With its latest album, Fortune Favors The Bold, Russell County, Virginia-based 49 Winchester is ready and roaring to break onto the national scene with its unique brand of tear-in-your-beer alt-country, sticky barroom floor rock-n-roll, and high-octane Appalachian folk.
“As we’ve aged and matured, our sound has gone from a softer place to this grittier, edgier tone that we have now,” says lead singer/guitarist Isaac Gibson. “So, we’re trending more towards being a rock band instead of a country band. But, at the same time, I don’t think anybody’s ever known quite what to call it.”
Although it’s 49 Winchester’s fourth studio album, Fortune Favors The Bold marks its debut for Nashville’s New West Records — one of the premier labels for Americana, indie and rock acts on the cutting edge of sound, scope and spectacle.
“I don’t know if it’s a conscious effort, but we’ve never set out to mimic anything or anyone,” says Gibson. “We do our own thing and we make music that we think makes sense to us, instead of trying to emulate anything else.”
Formed on Winchester Street in the small mountain town of Castlewood, Virginia (population: 2,045), the band started as a ragtag bunch of neighborhood teenagers who just wanted to get together for the sake of playing together.
Aside from Gibson, there’s also bassist Chase Chafin, guitarist Bus Shelton, and Noah Patrick on pedal steel.
“I’ve known Chase since we were infants. Bus and I have been friends for a long time and Noah’s older brother and I went to school together,” says Gibson. “Chase and I wanted to play some music right after we graduated high school. We needed another guitar player, ‘Let’s talk to Bus.’
When Gibson and Chafin brought the other members into the fold to form 49 Winchester, there was only one question on the table presented to their peers.
“Let’s actually make a stab at being a band instead of just jamming out from time-to-time — are you in or are you out?” says Gibson. “From day one, it’s always been a band and it will always be about being a band. This is everything, everything we love about music — we’re going for broke with this thing.”
That initial spark to create 49 Winchester was some eight years ago. Gibson is 27 now. And in that time, there’s been hundreds of shows and thousands of miles between that starting line in Russell County and where the band stands today as one of the rapidly rising bands on the current scene in the Southeast and beyond.
“We were rank amateurs when we started this band, and our whole musical lives have been contained with this band,” says Gibson. “And that gives us a unique perspective because it’s still the same guys. It’s still all of us from Castlewood traveling around, playing music and making this band a reality — this is a story of growth.”
And it’s that sense of growth — more so, a sense of self — at the core of Fortune Favors The Bold. It’s not only a record that showcases the current state of 49 Winchester, it’s a melodic stake in the ground of how this group is constantly evolving and taking shape, sonically and lyrically.
“This album is about the hard work we’ve put into 49 Winchester — our lives are this band, plain and simple,” says Gibson. “It’s a snapshot of our where we are right now, of being far from home, and giving it everything you’ve got — out on the road and making a racket with these boys.”
Within the cover art for Fortune Favors The Bold is a coal miner uncovering the fruits of hard work and determination — an ode to the blue-collar people, places and things amid the landscape of 49 Winchester’s native Southwestern Virginia.
“When put under pressure, coal turns into diamonds,” says Gibson. “And I think that’s symbolic of what we are and where we’re going, this sort of diamond-in-the-rough kind of thing. Right now, we’re trying to get more toward the diamond than the rough.”
Reflecting on his early days as a jack-of-all-trades stone mason in Castlewood, where it was about trying to make ends meet in an effort to keep 49 Winchester rolling along, Gibson can’t help but be grateful for a well-earned notion at the core of the band’s ethos — anything worthwhile in life is built brick-by-brick.
“Everything has to be built. And very few people are going to achieve success overnight,” says Gibson. “There’s going to be people you see succeed in front of you. Maybe you don’t think they deserve it as much as you, haven’t worked as hard as you, haven’t done it as long as you. But, none of that matters — they ain’t you. They’re not living your life. They’re not part of your experience.”
At its essence, Fortune Favors The Bold is about going against all odds to bring your art into fruition and into the world. It’s about leaving your hometown and heading for the unknown horizon. And it’s about proving those wrong who snickered and waited for the day you’d give up somewhere down the line, only to circle back home with your tail between your legs.
“We didn’t start out as a bunch of hot shot pickers out of Nashville. We started out on the ground floor — very basic songwriting and instrumentation,” says Gibson. “But, we kept working at it, always progressing in what we wanted to do and how we wanted to sound — each song better than the previous one, the show this evening better than last night.”
But, it’s also about looking into the rearview mirror with a genuine appreciation for where you came from and what you’re made of, those hardscrabble, salt-of-the-earth traits in your blood and character that define what it actually takes to climb that damn mountain of dreams — come hell or high water.
“I’ve always been proud to be from Appalachia. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been obsessed with this place — it’s the most beautiful place in the country with some of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet,” says Gibson. “Regardless of where we go and what we do, home is always home. Russell County is a big part of who I am and a big part of each of us in the band — it makes us who we are and the attitudes we carry with us.”
And with Fortune Favors The Bold now unleashed onto the world, 49 Winchester continues to do what it does best, which is performing live in a packed, raucous room — one where nowadays the heartfelt lyrics are being sung loudly and in unison from both sides of the microphone at sold-out venues across America.
“That’s the high, that’s the rush — being onstage playing music with my band,” says Gibson. “We love seeing new faces every day. But, there’s something so wild about being 1,500 miles from home and that crowd is singing your songs back to you at the top of their lungs. And when you get to share in that satisfaction with them? It’s a huge adrenaline rush — pure adrenaline.”