms where you have a crowd giving you their full attention, enjoying the music and appreciating what you are doing. So we have our sites set to play more listening rooms, theaters and places like that. We have had enough experience on the road and know our audience well enough to know where they like to see us perform and have a great time.
The sound on Good Luck incorporated more of an old school rock and roll vibe. Was that a conscious decision or something that happened naturally?
It was a little bit of both. We had a few rock and roll songs we had been playing live, but we never knew what to do with them. We always liked to incorporate that into our sound, but never really focused on it. Once we started working with Eric Ambel [who produced Good Luck] we explored that sound more. Eric had seen us play one of those songs, “Shake Like Jello,” live a few times so when it came time to whittle down songs for the album, he remembered that one as one that we had to record. Looking back we made the right call.
Do you think you will continue to incorporate this sound in your music going forward?
I feel like we will continue to push the parameters of what we do, but then I wouldn’t be surprised if we went back and re-explored the sound of classic country. That will always be a part of this band. Even as we continue to explore rock and roll, we’ll also return to the roots of what band has been built on.
The title of the album also refers to the state of the music industry and "making it." Do you think that as a band who doesn’t fit a mold, yet consistently puts out quality music, it’s a difficult business?
Certainly at times, it’s almost impossible to not feel frustrated. We just try to do the best we can, and give it all we have. Sometimes as you try to break through into the next level or get over a hump, those moments of doubt creep in, but they become fewer and far between. I think of the show in Sellersville [PA at the Sellersville Theatre]; it had been a goal of ours to get into that room, and to have played it with having just under 200 people come the first time we were there was a thrill. It was a little victory for us that encourages us to keep going. We hope to return, have more people come out and hopefully one day it will be a place for us that will sell out. We just keep setting little goals for ourselves and chipping away at them.
The band has always received critical praise and continues to build on a loyal fan base, but 2014 seems to have been a special year for you, do you agree?
I do. You know, I think it’s the best year, and a really encouraging year, that we’ve had as a band. Critical praise is always nice, but I feel like we finally made an album that made some places finally turn their head and pay attention to us. I hope from where we are standing now, that will continue as we put out music and more people listen to it.
Social media really helps us connect with people better and the fan base seems to be growing. The response at the shows has been largely positive and we get to see, and thank, a lot of familiar faces who help spread the word.
Last week it was announced that the band would release Girls Guns and Glory Presents: A Tribute to Hank Williams. The live album was recorded over two nights, New Year’s Eve 2013 and New Year’s Day 2014 in Cambridge, MA and will be released February 24th.
In terms of influences and idols, is Hank Williams “it” for you?
More or less. As a songwriter, he is someone I have always come back to for inspiration. If I feel stumped or can’t figure out where to take a song, I think about how Hank could capture a moment, not even to tell a story from point to point, but have the ability to capture one moment of that story. Even if we are working on a song that is more rock and roll, I keep going back to that and asking myself ‘how do I capture this moment?’ He was so skilled at capturing, not that year long experience, but that day long experience. We don’t necessarily imitate Hank, but he is definitely an influence and point of reference.
You have been performing your very popular Hank Williams Tribute shows for the past five years now. What was the impetus behind them?
It started with a desire to play some of his songs. We initially put a song or two of his into our set and realized that it was such a joy to play his songs that we wanted to do something else. The first idea was to do one night of shows which turned into two. We chose New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to honor Hank on the day of his passing and the day of final show he never got to perform. We felt it was a fitting tribute. This year we did seven tribute shows and hopefully each year we will try to expand it. After the shows, fans would come up and ask where they could get the recordings of the songs, so at the end of February we will put the album out.
Do you have a personal favorite Hank song or a favorite to cover?
Lately, my favorite is the one a lot of Hank scholars think was the last song he ever wrote, “The Old Log Train.” It is such a beautifully emotive song loosely based on Hank’s father, who he barely knew, but worked in AL as an engineer on log train. I think Hank captured that story so beautifully. The song makes me think of my own dad going to work, whatever the weather or season, just getting up and doing what you have to do to get by, for lack of a better way to say it. The final line just kills me because I find it so poetic, just to think of him reuniting with his Dad. It’s beautiful.
In addition to the album and touring, what else is in store for Girls Guns and Glory this year?
We are going to continue to write new songs and are excited for what year will have in store for us in regards to touring. We plan on going to Europe, probably two times, and will stay the course with US dates. We may actually have a little bit of down time which is good because you gotta do some living so you have something to write about. (laughing)
For more information visit their official website
Find them on Facebook
Follow them on Twitter and Instagram