“Taking four years off when you’re kind of a young band that’s just starting to take off isn’t really the best idea in the world,” admits singer-guitarist Adam Stephens, one half of the San Francisco duo Two Gallants. “I definitely know that it wasn’t the best timing, and I think we’re still kinda working to get back to the point where…I mean, I know we lost some momentum and attention, but I don’t feel like we really lost any of our true believers. I think a lot of them are still there.”
But Stephens, who shares the band with his childhood pal, drummer-singer Tyson Vogel, isn’t really a “lookin’ back” kinda guy. So even though The Bloom and the Blight–issued on their new label, ATO Records, it’s Two Gallants’ first record in five years; a stunner that frequently wallops the rustic, bluesy indie-folk at the core of each of its 10 tracks with sandpaper howls, thunder-drums, and napalm riffs–only came out at the end of September, Stephens has already moved on from the LP like it’s a faded, yellowed newspaper.
“I try not to think abut it too much,” he murmurs. “If I do, I usually find things I think could have been improved upon. And I just kinda feel like once a song is recorded, it’s out on its own and doesn’t belong to me anymore, so it really doesn’t matter.”
Friendly and prone to thoughtful pauses, Stephens has precious little to say about the band’s first go-around in the early/mid-’00s, before their extended hiatus, when they toured like mad, made a batch of records for Saddle Creek, talked and talked and talked to the press and did all the other things buzz bands are supposed to do. He’s got no interest in revisiting the infamous Taser incident in Houston from a million years ago, either. Nor is he much for getting into the deep whys of the hiatus, other than the feeling of burnout that preceded it. “I think it helped us a lot, in a lot of ways–creatively, personally–to take that time off,” he says, noting that while Two Gallants was inactive, he was still writing and recording songs like crazy.
Really, it’s all about the now–like the launch of Two Gallants’ latest round of touring tonight at Maxwell’s–and the duo’s creative future. “Not thinking about the past leaves space to think about new songs and new ideas,” says Stephens, though he’s grateful that at least some of the fanbase the band accrued before their break is still there. “From what I hear from people, there’s lots of reasons why they like our music–Tyson’s way of playing drums, or because of it having this more traditional quality to it, a lot of people like the lyrics, a lot of people like it just for the screaming and don’t even care about the lyrics….” Stephens lets out a soft chuckle. “The one thing I know is I think I have a certain style of songwriting that’s never going to deviate too far from something familiar for most of our listeners, so the people who ever liked our band are still usually going to find something in the new stuff that was there when they first heard us.”
One episode from the recent past Stephens still can’t quite shake, however, is the van accident two years ago that very easily could have claimed his life. During Two Gallants’ extended break, Stephens and Vogel pursued solo endeavors–touring behind his 2010 album We Live on Cliffs, Stephens’ van flipped several times on a snowy, icy highway in remote Wyoming. His drummer suffered a broken vertebra and finger, his keyboard player escaped with minor injuries, and Stephens broke a rib, dislocated his shoulder, and suffered debilitating nerve and muscle damage he still occasionally feels onstage during the band’s dynamic, intensity laden gigs.
“I’m feeling pretty good physically,” says Stephens. “I have some psychological issues at times about driving, just being afraid of getting into another accident. For the most part I’m pretty stable, and it’s one of those things that once you’re on tour, there’s nothing you can do about it once you’re in the car. I try to be pretty anal about everyone driving safely and being safe and the conditions being good when we’re driving and everyone wearing seatbelts. Onstage I’m fine, pretty much.”
So when he talks about pushing onward, writing new songs like crazy and already looking forward to recording the next Two Gallants album– “It’s not about past achievements or whatever, but knowing your time is limited and just feeling the need to create as much as possible in the little window of time you have to get it out,” says Stephens–it’s tempting to think it’s because he got a big taste of his own mortality on that frigid, desolate, unforgiving stretch of Wyoming road. It’s partially that. But something else, too.
“I’m not blind to the fact that there’s very few songwriters who have a really long career, because they reach a point where something in them becomes disconnected from that vein they were tapped into that fed them all these potent creative ideas and melodies and concepts that fueled their songs,” he says. “There’s a certain point where that kinda taps out and, I mean, you never know when that’s gonna happen. It’s not like I’m constantly afraid, but I do feel the need to keep pushing myself ahead because I think whatever little bit of talent I might have, I think it’s a gift, so I try to get the most out of that gift as possible and try not to squander it or ignore it.”
Two Gallants open for Deer Tick at Maxwell’s tonight at 9 p.m.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 28, 2012