Singer-songwriter Charles Wesley Godwin built a fanbase of 114k monthly Spotify listeners by telling story-songs set in his home state of West Virginia through country and folk instrumentation and his wisdom-evoking baritone delivery.
Godwin's lyrical focus on his Appalachian surroundings draws comparisons to Americana contemporary Tyler Childers and such regional folk forebears as Hazel Dickens. Listeners need no prior experience in coal country to picture the characters and settings painted with Godwin's words, just as Bruce Springsteen fandom isn't contingent on having ever stepped foot in New Jersey.
"[Springsteen] is one of the best at doing that, and that's somebody that I look up to for his ability to have a sense of place in songs," Godwin told Wide Open Country. "He progressed to a point in his career where he could pull it off where he could write about other places and still connect people and do it in a great way. Hopefully, maybe one day I'll reach that point. For right now, I write what I know, and it's all very human stuff, human emotions."
Godwin doesn't consciously try to shatter false notions about his home state or better contextualize true stereotypes on 2019 debut album Seneca and its 2021 follow-up, How the Mighty Fall (out Nov. 5). He's simply spreading positivity through character studies that often deal with hard truths.
"I don't go into a song wanting to prove anything," Godwin said. "Usually they just kind of come almost naturally from the beginning, like with a line or a melody. I just do the best to make the best song that I can. If it ends up being something that shows the region I'm from in a positive light, that's good. Or if it makes it seem interesting, that's good.
"One thing that I do consciously is I try not to be negative," he added. "If I ever catch myself trying to maybe harp on the things that are bad or negative about where I'm from too much, I will try to make something positive instead or take a turn and try to go somewhere else with it. I try to come off in a positive or hopeful way. Even if it's something that might be tragic or sad, I try to have a tinge of hope, whether it be in the lyrics or just the way the music sounds."
As is the case with most albums hitting streaming services and shelves in late 2021, How the Mighty Fall results from time spent at home in 2020 for Godwin and his go-to producer, Al Torrence.
"I think if I'd been touring under the schedule that it was kind of on pace to be last year, I doubt I would've gotten the album done," Godwin said. "I might've gotten it started. It allowed me to get this whole album done maybe a year sooner than I would have otherwise."
Godwin's pandemic silver linings included the vocal rest not always afforded to artists when they're juggling tour dates and recording sessions.
"When I made Seneca, I didn't have very much earning power," he explained. "I had a hard time making any money because I was making music full time and I was doing it independently. So I had to keep grinding and working while I was recording the album in order to keep funding the making of the album. I don't have the strongest voice in the world, so if I play four times in a week, I'm going to be very hoarse and scratchy by the end of that. So I did have a hard time getting, in quotes, 'healthy days' to make Seneca... With this one, How the Mighty Fall, it was nice. I got to go into the studio just 100 percent healthy. Full-on 100 percent voice and just knock them out."
Circumstances also allowed Godwin and his wife to spend more time than expected with their first-born child, a son named Gabriel.
"He was born in December of 2019, and I was gone seven out of the first 12 weeks of his life," Godwin said. "Then the pandemic happened, and I got to spend one great, solid year at home with him. I basically was finished at the beginning of March 2020 and I didn't really get back to work until April of this year. With that quality time with him, I got to see everything... his first steps. I'll always look back very fondly on that time despite everything that was happening outside of our door. Inside of our house, it was a very special time and it's definitely made me change how I'll do business going forward. For better or worse, I'm going to be pretty uncompromising in having a healthy work-life balance."
Godwin learning the secret about a father's love did more than put being away from home in a different perspective. Concurrently, Gabriel made his dad better at writing the sorts of songs that keep the road calling.
"I think everything I've written since he was born has a little piece in there that's informed by the things he's taught me and what I've learned as a father," Godwin said. "I'm capable of a lot more empathy now as a father, whereas you could only try to imagine things before. Once you're a father, you can really put yourself in some other folks' shoes in that aspect of life.
"The other thing, too, is I always try to have something be a positive in my songs or some sort of a hopefulness in them," he continued. "That's more true than ever now because I don't want to put a lot of woe is me negativity out into the world, especially now that I have children. Even though I'm just a musician from West Virginia and I'm nothing to write home to mom about, I want to contribute positivity into the world."