Like for many of their contemporaries, 2020 was lined up to be a breakout year for Nashville’s Great Peacock. This summer, the heartland rock trio was geared up for the release of their third album and a promising touring schedule that included various festivals around the country. The absence of live music has nixed the latter portion of those plans, but despite the pandemic, the band has charged ahead with their latest and best record, Forever Worse Better, out everywhere this Friday.
Comprised of vocalists and multi-instrumentalists Andrew Nelson, Blount Floyd and bassist Frank Keith IV, Great Peacock’s road en route to their third project has had its share of bumps along the way. Between rigorous touring, personnel changes and personal hardships, the demands of being in a band on the rise have come with a heavy toll, well before coronavirus entered the picture.
“With our first album, I feel like we had a little momentum. Then we made the second album and it didn’t connect with people as much as the first,” says Nelson. “I feel like we took a step back a little bit. We had changes in the band because of it.”
Forever Worse Better is a culmination of facing adversity and finding one’s self while navigating through the ups and downs of life on the road. Predominantly written over the last two years during tours and a farm truck-driving gig Nelson picked up while at home, the material on the record directly reflects the tribulations the GP frontman has endured since the band’s last record, largely centering around the crushing end of a romantic relationship and bouts with personal loss.
The opening lyrics on the atmospheric intro track “All I Ever Do” establish a dark tone that carries throughout the first half of the album: “Hold me underwater, nail me to the cross / Lead me to the slaughter ‘cause I’m already lost.” In the same vein, the uptempo “Dissatisfaction” playfully toys with themes of self-deprecation, suggesting the narrator was “born to lose.” This spite is met with more compassion on the tender lullaby “Heavy Load,” though the beautiful acoustics and impassioned vocal melody maintain somber undertones.
The hurt and affliction the band explores on these tracks is both vulnerable and compelling. But Forever Worse Better is a tale of two sides: a story of persevering through pain to find love and self-worth. The moments of personal suffering allow one to appreciate the triumph that permeates the other half of the record, where the songs resemble the growth in Nelson’s personal journey and the band’s resolve to make the album they wanted to make.
The smooth roots rocker “Rock of Ages” embraces the idea that it’s okay to be alone, while “Learning to Say Goodbye” features Nelson meditating on the dichotomy between physical impermanence and eternal spirituality. These existential narratives also bleed through on “High Wind,” a spacious, synth-laden tune that sees the band revel in the driving sound of their musical north star, Bruce Springsteen, and contemporaries like Jason Isbell and The War on Drugs.
Aging, loneliness and heartbreak are all fundamental parts of living and being human. Great Peacock takes on these tropes openly, addressing them with sincerity and conviction. It’s this notion that makes Forever Worse Better a great personal and musical achievement, a fully-realized album that captures the essence of what it means to be knocked down, pick yourself back up onto your feet and keep on pushing.
Editor Roberto Johnson caught up with Great Peacock frontman Andrew Nelson to talk about the making of ‘Forever Worse Better,’ drawing from personal trauma to write songs, his relationship with the road and more. Check out their conversation below.
How’s life been during the pandemic and in the lead up to the new record?
Andrew: I’ve had a pretty good year actually. It’s had its downs for sure but for the first time in my life, I’m in probably the best romantic relationship I’ve ever had. And it’s really weird because it actually started on New Year’s Eve (laughs). So I’ve been wearing rose-colored glasses all year but there’s definitely been financial lows and things like that. We wouldn’t have been touring crazy until this summer really. It’s just now starting to really hurt us where we’re feeling like, ‘Oh man, we should be out promoting this album.’ I kind of have the perspective that we aren’t a huge band yet. We definitely depend on touring financially, but it’s not the only thing that pays all of our bills at this point. So in some ways we were hurt less than other people but in other ways we were hurt by not being able to actually further the promotion of the album by playing live. People keep telling me I’m stupid, but I think it will be back before people think it will. I’m not saying whether we should or whether we shouldn’t, I’m not a health expert. But I’m really optimistic about spring of 2021.
It’s been a couple years since your last album release. Obviously, a lot has happened since then. What did the time in between the last record and this one look like for you?
Andrew: With our first album, I feel like we had a little momentum. Then we made the second album and it didn’t connect with people as much as the first. I feel like we took a step back a little bit. We had changes in the band because of it. There was a little bit of darkness, a little bit of wondering ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ One day you feel like you’re really talented and the next day you’re asking yourself if you’re just delusional. There’s a fine line. I think for me, the headspace was work – which is kind of what the album turned into being about. I went through a really dark period but I became very ambitious in my songwriting and in other personal ways that I’ve never been before.
Great Peacock’s sound has always been steeped in elements of roots music yet with each release, you guys have consciously pushed further into more ambitious territory, sonically speaking. What was your vision for this album in terms of musical direction? Did you have any major reference points for what you were doing in the studio?
