- July 2013 -
HAVE A BEER WITH GOODNIGHT, TEXAS
Goodnight, Texas is the transcontinental collaboration between San Francisco's Avi Vinocur and North Carolina's Patrick Dyer Wolf. Named after the geographic midpoint between their two homes, the band has found theirstride amidst old wooden instruments and a vision of late nineteenth century blue collar America, resulting in gritty, simple, foot-pounding songs, as heard on their first LP A Long Life of Living.
We met up with members Avi, Patrick, Scott and Alex in the greenroom at Schubas Tavern and chatted about musical influences, the importance of geography and the history of the unincorporated hamlet they named their band after.
Drinks of Choice: Matilda, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, Gin and Tonics
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: How did you guys all meet?
Patrick: Avi and I met at a café in San Francisco, and Alex and I met at a show in San Francisco. We started writing songs about five or six years ago. We’re just starting out this tour with Scott.
Scott: It’s the craziest thing. The Goodnight, Texas album was sitting on my bass amp one day and I was like, “Oh, Scott McDowell engineered this. I know Scott."
Patrick: It appeared on your bass amp? I didn’t know that.
Scott: Your brother gave it to some guys in that band, and someone set it on my bass amp. I turned it on and thought to myself, This is really good. Free albums are usually terrible. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but it was awesome. And then Scott [McDowell] introduced us.
Avi: Scott McDowell mixed our record, A Long Life of Living. It came out in October of last year.
Kristen: I really love the album. Blew my mind. Where did you guys record it?
Avi: Actually, we recorded it at my apartment in San Francisco. You can get interesting sounds that way.
Patrick: We got some good mics and we did some stuff that probably wouldn’t have been done in a regular studio. We put the kick drum right up on the rim of the mic to get a more intense sound. It was stuff that was more customized to what we wanted to do that a studio engineer would have been like, “You’re crazy.”
Kristen: Do you have plans for another record?
Avi: We’ve been messing around, recording some stuff and most of it is pretty much done, but we’re not going to put it out for a while because we’re still gathering songs.
Patrick: We’re road-testing a bunch of the new songs and they’re coming into their own naturally. We’ve got a bunch of tracks we’re working on, but we’ll add to them.
Kristen: What’s one of the new ones we’ll hear tonight?
Patrick: A song called, “Hello, Nebraska.” It’s about life in the state of Nebraska.
Kristen: There are a lot of references to specific places or states in your songs—West Virginia, California, North Carolina… What draws you to that? Is it the concept of storytelling around a specific place?
Patrick: We like places. Avi and I just enjoy looking at maps—straight up.
Patrick: We’re fascinated with geography and knowing things about places and visiting places. When you talk about a place in a song, there’s an immediacy there that’s very concrete. It calls certain things to mind—and different things for different people. I think being geographical about your songwriting can open up a lot of boxes of thought for a lot of different people.
Kristen: You’re from all over the country. For our readers who aren’t familiar with you, where exactly are you from?
Avi: Myself, Alex and Scott all live in San Francisco. And Pat has lived in North Carolina for the last four years but has recently moved to New York City.
Kristen: Do you like New York City?
Patrick: I actually grew up in New Jersey, which I’m sure makes different people think different things…
Avi: Hair gel.
Scott: Tanning, laundry.
Patrick: The thing is, the Jersey Shore is a very nice place. I have a lot of friends that I grew up with that are in New York City, and I’ve always wanted to live there. I live in lower Spanish Harlem.
Kristen: Let’s talk about your band name, Goodnight, Texas, which is the midpoint between your hometowns.
Patrick: It’s actually an unincorporated hamlet. Like twenty-five people live there, and luckily, they’re all sweethearts and weren’t mad that we stole their name for our band.
Kristen: Have you talked to the people there?
Avi: Yeah, we’ve met almost all of them at this point. There’s only twenty-five or so, maybe thirty.
Kristen: Did you go there?
Avi: Yeah, some of us have been there twice, but we played there once in February.
Alex: The day before our album released on October 2, Avi and I happened to be driving on I-40. It was in 2012, the end of our tour, and our last date was at the end of September in Greenville [South Carolina]. Avi and I were driving back to San Francisco and it just so happened that the day before our album released, we were right by Goodnight on I-40. Avi and I stopped at every door in the town we could find and gave a C.D. to them.
