I don’t always remember the exact moments when I discovered many of the bands I’ve come to love over the years, but I do distinctly recall the first time I heard Two Gallants. It was 2010, I was a shiny new college grad trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life like every other English major out there, planning a move to Los Angeles because I thought the change of scenery might provide a spark of inspiration.
Then a friend showed me “Steady Rollin'” off the band’s absurdly underrated LP What The Toll Tells and I became instantly homesick, a feeling that seems even more extraordinary when you consider the fact I hadn’t even moved yet. Their sound epitomizes the Bay Area’s vast and eccentric collection of characters – their songs are filled with junkies and artists, losers and misfits, gamblers, struggling workers, degenerate criminals, heartsick poets and everything else that makes this place so divinely weird.
Their latest LP We Are Undone, set to be released February 3rd, is yet another example of how the duo comprised of singer/guitarist Adam Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel continue to expand and evolve their sound. There’s the searing, riff-based title track full of rage and blame, the impending doom of “Some Trouble,” the folk-tinged “Katy Kruelly,” and the raucous “Incidental,” just to name a few songs that exhibit the diversity and depth of the new album. Through an email exchange I was able to ask the band about the new record, their current sound, and how they have been able to keep their music fresh over the many years they’ve been together.
The Bay Bridged: Judging from the two singles you’ve released from your new album (“We Are Undone,” “Incidental”) it seems like you are continuing to explore the tighter, leaner song structures evident on The Bloom And The Blight. Was it a conscious decision to steer away from the sweeping epics like “Waves of Grain” and “The Throes” to focus on more concise arrangements? Or did the songs naturally take that shape?
Two Gallants: I think “Incidental” is the shortest song on the album. There are some other songs that last a little while. There never were any decisions made about how long a song should be. Each song has its own little row to hoe. The child simile for artistic creations is a little obnoxious but just as no one should try to corral their children into being someone that they wouldn’t be naturally, I guess I just know that if I force songs in a certain direction or impose my will on them they don’t turn out right.
TBB: As Bay Area natives, you’ve included a number of references to the locality in your earlier work. Does the environment continue to inspire your music on We Are Undone?
TG: Yeah definitely but in a drastically different way. I don’t really want to speak my full mind on the matter right now so to put it mildly and briefly, San Francisco used to be an extremely interesting place (and it still definitely is), but for musicians and artists and anyone who pays any attention to their surroundings, that side of the city is vanishing at a rapid pace. I don’t know about inspire but, yes, the city still affects our music significantly. Unfortunately, the outlook is a little bleak.
TBB: It must have been hard to evolve your sound over the years with just two members. Do you feel creatively restrained by that limitation? Or do you like the challenge of trying to find new sounds to squeeze out of just two musicians?
TG: It never feels like a limitation. Sometimes there are songs that seem to want more instrumentation and don’t work out but for the songs that do, not having a third party involved forces us to come up with things that we otherwise wouldn’t.
TBB: You’ve tackled a great number of themes and subjects through your lyrics over the years. Is there a central, overriding theme to We Are Undone? Or are there multiple themes weaved into the LP?
TG: There are a few different themes going on in the album but there are definitely a few songs that revolve around a single theme. I guess one thing that shows up consistently is how indifferent and oblivious we all seem to be to the catastrophe unfolding right before our eyes. The debate over whether humans are radically altering the planet is done. The only reason why any suggestion of doubt still lingers in the air is because it is far more beneficial in the immediate future to keep us in denial of what we’re doing than to in any way alter our habits. So we all keep trudging along, too busy or too distracted to give a shit.
TBB: Two Gallants has been together, productive and, I would say, relevant for over 10 years now. That’s a long time for any group, especially independent artists. How have you been able to remain intact and artistically viable for that long?
TG: We were lucky enough to be friends long before we started making music together. I have no doubt that that’s what’s held us together. Regardless of success or number of members, most bands don’t last more than a few years. We both love playing music and prefer playing it together so it’s hard to imagine why we would do anything else.
Two Gallants, Golden Drugs
Leo’s Music Club
February 5, 2015
9pm, $20-24, 18+
Two Gallants, B. Hamilton
Great American Music Hall
February 7, 2015
9pm, $20, 6+