Boston’s Girls Guns & Glory released their latest album, love and protest, on November 4th. The all-analog recording includes eleven tracks penned by frontman Ward Hayden, as well as a rendition of "Hot Burrito #1", that showcases the band's unique musical approach which mixes rockabilly, country, and rock and roll in songs that mine the highs and lows of love. In the midst of a tour supporting the album, frontman Hayden graciously took the time to speak about the album in detail, what's ahead and more.
Your newest album, love and protest, was made via a successful Pledge campaign. You’ve used Pledge previously when you needed a new van, but was this the first time you used it to make a record?
The van was the first full-fledged campaign we had ever done and it went very well - to the point where we surpassed our goal, allowing us to get a brand-new van instead of a used one. That experience was definitely encouraging, so we decided to do it for the record. We set a goal and once again the fans really stepped up, allowing us to raise 115%. We’re so grateful for their involvement and support.
Your previous records were made with a label, but love and protest was made independently, what spurred that?
I was a bit reluctant to go the independent route to be honest, but our manager sat us down and put it all in front of us – letting us know that we were giving up much more than we realized. He had seen a lot of bands who play his venue successfully use the fan-funded model to make a record and encouraged us to think about doing it.
I’m not ungrateful for our time with the label, but it’s an outdated business model and not really a necessary component of making records anymore. I’ve seen bigger name bands successfully fan-funding their albums then leasing them to a label, and it works. Plus, I think doing it this way protects artists and ensures longevity and sustainability for ourselves. I’ve been writing songs for almost ten years and I don’t own anything. I’m grateful that we did work with labels because it gave us the opportunity to make records I don’t think otherwise we would have made. But, in 2016 it no longer benefits us to not be an independent band.
Did that independence influence how you approached making this record?
Absolutely. I had been talking to Drew Townson (who produced the record) for probably two years and his whole thing all along was that we should make an analog record. He felt we were losing something in the process of making records digitally with pro tools. He proposed we come into the studio for one day and try it with one song, which we did, and right then and there all of us agreed this is capturing the band in a way that’s accurate and worked well with who we are. So, we tracked down some two-inch tape, booked some studio time, and made the record.
I think a lot of recordings are heading back in the analog direction because people are realizing that no matter how many plug-ins you have you cannot replicate what happens with tape - that hiss in the background and the way your voice can hit the tape - and I think the band benefited from having our music that’s rooted in an old school sound recorded in an old school method by an old school guy [Townsend] sitting behind the board.
You do the bulk of the songwriting, but what happens when you get into the studio, does everyone have an active role as to how a song eventually turns out?
Josh [Kiggans, drums] and Paul [Dilley, bass] have really stepped into bigger roles. Paul has taken the reigns as musical director and Josh is always bringing ideas to the table, but typically, I’ll bring the song in some stage of completion, to the band. However, I’m the type of person, especially with writing, who likes to stay open to ideas and enjoys the collaborative aspect of a band. I leave ego out and work for the betterment of the song. For example, “Rock and Roll” was a song that completely changed in the studio. We tried that one a bunch of different ways and played it live for a year, but as soon as we were in the studio, Brian Charles, our engineer, suggested that the song would benefit from a different arrangement. He and I sat down with a guitar and played through stuff and Josh and Paul worked it up in a different fashion the next day and it immediately felt better. Sometimes it takes another set of ears on a song and we definitely like to hear and appreciate what others have to say.
Where were you drawing from with this record – personal experiences, others’ experiences, something altogether different, or a combination?
Really a combination of everything. We came in with thirty songs and whittled them to fifteen with ten front runners I had in mind. We had been playing “Hot Burrito #1” live in the past and our manager really felt that song was something we shouldn’t overlook in the studio. The song exemplifies the whole idea of love and everything in between, kind of looking at the big picture. It’s a great story and a great song. Others, like “Who Will You Love,” were worked on for years. I first wrote that song five years ago and attempted to finish it a number of times, but it never seemed to work. I had a second song and in rehearsal one day Josh brought up the idea of taking both songs and merging them together. Thematically and sonically they worked well together, so I accidentally wrote two songs that ended up being the same song.
You mentioned Hot Burrito #1. Was there any specific reason you were drawn to that song?
I’m a big Gram Parsons fan. We’ve tried a few of his songs and this one always seemed to suit us the best. This song is vocally in my wheelhouse and it goes with the way I look at love. We were able to take it and tone down the country side of it and give it a more soulful feel.
What about the title of the album? Is there a particular significance to Love and Protest?
Usually naming an album is one of the hardest things for us. I looked at the over-arcing themes of most of the songs and saw that they were about the idea of love and love going away and that title seemed like it really summed up this collection of songs. I pitched it to the guys and it went over well - which believe me does not happen often. It usually takes 30-40 tries to get something we can agree on, but this time we all felt love and protest suited the album very well. And what I was happy with, was that “Man Wasn’t Made” is a protest song, so we even got to sneak in a couple of protest songs for the literal meaning of the word.
That was one I wanted to ask about. Is there a particular story behind that song?
Years back a buddy I had gone to high school with said he was tired of being in his hometown and joined the National Guard. Eventually, he went to Afghanistan and got killed; and for me that was a moment when America being at war became something that was no longer a headline or a news piece where you saw five seconds of it and then moved on with your life - it was real. That moment for me was realizing I was never going to see him or have a beer with him again. It’s not an uplifting song, but I feel like no one writes protest songs anymore and now with the state of society it’s a good time to not be complacent. I think if we feel things we should say them and share them. It’s not easy, but music is a great way to connect with people and talk about and exchange ideas on things that aren’t always easy to talk about.
That’s an incredibly true point.
Why did you bookend the album with “Rock and Roll” and “Unglued”?
“Rock and Roll” was a great lead-off track and “Unglued” wasn’t initially even going to be on the album – it’s one of those that I had to fight for. We were going to close with “John Henry” which was sonically different from the rest of the album and when I listened back to the roughs, I just didn’t think we could close the album with it. We took two passes at “Unglued” in the studio and what you hear is the band completely live without a single overdub, which is as raw and real as it gets. I wrote that song after our first extended tour on the road; I was a homebody growing up and the next thing I know I’m on the road for five to six weeks playing places I’ve never been. So the song is about what I experienced and how crazy it was the first few weeks and then how that became normal. The kicker with that tour was we came home with more money than we’ve ever seen, but by the time the bills were paid all I was left with were the memories, but it was worth it, though. Without experiences like that, I don’t think you learn quite as much. The price you pay might be financial, but I gained a lot in terms of life experience and that I think is priceless.
Speaking of being on the road, GGG really are road warriors. How many dates do you do a year?
We do a lot. We do an average 150-200 in the states and then 30-40 dates in Europe each year. We didn’t go to Europe this year, but we plan on going in 2017. We were a few hours outside of Paris when the terror attacks happened last year, and that really rattled us. It was a five-week tour and that happened in week three, so the last two weeks were spent getting pulled over by military police almost on a daily basis by people with machine guns and then having ourselves, the van and our stuff being searched. Following the attacks, the bulk of our shows got canceled, so we were stuck in Europe without gigs, without income and still trying to process the tragedy that had occurred. I’ve always loved Europe, but I’ve never been so happy as when we landed in Boston.
As the year winds down, do you have any specific plans for 2017?
My goal for the record is to have as many people hear it as possible. I hope the fans who were involved with the project are as proud of it as we are and share it with people they know. A lot of times songs are much easier ways for me to express how I’m feeling – I’m one of those people who if you insult me I probably would have a comeback four weeks later (laughing). It takes time for me because I like to ruminate on things and think them through from multiple angles and I’m like that as a songwriter as well. Nothing is rushed or written on the spot. It takes me a year of work minimum sometimes reworking a song, changing a word or restructuring a whole song like with “Rock and Roll.” These songs mean the most to me as a songwriter and I hope there’s some value to that and they connect with other people.
With all of the best of lists coming, I have to ask, what was your favorite record from 2016?
The last few shows we played were with Kelsey Waldon and I think she might be one of the best songwriters going. I don’t know how many people are making music in that old school country sound with really honest lyrics like she is doing. She sets the stage with her opening lyrics and you don’t hear that too often anymore, it’s really refreshing.
I didn’t initially gravitate to the new Sturgill album, but Josh played it enough in the van that my eyes got open to a masterpiece. The word genius gets thrown around too much, but he might be some type of genius doing things nobody else is doing. I’m sure I’m not the only one taking inspiration from the path he’s blazing.
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