Kristen: That’s awesome.
Alex: And then this fall was the first time the whole band visited. We played at their community center, which we rented for twenty-five dollars. It was really cool. It’s definitely different. The nearest grocery store is forty miles away and a lot of the people there ranch or raise buffalo. It’s a great place with really great people, but it’s a completely different lifestyle than we’ve ever seen. There’s a lot of history in that town. They showed us around and took us to the museums, showed us the house that Charles Goodnight lived in. Charles Goodnight is a really fascinating guy. It just so happened that this town was a great town for our band [to be named after] because it’s so historical.
Kristen: Did you hear any interesting stories about Charles Goodnight when you were there?
Patrick: Somebody stole one of Charles’ horses—was riding away with it—and he caught up with the guy and gave him two options. He was like, “I could either hang you, or you could be a teacher at the new college that I’m about to found.” The guy went with the second option, which I think was wise. He founded a college.
Alex: I think it was the first college in the panhandle area of Texas. We also learned the Goodnight fight song from the college.
Patrick: “We’re wild and tough to beat. All we eat is buffalo meat.”
Kristen: Who are some musical influences for you guys?
Avi: A lot of slave chant, old chain-gang recordings by Alan Lomax from the ‘20s and ‘30s.
Patrick: Hank Williams, too.
Kristen: How did you discover that type of sound?
Avi: Just kind of happened upon it. My family grew up in West Virginia and Western Maryland and there was always a lot of music going on long before I was born. That old Appalachian sound is appropriate to me.
Patrick: We also love old blues music, early blues. We love Bob Dylan, too.
Alex: I have a jazz background, so I guess that influences me in some ways in terms of the sound I try to get. I listen to a lot of rock, too.
Patrick: We’ve also been into Shovels & Rope lately.
Kristen: I love Shovels & Rope. They’re playing Lollapalooza in a few weeks.
Scott: Any music that you spend any time with stays with you whether you like it or not, in both positive and negative ways. You know what you want to sound like and you know what you don’t want to sound like. As a musician, you’re just a giant filter.
Kristen: What’s your favorite thing about home?
Alex: Being there. Sleeping there. Not having to drive ten hours a day.
Patrick: I’ve got a lady and a dog, so that’s enough for me.
Alex: Being around loved ones is probably the best thing by far about being home. San Francisco is gorgeous.
Scott: The views in San Francisco are incredible. Every different hill has a different view of somewhere in the city.
Alex: The type of guy that I am, when I go home I kind of keep to myself. I like to read and practice or write or whatever, and then I’ll hang out with friends. We go to the same taco shop all the time called Guadalajara in the Excelsior District. We’re regulars there. They know us and they know my burrito order.
Patrick: Alex’s friends from his other band tried to get us to go there one time and we were like, “No way, that’s too far. We’re not going there.”
Alex: You missed out. There are good burritos in San Francisco.
Kristen: I feel like tacos and burritos are kind of a thing right now. Taco trucks, Taco Tuesdays…
Scott: What day is it right now?
Kristen: Wednesday. Do you guys lose track of days when you’re on the road?
Scott: All the time. Every day I ask what day it is. If this were twenty years ago and we didn’t have cell phones, we would never get to any of our destinations on tour.
Kristen: Yeah, I guess they used actual maps or stopped on the side of the road for directions. How inconvenient. What’s your creative process like when go you to write a song?
Patrick: Up until now it has been either me or Avi bringing in a song—pretty much written and to some extent, the arrangement is also laid out—and then the band fleshes it out and makes it whole. We’ve done a little bit of co-songwriting but not much. It’s mostly one or the other bringing a song. It’s so easy to play with Scott and Alex because they’re so good. It’s a very effortless process for them to learn a song and to put a stamp on it. They round it out so well. You feel very supported playing with them; it’s almost like you don’t have to do much at all for it to sound good.
Kristen: Do you guys ever disagree on stuff?
Alex: Oh, hell yes. You’re going to disagree about a lot of stuff.
Patrick: Alex loves disagreeing.
