The Key Studio Sessions: Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Dan Campbell has always been a powerful storyteller, going back to the howling vignettes of personal catharsis he’s been delivering as frontman of The Wonder Years for the past decade and change. A few years ago, the Lansdale native decided to pick up an acoustic guitar and stretch out his narrative scope with the solo project Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties.

It debuted on 2014’s We Don’t Have Each Other by tracing the story of the band’s fictional namesake — a young man who, between drinking problems, divorce and deaths in the family, has a very difficult year. When we chatted earlier this year, Campbell said he was inspired to pursue the project after seeing The Mountain Goats for the first time. Songwriter John Darnielle bowled him over with his ability to create intensely detailed songs about very specific situations that nevertheless connect in a universal sense.

That’s exactly what Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties achieves, between its debut and the new Bittersweet EP, both on Hopeless Records. Campbell estimated there are at least two more albums worth of songs in the Aaron West saga.

This translates to the stage in a very unique way. Campbell has, for the most part, toured Aaron West as one-man acoustic band. It started out as a place for his acoustic-oriented ideas, after all — songs that don’t necessarily fit with the full-drive punk rock of TWY — and it connects just as powerfully in intimate clubs as it does on the Ocean City boardwalk. But working in the studio with Ace Enders of The Early November, the music nevertheless grew into its impressive arrangements, awash in horns and banjo and lap steel. For their upcoming gig at Philly’s Made in America festival, Campbell has rounded up a seven-piece band to give a full Roaring Twenties treatment to his set, and we were super excited to bring them in the studio this summer for a Key Studio Session.

Joining him is Enders on banjo, lap steel; Cam Boucher of Sorority Noise on saxophone; Nick Steinborn of The Wonder Years on drums; C.J. Morgan of The Sixties on bass; L.J. Becker on guitar; and Dave Heck on trombone.

The band dug into We Don’t Have Each Other with the soaring opener “Our Apartment” and the contemplative “Grapefruit.” Later, the studio emptied out to give Campbell space for a mostly solo rendition of “Divorce and the American South.” If anybody doubts the poignancy of his lyrics and delivery, let’s just say you should have been in the room when he sang the harrowing lyric: “Diane, I know I fucked up / but when we lost the baby, I kind of shut off.” Chills and tears all around.

They bring it back for a raging take on “’67, Cherry Red” from Bittersweet, the story-song that finds the title character selling his prized classic car to get back to New York and his estranged wife. It’s full of hurt and hope and is a perfect bridge to the next chapter of Aaron West. Bring on the healing.

Below, stream Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties’ Key Studio Session in its entirety and watch videos for “Our Apartment” and “’67, Cherry Red.” For a free download of the set, head over to our Soundcloud page. Special thanks to production assistant Jake Prein, photogaphers Cameron Pollack and Sydney Schaefer, and videographer John Groome for their work on this session. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties play the Made In America Festival on Labor Day weekend; for tickets and more information, head to the XPN Concert Calendar.

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