Interview: Adam Stephens of Two Gallants on evolving louder, San Francisco gentrification, and lasting musical partnerships

 
 

A two-piece group from San Francisco born as a folk-rock group known for writing songs with its heart on its sleeve, Two Gallants have always stayed under the radar while continuously gaining a loyal following with every album released and every show played. Tonight they’ll be at Brighton Music Hall in Allston with Nashville rock and rollers Blank Range, in support of February’s new LP We Are Undone, and Vanyaland had the chance to chat with frontman and guitarist Adam Stephens about growing up musically with drummer Tyson Vogel, staying loud and intense, the gentrification of their Bay Area hometown, what it’s like playing as a duo, and what the future holds.

Rob Duguay: You and Tyson were both born in 1981, and have been making music together since you both were 12 years old. What started this musical partnership that’s lasted so long?

Adam Stephens: It’s kind of gone in different stages I suppose. The first time we played together was more adolescent and just based on the fact that we had similar musical tastes, we kind of developed together in that respect. We both had a desire to play music around the same time and listening to a lot of the same music as well. It kind of fell in easily that way and we played together on and off through middle school and high school but it wasn’t until we were both 21 and we were just in the city and we both dropped out of college. We didn’t have much on our hands and we didn’t really know what we were doing so our partnership didn’t really come to fruition until we started this band together.

It’s interesting how you both kind of went on separate paths and you both met up at the end of it. When you both were kids were there any bands that the both of you bonded over?

It was a lot of obvious stuff, pretty much what everyone else our age were listening to. Green Day, Nirvana and a lot of the established bands at the time but we also got into stuff we had to seek out a little bit more. We started getting into Pavement, Steel Pole Bath Tub, and Operation Ivy. It was kind of all over the place but we both had a similar taste in music. I can’t really put my finger on it, but we’re both open-minded about stuff and didn’t want to stay with one particular style.



An interesting observation of Two Gallants’ sound is that with every album you guys put out, including We Are Undone, the music gets louder and more intense. Do you consider yourselves musicians who like to push yourselves when it comes to writing new songs?

Yeah, but I don’t think that it’s much of a conscious thing when it comes to pushing ourselves. It’s more just evolving naturally, when you play similar music for too long it sort of loses interest a little bit. Our more recent album sounds heavier and it’s weighted a lot more on the distorted power chord side than a lot of our earlier stuff is. At least from my perspective, there has been a level of intensity that has always been there. When we first started playing, a lot of it was very improvisational. Songs almost wrote themselves while we were practicing and we didn’t really think much about what we were doing. I don’t really know what’s better, I don’t try to pick and choose between albums and songs. The earlier stuff is a lot more free form and has a lot more odd instrumental sections, I think our songs are a little more compact now. They have a little more aggression to them but I wouldn’t necessarily say that they’re more intense if that makes sense.

I can definitely see what you mean with Two Gallants’ earlier material, a great example of that is “16th Street Dozens” off of What The Toll Tells. It’s all over the place but then you come back with a breakdown and then you get noisy again. A constant theme in We Are Undone is the attempt of making sense of the shift of the social landscape in San Francisco. What do you think has changed there the most over the years? On the East Coast we read a lot about gentrification…

That’s sort of the main catalyst of change in a city… all the money that’s being flowed into it because with that it’s obviously pushed a lot of people out. It’s happening all over the country and it a lot of places all over the world. It’s happening rapidly in San Francisco and to a far higher degree, I would say, than most other cities. With the city becoming such an attractive place and being in proximity to Silicon Valley and the tech world, it’s becoming a place that’s not only impractical for a lot of artists and musicians to live there, but it’s also somewhat inhospitable to artists and musicians because it’s no longer a place where it’s acceptable to be a freak, expressive, weird, and do your own thing.

When we were growing up that was the norm and now you see so much less of that. It’s almost like being odd makes you the oddity, when we were younger being odd was a natural thing that a lot of people were doing. A lot of people gravitated to the city because it was a place a person could be expressive like that. There’s that aspect of it and there’s also a huge loss of diversity in the city. It’s become extremely white with all the tech industry going on and a lot of people are involved in that world so it’s homogenizing in that respect as well. A lot of landmarks and places we cherished are closing down and getting replaced by places that I wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to.

Being weird is part of the history of the music, arts, and culture of San Francisco with the Haight-Ashbury scene in the ’60s and everything else. It’s strange that the place has become so bland over the years, from what you’re saying.

A lot of blue-collar people can’t afford to live there anymore so all the labor for the city has to make the commute and at the same time all the musicians make the commute to perform, so it’s crazy how now San Francisco has become a sort of a playground for the tech industry. A lot of the people who can’t afford to live there still have to come and provide their services to them.

You have a lot more people on the outskirts, I guess.

Yeah.

As a two piece, what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages when it comes to achieving a full and powerful sound? Do you ever find yourself relying on production a lot while recording or do you and Tyson combine a lot of force and energy by yourselves so you don’t need a bassist or another guitarist?

We don’t really get too caught up in that. There can definitely be some moments in some songs where it’s a bit of a challenge to fill out a part to make it not seem like it’s too hollow without having other instruments. I do consider that a challenge that ends up leaving us having to come up with something that’s a little more interesting. Instead of going with whatever is easy we are forced to come up something that is perhaps less straight forward and less immediate. I welcome the challenge though I don’t really ever think of it as stifling or limiting. It sort of urges us to be more innovative at times.

Right now you’re on tour in support of the release of We Are Undone and Two Gallants will be performing at Brighton Music Hall tonight. What does the rest of the year have in store? Do you plan on hitting up the festival circuit this summer?

We’re going to go do some festivals in Europe, we’re not going to tour the U.S. again for a while. We’ll be back in Europe in July and we’ll be taking some time off in August. We’ll be back again but it’ll be a while until we return back to the Northeast.

Where in Europe will you be going?

All over. We’re playing some festivals in Belgium, Germany, Poland and a lot of other places. More on the eastern side of Europe I think.

TWO GALLANTS + BLANK RANGE :: Wednesday, April 29 @ Brighton Music Hall, 158 Brighton Ave., Allston :: 8 p.m., 18-plus, $18 :: Advance tickets :: Do617 event page