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Interview: 49 Winchester talk C2C festival buzz, Luke Combs & how fortune favours the bold

One of the stand out acts at this year’s C2C festival were 49 Winchester. This band of road warriors from the small mountain town of Castlewood, Virginia are slowly but surely beginning to take on the world and make a good name for themselves in the process.

Wherever I went in London last weekend, all around the C2C festival, people were talking about 49 Winchester. That buzz will only get bigger as the year progresses and the band go out on the road as support to the one and only Luke Combs! With a terrific album, ‘Fortune Favors the Bold’ under their belts and a festival in London to enjoy there was a lot to talk to frontman Isaac Gibson about.

It’s great to talk to you, Isaac, thank you for your time. How was the trip over and how’s the jet-lag?

The jet-lag has been strong, I won’t lie! (laughing) It’s my first time leaving mainland USA and it was a shocking experience. (laughing) Your internal clock is flipped completely upside down. It was messing with our heads at midnight when all the wives and girlfriends were sending us videos in broad daylight.

We did everything right the first night and stayed up as late as we could on UK time and that seemed to go OK but the second day was terrible and day 3 somehow seemed like it was even worse! (laughing) I think today we might well be finally on our UK schedules and we’re going home tomorrow!

Are you picking up on the buzz that you and Drake Milligan are the break out buzz artists of this whole festival?

I hope we are! I can feel a little bit of it, for sure. We got sent a video of the line that was snaking around the Barrelhouse stage yesterday as we played inside. They were turning people away at the door as it was at max capacity.

49 Winchester are a small town band that is now starting to take on the world. What were your goals and objectives when you started the band in 2014?

I don’t really think we ever had any, to be honest, and I still don’t think we do. We want to continue to grow and get better as musicians, that’s the way we’ve run the band, just putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. We have a blue-collar, hardhat, go to work mentality in this band.

You’ve been road warriors for years now. Do you think that experience is going to stand you in good stead for the busy year ahead?

Absolutely. We’re used to the rigours of the road and we feel most at home out there doing that. Even though you are hopping around from town to town there’s still a certain amount of consistency to life out on the road. That’s pretty comforting and we’ve learned to thrive with it.

Were there any times over the years that you got dispirited and disillusioned with this lifestyle?

There was one particular period where we did go on a really short hiatus. It turned out to be just a few weeks in the end. We just needed the time to stop and reset out brains and it worked. This is all we’ve ever really wanted to do and we’ve been doing it since high school. I’ve also wanted to do this job with this band, not as Isaac Gibson but with my guys that I love. We wanted to build this thing together.

You’ve been together since high school. Is it getting harder to tour or be together as a band as wives, girlfriends and families begin to come into play?

We’re lucky because we are all in relationships with people who understand what this lifestyle entails. Most of our partners knew what they were getting into when we got together because the band is older or pre-dates most of the girlfriends.

‘Fortune Favors the Bold’ is such a class album, I have a different favourite track on it each time I listen, which is always the sign of a great album. How have you guys grown and evolved as musicians since 2014 to get to this point?

Oh, man, we’ve changed so much. We’ve grown in number, first of all! When we started it was just the three of us. We didn’t even have a drummer when we first started, we just had acoustics and a banjo. 49 Winchester has just grown into this big, mean, Country and Rock n Roll monster since those days! (laughing)

We’ve never tried to fit in a box – we’ve always just done what we like and what pleases us and it has grown into what it is now.

Do people like Stapleton and Luke Combs need some credit in opening the commercial doors in Nashville to earthier, grittier, more authentic artists after years of Bro-Country and Boyfriend Country?

Sure. To a degree, yes. Country was like that in the early 70s and 80s and then there was a period where it all went squeaky clean and then Garth Brooks and 90s Country happened but now there seems to have been a renaissance of raw, real and authentic music. The type of fan we want to draw loves the type of music that Chris Stapleton, Luke Combs, Tyler Childers and Sturgil Simpson makes.

