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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Column 44 -- Two Gallants are welcomed into the fold

This column was originally slated to be a feature on Two Gallants, but at the last minute The Reader pulled back the story's word-limit. They gave me the choice of keeping it at 400 words or using it as this week's column, which would double my word count. I chose the latter, though making it a column involved a different style of writing, one that incorporated more comment than what's found in a simple profile. Regardless, here it is.

As always is the case, there was a ton of stuff that didn't get used. For example, the band already has recorded their new record out at Tiny Telephone studios in San Francisco. Creek says expect a late-January release date. Their last album, The Throes, was recorded in nine days. This time they had three weeks to record and mix it, says guitarist/vocalist Adam Stephens, and as a result, the album will sound bigger and better. That said, I assume Saddle Creek paid for the recording time even though the band opted not to use Lincoln's Presto! Studios. "The prospect came up to do it in Lincoln," said Stephens. "But we needed to stay at home. It's important to be somewhere where you're comfortable. They were open to giving us the time we needed, being aware that we don't want to waste their time and money. That allowed us to do things that we wanted to."

Stephens also went into detail about his songwriting process. I'd commented that songs from The Throes, like "Train That Stole My Man" and "My Madonna," betray experiences that are beyond their experience. "Through songs you can question things more and come up with new scenarios," Stephens said. "I think it comes out more as a very personal feeling, out of respect for people who suffered, not necessarily ourselves. It's not a very thought-out process. The songs come up on their own in a lot of ways. It (the songwriting) follows a whole new invention of modernism in literature, of stepping out of yourself and describing things from a different point of view and a different voice. It's not anything new."

Got that? I'm not sure I did, especially considering his comments later on about blues music, but you'll read that soon enough.

Finally, I asked them what they grew up listening to. The duo has known each other and been playing music together since they were 12, though Two Gallants has only been around for three years. "We both kind of wanted to make loud music and play guitar because we thought it was cool," said drummer Tyson Vogel. "No one in our families urged us to play music. It came out of an indescribable desire to make noise, and we've been doing it ever since in some form. We both listened to Guns 'n' Roses and Nirvana, but that was back when we were 11 years old. Our tastes have changed a lot since then. We listened to a lot of old country blues and such."

Stephens said the band will be pulling out a lot of new material for Friday night's show. "It's hard to tell how a show will go; we never know until after the first songs," he said. "But there will be some newer stuff along with older stuff. And we'll be touring with Holy Ghost Revival, one of our favorite bands."

Column 44 -- All in the Family
Two Gallants adopted by Saddle Creek family

I think I sort of freaked out the guys from Two Gallants.

I interviewed them a couple weeks ago when they were in San Francisco having just returned from a brief tour of England. They were getting ready to head out to Saddle Creek Records' CMJ showcase followed by Omaha.

So I'm on the phone with both of them -- singer/guitarist Adam Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel -- and off I go about how Two Gallants is really the first band to get signed to Saddle Creek with absolutely no links to the label. They didn't grow up in Omaha, they didn't go to Creighton Prep, they didn't hang out at The Brothers, they never recorded at Presto! Studios or toured with any of the label's bands.

They just played their strange-yet-endearing personal brand of pirate-voiced blues-waltzes at a couple O'Leaver's gigs before opening for Beep Beep at Sokol last January. The hoopla generated from those shows caught the attention of Creek label chief Robb Nansel, who ran down a copy of the band's CD, The Throes, and the rest, as they say, is history. That chronology of events, I told the Gallants, was unheard of. It just doesn't happen. Don't you get it? Creek doesn't sign bands out of the blue like that.

I didn't stop there. I told them about the vote. "You guys had to be 'approved' by the powers at the label -- the Conor Obersts, the Tim Kashers -- all had to give you the nod," I said, my voice rising to a painful howl. "And only then -- only after the vote -- did you get invited to join the family."

Stephens and Vogel sounded startled (or maybe just annoyed). "So, do you think that we're worthy?" Stephens asked. "I guess it's kind of an honor."

Stephens said that he and Vogel already knew about the label before hanging out with Nansel in Austin a few weeks after their Sokol gig. "It was pretty comfortable," he said. "Robb wasn't trying to impress us by buying us a lot of drinks like most of the industry folks do. He just seemed like someone who enjoyed music. There wasn't any pretending going on."

Shortly thereafter, the deal was done. I don't know all the details. Nansel said that there was, in fact, a vote held. Would Creek be signing more "strangers" (my term, not his) to the label? "Yeah, but we don't have an active A&R department, so I don't know how active we'll be," Nansel said.

Two Gallants' music is a departure from Creek's usual singer/songwriter or angular punk or electro-dance style. Or maybe not. Come to think of it, Creek bands don't really have a specific "style." If anything, it's the songwriters' personal, diary-esque lyrics and their non-commercial approach that ties everyone together.
"The one way we do fit in is that most of the bands are different," Stephens said about Saddle Creek. "We don't sound like anyone else, and I think that's what's interesting about the label. They're not getting stuck inside a specific genre. I think that a lot of bands on Saddle Creek are going in a different direction than what's typically considered indie."

There isn't anything typical about Two Gallants. Don't mistake them for other guitar-and-drum duos like The White Stripes or The Black Keys. Their sound is rooted in a different kind of musical tradition. When I saw them last winter, their set consisted of long, three-quarter-time ballads that married Arlo Guthrie with Janis Joplin (sort of) to create a nasal-esque folk-blues 'explosion.' I mentioned that I could hear Janis singing every one of their songs, how she was influenced by people like Bessie Smith and Otis Redding and Big Mama Thornton. Did those artists influence them?


"No, not really," Stephens said. "I can get down with some Bessie Smith, but I haven't heard much Janis Joplin. Both of us are deeply influenced by music from the '20s and '30s by people who actually experienced the blues. In terms of the evolution of the blues, I think of B.B. King as someone who has no connection with where it came from. His stuff wails and people dig it, and maybe it has heart and soul, but we're more into the people who lived the lives the songs described."

Somewhere, members of the Omaha Blues Society are collectively gnashing their teeth.

Check out the newest member of the Saddle Creek family Sept. 30 at Sokol Underground with non-Creekers Anonymous American and The Holy Ghost Revival.

On a side note, I was told by organizer Mike Tulis that tonight is Rock Movie night at O'Leaver's featuring Thin Lizzy in "The Boys Are Back in Town." Meanwhile, local singer/songwriter Reagan Roeder has posted on my webboard that there's actually a rock show at O'Leaver's tonight featuring him, local band The Atlas and Tucson act The Sweat Band (who also have the date listed on their website). Keep an eye on the webboard for any updates or clarification, or else just show up and prepare to be surprised.

--Got comments? Post 'em here.--


posted by Tim at 5:21 AM

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Posts Before February 2005