Patrick Dyer Wolf is from Chapel Hill. Avi Vinocur is from San Francisco. The musicians' hometowns are separated by almost 3,000 miles, but right in the middle is Goodnight, Texas. It is a small town of 28 people and the namesake of the duo's musical partnership.
While the Texas town remains the root of the group's name, the pair's musical foundation comes from an art of combining historical folklore with contemporary acoustics. Wolf and Vinocur recently performed at Motorco in Durham, and stopped by to share the stories behind their latest release, Uncle John Farquhar.
Wolf said the album's title came from a picture he found in a pile of old family photos. On the front was a faded photo with the written caption "Uncle John Farquhar." But the real surprise came after flipping over the photo, where Wolf found a sermon written by his distant relative on the national day of mourning for President Abraham Lincoln.
"We had more of a picture than you usually have of your great-great-great-grandfather, but still by and large a mystery," Wolf said. "But we just had enough to hold onto, and the album started becoming this family scrapbook pieced together over the years and sort of forgotten and sort of remembered."
A focal point of the album is "Dearest Sarah," a song Vinocur wrote over the course of eight years about a soldier in the Civil War. It is a true story based from a letter Vinocur found of the soldier writing to his wife, telling her to take care of their children after he knew he was going to die in battle.
"I began writing the song the second time I read the letter. I had been in a period where I loved writing biographical music," Vinocur said. "I wrote a song about Walt Whitman and the murder of Robert Johnson, and I wanted to put [the letter] into song."
Vinocur said after several years of contemplating how the music would fit the lyrics, it finally came to fruition while sitting on a roof during a trip to New Zealand. Vinocur said it was a moment of serenity.
"I was like, 'Oh, this is it. This is right.'"
While Goodnight, Texas's storytelling revolves around tales of the Civil War and religious relatives, the duo's sound jumps from reflective or somber to gritty songs of Southern soul. In "Button Your Collar," the pair sings of a town "much too cold, much too proud," before declaring "take me south for crying out loud," all the while maintaining a stomping rhythm that will send listeners singing along.
To hear a sample of the soul Wolf and Vinocur put into their music, listen to the the pair sing "Many Miles From Blacksburg" in the interview above, or check out the video below: