the civil wars

The Last Word from The Civil Wars

We’ve reached out to the artists we followed as part of “The 12” to have the last word on our project.  We asked for words, a video or something out of left field.  The Civil Wars sent a quick note of appreciation from the road.

"It’s been an honor to be a part of "The 12" with Operation Every Band. Their consistent support of our ever-winding journey of making music has been a part of building the story of what we do. Thanks for the love, and hope this next chapter for you yields even bigger and better things…"

- The Civil Wars

My Final Thoughts – The Civil Wars

Photo courtesy of East Nashville With Love

Given all the work I put in on SXSW bands earlier this year, I was at peak excitement when I walked into Paste’s annual party in the early afternoon to catch my first band of the conference.  John Paul White and Joy Williams stepped up to their mics amongst a pretty packed crowd for two in the afternoon.  By the end of the first song, my wife whispered to me that we were witnessing something special.  I couldn’t help but agree.  Six months later, The Civil Wars have legitimately created one of the biggest musical success stories of 2011.

There’s no doubt that The Civil Wars’ success is based in their songwriting, talent and chemistry, but what interested me the most throughout “The 12” project is how the band achieved so much simply by working their tails off.  Constant touring combined with smart and extensive self-promotion became the band’s mantra in every corner of the country and beyond.  In essence, the band was discovered by most through word-of-mouth, whether it be from a small-time blog or some of the most followed artists of the last decade in Adele and Taylor Swift.  The real story is what the band did with the buzz surrounding their unique sound.  They focused on venues they knew they could sell out, knowing they would revisit the same market a few months later on a larger stage.  In my home territory of Dallas-Fort Worth, The Civil Wars moved from a couple nights at a coffee house in March to a 1,000+ theater in July.  Their next show early next year will be at the House of Blues, one of the largest indoor venues in the area.  That story has been repeated in markets throughout the country, creating endless potential for the still-buzzing act.

Their tale becomes even more impressive given the perspective that they’ve done it completely on their own.  The major label approach has been put into question increasingly throughout the last few years, but the angle has been mostly from top acts like Radiohead and Wilco who had already built up a sizeable and dedicated fanbase.  From releasing one of their earliest live shows for free online to putting out their debut LP independently, The Civil Wars haven’t wavered from their dedication of doing it on their own.  As they approach 200,000 copies of Barton Hollow being sold, the band has become a benchmark for a new business model in the Internet age.  If you make great music and dedicate yourself to your art and the business side of playing music, the sky is the limit.

I’ve watched countless videos and read through interview after interview from The Civil Wars in the last half year.  One word comes to mind when I’ve been mapping out this last post: consistency.  Their setlist has remained mostly unchanged and the banter both on stage and in print always combines stories of heart, humor and appreciation.  Hell, they even wear the same outfits night to night.  With a band that focuses so much on dichotomy through their lyrics, it’s fitting that the band in many ways mirrors a canned act put together with the pure goal of selling tickets and records (think the boy band boom of the early 2000’s), but at the same time they couldn’t be more opposite.  The Civil Wars bleed honesty.  While watching them live, each time they glance at each other seems to carry so much meaning even though they do it every night.  It’s both real and manufactured at the same time, like an actor and actress in a theater pouring their hearts out on a nightly basis even though they are reading off a script.  Though in the case of The Civil Wars, they also play the role of producer, director and writer.

The Civil Wars are indeed special, a band that breaks music down to it’s core translating their hearts to their voices in a way that cannot be underestimated.  Given their recent recording sessions with Rick Rubin and T Bone Burnett, Operation Every Band has merely written some early chapters in what I imagine will be a long tome.  It’s been a true pleasure following White and Williams and I’ve personally learned so much about what’s possible when you realize that dreams can come true with hard work and constant commitment to your craft, whether it be playing music, or in my case, writing about music.  Inspiration is the cornerstone of happiness, so Joy and JP can continue along “the road that has no end” knowing that they’ve given that gift to hundreds of thousands new fans.  Every tweet, article and standing ovation is our thank you note back to The Civil Wars – our appreciation for defining the ability of song to truly move us.

The Civil Wars Tour Report – October East Coast Run

Our original intention for our final Tour Report from The Civil Wars was to cover the first half of their US fall tour, encompassing fourteen headlining shows alongside Milo Greene and a couple of one-off appearances over the course of the month.  Unfortunately, illness befell both White and Williams throughout the month forcing the band to cancel over half of their scheduled appearances (rescheduled dates have already been set for December).  Nevertheless, we do have a few shows that did go off and judging by the reviews The Civil Wars were in perfect voice. 

