The measuring stick Johnny McGuire uses for his country duo Walker McGuire isn’t how long the band has been around or how many albums the act has sold.
“I look at how many miles we’ve traveled,” McGuire said by phone from Nashville. “We’ve driven over 300,000 miles since we formed (in 2012). We’ve put our time and miles in.”
The laid-back vocalist-guitarist sounds like Bruce Springsteen when the rock iconoclast detailed how he made it during his memorable 2012 keynote speech at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. The Boss stressed how important it is to pay dues and have that connection with bandmates. McGuire and his co-conspirator, Jordan Walker, have checked off the sonic relationship box since the tandem are very tight.
“I’m not married but it feels like Jordan and I are married,” McGuire said. “We’re that close. Jordan was the first guy I met in (Nashville) and he was the first guy I ever co-wrote with. I guess you can say we’re growing up together.”
“Growin’ Up” is the name of Walker McGuire’s latest single. The song melds modern production and an old-school message.
“I think that combination really works well,” McGuire said. “Jordan and I are growin’ up right in front of our fans. I know that the topic of the song has been done before but this is our spin on it.”
One of the first songs from Springsteen’s career is a catchy, urgent and deep number called “Growin’ Up.”
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“We know that song,” McGuire said. “Who doesn’t know Springsteen?”
Like the Boss, Walker McGuire’s song collection is eclectic.
“I think that’s because of our influences,” McGuire said. “We have different influences. Jordan grew up loving Keith Whitley and Alan Jackson. I was a big fan of Tom Petty, John Prine and Matchbox Twenty. So we have country, rock and pop in our music. Our songs move in a number of different directions. We don’t like to repeat ourselves. That makes us different, since there are so many recording artists that have no problem being repetitive. It’s as if they’re trying to make the perfect single. They keep making the same type of song but that’s not us. We want to have the best songs but we like variety. I like that as a fan and as a musician.”
Walker, who is from Texas, and McGuire, who hails from Kansas, are at their best when they combine roots rock with contemporary country. Their gritty songs are earnest and relatable.
“We always thought we complemented each other nicely,” McGuire said. “But you never know what is going to appeal to people.”
The act’s initial single, “Til Tomorrow,” which is about a man dealing with a bad breakup, became a viral smash in and has been played nearly 20 million times on streaming services. McGuire laughed when recalling what it was like to hear the hit on the radio for the first time.
“It was like that scene in the film ‘That Thing You Do,’ when the band was at that radio shop freaking out,” he said. “I remember we were in Pensacola riding down the highway and it was just the greatest feeling.”
That was appropriate, since the experience happened while Walker McGuire was racking up road miles.
“It couldn’t have been more fitting,” he said. “But we love being on the road. We’re putting on more mileage and we’re more than fine with that.”
Expect Walker McGuire to amp it up when the pair ring in the New Year at the First Avenue Club in Iowa City.
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“You have to go above and beyond if you’re playing the party night of the year,” McGuire said. “It’s fitting that we play New Year’s Eve in Iowa City, since Iowa has been so good to us over the years. We’ll make sure everybody has a good time as we say goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019.”
WHAT: Walker McGuire
WHERE: First Avenue Club, 1550 S. First Ave., Iowa City
WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday (12/31)
TICKETS: $20 to $40, Firstavenueclub.com/events/
ARTISTS’ WEBSITE: Walkermcguire.com