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Songwriter Spotlight: Adam Haworth Stephens of Two Gallants

Author: Steven Spoerl
09/27/2011 | Playground Misnomer | | Album Review
A few years ago, I was up late at night and scanning through the late night shows to find a musical guest to watch. I saw a two-piece get intro’d on Jimmy Kimmel and was curious enough to stay on the channel and watch. What happened next remains one of my favorite late-night performances of all time; Two Gallants put on a blistering display of raw talent and absolutely tore through their song “Despite What You’ve Been Told” which remains one of my absolute favorites. What grabbed me immediately about the band was their drummer (Tyson Vogel) and his style. What’s kept me listening &emdash; rather intently, I might add- has been frontman Adam Haworth Stephens outstanding lyrics and intricate guitar-work. Which is why I was delighted when he (Adam) agreed to an interview. In the interview, he talks about how the best songs always seem to come about, Two Gallants’ hiatus, the darker aspects of humanity, and why it’s absurd that lyrics aren’t considered a valid form of literature. I think I can speak for all of Playground Misnomer when I treat that last little statement with a resounding “Amen.”

Here’s my time with Two Gallants’ Adam Haworth Stephens.

PM: What prompted Two Gallants to come out of their hiatus?

AHS: Before I left on tour with my band in October 2010, Tyson and I had discussed playing together again when I got back just to see how it went. We got into a little automobile accident on our way home and I wasn’t able to play music for about 4 months. Considering how far out everything is done these days from booking tours to releasing records, we knew we couldn’t wait til I was healed to test the waters so we just decided to book some hometown shows and a west coast tour and hope that it all worked out. It seems to be working out so far.

PM: During the hiatus you recorded a solo album- did you have to re-adjust your writing style for Two Gallants reformation?

AHS: No. I’ve never adjusted songs or song writing for anything. At least not consciously. To be honest, they’re more likely to adjust me. I think of songs as masters of their own fate to some degree. It sounds very lame, but when I’m working on a song I think of it like attempting to carve David out of a block of marble. Its already there, waiting, some just happen to have the ability to draw it out, some more than others. I’m obviously still working at it.

PM: Your lyrics have previously had very dark elements to them, is that something you gravitate towards when songwriting?

AHS: We all gravitate towards the darkness. The yawning black hole. Some choose to celebrate the distraction of life and others celebrate the sinking itself. Anyway, my lyrics are all just a voyeur’s take on the dark side and for the most part, including right now: I have no idea what I’m talking about.

PM: What comes first for you, the lyrics or the music? Or do they come simultaneously?

AHS: In the best songs, they always come simultaneously. That way the lyrics and melody are absolutely inseparable. They become the same exact thing. They could still be beautiful without one another but they will always seem to imply the other in some way.

PM: A lot of your lyrics have a more literary bend to them; are you inspired more by songwriters or novelists?

AHS: When I first started writing songs, the only songwriters who urged me to do so were Bob Dylan, Uncle Dave Macon, and Skip James. But mostly I just read a lot. I always treated songs like brief fictions. Something in between poems and novellas. And it’s always seemed absurd to me that song lyrics aren’t considered a valid form of literature.

PM: Two Gallants’ music often has a very old-time feel to it. Do you ever find yourself writing lyrics to complement that sound?

AHS: Our older songs were old-timey, no doubt. All I listened to at the time was country blues and all I read was William
Faulkner and Arthur Rimbaud so I guess it’s the rightful conclusion that I would be writing outdated songs both in theme and in form &emdash; not that that’s a bad thing. But I suppose there is a limit to how long one can be genuine about something that doesn’t really have much personal relevance to it &emdash; not significance, cause that music is extremely significant to my development as a musician, but it doesn’t have much relevance to my actual state in this world which very rarely involves knives and jail and murdering loved ones.

PM: “Long Summer Day” had lyrics that sparked a bit of controversy- did that surprise you at all?

AHS: No, it didn’t surprise me. Americans are still extremely uncomfortable with racial issues. Of course racism still exists and as a white person I fall victim to it pretty rarely but that doesn’t mean its something I can’t comment upon. I consider our history to be communal. We all carry both the heritage of the slave and the slave owner, the discriminated and the discriminator. I wrote that song from the perspective of a black sharecropper in the south sometime in the early 20th century. I used words which would have been used by someone alive at that time. Words that make some people uncomfortable. Anyone who thinks that I’m the first person to do that is not very familiar with American literature.

PM: What’s next for Two Gallants?

AHS: We’re touring the US throughout September and probably gonna record soon after that. We have another tour coming together in November but most of the rest of the year off. As of now, that’s as far into the future as I can see but I imagine 2012 will be a pretty busy year for us.


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