War Poets are back with their latest EP “Hot and Cold: American Relationships” (released by Rock The Cause Records, a non-profit label based in the band’s hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota). War Poets draw on the genres of of pop, rock, and Americana to achieve an aesthetic that is refined yet rootsy. We sat down with the band’s frontman Rex Haberman earlier this month; enjoy our interview with the band below.
Rex, you’re from Nebraska, correct? What was it like growing up there?
“I am from Nebraska. I grew up in Hastings, Nebraska, which is a town of about 25,000 people. Things were simple and there wasn’t much excitement, but that suited my family just fine. Our neighborhood had lots of kids, so there was always something to do.”
What inspired you to begin writing music in the first place?
“Some of us got guitars and started playing and it wasn’t too long until we had a band together, playing gigs for anyone who would have us. I started writing songs in my teenage years when I first got a Martin acoustic guitar. I was inspired by Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen (whose songs always seemed to have a message). During those years, instead of learning all the pop songs on the radio, I spent countess hours making up new songs. The first song I ever wrote was called ‘Lost in My Dreams’. I still play it from time to time.”
You’ve released a few solo records, correct?
“Yes, I’ve released two solo albums and one in collaboration with Dan Neale, one of the best guitar players anywhere. My two solo albums were recorded at the now defunct Oarfin Records in Minneapolis. We’ll play selections from these records from time to time, and sometimes I’ll do a live version of some of the older songs by myself. They’re fun to play.”
Could you give us a bit of background on each of the band’s members? How did each of the members meet and begin creating music and performing together?
“My partner in War Poets is Jenny Case, our bass player and vocalist. Jenny and I met at the start of the War Poets project. She is Executive Director of the non-profit organization She Rock She Rock, which helps inspire girls through music. We have co-written songs and are the backbone of the band. In fact, we are the original War Poets, which is why the band is portrayed often as a duo. Currently, our live band members are Jonny James on guitar, Maureen Koenig McFarlane on keyboards, Park Evans on guitar, and Whelan Keenan on drums. Although only 22, Whelan has been with Jenny and me the longest. The rest of the band members came to us from recommendations and they are all phenomenal artists and they really contribute to our live shows. We also utilize several studio musicians while recording. Most of them are from Nashville.”
What can you tell us about the music scene of Minneapolis, Minnesota?
“Music is alive in Minneapolis. There are plenty of great venues to play. All genres are popular here so, bands always have a chance to develop followings. You can also play original music in Minneapolis, so we’ve virtually excluded any cover songs from our sets. When we go out on the road, we only play original material.”
What went into the making of the music video for your song ‘Will You Be There’? What about the videos for ‘Close Enough’, ‘Perfect One’, and ‘Better Place’?
“’Will You Be There’ is a story about a couple that stays together over several generations, starting as children. The video was filmed in St. Paul on a rainy day. We got exactly the weather we wanted. The story starts with the couple as children and progresses to an older couple that are still together. It was directed by Antonette Trussoni, who also directed “Close Enough.” Both of these videos were shot over several days and we had a large crew. We were thrilled with how the videos turned out. ‘Close Enough’ is about gay marriage and portrays two couples who wish to get married in a church. ‘Perfect One’ was filmed in upstate New York by videographer Mike Danger. It’s about what everyone looks for: the perfect partner to be with. Mike also directed (the video for) ‘Better Place’. All of the shooting for that video happened at SXSW in Austin, Texas. ‘Better Place’ is about the ongoing problem of income disparity in the United States, and how some people can’t get to a better place despite working very hard to try to get there.
Could you tell us about some of the most exciting live experiences you’ve had performing with War Poets?
“We’ve played twice on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles, once at Whisky A Go Go and once at The Viper Room. Both performances were great and the LA crowds were very supportive. We’ve also played in New York a few times and many times during SXSW in Austin. Our most recent EP release show was in a mansion in Minneapolis on Halloween weekend; that was a lot of fun.”
What life experiences and events led to the writing and recording of your 17-song album “Dulce Et Decorum Est”?
“I started to write songs for “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and it seemed that the ideas wouldn’t stop coming, so we kept adding songs. It’s packaged as a double album. We grouped the songs into 2 themes, a rock CD and a ballad CD. Many of the songs are based on events in my life or current social issues, but some are pure fiction / storytelling, such as ‘Caught Me in Paris’ (a song that draws on my love of Paris). Probably the most significant experience-related song I have written is ‘Close Enough’; I felt the story about gay couples should be told, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t blatantly obvious. During the time I wrote it, Minnesota was debating gay marriage. I support gay marriage, so I felt this was something to make my own contribution to.”
What was it like working on this project with Kevin Bowe and Stephen McKnight?
“Both are very talented musicians and producers. Stephen runs a tight ship and stays on a schedule. Kevin tends to prefer individual sessions and is a fantastic vocal producer. On our new releases, we’ve also worked with multi-Grammy winner Joe Baldridge from Nashville, and this has taken our music to a higher level. His contributions have been astounding.”
What about your latest release? How does this latest record differ from or expand on first 2 releases?
“Our latest release, “Hot and Cold: American Relationships” is all about relationships and how some are great (while others) can be a challenge. We’ve tried to portray various adult relationships and some of the difficulties we all experience. This release is the second in a series of three EPs about American issues. Each EP has its own message.”
If you could write or perform with any artist (living or dead), who would you choose? Why?
“I would love to perform with Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen. Both of these artists are genius songwriters and always have made me think about the meaning behind the songs.”
I understand you have an exciting new Non War Poets collaboration in Ireland – Can you tell us about it yet?
“This is more of an Americana project that is in collaboration with an Irish singer / songwriter Aileen Henderson. The band name is Light Over There and we’ll have an EP to release in January. We have some great songs we’re pretty excited about. It’s been a lot of fun to co-write with Aileen and record at the same time in two studios 4,000 miles apart. I think people are going to like it.”
What do the remaining months of 2014 hold in store for War Poets?
“We are finishing up a tour and then will likely take some time off until late January or February. After that we will hit the road again. We hope to release the third EP in the series (“Searching for the American Dream”) before we go back out on the road. For me, songwriting never stops, so I’ll keep doing what I do.”