It’s been four years since the folk band Goodnight, Texas released new music. The world has changed a lot since then, not only on the macro scale but also for each individual member of the cross country band and for the niche in which their music exists. Their new album, Conductor, speaks to this not only in its historical themes but also in its pure instrumental makeup. I fell in like with the band through their previous album Uncle John Farquhar but when I listened to Conductor at the beginning of this summer, I fell in love. That first listen was an emotional, visceral experience that I’ve very rarely felt before. I was hooked on every note and I wanted to tell everyone I knew about it. Luckily for me, I have a platform to do just that. Pat Wolfe from Goodnight, Texas joined me on the phone for an interview on Folk Ain’t a Joke in September to talk about my favorite album of 2018 thus far.
Radio: We’re here on Folk Ain’t a Joke. We have Pat Wolfe on the line here. He is one of the frontmen of Goodnight, Texas. How are you doing, Pat?
Pat: I’m good, Molly. Thanks for having me. How are you?
Radio: I’m doing great, thank you. So y’all just put out a new album. It’s called “Conductor” and it is a couple years in the making, right?
Pat: It is, yeah. We kind of started recording maybe in 2015 and it was a bunch of songs that had been gathering steam for a while and we just put it out in April. So it’s kind of been distilling for a while. We’re happy with the taste.
Radio: Definitely listening to it, it’s in many ways a departure and in many ways not, so that gets around to my first question here. Reading about this album online there’s a lot of talk about turning points. Could you elaborate on how you feel that is true in the album?
Pat: I think it’s true on a couple different levels. It’s true on a personal level for us. In the time since we put out our last album a bunch of stuff happened. My dad passed away, Avi’s grandfather passed away, Scott’s mom passed away, and I had a baby. It’s like this whole new section of life that we all just kind of went into real quick together.
Radio: Yeah, wow.
Pat: That was one level. And you know, you maybe wouldn’t hear it explicitly in the lyrics or anything but it’s just kind of baked in to what we did. And then I think on another level, it’s sort of about the turning point – we like to have a sort of grand a vague theme to our records and our first one was Civil War-esque and our second one was a little later in the 18th century and this one, the kind of general vibe of it is around the turning point of the earliest 20th century. America is sort of coming into its own as the world power and everything that implies for good and evil and that’s just kind of where it’s set. And I think for us as a band too, you said that it is and is not a departure. I think it’s a turning point for us because now we’re playing some electric guitars and stuff like that. Rocking out a little bit more. So it’s kind of venturing into new territory for us musically and we’re starting to pick up a little bit of steam. We got a song from our first album on a Coors commercial. It’s sort of a turning point for us in that way. So yeah, in a couple different ways.
Radio: Commercial is pretty big time there.
Pat: Yeah, we were excited about it. It’s kind of weird to be watching a basketball game and hear your song.
Radio: God, I can’t even imagine that. It’s weird because I remember there was this one Avett Brothers interview I was listening to and Seth Avett was saying, “Yeah, I was at the grocery store once and my song came on and my wife had to tell me, hey this is your song,” and he’s like, oh.
Pat: Yeah, I can relate to that.
Radio: What motivated y’all to change from more of an acoustic band to more of an electric setup – or a blend?
Pat: I think it was a gradual thing that started happening. Avi, my songwriting, singing partner in both legal and illegal activities, he can really shred. It’s not that evident from what we do. He learned to play the guitar like a young, Jewish Jimi Hendrix from a small age.
Radio: I’m not surprised by that. Listening to the album, I could believe it.
Pat: He can bring a little bit of that to the mandolin, and he has. But it’s a resource that we’re just starting to tap into a little bit more. I like to rock out too. I think it was just something that we started doing while we were messing around over time and it started to make sense.
Radio: And it definitely seems in general in the folk world to be a pretty natural progression. There’s a lot of bands who are bringing in electric instruments into their mix.
Pat: Yes, I also agree that we are but plankton on the wave of the zeitgeist and we’re following that as well.
Radio: It’s a good sound. I like it. I’m a fan.
Pat: Cool, yeah, me too.
Radio: So y’all live cross country from each other. That’s how the name came from in the first place. Goodnight, Texas was the midpoint between the both of you on either side of the country. So how do you guys manage that cross country songwriting relationship?
Pat: I think so far we’ve kind of just been incubating our own songs in our own homes and our own natural habitats and presenting them when we get together, which is usually just for a tour. And more rarely we get together to sketch out ideas and actually record something. Like you said, we don’t live together so we don’t have a ton of time to mess around. And i think when we do, it seems more valuable, we’re like, well we better do something because I’m only here for like four days or something like that. So it’s like time gets compressed a little bit and we buckle down and do it that way.
Radio: And I’m sure phones and everything helps.
Radio: How did y’all meet and start making music in the first place?
Pat: We met in San Francisco more than 10 years ago now in a cafe called the Bazaar Cafe, which we later found out, like 5 years later found out, was owned my Avi’s mother’s long lost first cousin. Which is pretty bizarre, excuse the pun. He actually just retired this month. I think it was the 11th, August 11th. And we were all really sad about it and there were a bunch of farewell concerts in the cafe. It was a great place in San Francisco for people to meet and play music and stuff like that. But I just found out that they’re going to be changing hands and they’re going to keep it up. So that’s great. They’re gonna keep doing it.