Since the band had to cancel their appearance at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival to accommodate for an appearance on Later with Jools Holland in London, the first domestic appearance was in White’s home state for a performance at Birmingham’s Alabama Theater.  This show saw the first appearance of a new song set to appear on next year “Hunger Games” soundtrack.  Shortly after their set, the band announced the cancelled dates over the next five days. The only performance in mid-October was one song at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.  The Civil Wars ran through “Barton Hollow” during the ceremony for the AMA Awards.

After another string of four cancelled shows, The Civil Wars restarted their tour in Washington DC at the Lincoln Theater.  The week continued at mid-sized theaters in Philadelphia, New York City, Boston before closing out the month at Montreal’s Gesu.  Our coverage wraps up here, but The Civil Wars Fall Tour continues as the band currently is wrapping their way around the Midwest before heading to the West Coast later this month.

OEB Video Diary:

New Song – 10/7/11 – Alabama Theater – Birmingham, AL

Barton Hollow – 10/13/11 – AMA Awards – Ryman Auditorium – Nashville, TN

Disarm – 10/23/11 – Lincoln Theater – Washington DC

To Whom It May Concern – 10/25/11 – Trocadero – Philadelphia, PA

Poison & Wine – 10/25/11 – Trocadero – Philadelphia, PA

The Civil Wars News Round-Up – October

October saw some interesting stories and sessions come out of The Civil Wars’ camp including a couple of video broadcasts and an appearance on David Letterman last week.  Here’s the scoop:

10/6/11 – The Civil Wars To Be an ASCAP Award Recipient

Earlier this month, ASCAP announced that The Civil Wars will be presented with this year’s Vanguard Award at the 49th Annual ASCAP Country Music Awards.  The ceremony will be held this weekend at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland.  The Civil Wars have a concert scheduled that evening in Chicago, so it seems like they won’t have the opportunity to pick up the award in person.  The Vanguard Award is a great accomplishment for the band as it recognizes the band’s songwriting ability specifically, one of the band’s greatest strengths.

10/10/11 – Rolling Stone Releases RS Live Session

The Civil Wars stopped by the Rolling Stone offices last month to play a couple tracks (“Barton Hollow” and “Poison & Wine”) and sit down for a short interview.  The intimate session catches the duo in a relaxed demeanor that translates quite well to video.

10/12/11 – Video Session from eTown Broadcast

Back in August, The Civil Wars played a one-off show in Boulder, Colorado that just saw its release a couple weeks ago.  The audio and video have both been archived to eTown’s website and it contains a few highlights.  In addition to performances of “Tip of My Tongue”, “From This Valley”, “Barton Hollow”, “Billie Jean” and “Poison & Wine”, The Civil Wars teamed up with Sarah Jarosz for a performance of Tom Waits’ “Come On Up to the House” which is embedded below.

eTown webisode 105 - The Civil Wars / Sarah Jarosz - “Come On Up to the House” from eTown on Vimeo.

10/26/11 – The Civil Wars on Late Night with David Letterman

On Wednesday, The Civil Wars made their first appearance on Late Night with David Letterman for a performance of “Poison & Wine”.  This isn’t the first late night appearance for the band, but Letterman is always a pretty big deal for any emerging band.

“The 12” Take On Letterman This Week

In the great words of Loretta Lynn, “We’ve come a long way, baby.”  This week, two of our bands, The Civil Wars and The Head and the Heart, will grace the Ed Sullivan Theater stage for Late Night with David Letterman.

Wednesday 10/26 – The Civil Wars

Friday 10/28 – The Head and the Heart

The Civil Wars – News Round-Up from Overseas – September/October

We’ve already shared tour coverage and videos from The Civil War’s tour through the UK opening for Adele, but there was some additional coverage that stemmed from this emerging market for the buzzing band.  Here are the highlights:

9/26/11 – Two New Tour Diary Videos

Earlier this year, The Civil Wars started a Tour Diary series to accompany their photo coverage from their Tumblr page.  Shot and edited by band photographer Allister Ann, these behind-the-scenes peeks into the band’s activity allow fans to join up on their journeys throughout this marquee year for the duo.  The first video focuses on the band’s recent recording sessions with Rick Rubin and T Bone Burnett including thirty seconds of the band laying down “Oh Henry” toward the tail end of the recording.  The second comes from Europe focused around the band’s appearance at the hallowed Royal Albert Hall in London.  You can really feel the band’s starry-eyed excitement as they enter the Hall for the first time, hugging and smiling at how far they’ve come in such a short amount of time.

