Gallants: All in the Family
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: September 28, 2005
I think I sort of freaked out the guys from Two
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
|| 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."
"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."
|| 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.
Published in The Omaha Reader Sept. 28, 2005.
Copyright © 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.