Radio: Was it just like a chance meeting over there?
Pat: Totally. I had just moved to San Francisco with my girlfriend and we went down to see a guy play and [Avi] was filling in for somebody who I think had just gotten a DUI or something and couldn’t be there and [Avi] was just called in from the Bullpen. And I just went up to him and said, “Hey, I just moved here, I play music.” And he was like, ah, yeah, whatever. And he invited me to come to his open mic and that’s where we actually, you know, became friends and started playing each others’ music.
Radio: You brought this up a little bit earlier but a lot of your music – the vast majority of at least the released music – is set in a historical setting. Can you talk about the decision to do that? Because I think it seems in some ways a natural choice because folk has this connection back to this weird setting where everything is in nature and beautiful and also it’s, like, 1865. So why did you guys choose to put your music in that time frame?
Pat: Well I think we both have a real nerdy interest in history. Like I used to love to watch – I mean, I still do – the PBS American Experience hour long episodes about presidents or the Civil War or whatever. And we connected on that. So our first album is pretty heavy in the Civil War imagery and themes and lyrics. It kind of just made sense as we were making more albums and writing more songs to frame them in this way progressing through time in American history. So you know, our second album called Uncle John Farquhar was sort of like a partially remembered family history. I found a bunch of stuff that my mom had been keeping from the 1860’s through the 1890’s and Avi had a bunch of stuff too. His mom’s side is from western Maryland and Appalachia. And we just found all this old cool stuff and we wanted to write songs about people that did or could have existed in that time. So it gets coagulated around that idea. And then, like I was saying, our new album has come into the 20th century. Electricity is becoming a thing – that’s kind of a thing we were getting at with Conductor. And then, yeah, who knows where we’ll go from there. I don’t know. It’s just like world wars and cold wars after that.
Radio: There’s plenty of material. That’s definitely something that’s more unique about your music because, like I was saying, so many folk bands suggest this historical ambiance but y’all go a step further and you’re like, no, we’re there. We are in it.
Pat: Yeah, we got lucky with the first album. We found a photographer that did wet plate collodion portraits so we were good to go from that.
Radio: That stuff is so cool. I figured the guy who does, like, tintypes, or something now. But he’s always at the festivals taking really nice old looking photos of people.
Pat: Oh yeah, I’ve seen that guy. I haven’t done it but I think Avi did it with his friend or lady friend or something.
Radio: I like to ask this just because sometimes it gets some fun stories, but do you guys have any cool or weird or interesting stories from your time touring about?
Pat: Cool or weird or interesting stories…
Radio: Just anything that jumps out to you.
Pat: Man, people have asked what is our favorite town and it’s like, man, a town could be great or terrible depending on the time you go. And sometimes it’s the small towns that are cool. Like we went to this town called Pinos Altos, New Mexico. In this old bar, there was like one crusty guy sitting there when we walk in, looks up from his beer like “urghhhhh”. And we’re like oh god this is going to be terrible. By the time we set up and we’re in full swing of the set, people were basically, like, swinging from chandeliers and paying us money to keep playing. And we’re like oh my god, we never saw this coming.
Radio: You’re like, we can just stay here and milk this.
Pat: Basically is what happened. We kept playing. And New Mexico has the best green chili, I’m sure you know. But it’s just, you gotta go there.
Radio: That sounds like a lot of fun.
Pat: Yeah, that was a good one. I don’t know if that’s cool or interesting but it just popped in my head.
Radio: What are your favorite musical artists right now? There’s a lot of folk artists out there, and I’m certainly playing a lot of folk artists on my show, but what are some of your favorites out there?
Pat: I can tell you your playlist is basically like a playlist that I’ve made. Like I would just listen to your whole show. I mean, I love Teitur. I kind of forgot about him a little bit. I love Sturgill Simpson. You got our buddy Bombail on here. We toured with them two years ago.
Radio: I think I remembering seeing that.
Pat: They’re very nice dudes. I love their music. They’re very quirky in a way that’s very endearing to me. And they’re great songwriters. Shovels and Ropes is kind of like an inspirational, if I can use that word, band for the beginning of our band. I guess you could say we were heavily influenced by their vibe and their – I don’t know. There’s just the two of them and they just go for it so much.
Radio: They’re super cool. I haven’t seen them in concert yet but they make some good stuff.
Pat: We saw them play in Charlotte maybe like 6 or 7 years ago just in a dive bar and it was like a moment for us.
Radio: Was it before they kind of started getting big?
Pat: Yeah, I think it was kind of on the upflow, which is great to have caught, in retrospect.
Radio: Is there anything else you wanted to talk about, anything I missed?
Pat: Man, I hope we can make it to Dallas soon. And Texas in general. It’s been a little bit too long and we always love going there.
Radio: If I can help make that happen, I will help make that happen.
Pat: Yeah, let’s be in touch about that.
Radio: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us!
Listen to the newest album from Goodnight, Texas here: