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Two 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 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."











"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.

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Published in The Omaha Reader Sept. 28, 2005. Copyright 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.