Andrew: This was the first time we didn’t hire a producer. We got the basic sound of the drums, the bass, some keyboard drums at a real studio in Nashville. Then we did all the vocals and overdubs outside of that, so that’s where those influences came out more because we had the time to do what we wanted to do. It was just a matter of the song itself, like “High Wind.” We’d be listening to the guitars and be like, ‘Why don’t we try a synth and make it like Born in the U.S.A.?’ We heard sounds in our head and if we weren’t getting those, we kept trying for months and months until we got it.
On the surface, it’s easy for a lot of people to lump a record like this in with a lot of the independent country and Americana stuff going on right now, but when you listen to these songs, this is first and foremost a great rock and roll album. Do you get caught up in labels all that much?
Andrew: It depends on the mood I’m in and how much I’ve had to drink (laughs). As far as the radio chart or streaming service classification, it is fair to put it in the world of Americana under that umbrella but we’re definitely a rock band. The problem is the term ‘rock and roll’ has too broad of a meaning. It’s almost like ‘country,’ where most people can’t really define what exactly it is. It’s more like you have to hear it to know what it is. If I hear a song, I know it’s country. I can’t always explain why. And I might hear a song and know that ain’t country. I think it really stems from the American radio format more than anything. If they can whittle down music to a single genre then they can whittle down their advertising towards a certain group of people. At the end of the day, we’re just a rock band who happens to play a country or folk song every now and then. Who cares, right?
You guys had quite the supporting cast for this album in terms of the musicians you got to work with, which included Adam Kurtz and Sadler Vaden, among others. How did these high profile collaborations come about?
Andrew: Adam’s a good friend that we’ve known and he’s played with us quite a bit. He’s never been in our band per se, but when we can afford to have few extra musicians on the road, he’s always been one of those guys that we call. Sadler is a guy I had met when I was in a different band a long time ago. He had a band called Leslie, it was like a rock trio. I’d seen him every now and then and we were playing a festival not that long ago and we got to just hang out all day. He was showing me some of his new guitars and stuff. He plays on two songs on the album, but the main reason we called him was because of “Heavy Loads.” We came that song at the last minute in the process. It’s a very sparse song and we were looking for something that would make it more interesting. I was like, ‘Dude, we should get Sadler to play slide on it’ because he just plays it in such a pretty way. It was great.
One person who unfortunately didn’t get to make it onto the record was Duane Trucks, whom you had written and tracked with prior to recording before he injured his back. What were the biggest challenges of making an album without a full-time drummer?
Andrew: That was sheer terror for about 10 hours. It was the week of – maybe two or three days beforehand. We called our old drummer Nick Resio who played on the last two albums and has gone on to do stuff with other people. I would have loved to have Dwayne on the album but Nick, for what it’s worth, knows my songwriting better than anyone else in the world. And he can play it with his eyes shut. So, that worked out great actually. I wanted a very specific style of playing that reminded me of the drummer in The National. I didn’t want it to be cliche, like what you think of in Americana, like a train beat shuffle. It needed to be more aggressive. Nick just came in and nailed it.
One thing that stands out about the songs on this album are the really gutsy and dark lyrics, which you’ve openly acknowledged. As the album progresses, the songs seem to find a sense of comfort in the struggles you’re writing about. When you listen to these songs now, do you still feel the pain that may have inspired them or do you look upon them as touchstones along a path to personal growth?
Andrew: There’s some songs that are clearly more based in a romantic angst and those I feel are completely behind me. I can go to that place in my head, remembering what it was like. All the romantic songs are about one person. I asked my girlfriend now, ‘Is that hard to listen to?’ and she’s like, ‘It’s weird, but no. I get to hear about a you that existed before we were really together.’ So that’s kind of gracious of her, I guess. Songs like “High Wind,” that are more existential, I wrote those for myself. I wanted to be able to go back and feel that, be inspired and pick myself up when I get down.
Between touring and truck driving, the road has been an integral part of your livelihood for the past several years. What’s it like not to have that in a normal sense right now?
Andrew: Well, I still got a day job so I’m still getting that. It still helps with writing.
Is the road somewhere you feel called to be? Does the itch ever go away?
Andrew: I definitely feel differently now that I’m starting to get old. I really like being somewhere that I want to be for a good amount of time, now more than I used to. I used to be a little more like, ‘Let’s go, let’s go do this.’ Being on the road can be fun, especially being with the guys and the band, but I don’t miss my life from last year, playing on the weekends and as soon as I get home the next day, going back on the road all week. Even though I got an album out of it, I don’t want to go back to doing that again. I didn’t have any sense of home or self. Time is more important to me than money now.
You guys are three albums in with hundred of shows under your belt. The new record is your biggest and boldest yet. What do you hope people get from Forever Worse Better?
Andrew: I think it would be a little dark to say inspiration but I hope people get that feeling from it. I hope people can enjoy hearing it for the first time and eventually look back and think, ‘I remember hearing these songs and I remember who I was with.’ I’ve also learned I don’t have any control over that. All we can do is make the songs and be genuine and hopefully people get great things out of it.