9/29/11 – UBR TV Interview and Performance of “Barton Hollow”

UBR stands for “The Unsigned Band Review” and unsurprisingly focuses on up-and-coming bands both from the UK and international locales.  The ten-minute interview focuses on memorable performances (including their appreciation for Adele), the pros of being independent artists and advice for new bands entering the industry.  It’s easy to forget how much The Civil Wars have accomplished without major label support given their rise to prominence in the past few months.  The band and their management at Sensibility Music have truly set a new standard of how artists can run the business side to their music independently in the Internet age.

10/4/11 – Secret Sessions Interview and Performance of “Barton Hollow”

Déjà vu from the prior story, though this particular performance of “Barton Hollow” exudes the duos power and chemistry as well as any other video online.  The light-hearted interview (yes, they are talking about murdering drifters) is tacked on at the end of the performance.

10/4/11 – Additional Videos from Later with Jools Holland

We’ve already shared The Civil War’s heavily buzzed performance of “Barton Hollow” from Later with Jools Holland, but they added on a couple more tunes onto their setlist that saw their release a few days later.  Below we’ve embedded the band taking on “I’ve Got This Friend” and “Billie Jean” for UK audiences.

The Civil Wars Tour Report - Bonus Coverage

One of our favorite aspects of covering The Civil Wars is how well their understated sound comes across on amateur videos.  YouTuber kristianlw captured thirteen videos of the The Civil Wars’ performance at London’s Union Chapel with quality sound and video.  We’ve assembled it in our best guess on order based on previous setlists.  Be on the lookout for a rare performance of Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars” towards the end of the band’s set.

The Civil Wars - 9/27/11 - Union Chapel - London, UK

Tip of My Tongue, From This Valley, 20 Years, Barton Hollow, Falling, I Want You Back (Jackson 5), Birds of a Feather, Disarm (Smashing Pumpkins), My Father’s Father, Poison and Wine, Between the Bars (Elliott Smith), Billie Jean (Michael Jackson), Dance Me to the End of Love (Leonard Cohen)

The Civil Wars Tour Report – September in Europe with Adele

9/22/11 – Royal Albert Hall – London, UK (courtesy of Allister Anne)

Back in May, The Civil Wars caught one of the biggest breaks in their career when Adele, the top-selling artists of the year, invited the rising duo to open up a run of shows on the East Coast.  Adele bestowed the upmost praise on the band throughout the short tour, so it’s no surprise that White and Williams picked up the supporting slot for Adele’s run through the UK last month.  Comprised of fifteen shows over three weeks, the tour reached all corners of island from Plymouth to Glasgow.  The gigs were a great opportunity for the young band as they are relatively unknown across the Atlantic.  Their debut LP isn’t set for release in Europe until early 2012 and their first UK single for “Barton Hollow” was actually just released today.  It’s a pretty interesting scenario in this global music market to see the band’s “slow burn” approach to building a European fan base, but it’s not surprising given The Civil Wars’ DIY mentality and overall strategy in the US this year.  You can’t blame them either.  Given how they’re approaching 200,000 albums sold completely independent of a major label, their approach has set a new standard for success for any emerging artists.

Specific to working with Adele, the band knew that this particular tour presented a special opportunity compared to most opening gigs.  In speaking with AOL’s The Boot via CMT, White expanded on this distinction.  “You know she’s going to have packed houses at all these places, lots of cities that we’ve never even been to.  It won’t be a typical Top 40 crowd that are just there to see the headliner.  I think it will be a really good, knowledgeable audience, and it’s up to us whether we can make fans out of them.”  Interestingly, the band also noted in the piece that there’s possibly some collaboration between the artists being planned for the future, but right now it looks like that’s still in the early brainstorming stages.  Aside from building an audience, the tour gave the band an opportunity to play some beautiful, albeit cavernous, venues including Manchester’s Apollo, Glasgow’s O2 Academy and London’s hallowed Royal Albert Hall.  In a recent Tour Diary, the duo are shown keeping their sights towards the future, adding “another one to the bucket list” with the goal of coming back to Europe to headline the famed venue next time around.

