Their music sounds like it could be from any time between 1890 and 2015, their backgrounds are as diverse as West Virginia, San Francisco, New Jersey, and North Carolina, and their band name leads you to believe that they are from the Lone Star State.
Perhaps that’s what makes Goodnight, Texas so unique: The inability to pin them down to a certain time period, place, or genre. The brainchild of singer/songwriters Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf, the band has two studio albums including their acclaimed second album Uncle John Farquhar released last year.
Wolf and Vinocur met in San Francisco when Vinocur was playing a show at a coffee shop shortly after Wolf moved to California from the East Coast. Wolf would eventually move to Chapel Hill, North Carolina but the two would continue touring and playing together. It was this distance between Chapel Hill and San Francisco that eventually inspired their unique band name.
“We had been trying to think of a band name for months. I was on the phone with my wife. We sing a lot about places and regions so we love maps. We decided we wanted to see what was directly between San Francisco and Chapel Hill,” says Wolf. “And my wife zoomed in on the map in the middle and was able to see Goodnight, Texas. And I said it out loud and it just struck the right tone.”
The community of Goodnight is an unincorporated area in the Texas Panhandle with a population in the 20s. Wolf and Vinocur decided that it represented their cross-country sound as well as anything and it’s been their band name since.
But that cross-country sound doesn’t just represent the music between San Francisco and Chapel Hill. Vinocur’s family comes from West Virginia, home of the Appalachian sound that many of the band’s songs mimic. Both Wolf and Vinocur write and sing the songs, but they tend to write separately. Their differing styles give the band a unique balance.
Often Vinocur’s songs have a historical tone to them, such as “Jesse Got Trapped In a Coal Mine” while Wolf’s songs are a bit more modern and generalized, like “I Just Can’t Stop Leaving Town”.
“My stuff tends to be more from the perspective of a narrator and Patrick’s seem to be more open-ended. His are more meticulously designed as well. Mine tend to be very quick, and there aren’t very specific things that I tend to want,” says Vinocur.
The two like to work on songs on their own when they are apart between tours. They then teach each other through Skype and .MP3 demos, but the most important learning always happens on tour. They play each of their new songs live before they record them in order to feel out the best arrangements.
“The real way that we develop a song is to road-test it. We just kind of go for it and see what happens and make adjustments as we go,” says Wolf. “It’s the most fun part for me. While it’s fun to play the songs that you know how to play, it gets repetitive at times.”
Facing The Music
It’s always a little intimidating to knock on random doors and give out samples of your music, but the doors Vinocur and drummer Alex Nash were knocking on the day before the band’s first album was released in 2012 were unlike most doors musicians knock on to promote their music.
Vinocur and Nash were on the way back to San Francisco from South Carolina and decided that they needed to make one very important detour to the Texas Panhandle. The two drove to the town of Goodnight, Texas and knocked on every door in the town and gave out free copies of their first album A Long Life of Living. They had no idea what to expect when they told the people of Goodnight about their band name, but the welcome they received was beyond what they could have imagined.
“There aren’t many buildings there so we went to every house and gave everyone a copy of the CD. There are about 28 people there. We got to meet a couple of people that day. We came back several times. They’ve been surprisingly open to a group from California coming to name themselves after them. They’ve been very welcome to that,” says Vinocur. “We were nervous but it turned out great. We have played a few shows out there. We even played a show in this couple’s backyard for the town.”
Adding to their cross-country appeal, the group recently played their debut show on NPR’s long-running music program Mountain Stage based in Charleston, West Virginia. It was an important moment for the band, especially for Vinocur who has deep roots in West Virginia and the Appalachian country.
“My family comes from West Virginia and a lot of our music is rooted around there. When we were asked to be a part of it we said yes immediately,” says Vinocur. “The theater where they record it is attached to the state capitol building. It’s pretty incredible to play in that building.”
Fresh off that success, Vinocur, Wolf, and bandmates Nash and Scott Griffen Padden are touring around the country the first half of the summer with Bhi Bhiman and the second half with The Family Crest. Check out their tour schedule on their website.