Driftwood Soldier chose just one cover for its upcoming sophomore album, but the Philadelphia duo felt Greg Cartwright's ferocious "Banker and a Liar," whose video premieres exclusively on Billboard today (Oct.4), fits the tone of Stay Ahead of the Wolf.
Singer-mandolinist Owen Lyman-Schmidt tells Billboard he and bassist Bobby Szafranski were introduced to Cartwright's song, first recorded by Reigning Sound, while touring with Matt Heckler, who plays fiddle on Stay Ahead of the Wolf. "He learned it in North Carolina from somebody who, I guess, had studied with Greg Cartwright, so it was sort of a winding path that it took to reach us," Lyman-Schmidt recalls. "We learned it and put our own twist on it and kept playing it after that. We liked it so much we took it for our own and really made it ours."
The song's sharp topical message — the Dylan-esque refrain of "your prophet is a banker and a liar" — was also appealing to Driftwood Soldier, who filmed the accompanying video around Wall Street in New York.
"It's both contemporary and timeless, I would say," notes Lyman-Schmidt. "One of the things I appreciate so much about this song is there's an anger to it, and one that I think is righteous, but there's also a decent amount of pity and scorn there, that the people who sold us out got so little in exchange for their souls. They may appear to be in a better place, but for what? They made a bad bargain with the devil and got what they deserved."
Stay Ahead of the Wolf comes out Oct. 18, following the 2015 debut Scavenger’s Joy. Reflecting on "a rough couple of years, worldwide" and the duo's own community, Lyman-Schmidt and Szafranski wanted the 12-song set to step forward sonically and dynamically. The album reflects both a little more studio savvy — honed on some EPs released during the interim — as well as the pair's development as players through a heavy touring schedule.
"Those EPs allowed us to experiment with some of the production side of things we wanted to change after the first album," Lyman-Schmidt notes. Driftwood Soldier made initial recordings in Philadelphia, but when it came time to finish and polish the record it reached out to Ted Hutt, whose credits include the likes of Violent Femmes, Lucero, Old Crow Medicine Show, Devil Makes Three and more kindred spirits.
"It was a great experience working with him," Szafranski says. "Form the start he really understood what the project's gold was and the interplay between the bass and the vocals and how story-driven the songs were. We had great conversations with him beforehand. He just got it from hearing the demos. He could hear what the finished product was just from our novice approach to it, talking to him."
Lyman-Schmidt adds that he and Szafranski were also happy that Hutt managed to fit them into his own busy studio schedule. "I appreciate when people like Ted Hutt, who can work with anybody they want, still are very much listening to things that get sent to them and say, 'This is something I like, something I'm interested in. This is something I could help put my own creative touch on,'" Lyman-Schmidt says. "That was our whole experience with him. He really valued what we were doing and made it even better, which is just the greatest gift that I could ask for."
Driftwood Soldier is currently on the road and will celebrate Stay Ahead of the Wolf's release on Oct. 12 at The Khyber Pass in Philadelphia. Dates currently run into November and, the duo says, will pick up again early in 2020. "This album feels like it captures more faithfully what we do live," Lyman-Schmidt says, "so we're looking forward to bringing that live show to people who discover this album however that may be."
More of North America, as well as Europe, are in the duo's crosshairs, too. "There are plenty of shows in the next year or two for us," Lyman-Schmidt says. "I'm really looking forward to it."
Watch the video for "Banker and a Liar" below.