‘Love and Protest,” the new release from Girls Guns and Glory, marks a significant milestone for the Boston alt-country band. Band founder Ward Hayden and his compadres have now been making records for 10 years; they’ve released six studio albums and a Hank Williams tribute. And they’ve gone from playing catch-as-catch-can gigs in local bars to being a national touring act. They celebrate their new release with a hometown show Saturday at The Sinclair.
Looking back over that time, Hayden notes that the band became a band. It went from being essentially his project with a revolving cast of characters to a steady and collaborative lineup — Chris Hersch on guitar, Paul Dilley on bass, and Josh Kiggans on drums — that remained stable until just prior to recording the new record, when Hersch left the band.
That departure left the remaining members with a bit of a dilemma. They were getting ready to record, but they had no guitar player, and they were uncertain about whether and how to proceed.
They’ve since brought in young guitarist Cody Nilsen to take over those duties, but they decided to go ahead with recording without pausing to find a replacement. Instead, they called on the services of a world-class ringer in Duke Levine. His distinctive, recognizable playing is all over “Love and Protest.”
“It was like going to school every day, just getting to be in the studio with him,” marvels Hayden, speaking by telephone. “What really impressed me is he’s such a good listener. It’s impressive what he plays, and it’s equally if not more impressive what he doesn’t. It was really good for us, just as a way to grow and continue to mature as a band, to have that time in the studio with him.”
For his part, Levine found the experience an enjoyable one on several counts. He got to plug in to an existing band that’s been playing together for some time, and rather than overdubbing his parts separately, he and the band rehearsed and recorded together over several days.
“I do a fair amount of session stuff, but it’s rare that I get to plug in to an existing band,” Levine says when reached by phone. “There’s something you get by playing together that you never get in another way.” He points out that, of equal importance, the band also had great songs to record. “It sounds stupid to say, but great songs are one of the main reasons that any record comes out really good. And what I do is infinitely harder if the songs aren’t good.”
While “Love and Protest” definitely sounds like a Girls Guns and Glory record — country-rock hybrids anchored in Hayden’s immutably twangy singing — many of those songs represent a bit of a change. Hayden views “Love and Protest” as being more of a Tom Petty-style rock ’n’ roll record; at the same time, it also comes across as slower-paced compared with the full-throttle railroad beat that Girls Guns and Glory is known for.
There are other sonic forays, too, from the fiddle-and-steel shuffle “Empty Bottles” to the echoing desert vibe of “Well Laid Plans.” Most notable in this regard is “Diamondillium,” a song that draws on an episode of the science fiction series “Futurama” and features what Hayden calls a “distorted, twisted metal guitar sound.” It is the most out-of-the-box song the band has ever done.
Hayden also sees a thematic thread running through the album’s songs, which is reflected in its title. “I like the idea that there’s love and the other side, when that emotion isn’t being reciprocated, when it’s literally in protest. I felt that there was a lot of ground to cover there.”
That ground includes more than just romantic love. “Unglued” addresses the difficulties that come with doing what you love (says Hayden of the experience behind the song: “You’re out there in week three of a five-week tour, you start to unravel a little, but you still have 14 shows left to play”). And “Man Wasn’t Made” is “genuine modern-day protest song” rooted in the love of a friend; Hayden wrote it after a high school buddy was killed in action in Afghanistan.
“When I look at this collection,” Hayden says, “I see the maturity of a band that’s spent 10 years working really hard, being on the road 200 some-odd days a year. These songs represent that to me. I couldn’t have written these 10 years ago. And some of them, even if I started writing them four or five years ago, without the contributions of my bandmates, I don’t think these songs would be what they became. I feel it shows an evolution of the band.”
Girls Guns and Glory
At: The Sinclair, Cambridge, Jan. 14 at 9 p.m. Tickets: $15, 888-929-7849, www.axs.com
Stuart Munro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.