The best country rock band you’ve never heard of is from Boston
Ward Hayden, frontman for country rock band Girls Guns and Glory, sat down with Guns & Patriots to talk about the band’s winter tour through Europe and the American Northeast. We also learned a little about his take on the travails of being a country band from Boston, playing the National Anthem at a New England Patriots game in November and where GGG fits in with the American tradition of music.
Guns & Patriots: Where does the band’s name come from?
This was before the band had really gotten going in any way, but I’d begun recording the first album and had this vision of sorts of this old school where I’m teaching kids the things they would never learn in the classroom, which was about love, and expression, and glory.
G&P: Do girls and guns lead to glory?
Girls have always been, you know, the subjects of our songs and the objects of our desire and oftentimes things that are just out of reach. When I look at that from a more figurative perspective, it encompasses much more than just girls, guns and glory.
A lot of times at a show somebody will come up and ask, “Where are the girls?” We’ve been asking that to ourselves our whole lives. Where are the girls?
G&P: Is anybody in the band a gun aficionado?
Not really. I did grow up in a household where hunting was common and also competitive target shooting. My dad is a competitive target shooter still. Today is his 64th birthday, I’m actually down at my parents’ house right now, and to this day he still shoots with regularity. There’s two different styles that he does and I know that for one of the styles, he was one of the top 50 in America for a while. He trains withGreg Derr, who was on the U.S. Olympic Team. He’s done a lot of matches over the years.
G&P: I wonder if you guys ever get any grief from critics who are wondering how such a country, roots, rock & roll sound comes from Boston.
Definitely. Every single step of the way of having a band, that’s come up. But my mom really brought that music into my life. She has just always listened to country, so that was the soundtrack to my childhood. She’s from Pennsylvania. It’s very rural. She had 15 kids in her high school class.
Right at about 20, I had an Oldsmobile Delta 88 that did not have any way to play music other than a cassette deck, so she loaned me some of her tapes so I could drive to college. When I got there, I had to park in a parking lot and take a bus to get to the school. I had put in a Johnny Cash tape and “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” was playing. I just sat there and watched the bus pull up and then drive off. I couldn’t drag myself away from the music. After that I’ve just been hooked on all her music, all the old hillbilly boogie guys.
G&P: Tell me more about your vocal style. How’d you learn it, what does it take?
We’re most commonly associated with the other guys who do the high lonesome vocals. It’s got twang to it, that’s certainly an element, but it’s really the switch over to the falsetto and back, for me it’s letting your voice go where it wants to go.
G&P: It seems to almost harken back to the European roots of traditional American music. It reminds me of yodelling.
The yodelling stuff’s great. Jimmie Rodgers is one of my all-time favorite country musicians. The man could yodel, and his yodel has stood the test of time. So many people have covered his songs. They’ve certainly made their mark in country music.
It’s really amazing. Early country music was born out of this genre of hillbilly folk, is what they used to call it. A lot of that mountain music came from Europe: people immigrated from there and they brought the traditional songs from their homeland. Things melded together, whether you’re from Ireland or England or Scotland and eventually became what you get with someone like Hank Wiliams, who comes from Alabama.
G&P: Tell me about the Hank Williams tributes on your last tour. What songs did you play and which ones, from your feeling, were the most well-received?
We did three performances, all of them in Massachusetts and the turnout was really stellar. The two Boston shows both sold out. We did one in Fall River it was packed with people here in the Northeast who love that music.
My favorite song we did was called “Rockin’ Chair Money,” which Hank passed away before he ever recorded, but he demoed it. So we took that and fleshed it out as a band because he had never done anything with it besides singing and his guitar. That, for me, was just really fun to take a sort of half-finished Hank song and to make it our own performance.
G&P: Do you like performing or do you prefer to stay on the reclusive, creative side?
For me, the live show means the most. That’s where I feel like you get to experience what it is that you’re creating. It’s a shared experience with the audience: the energy you put out and the energy they give back.
G&P: In particular, your song “Snakeskin Belt,” off your 2011 album Sweet Nothings, is very lively.
It’s about losing an auction on Ebay.
Yeah. There was a snakeskin belt and belt buckle that I so badly and I watched it all week. With 15 seconds left, after I’d been winning it the whole week, somebody else got it. It was such an unusual belt, a python belt with this really vintage rodeo belt buckle, and I wound up losing it by something like 7 cents. The best part was, the guy who won it sold it 2 years later and I finally did get it and for less than what he paid.
G&P: Persistence paid off.
Yeah. I’m not wearing the belt now, but I am wearing the buckle.
G&P: You played the national anthem at a sports event recently. What was that like?
At Gillette Stadium for the Patriots game, we got to sing the national anthem and play a concert prior to the game, which was very cold and very thrilling and fun. It was the coldest day of my entire life. If we ever get the honor to do it again, I’m going to wear so many more layers of clothes.
G&P: And you’re from Boston, so that’s really saying something.
I just don’t think that any one of us realized we were going to be on the field for that long, so as time wore on we were frozen. But for a kid from here — I grew up really close to the stadium — I don’t think my parents have been more proud in their lives. It was very cool.
G&P: And how was playing the anthem?
We spent a lot of time arranging it as a band. We did our homework. But that song is a beast. I know Beyonce’s getting a bunch of criticism — that was the best lip sync performance I’ve ever seen, if she did lip sync. It’s very understandable why somebody would want to do that, but I’m all for people just doing it — it’s there, it’s in the moment. By the time you’re halfway through the song, you’re singing “the rockets’ red glare,” the whole place is singing right along with you. It was a very supportive experience.
G&P: Where are you guys now?
We just got in last night about four in the morning. We were up in Maine for a few days. I’ve got a lot of things to try to take care of for the band for what we have coming up, some U.S. touring and trying to get back to Europe twice this year.
G&P: Why do Europeans listen to Americana?
It’s a really good question. It’s been our sixth time total to go over. It’s just amazing how knowledgeable people from these European countries are of American country music. Meanwhile, they’re living in a very small town of France, just huge fans of the style.
We’d ask people, “How do you know,” you know, some hugely obscure song? They’d say, “America makes the best music.”