Girls Guns and Glory
If Chris Isaak and Lyle Lovett had a love child, he would sound like Ward Hayden, who somehow also manages to resemble Hank Williams.
And that’s just fine for the front man of Boston-based Americana group, Girls Guns and Glory.
The band, which, in its original incarnation, formed in 2005, is currently touring behind its third album, “Inverted Valentine,” a mix of rowdy, good-time, down home country, raw emotional tears-in-my-beer type ballads and balls out rock-n-roll.
This is a band not to be missed live and West Virginia audiences will have two chances when Girls Guns and Glory visits The Room Upstairs in Princeton on Feb. 3 and The Empty Glass in Charleston on Feb. 4.
The band consists of Ward Hayden on guitar and vocals; Michael Calabrese on drum kit, percussion, vocals; Chris Hersch on electric guitar, banjo; and Paul Dilley on upright and electric bass.
Hayden recently took some time to answer our questions about music, love and the future.
Graffiti: I’ve read more than once where you are compared to Mr. Lovett and Mr. Isaak, as far as the tone of your voice. How do you feel about the comparisons?
Hayden: I welcome those comparisons. You gotta figure there are a lot worse things someone could be compared to. And I’m a big fan of both Chris Isaak and Lyle Lovett, so I’m always pleased when someone compares to sound of my voice to other artists that I admire.
Graffiti: Where does a gang of guys from Boston come up with a sound like this? Who are your musical influences and when were you first exposed to Americana-type music?
Hayden: We all have similar taste in music, much of which is different forms of American Roots Music. When I started writing songs what came out just happened to be a blend of those influences of early rock ‘n’ roll, blues and country. I’ve always been attracted to the raw energy and honesty of the early country sound. When Hank sings about something, you really believe it.
My biggest influences are Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry. My household growing up was really friendly to country music, so Johnny Cash, Charlie Pride and Dolly Parton were always being played on the home stereo. But it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I really started to develop a deeper appreciation for that style of music. I had an old car that only had a tape deck, so the only thing I had to listen to on long drives were my mother’s old country music cassettes. Call it fate I guess.
Graffiti: You have been described as an “alternative to the alternative alternative,” what was the reception like when you started playing? I assume you played mostly close to home. Did the Boston audiences accept the band right away?
Hayden: When we first started playing we could buy a gig in Boston. We were too country for the Northeast and not country enough to get booked anywhere south. It took about a year and a half for the band to catch on in Boston. But not being accepted right away forced us to get in the studio very quickly and make an album so we could start promoting the band more professionally and get more gigs. Ultimately, it was a positive experience because it made us work harder and think outside the box to promote the band. For one show, we rented out a bar and charged a $40 cover for an open bar because we knew that for a price like that we’d have people lined up to get in and get drinks. We had a huge turnout for the show and a lot of people got to see the band. After that show the local critics began to take notice of what we were doing.
Graffiti: Now that more and more people are embracing alt-country and alt-folk styles of music, do you feel like you need to change it up again?
Hayden: Except for me, the full line up of the band has changed since our last album. Thankfully, what that’s done is bring in other players who now provide a fresh and varied sound. We just finished recording a new album, due out this Spring on Lonesome Day Records, that is largely a rock ‘n’ roll record with country overtones.
With this current line up we spent a lot of time touring and developing a sound that incorporated all the styles of music that the band is capable of effectively tackling. It’s been a really enjoyable experience to mix blues, jazz, folk, country and rock together. And that provides for an entertaining live show. We might play a straight up country song, followed by a blues number, followed by a full band folk ballad. Our approach is that nothing is off limits, we take the music and bend and sculpt it until the songs work. And it’s taken over a year and a half to achieve that. But we’re all feeling really good about the direction of the band.
Graffiti: I read on your website that you guys have shared a bill with some great bands: Stone Temple Pilots, Silversun Pickups, Pennywise and Shiny Toy Guns to name a few. What, if anything, do you take away from your experiences with these and other bands who obviously have different styles of music and performing?
Hayden: The live show is really important to us and getting to share the stage with bands that might have a different style, but really know how to put on a great show, has been a hugely inspiring experience. We all grew up being fans of bands like Stone Temple Pilots in the 90s, but we were too young to see them in concert. Getting to open for them and seeing the way they worked the stage and put on a show was really a lesson in showmanship. And we’ve tried to absorb that experience and incorporate that confidence and connection with an audience into our own show.
Graffiti: You are now touring in support of your third album, “Inverted Valentine”. How have you grown since your first album? I mean, songs like “Temptation” – that’s a pretty cool song, with its Spanish feel. I felt like I should be watching a Coen brothers or Robert Rodriquez movie while I was listening to it. Were you purposely aiming for something that was stylistically bigger and bolder, or what was the motive for the third album?
Hayden: I started this group with a folk country sound in mind. Mostly acoustic instruments and no drummer, just light percussion. So the first album came out very stripped down, without much lush instrumentation or electric guitar. Then as we kept gigging and seeing the way the more uptempo songs moved the audience, we began to work on developing our sound to include a wider range of music styles.
“Inverted Valentine” was a way for us to spread our wings a little further musically. By that time we were arranging songs with two or three guitar parts, full drum kit, auxiliary percussion and more vocal harmonies. The result was a fuller sound.
“Temptation” was an afterthought for the album because initially we didn’t know how it would fit stylistically. But after we added the Mexican trumpet part, we enjoyed it too much to leave it off the record. And if you listen to the album as a whole, it provides an interesting variation from the rest of the tracks.
Graffiti: You’ve said that the inspiration for writing your music comes when you’re heartsick. Is it therapeutic for you to write or does it become tedious after a while to keep diving into those painful places?
Hayden: I don’t welcome heartache by any means, but it seems like an unavoidable feeling in this lifetime. And if it’s there, I’m gonna use it. I like the idea of turning a negative into a positive, and in a lot of ways that’s what expressing a painful experience through songs does. It’s probably why there are so many sad love songs out there.
Graffiti: What’s next for the band? Are you working on a new album?
Hayden: The new album “Sweet Nothings” will be out in the Spring. All of our current albums can be picked up on iTunes and Amazon.com, and this one will be available online and have a more widespread physical release. We’ve got 11 new songs, most of which we’ve worked into our current live show already. It’s been over two years since our last release, so we’re ready to get the new album out.
Graffiti: What can the Princeton and Charleston audiences expect when you guys come to West Virginia next month?
Hayden: We’re excited to be coming back to West Virginia. Some of my all time favorite shows have happened in that fine state. We have a lot of new material and still perform much of the material off the first 3 albums. It’ll be a good couple shows in West Virginia, so be sure to bring out all your friends. We’ll have some fun!!