Charles Wesley Godwin Shares a Taste of 'Seneca' Album, His 'Autobiography of an Appalachian Boy'
If Charles Wesley Godwin had his way a few years back, he'd be wearing spikes rather than playing songs.
Godwin -- whose "(Windmill) Keep on Turning" is premiering exclusively below from his upcoming debut album Seneca -- came to West Virginia University with dreams of walking on to the Mountaineers football team. "I always played sports growing up," Godwin, whose father mines coal, tells Billboard, "but I just wasn't good enough and got cut. After trying that I few times I realized that wasn't going to happen for me. Then I had all that spare time, and I just landed on music as something that maybe I could do productively with my freed time. I had a little bit of natural talent, and it just grew from that.
"But my main intention was to fill my time more productively than just watching TV."
That "natural talent" made Godwin, who wound up with a finance degree, a quick study. He started learning to play guitar and writing during early 2012 and played his first full song that March. And, as he notes, "it just kind of snowballed from there." He started to play some gigs, and the songs kept coming -- influenced, Godwin says, by artists such as Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Chris Knight and Ryan Bingham. "It was like a blue-collar version of English literature to me," Godwin says. "I learned a lot about how they craft their words together. When I'm writing a song and I star veering off the path...I'm able to lean on those influences and say, 'Alright Charles, take a step back here...' I think the songwriters that I really enjoy and I look up to help me get out of the way, sometimes, when I'm editing my work."
What's particularly prevalent in Godwin's songs is a sense of place, a taste of his home state (West Virginia) via the vivid language and scenic ambience of songs such as "Coal Country," "(Windmill) Keep on Turning" and "Seneca Creek." Godwin, who comes up with many of his ideas in the shower, calls Seneca an "autobiography of an Appalachian boy” but says that the cinematic details of his lyrics come to him unconsciously.
"Even though I didn't get started until later, I think these songs were kind of in me one way or another," explains Godwin, who currently resides in Athens, Ohio, where his wife works at Ohio University. "Since I’m such a young, new songwriter, it was only nature these would be the first (songs) to come out of me. I'm sure with future (songs) I'll move on to other subjects, but these are about my family and just little stories and things like that." "(Windmill) Keep on Turning," meanwhile, was inspired by a cabinet factory near his family's home in Moorfield, W.Va., where his cousin Ricky works. "They're actually doing really well there," Godwin says, “but I was just thinking about what would happen if that were to close? What would happen to the area and so many of the people there, like 3,000 jobs?
"And then I was thinking about how they're building a lot of windmills now, up on the Allegheny Ridge Line. Those things are spinning hard all day, like a skyline, and then thinking that one day those might be looking like an old coal plant or something, something that's part of the past at some point...It's not really a happy (song) but I think it's a good introduction to the album. It gives people a real picture."
With Seneca out Feb. 15, Godwin's next goal is to start spreading the word and playing more, though he acknowledges that he's finding his way into the touring world as casually as he entered music in the first place. "I'm not going to pretend like I have any grand ideas or anything," says Godwin, who books his own shows and is "terrible at it, in my opinion. I'm just using social media to tell people (his music) exists and hopefully things will keep growing and getting better. I'm just trying to fill my schedule up, and hopefully the album helps me do that."