The Throes -

Author: T. Cole Rachel
06/01/2005 | V Magazine | | Feature
It's not often that seeing an indie-rock show causes me to stop and think about the ballet, bur for some reason, while standing in the middle of a crowded, sauna-like rock venue and watching Two Gallants tear into their set, I suddenly start to think about ballerinas. From a respectable distance the two boys on stage make performing their own brand of electrified folk-rock look almost effortless. It's only upon closer inspection that I can actually see the steam that appears to be rising off of them; and it's suddenly as if all the heat in the entire club were being generated by these two skinny little dudes. This is when it dawns on me that great, visceral rock music is a lot like sitting in the front row of the Metropolitan Opera House…from a distance it might seem impossibly graceful and easy, but up close one realizes that it's really all about strain and sweat and muscle.

It's really no surprise then that the two gallant gentlemen who make up Two Gallants – Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel – have been playing together for years. In fact, the two have known each other since they were 5 years old and have been making music together I capacity since they were 12. (For the record, they have both just recently reached legal drinking age.) "We were always kind of playing around with music stuff," remembers guitarist and lead vocalist Adam Stephens. "It just naturally kind of grew into what it is now." They have an almost psychic rapport with each other, each seeming more content to answer questions on the other's behalf than to actually speak about himself. "Let me just answer for Tyson on this one. He comes from a very musical family," says Stephens. "He obviously doesn't know what he's talking about when he says he has no musical background. His grandmother directed musicals, and his uncle is a famous Hawaiian slide-guitar player. He's got music in his blood."

"Yeah, I guess that's true," drummer and backup singer Tyson Vogel agrees, "and no one in Adam's family plays music."

Stephens and Vogel are natives of San Francisco, a city whose varied musical history and freewheelin' cultural attitudes are very much a part of the Two Gallants' overall aesthetic. Their setup might be simple, but the music they make packs a much bigger wallop than one would expect. For a couple of folkies, the Two Gallants play loud, fast, and hard. The amped-up hybrid of country and punk that they play appears equally informed by blues from the '20s, folk music from the '70s, and Bay Area punk rock from the '80s. "I started listening to the blues and Bob Dylan in high school but I certainly wasn't raised on that kind of music," explains Stephens. "My parents were into Neil Diamond, and the oldest kind of music I remember them playing was probably some sort of show tune…like Oklahoma."

While it's arguably both lazy and a little lame to describe a band's sound in terms of another band's sound, one can't help but see Two Gallants and think of another popular, blues-obsessed two-piece, the White Stripes. But while both bands might wear their love of Americana on their sleeves, Two Gallants have the added benefit of a drummer who can really play the drums and sing great harmonies plus they don't have a need to constantly wear matching outfits. "I really never know how people are gonna react to us," says Vogel. "We do get the White Stripes thing a lot…but I don't really see it."

"We never thought too much about making a record or having traditional 'goals' as a band," explains Stephens. "It has really always been about having fun and making music with as much enthusiasm as we could. Everything else just sort of happened. We're very lucky in a lot of ways."

In a musical climate obsessed with moving units and filling big rooms, it's particularly refreshing to see a band that really puts its money where its mouth is in terms of getting the music out into the world. Stephens and Vogel originally started playing as a two-piece, not only because it was fun, but because it was easy. In true San Francisco style, the two started out by playing free, DIY shows at Mission Delores Park, on street corners in the Mission District, and in train stations around the city. Eventually their outdoor gigs started to draw big crowds, so they took their show on the road. Since 2002 the band has crisscrossed the U.S. multiple times, happily playing as many free shows and house parties as traditional paying gigs at rock venues. "You meet much cooler people playing houses and stuff," Vogel asserts, "and it's much easier to see the music for what it is when you play outside traditional venues." Even though the band has enough of a devoted following to pack sizable venues, they still prefer the immediacy – and somewhat egalitarian nature – of playing for free. "We started out playing on the street," says Vogel, "and there was something special about that. That seems like the way it should be – free and accessible, not hidden away in some hip club where you have to be cool to know about it or be over 21 to see it. The fun of doing it, at least for us, is the direct connection with real people."

As for the future, the band plans on recording a new record at some point in the not-so-distant future, and no doubt they'll spend the majority of 2005 on the road. When I suggest that they seem to be following the underground railroad of indie rock by couch-surfing back and forth across the country, both gallants chuckle. "We really can cross the country without having to stay with anyone we don't actually know or rent a hotel room, which is cool," says Stephens. "But it's even cooler when you pay a good show and complete strangers offer to take you in. It makes you feel like you've done a good job."