Is that a washboard I hear? Do I see bluegrass blowing in the breeze? Mumford and Sons fans take note, because with vocals as sweet as milk and morning air that’s brisk, NYC-based roots-country act The Good Morning Nags are making an impressive foray into Americana music and beyond with “Birmingham.” It’s easy-on-the-year empowerment music. You’re headed where you want to go, hell be damned. The group traces its own history to the University of Evansville in Indiana. It was there in the Midwest where Britt Reagan (guitar), Tim Hassler (fiddle), Titus Tompkins (drums/percussion), and Ben Quinn (mandolin) started to hammer out the formula that would become The Good Morning Nags via scoring theater productions and working on four-part harmony. After reconnecting in New York they added banjo player Mark Spitznagel (Rusty Guns) to the mix.
The group recorded a self-titled EP then added bass player Pete O’Neill (Mama Juke, CC & The Boys). They hit Three Crown Studio to record Hard Hope, which includes the song “Birmingham.” You can’t help but wonder how their sounds work together so seamlessly. The instruments feel bright, but there is a rounded, warm quality to them, also. The content of the track is something bands, and wanderers everywhere, can get behind: “Best we best we be getting on the road.” I can’t help but soak up the excitement for heading to this place somewhere in the good ole’ USA. I’m sure it’s a place where you can swing your partner round-and-round. But if this song is anything to go by, I’d guess it’s a place that has evolved towards a more modern-sounding vibe, too. We’ve got crisp organic hand claps, factories of rust, and the aforementioned “Birmingham or bust” ethos.
Unlike some of their other songs, like “No Damn Good” with its Cotton-Eyed-Joe twang and prominent fiddle, “Birmingham” is more within the indie-pop territory. I’d even venture to say folks who appreciate the Decemberists and the Rural Alberta Advantage may find some positive strains to enjoy here.
Give a listen to "Birmingham," and get to know the band through their interview below!
Connect with The Good Morning Nags through their website and socials:
What is it you find so alluring about Americana imagery?
In Americana imagery, and I think still in America itself, there’s always a since of hope, that our best days are yet to come. And maybe it’s a bit contradictory since the music itself has relatively stayed the same over time, but it’s often been the voice of descent and change through the years, and it’s evolved as America has evolved. It’s a celebration of people and community. It’s Walt Whitman saying love yourself and love the people around you. We fight and get drunk and lose things and lose people and change and in the end we’re better for it and we move forward. Even in its most benign forms, I don’t believe the cultural recidivism we’re experiencing today is in any way the spirit of this country or of Americana music. We thrive on celebrating humanity and urging it forward.
It sounds like you are heavily rooted in the tradition of roots music before you? Is that so?
Absolutely! It’s how we got started, playing bluegrass and folk music—or at least that’s what we called it. There’s such rich storytelling in American roots music. You look at traditional folk tunes, some that go back hundreds of years, and it really makes you think about the human experience and who these people were—and then how it relates to us. Like some of the other guys, I grew up in Georgia, and would hear a lot of old time music and old hymns. And now I can play it and think about it in a newer context. Of course I didn’t really like it then—I wanted rock n roll. But I think everyday we’re finding ways to remember our past while looking forward.
What are some of the country and indie/alternative groups that you draw influences from?
We’ve each got some country heroes that have shaped the way we write music and work together. Personally I learned how to play the fiddle by listening to Old Crow Medicine Show and repeating what I heard. We play a lot of music by The Band and The Grateful Dead, and we often dip into your classics like Hank and Cash. Each of us would give you a list of artists that are completely different from the others. Ben used to play in a metal band. Titus was a gospel drummer. Britt grew up on his dad’s country icons. Off the top of my head I’m thinking of Dave Rawlings, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Kings of Leon, Sufjan Stevens. It’s kind of a cool thing about us—everyone brings such different points of view and influences, and that really guides our song writing process.
Why would you say your music is so firmly pointed towards the positive?
After years of busking in the subway and struggling to get by, it feels good to think positively. The world can be a real jerk sometimes. We get enough of that everyday, so we’d usually rather play music that keeps our hearts pumping and looking forward to what’s next. That’s how we got where we are today. We’ll take a win when we can get it!