Reviews

What the Toll Tells

Author: Richard Pietsch
02/08/2006 | Kyndmusic.com | www.kyndmusic.com | Feature
KyndMusic has made it no secret that we love Two Gallants. There's something about them that appeals to the Dead Head and hipster alike. We caught up with the most recent addition to the Saddle Creek label just prior to the release of their new LP What the Toll Tells (which is also a featured review this month). I had the privilege to talk to Adam Stephens (Guitar/Vocals) about the process of recording the new disk, tour plans, and his opinion of live bootlegs and the "American Dream".

KyndMusic: Hey Adam, let me start by saying that we really love the new album.

Adam Stephens: Wow, thank you very much.

KM: I feel like it's more interesting structurally than The Throes, do you guys feel like that?

AS: Yeah, well it's more of an expanded theme than the first one. The Throes was kind of like making an album more out of necessity and this one if more out of desire.

KM: So was the process different in the way you went about recording these songs?

AS: Yeah, well the recording side of it was a lot more involved. We had a lot more time and were able to get the sounds we were comfortable with and develop them a little further. It had a little bit more of a mature character to it because we got to spend more time with each song and we weren't really as under the clock as we were on the first record. You know what I mean?

KM: Absolutely. You guys recorded this totally analog right?

AS: Yeah.

KM: You guy's named after the James Joyce story?

AS: Yeah, that's kind of true. It's not like we're trying to reference the story or anything. But it just sort of made sense at the time.

KM: So there's no overarching theme between the story and you guys or your music?

AS: Not really. There are some character similarities between us and the two main characters in the story. But it's not like we're trying to send a message with that or anything.

KM: You guys have a lot of narrative songs. Are most of them fictionally based, or more based on experiences in your life?

AS: Well I think it's a bit of both. There's really no way for anyone to really separate themselves from what they're writing. As long as there's even a bit of honesty in it, even if it's something totally unrelated to your own personal autobiography, it's still hard to avoid at least your opinion coming through in some way. I think there's a mix of both. There are definitely some songs that are a lot more autobiographical than others and then there are some that are stories that really have nothing to do with me, or us.

KM: With that being said, what kind of things do you go through when writing a song like "Threnody in Minor b"? That song's gut-wrenching even to listen to.

AS: Um, well I don't know. In that song in particular, it took a real long time to get through. It was sort of this long growth out of some things I was going through at the time. Sort of like some mental illness. It was kind of like the song was already written and I just had to slowly get through the processes of just getting it out.

KM: Like a catharsis?

AS: Yeah, definitely in a way.

KM: Well I'm glad you got it out, it's probably my favorite track on the disk.

AS: Wow, thanks. It's a little long. I don't know how the masses are going to respond to it but I'm glad you like it.

KM: What's "A Long Summer Day" based on?

AS: Well that's just a story based off an idea that the main character is a black sharecropper in the south sometime in post reconstruction. It deals with all the myths that they were enjoying some form of freedom at the time when it was really just a lighter form of slavery. The idea of the story is finally just taking a bit of retribution for all the suffering and repression someone had to deal with in their life.

KM: What are your tour plans? You guys going to play any street shows?

AS: We're probably going do a few parties and some house shows around San Francisco in the next month while we're at home. And then we're going back to Europe in a month and we're going to tour the states again in March or April I think.

KM: I just hadn't seen anything up on your site or heard any big US tour plans. Do you guys care if people tape your shows? I know some have shown up on Archive.com.

AS: No not really. I collect a lot of rare recordings of artist I like a lot. If it wasn't for someone there bootlegging it I wouldn't be able to hear it. So I'm grateful that someone did it once for other people. I really don't have any problem with it.

KM: Do you guys have a live release planned?

AS: No plans for a live release yet, but I think it would be nice to do someday.

KM: I think you said at one time that you "knew it would always be just the two of you because it wouldn't work any other way." Is that still true?

AS: Well I wouldn't really want to speak for the future because I don't think anyone can do that. But as of now it just doesn't seem appropriate. I think in a way it might be a little strange to have someone come in because they'd obviously be "the new guy". Tyson and I have been friends for a really long time so it would be kind of hard for it to be a really full balanced band. But there are definitely some songs where I'd like somebody to play bass so I could do something a little different instead of covering the low end and trying to, in some ways, do both.

KM: What's the recording with just the two of you?

AS: I usually will have something going, some form of melody or some form of lyrics. Then we'll get together. I don't know. Something about just playing it loud… new parts just appear. I try to work on the songs on my own as much as possible because I'm not always with Tyson. It's sort of a thing where I come up with the main structure of the songs and playing together is when they change into something that's a bit more fully formed. And then playing them live on tour is when they really just change pretty rapidly and dramatically into something that's much heavier, or much slower. That's when the mood of it develops.

KM: How many songs on What the Toll Tells did you play live on tour before recording them? Did they evolve on the road into what they are on the album?

AS: A little bit. "Threnody" is a song we hardly ever played just because it's a little too intense for shows sometimes, and because it's so damn long. But then "Some Slender Rest" which is like the third song, that song we'd never really played live before. That was a song that seemed more fitting just to record. The rest we had gotten more comfortable with through touring and playing them live.

KM: What effect did being more comfortable with some songs over others have when you went into the studio?

AS: I think in a way you can get too comfortable with a song and it loses its energy. It loses the pure immediate rawness of it when it was first written. If you play it and play it then it'll get away from where it started. On the other hand, some songs need to be played a lot and you have to get comfortable with them before they really reach and sort of full form.

KM: Just playing it you realize what the songs really about…

AS: Yeah, exactly. But there's a bit of a balance between the two.

KM: This is one of those random questions: What is the American Dream to you? (pause) – this is something my editor thought it would be nice to ask (Editors Note: and a damn fine question it is).

AS: (laughs) Well to me, I guess, the "American Dream" is being able to follow through with your simplest and purest desires and goals, and in most countries in the world you can't do that through like social or legal restrictions. I think in a way the idea is that the purest freedom is being able to do whatever you want without violating what anyone else wants to do. And I don't really think that's at all the case right now, but I think that to me is what I always expected it to be.

KM: And do you feel like you're getting pretty close to that?

AS: No, not really, because I don't think it's really possible for any sort of "American Dream" to exist while there're people all over the world who are not really experiencing anything close to it because of what we've done to them. Hell, I don't really buy it any more. But I do enjoy the freedoms that my country allows me. So it's a little hypocritical for me to put it down.

KM: That's a little heavy.

AS: (laughs)

KM: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I really appreciate it.

AS: Yeah, thank you very much.

KM: Good luck on the road and good luck with the album coming out. I'm sure it'll be well received.

AS: Yeah, we'll see (laughs).
What the Toll Tells

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