Even though their European trip was anchored by their shows with Adele, The Civil Wars did prove that they have some drawing power already on their own overseas.  They bookended the tour with shows in Dublin, Manchester and London as well as a halftime stop in Paris as part of the Eldorado Festival.  Though the venue sizes were dramatically smaller than Adele’s shows, all four of these shows were completely sold out.  Additionally, they drew strong reviews from publications such as Goldenplec (“Going on the crowds and the performance, next time round they will need a venue that has a lot bigger capacity.”) and Mancunian Matters (“There can be no reservations about the duo’s bright future.”).  The Civil Wars’ European trip concluded with the ultimate UK icing on the cake, an appearance on Later with Jools Holland.  After their performance of “Barton Hollow” aired, The Civil Wars were on the tip of the worldwide Internet tongue for just a couple minutes, as they became a “Top 10” global trending topic on Twitter.  It’s been a little over six months since we first started tracking The Civil Wars after seeing an early afternoon set amongst a crowd of about 100 at SXSW.  The goal of “The 12” was to capture the stories of rising young bands and for a couple brief moments The Civil Wars were the most talked about musicians on the planet.  With just a couple voices and a guitar, The Civil Wars have already proven their ability to conquer the musical world and the future is still unwritten.

We’ll pick up our last tour report from The Civil Wars with their headlining tour that will carry them all the way to Thanksgiving across every corner of the United States. 

OEB Video Diary:

C’est La Mort – 9/1/11 – The Sugar Club – Dublin, Ireland

Barton Hollow – 9/15/11 – Cafe de la Danse – Paris, France

You Are My Sunshine – 9/26/11 – Night and Day – Manchester, UK

Dance Me to the End of Love – 9/27/11 – Union Chapel – London, UK

Last week in Birmingham, The Civil Wars premiered a new song (judging from the lyrics, I bet it is called “Someday”, but no confirmation yet) which is slated to appear on The Hunger Games soundtrack set to be released next spring.  The audio and video is a little rough, but this is the first time this emotional ballad has appeared on the web.

The Civil Wars - “Barton Hollow” - Later with Jool Holland

England, meet The Civil Wars…

Up to Date - The Civil Wars on BBC2

We have been on a little break this week, but we wanted to share a recording of The Civil Wars in session with BBC2’s Bob Harris that aired just yesterday.  In addition to performances of “Barton Hollow” and “Poison & Wine”, White and Williams sat down for a candid interview with Harris covering topics such as a detailed reading of their formation, how their songwriting has progressed and the band’s current outlook on the future (John Paul: “Platinum.”).  You’ll need to fast forward to 28:35 to get to the half-hour segment and it’ll only be available for stream for the next six days.  


I’ll have a full post on The Civil Wars’ conquests through the UK this month in the next few days, but I wanted to first share a neat find off a UK video site called Winkball. They’ve shared over one hundred videos of fan reactions from the band’s headlining appearance at Manchester’s Night and Day earlier this week. Here’s a taste:

The Civil Wars – August Round-Up

8/21/11 – Rocky Mountain Folk Festival – Lyons, CO (courtesy of Hey Reverb)

The Civil Wars took a rare break from the touring circuit this August to catch a breather and lay down some tracks with Rick Rubin and T Bone Burnett in San Diego.  Throughout the month, the band did make a couple of trips to Colorado for one-off appearances.  First, they performed at the Boulder Theater with Sarah Jarosz for an eTown live taping (a broadcast date has yet to be set) followed by a set at Lyons’ Rocky Mountain Folk Festival nine days later.  Their mid-day showcase was very well received: Hey Reverb called out their “magnetic stage presence” and The Huffington Post spent a bulk of their festival review focused on the duo’s set: “It was an intimate folk-popera turn in The Civil Wars’ daring Folks Festival debut that made everyone take notice.”

Oh Henry – 8/21/11 – Rocky Mountain Folk Festival – Lyons, CO

We do have two more items of note from the past month.  In late July, Paste Magazine recorded a series of intimate performances from ruins on the grounds of the Newport Folk Festival.  On August 24th the site released The Civil Wars’ video session featuring their cover of Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars”.  The other bit of news comes in the form of an award nomination.  Four days ago, the Country Music Association announced the nominees for their 2011 CMA Awards, which included The Civil Wars for Vocal Duo of the Year.  Judging from the reaction online, The Civil Wars were a really surprise inclusion especially given the band’s lack of radio airplay in a genre where radio still holds a lot of weight.  This could be a nice little boost for the band, especially if they can oust Montgomery Gentry, Steel Magnolia, Sugarland and Thompson Square in the Duo category.  At the end of the month, The Civil Wars boarded a plane overseas for a month-long UK run opening for Adele at large music halls interspersed with a few more intimate headlining gigs.  We’ll catch up next with band next as we follow their progress as they break further into the English music scene. 

