Conversation: Nashville's Great Peacock Journeys From A 'Lark' To 'Forever'
Well into a jovial conversation with the co-founders of Nashville’s Great Peacock, Andrew Nelson says something almost in passing that seems worth a pause and no small amount of awe. “We haven't paid ourselves in years,” he says of their aggressive touring life. Nelson and partner Blount Floyd cover their bills with day jobs at home then (in regular times) hit the road, pay their guys and sock the rest away. “That way whenever we need to record or anything we know, okay, we have money for that. It's always been saving up for the next album.”
This isn’t a textbook in indie music economics but a story about commitment. Imagine being on the road 200 days a year and not taking a cut of the revenue for yourself. The mind reels. But this is music worthy of investment, a visceral, bright and inspiring Americana rock with Western brush strokes. It’s music built around a striking vocal duo that represents well on record and blossoms on stage. And while the shows are on pause, Peacock’s third album, Forever Worse Better, out in late 2020, is setting the band up well for the post pandemic world, with its most successful run at radio so far, heading into its fifth month in the heart of the Americana top 50.
The album’s title, a sort of remix of marriage vows, affirms that old analogy of bands and betrothals. Because the road life is a long haul promise, where the only two things guaranteed are the for better and for worse parts. They call it “an album born from the rigors of the road, and all the personal struggles that come with it.” Its opening track, the romantic pining of “All I Ever Do” is ostensibly about a woman, but the line “I’ll keep on believing until I go insane” describes some of the artists we’ve all known. Naturally, Nelson got the song cooking in his head while on the freeway.
Another standout is “High Wind,” which rolls along to a modified train beat while embracing change and resilience. “The album's very dark at moments and very hopeful at moments,” says Nelson. “But the end statement of the album is that it's all going to be okay because it basically has to be okay. You can't change it. All you can do is have a good attitude and make the most out of all this. It's about contentment, without being lethargic, you know, it's about contentment with hard work.”
For a band that’s found such a solid footing and fan base through said work, its origins were rather lighthearted. Nelson and Floyd became musical friends early in their respective Nashville residencies and spent the early 2010s playing in part time rock and roll bands. A lot of it amounted to “joking around” says Floyd. “We played in a band with my brother for a couple years, a rock kind of thing. And none of those bands were really vocal driven (like) what we do now. And we decided that we had a kind of cool thing when we sang together.”
So the next iteration of this seemingly inseparable team was to aim at a power folk sound and an almost ironically calculated name. They found themselves getting drunk on Bushwackers at a West Nashville bar, says Nelson. “And we jokingly said, well, let's start a folk pop group and put an animal in the name. And it's got to have two words. So that's how we came up with Great Peacock.” Then, the story continues, same bar, same guys. “One of us said, ‘Well, we need to have a song about a bird.’ And so we wrote ‘Desert Lark’ in probably three minutes.”
“Desert Lark” went up on the new group’s Bandcamp page in the winter of 2013, and its fluid, locked-in harmonies and brightly burning chorus caught on. Lightning 100 gave it airplay on Nashville radio and it became the climax of their shows. Nelson says explicitly that song gave them a shot as performing songwriters, flipping them from the grim prospect of signing on for full time civilian jobs to the new reality of pursuing music hard, on the road, for the foreseeable future. “We wouldn't be doing this if it hadn't been for that (song).”
It took Great Peacock a couple years to release “Desert Lark” an album, the debut Making Ghosts, followed by 2018’s Grand Pavo Real. Over that time, Nelson and Floyd, joined formally by bass player Frank Keith IV, trended from their acoustic guitar-driven folk pop to a heartier breed of heartland rock and roll. It felt more authentic to their backgrounds and it went over better on stage as they were winning over crowds.
So when the time came to lay down Forever Worse Better, a refreshed esthetic powered the writing and the sessions. They produced the album themselves, with tracking sessions at Nashville’s famous Sound Emporium and embellishments at Floyd’s home studio. The roiling rhythm section and icy steel guitars impart a full bodied southern rock tone throughout, but the transparency of their original folk soul persists. Now Great Peacock has made its vows explicit and public. No joking around.