Over several years, Boston's most excellent post-millennial honky-tonk act, Girls, Guns and Glory, have built a devoted following in the Whaling City - so much so that they consider New London a spiritual second home. Now, with the addition of drummer Josh Kiggans, a Montville native, they have genuine regional DNA to solidify the relationship.
And, after extensive touring across the country and Europe, the band's performance tonight in the Rose Barn at Waterford's Eugene O'Neill Theater Center - sharing a bill with old pals The Hoolios - takes on the true celebratory atmosphere of a homecoming.
They can also celebrate following a busy month of accolades. The acclaimed Americana magazine, Alternate Roots, called them "One of the Top 50 Bands Right Now"; Boston Business Journal said their "Inverted Valentine" album was named one of the "Top 40 Albums Ever by Boston bands"; and they've just been nominated in several categories by the New England Music Awards and the Alternate Roots' Reader's Choice awards.
In a different but similarly exhilarating testament to the group's extrapolating popularity, they performed the national anthem in Gillette Stadium last November, before the New England Patriots' game with the Indianapolis Colts.
Girls, Guns and Glory's leader, Ward Hayden, says he can't overemphasize the help fans have given the band.
"Without people passing our music along or playing our music for people they know, our music would be having a much harder time getting out into the world," says Hayden, the band's vocalist/guitarist/songwriter. "We feel like accolades are a shared experience. Without people rallying behind us with votes, emails and online support, we likely would never come to the attention of a lot of music magazines and other press."
It's a realistic but typically humble assessment by the soft-spoken and gracious Hayden - who will be the first NOT to tell you what an incredible songwriter he is. Hayden's compositional instincts have completely bypassed modern Nashville. Instead, along with his distinct and resonate songs, he seems structurally anchored in the immortal blueprints of Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Steve Earle.
Hayden's maturation as a songwriter has been evident and steady over the course of four albums. Too, the band's experiences with increasing fame and relentless, expanding road excursions have only helped Hayden's vision. In fact, the band is at last scheduled, in two weeks, to enter a Brooklyn studio to record a follow-up to 2011's "Sweet Nothings," and veteran producer Eric "Roscoe" Ambel (Earle, Ryan Adams, Joan Jett, etc.) will oversee and conduct the sessions.
Hayden says the new material developed in the most time-honored tradition of the modern troubadour.
"The bulk of the songs were written on the road, most of them between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m.," Hayden says. "Sometimes it's hard when you've been out touring for a month, or it's week five in a foreign country and you're beyond tired."
Hayden has learned, though, that there are times when you simply have to ignore tour bus or hotel exhaustion."(It's late and) you try to fall asleep and then an idea for a song or a melody shows up in your head. I used to roll over, thinking it would still be there in the morning. But I've learned that when the Songwriting Muse pays a visit, you have to jump up and not let that moment of inspiration slip away."
The new album will be the first with Kiggans behind the drum kit. Though he and Hayden have known each other for six years, and Kiggans occasionally sat in as a sub drummer for the band, there were conflicts that kept him from officially joining the group.
After graduating from Montville High School in 2001, Kiggans attended the University of Massachusetts to study music. He ended up in Boston in a variety of musical configurations - including occasional sub gigs with GGG. He and Hayden and the other guys in the band, guitarist Chris Hersch and bassist Paul Zaz Dilley, instantly got along, though, and 18 months ago Kiggans joined full time.
"It was basically a case of being in the right place at the right time," Kiggans says. "A few of my projects were winding down, and the drummer at the time was leaving to pursue something else. I slid into the drum chair and I haven't looked back!"
Kiggans, whose parents, Roy and Linda Kiggans, still live in Montville, grew up with an appreciation for roots music. His grandfather listened to Hank Williams, his mom and dad turned him on to Gram Parsons and Ry Cooder, and an uncle, Howard Willingham, played drums in the area with the late, great Karl Kelly.
"My uncle brought me to see music all the time when I was a kid," Kiggans says, "and a major memory of mine is going to see happy hour sets at Sneeker's Cafe. (It was) maybe not the best place for a little kid, but I really loved it."
From there, Kiggans started his own percussion career, and he studied and later taught at Caruso Music in New London. "(Longtime Caruso instructors) Bob Burt and Eddie Aleida were really supportive teachers and gave me a lot of great opportunities," he says.
Now, if only for a few days, Kiggans returns home, decidedly happy in a band whose career has consistently risen through the ranks.
"In the short time I've been with the band, I've had so many great opportunities," Kiggans says. "I've had the pleasure of not only touring extensively in the U.S. but also getting to Europe a few times. It's been a lot of hard work and time away from home, but it's very rewarding."
During this weekend's visit to the area, Kiggans has a few extra-gig priorities.
"I'll be raiding my mother's kitchen. She's a legendary baker," he says. "Outside of that, I'll try to make it a point to get over to the Dutch Tavern, and hopefully I can squeeze in a lobster roll at Captain Scott's Lobster Dock."
This is precisely the sort of insider information Kiggans can share with his bandmates to help their continued journey as honorary New Londoners - and just part of what the drummer brings to the band.
"Josh's attitude and input have been huge assets," Hayden says. "He's someone you can count on and brings a strong sense of reason and cohesiveness to GGG when we're on the road and when we're working on song arrangements. Josh is a thinker, and add to that the time he takes to understand everything from personalities, musical nuances and even general music business practices. It's been great to have him on board."
'Sharing the Glory'
Opening tonight's Girls, Guns and Glory concert are local Americana heroes The Hoolios. It's more than just coincidence or shrewd booking that the two acts are sharing a bill. Ward Hayden of Girls, Guns and Glory is a big fan of The Hoolios and their leader, Jim Carpenter.
"Jim is a really great guy and a great writer," Hayden says. "I've been a fan of his work for a few years now. He was kind enough to pass along some of his material when we first met and I've been a fan ever since."
Hayden also feels great affection for the Rose Theater. "It's such a cool venue - the perfect venue for this kind of roots/Americana show, and we're thrilled to get to play there with Jim and The Hoolios."