Who was the inspiration behind the dude in the title track? I can’t work out whether he is one of life’s winners or losers!

That’s me in that song right there! (laughing) It’s me! It was the way I felt that day. Thats the beautiful thing about writing a song based around how you feel. You might be superman in one song and a mouse in the next! (laughing) At that time I was a bit down but I still wanted to Rock n Roll so I think that is where that one came from.

‘All I Need’ is such a great song. I can hear Lynryd Skynyrd, the Black Crowes and even ACDC in there. Who are your musical inspirations?

All of them! The great thing about us is that our influences all come from all directions. Musically I love Rock n Roll but vocally I love Soul singers. I Love Al Green, I love Christ Stapleton’s voice – anything that you can hear the authenticity and soul in.

My favourite song on the album is ‘Damn Darlin’ but I guess you get that a lot? What was the inspiration behind that song?

That was a song that I intentionally wrote out of the first person. I didn’t want it to be about me, I wanted to tell a story from afar so I set out to do that when we started writing it. I had an idea based around the first line of the song, which is something that struck me as I driving around that day. I just heard, ‘It was the night before Christmas, 1995’ and I felt like we had something right away.

….And Nashville itself is a character in that song as well.

Yeah, Nashville is its own entity or personality in that song too. I feel like it is like that anyway, outside of the song, in real life, it’s very much its own beast.

For bands like yourselves, do you have a love/hate relationship with Nashville in terms of ‘the machine’ and what happens there in the industry.

There’s a lot happening in Nashville that I don’t particularly care for, for sure, and there’s a lot of music made in Nashville that I don’t particularly care for either. The city itself is a city that we’ve always loved and it has always treated us well. There is nowhere else on the planet you can go where there is so many talented people, they’re everywhere!

Which member of the band is most like the dude in ‘It’s a Shame’? You know, a drinker, a thinker two left feet etc?

(Laughing) That’s me again! That one is definitely a ‘me’ song. (laughing) Or at least it is how I felt about me at the time I wrote it.

…..and the yodelling in it? Was that something you always wanted to do in a song or was it spontaneous as you were writing it?

That was spontaneous! As I was writing the song the progression back down to the one hit me and I just did it in the moment! We played it last night up in the Saloon and the yodel got a great response!

When you write a song do you have half a mind on the live show and how it might fit in or is it a case of the best song and sound just wins?

My writing process is kinda unusual. For most of my life I have just waited for the song to just come to me until very recently. I usually write with the band in mind but they don’t usually hear it until the song is finished. Once it’s all done I give the song to the boys and let them go to work.

I’ve got tickets to see Luke Combs in Amsterdam in October. I’ll see you there! What impact will getting on that tour do for the band?

It’s been huge! When you are asked to come join the biggest Country music tour on the planet it’s a big deal. It was an honour to be asked. We knew that Luke was a fan of the music – he did a Rolling Stone shoot with a band T shirt on, which would have been a conscious decision on his part. We still haven’t met or spoken face to face yet but we have corresponded online and I think he is a fan of ours. We are definitely fans of his.

It’ll be a new experience for us – we don’t know what 20,000 people in one building sounds like yet!

What advice would you give to independent musicians starting out now who are at the same stage you were back in 2014?

It takes a long time to build this for most people. There are some folks who have a flash-in-the-pan and they knock the ball out of the park on the first try but most other people got to really work the count and get a little deeper into the pitch count and maybe walk to first base first. Then you gotta steal second somehow and then you might well get driven in by somebody else from second! (laughing)

For me, I knew that no matter what happened to 49 Winchester in terms of success I was always still gonna keep doing it. If we played to 75 people in a listening room or 7,000 in an amphitheatre I was still gonna do it. The key is patience and perseverance. Authenticity is also a huge part of it, people are hungrier right now for something real and I’m starting to see success coming through for artists that have that authenticity rather than something more manufactured, like parts of the industry have been for a while recently.

You can next see 49 Winchester back in the UK for the Luke Combs tour in October and their own headlining show at Lafayette in London on October 22nd. 

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