By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The lyrics to one Red Wanting Blue song go, “we’ve got the guts to keep love alive.”
It’s a sentiment that also applies to keeping a band together.
This year, Red Wanting Blue marked its 20th anniversary. It’s an accomplishment that – like frontman Scott Terry sings in “Keep Love Alive” – takes guts. It also takes determination, confidence and a lot of good songs.
To mark the occasion, RWB performed a special 20th anniversary concert in October at the Lincoln Theater in Columbus. The concert was filmed and recorded and will be available at the band’s website beginning Friday as a DVD/CD package, dubbed “RWB20.”
Formed in Athens, Ohio, in 1996 and then relocating to Columbus, Red Wanting Blue has carved out a unique career, and largely on its own. It has released 10 albums – an 11th is due next year – and played too many shows to count.
It’s the rare band that reaches 20 years while working nonstop. After two decades, it’s more likely that a band has peaked, taken a hiatus, and regrouped.
Not Red Wanting Blue. The quintet is still on its long, slow rise.
Still, after 20 years, it’s appropriate to pause, look back, and try to capture the moment. The idea for a concert and DVD were obvious, right?
“I wish I could take credit for it,” said Terry, in a phone interview from his Brooklyn, N.Y., home. “We’ve been a band a long time and part of the reason is we keep our nose down and keep barreling along. ... It was brought to my attention by my wife, Jen (Terry and Youngstown native Jennifer Pace got married Sept. 10), and other RWB family, who said, ‘I don’t know if you are aware of this, but the band is about to turn 20.’ We would’ve figured it out eventually, but it would have been as an afterthought.
“We talked about doing a tour to mark the anniversary, but that didn’t make sense because we haven’t played in a lot of these cities for the whole 20 years,” Terry continued. “So we said, ‘Let’s do a heartland mini-tour of our old stomping grounds. Jen is a video director, and she said, ‘Let’s do it right and capture it on film.’ She ran with it. How she did it, I still don’t understand.”
For the Oct. 14 concert in Columbus, the band did a retrospective of its career, starting with a new song from its soon-to-be-released album, and then cherrypicking representative tunes in reverse-chronological order, finishing with “Venus 55” (1996).
Red Wanting Blue has been a road warrior band most of its career, but has slowed down in recent years by design.
The band had come off a three-record contract with Fanatic Records in 2014 and once again found itself on its own. With no one to answer to, it decided to take its time and write songs that are a joint effort of all members, and then make the record it always wanted to make but never had the time.
“After ‘Little America’ (2014), we said, ‘We are masters of our own destiny again,’” said Terry. “We decided to focus less on touring and more on songwriting and working as a band. In the past, when we had to do an album, we were like, ‘Well, what songs do we have?’ So to do it right, it was important to break the pattern and not tour for a year.”
The band got to talking with singer-songwriter-producer Will Hoge during its stint on the Rock Boat cruise at that time. Hoge – a fan of RWB’s who understands the act as well as anybody – insisted on producing its next record. The tracks were laid down this year at Hoge’s Nashville studio, and the new album will be released in February. A tour will follow.
The victories and hardships of the peripatetic lifestyle of a touring band has been the inspiration for many Red Wanting Blue songs. But with the band playing a minimum of shows lately, what was the new fuel for creativity?
“We went back to broader themes,” said Terry. “One new song tells the story of being in a band, so that element is still there. But we went for stuff that’s not so autobiographical, and are about relationships. Like, this is a love song, and this is about young love, or old love, or misunderstanding, or capturing strange moments in life.”
One new song that Terry mentioned is “Ulysses,” which he wrote with drummer (and Youngstown native) Dean Anschutz. “It’s simple and strangely epic,” said Terry.
The new album also displays an integration between the words – RWB is known for being driven by its lyrics – and the music. “We’ve gone leaps and bounds ahead with letting the music tell the story and having it coincide with the lyrics,” said Terry.