The Civil Wars Recording with Rick Rubin and T Bone Burnett

Earlier this week, The Civil Wars shared the news that they have begun recording with Rick Rubin in Santa Monica, CA.  A founder of Def Jam and American Recordings, Rubin has produced some of the most acclaimed albums of the last thirty years.  They’ve already shared a few pictures of the sessions on their Tumblr page, but the band has been pretty low-key with their Twitter updates throughout the week.  Not only did the band score Rubin, they closed out the week recording with the legendary T Bone Burnett.  I assume they’re laying down tracks for their sophomore album, but so far there is no concrete news coming from The Civil Wars camp regarding this week’s recording session.  It’s also unclear whether Rubin and Burnett are working together or independently with the band.  With two of the top producers in music, whatever the band is up to is sure to be a must listen. 

The Civil Wars Mini-Tour Report – Late July with Emmylou Harris

As Operation Every Band was covering Newport from NPR’s live webstream a few weeks ago, one of the many highlights occurred when Joy Williams and John Paul White walked on stage during Emmylou Harris’ headlining set to join her for a version of The Band’s “Evangeline”.  This moment not only harkened back to the legendary “Last Waltz” concert of 35 years ago, but also formally welcomed The Civil Wars to the big kids table of the current folk/Americana scene.  Emmylou Harris is a living legend of alternative country, still releasing great albums (see this year’s Hard Bargain) in her 40th year of recording.  Not only did she invite the band onstage at Newport, The Civil Wars had the honor of opening up for Harris on a three-show run leading up to the Rhode Island festival.  The bands focused mid-sized theaters in smaller markets in New Jersey, New Hampshire and Maine.  Press and fan reviews were light during the small run specific to The Civil Wars, but the Portland Press Herald did chime in by calling the “promising singing duo…an excellent opening act”.  The band seemed especially excited to share the stage with Emmylou, sharing beaming Facebook and Twitter updates throughout the run.  In addition, The Civil Wars filled in shows between supporting dates with a one-off gig at New York City’s Housing Works Bookstore and a previously scheduled hometown performance for White at Florence, Alabama’s Shoals Theater accompanied by an in-store performance at Pegasus Records earlier that afternoon.  After Newport, the band maintained a very light touring schedule (only two Colorado dates) to allow for some recording, including laying down some new tracks presumably in preparation for their sophomore record and shooting a new music video out in Colorado for “My Father’s Father”.

OEB Tour Diary:

Tip of My Tongue, Forget Me Not, From This Valley, Billie Jean - 7/25/11 – Pegasus Records – Florence, AL

My Father’s Father from 1504 Pictures on Vimeo.

My Father’s Father – 7/25/11 – Shoals Theatre – Florence, AL

Posion and Wine – 7/28/11 – Housing Works Bookstore – New York, NY

The Civil Wars – News Round Up – July (and a little bit of August)

While The Civil Wars were touring the South and East throughout July, national coverage was actually pretty light compared to May and June.  We did capture a few videos and an announcement that is worth sharing:

7/2/11 – BIRN Radio Interview Posted to YouTube

BIRN, Berklee School of Music’s internet radio station, sat down with The Civil Wars earlier this year to talk about the band’s recent buzz, songwriting and some plans for the future.  This story really sticks out from the pack due to its length.  At just under thirty minutes, the conversation digs a little deeper than most stories to really get to know the musical duo.

7/22/11 & 8/7/11 – The Civil Wars Release Two More Video Tour Diaries

The Civil Wars launched their Tumblr page a couple months ago focusing on photography by friend-of-the-band Allister Ann, but they’ve also put together a few video diaries covering specific moments of their seemingly never-ending 2011 tour.  In July and August, the band shared two more episodes.  Tour Diary 03 starts off with the band working out a cover of Murray Head’s “Say It Ain’t So Joe” followed by White and Williams sharing thoughts on their musical chemistry.  The lastest Tour Diary reflects on the The Civil Wars’ debut performance at the Newport Folk Festival, including on-stage footage of the band arm-in-arm with Emmylou Harris singing backup for Pete Seeger.

8/2/11 – The Civil Wars Announce Fall US Tour

The heaviest coverage surrounding The Civil Wars in the last month was attached to the band’s Fall Tour announcement.  The band has been building tour dates this year mostly piecemeal style, adding in cities until pretty much every day is booked with a full show or promotional appearance.  For their fall tour, the band announced all the dates at once, receiving the attention of national outlets such as Entertainment Weekly.  The band is set to encircle the United States on a seven-week run from Birmingham to Phoenix and everywhere in between.  Many of these stops are return visits to cities from the last couple of tours, all of which feature the band headlining in larger theaters given how quickly tickets have been selling out throughout the year.