Scott: Half of it is about letting superficial bullshit be water under the bridge. You don’t take things personally. If you’re going to be on the road for months on end, you can’t let things get under your skin. Or you have to speak up.
Alex: When you get together with everybody and you’re talking about ideas, it’s really important to not have a filter…By actually saying how you feel, you’re respecting that person more. I feel hopeless if I don’t say how I feel. The fact that I say something means I think we can get somewhere. It’s part of the process. Not everyone is going to like everything and you’re not always going to agree. You just have to learn how to deal with that.
Patrick: Another reason we really value Alex in the band—aside from his candor—is his encyclopedic knowledge of baseball.
Alex: Yeah, right now, I kind of umpire as a day job. I also can’t stop watching it.
Kristen: If you guys weren’t pursuing music, what would you be doing?
Scott: I would be dead in the gutter.
Alex: I would umpire professionally.
Patrick: He almost missed one of our shows because he got an awesome umpiring gig.
Alex: It was a CCS [Central Coast Section] game at Stanford. It was some of the best teams. There was one guy who I saw out there who got drafted in the first round, throwing 95. Really great players. It was cool to be able to go out there and be a part of a playoff atmosphere.
Kristen: Wait, so you did it? You missed the gig?
Patrick: No, no. It worked out.
Alex: Actually, I was the first one to arrive to the gig.
Patrick: Yeah, yeah.
Kristen: How long have you been on the road for?
Patrick: Twenty tours. One year.
Scott: The never-ending tour.
Patrick: We’ve been on the road this time since the beginning of July and we’ll be on the road until mid-August. Our last big one was February.
Kristen: Have you been headlining?
Avi: It kind of depends on the venue. We usually try to get local bands or ask our friends and try to hook up with them.
Kristen: Do you have a favorite venue that you’ve played?
Scott: I hear great things about Schubas actually. Everyone I’ve talked to has said great things.
Patrick: We’re really excited to be here.
Kristen: The sound is awesome. The room is great.
Alex: The mac & cheese is great.
Kristen: The mac & cheese is fucking awesome.
Alex: I had goat cheese and bacon. So good.
Patrick: We played in Piños Altos, New Mexico, which is a tiny town near Silver City, New Mexico, which is a tiny town near Las Cruces, New Mexico…It turned out to be one of the most rock-ish shows we’ve ever done, with people demanding we play more and putting money into a jar, not letting us leave. And the green chile stew there was one of the most amazing food items I’ve ever had.
Alex: It looked like such a ghost town. We walked in there and were like, Wow, this looks really sketchy. And then we opened the big saloon doors, walked in and it was this really nice, really warm venue. They had a fire going on and you could smell the food and the beer was great.
Kristen: It’s probably those unexpected shows that make being on tour so awesome.
Patrick: Yeah, going into a show, you can’t know. It doesn’t matter what venue, what town. Piños Altos, New Mexico could be awesome.
Kristen: One of our staple questions is what’s the most un-rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Alex: Playing with this band.
Patrick: I hit a cop car with my moving truck. Definitely un-rock-‘n’-roll.
Kristen: How did that pan out?
Patrick: Not great.
Scott: There’s a Modest Mouse song about that. Except in Patrick’s case, the cop didn’t walk away and say, “Life’s okay.” He yelled at you and made you go to the precinct.
Kristen: Another staple question. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Scott: Drink a lot of water before shows. Hydrate or die.
Patrick: Yeah, drink a lot of water when you’re in Colorado or Arizona. Also, there are many women in this world, but not all of them will bring you lasagna at work. Most of them will just cheat on you.
Alex: And some will do both.
Kristen: Probably true.
Alex: Know who you are and know what you like. Be you.
Avi: And don’t waste any of your time doing something that you’re not happy with. Not even a single minute…drop it.
Scott: Alright, later guys…I’m gonna… [gets up to leave]
Kristen: If you had to say what the band’s philosophy is, what would it be?
Avi: Stay metal.
Patrick: It’s a daily affirmation.
Scott: We say it while we’re doing yoga together.
Kristen: You talked about plans for an upcoming album. What other hopes do you have for the future?
Patrick: We just want to keep doing what we’re doing so we can buy milk and bread and warm blankets. This is what we like doing: making songs that we can put ourselves into completely.