Virginia alt-country-soul-rockers 49 Winchester share an exclusive premiere of “Long Hard Life” from their upcoming third album.
This song has so many elements of a classic country song: a funky walking bass line, a mid-song key change, an impressive twangy guitar solo, and a humorously told hard-luck tale involving a questionable money-making scheme, its consequential jail time, untended corn, “three dogs, two kids, and one wife.” So it’s no surprise to learn that the band behind “Long Hard Life,” 49 Winchester, hails from Russell County, Virginia, just down the road from Bristol, the “Birthplace of Country Music.”
That said, pegging 49 Winchester solely as a country band would do them a disservice. They describe themselves as “alt-country soul from the heart of Appalachia,” and you can hear the eclectic influences come through the music created by five young men who grew up listening to an array of genres.
“Long Hard Life” is a fitting opener for the band’s upcoming third record, III, which will be available October 2. I emailed a few questions to lead singer and primary songwriter Isaac Gibson — who also works as a carpenter with his father, Gary — about the song, the album, and how the band is coping with the lack of venues available for live music.
Cowboys & Indians: Tell me a little about the new album. What did you hope to do in the studio with III, compared to previous releases, and how do you feel about the results?
Isaac Gibson: The new record is one I’ve been building for a while now. It's been a couple years since our last release, The Wind. I really wanted to get in the studio and be able to bring the guys these songs and to make a record that left no stone unturned. Something that I could say, “That's exactly what I envisioned when I wrote these songs.” This is our third stab in the studio so it's become a place of comfort for us now instead of a daunting new place like it was when we were still pups a few years ago. That environment really allowed us to cut loose and make a record that, to be honest, is a much more sound effort in relaying to people what 49 is all about.
C&I: “Long Hard Life” is a really fun song about a guy in not-so-fun circumstances. Where did the idea for it come from? And what was the recording of that particular tune like?
Gibson: Super fun track to cut. Probably my favorite song on the record because of its energy. The lyrics just came to me while I was working one day. Not sure where the idea came from exactly other than it just being a reflection of what it takes for a lot of people to make ends meet here in Central Appalachia. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. And sometimes, that can land you between a rock and a hard place.
C&I: The bass line reminds me of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” and soul music is a big part of the band’s sound in general. Where’d the love of that kind of music come from?
Gibson: I think a lot of it came from me being a kid and hearing my Uncle Hershel listen to stuff in that vein. His musical interests were all over the place like mine so I remember a lot of musical firsts that I heard through him as a young teenager that really changed things for me.
C&I: Along with soul, the band is “planted firmly in the traditions of mountain music.” How would you describe mountain music and how it is expressed by 49 Winchester and this album?
Gibson: I think there’s a lot of it that ties back into our musical identity here in Appalachia. It's not one particular genre. With Bristol being right down the road, which is the Birthplace of Country Music, we’re in a place that’s steeped in musical tradition, be it country, bluegrass, old-time, mountain music, or anything else, Appalachia has always been alive with music. So just to be a small part of the region’s musical history is a big honor for us.
C&I: How is the band coping with the pandemic and the lack of stages for live music? Do you have any virtual performances or live shows coming up?
Gibson: We’re doing what everybody else who is a touring musician is doing now. Keeping our gaze on bigger and better things. Keeping in touch with the fact that this pandemic, as deeply as it has affected us and all working musicians, is temporary. It’s also given me and the boys the time to make a record, to write new songs, to fellowship with one another, and to do all those “hunker down” type things that are necessary for a band. We’re ready to hit the ground running when the world goes back to normal.
C&I: And is there anything I didn’t ask about that you want to mention or think fans and new listeners should know about 49 Winchester?
Photography: Johnson City Aerial Photography