An afternoon with Two Gallants in Golden Gate Park

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The SF duo imparts their thoughts & wisdom on the 5 years that made Bloom and the Blight bright.

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Sjimon Gompers | October 5, 2012

From left: Tyson Vogel repping the west side, tour manager Brandi Votolato sporting a harmonica holder, Adam Stephens on the right. (photo by Sjmon Gompers)

After their performance at San Francisco’s Outside Lands, we caught up with Two Gallants ‘ Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel on the media deck overlooking the Lands End stage in Lindley Field. The SF duo returned with their new album The Bloom and the Blight on ATO Records after a hiatus that saw a tour van crash in Wyoming, police tazer incidents in Houston and now we were forced to listen to Portugal, the Man on the stage in front of us. While taping the interview via cassette, we began by sharing the joys and praises of the tape medium’s qualities of musical capture.

Adam: I love these things. The first thing we ever put out were a bunch of recordings that were from a boom box I had, we put out 16 songs that were just recorded on a little condenser mics that are incredible. Pretty rad.

So Bloom and the Blight, you guys are taking it to the max after a hiatus. How does it feel being back in the groove, back in the scene?

A: It feels good, it’s been a slow gradual process, getting back into it because we started to tour together and then we recorded and It took a while to get the whole record thing finished, so I don’t know. It’s like we’ve already been playing together for a year, again, since we got back together. But I think we’re already in the zone of it.

Even before the new record there has been an aura of excitement. I remember hearing all the excitement about you guys playing again over at a friend of a friend’s house over in the Sunset a few months back. How do you feel about the various music evolutions and phenomenons that we enjoy here in SF to where we the city is now to where you guys are now.

A: I don’t know, I feel like we are going through a pretty bad drought period right now. I don’t think there is a lot of good bands in San Francisco, but at the same time it’s kind of hard place to be in a band or be an artist of any kind. The city being such an attractive place with such expensive real estate; it’s just kind of almost impossible for anyone who is like trying to live to live a core creative life to get by.

Should there be more social services for artists in SF if we want to be like the next Austin or whatever, should there be more of a pull that extends beyond the baby boomer summer of love stuff that we have all been brought up to believe and buy into?

A:Yeah, but I don’t really know what can be done to be honest. We live in a free market, there’s gonna be competition for housing, everyone in the country wants to move here and stuff, and understandably, besides today it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But I don’t know, I don’t have a solution, I just think it’s really a shame to witness so much of what was so attractive about the city get pushed out. So much of its culture and diversity being pushed out.

Tyson: And being replaced by the dollar bill.

A: And it’s replaced by like Facebook, Google and Twitter.

T: Yeah, what makes San Francisco so special is that community culture that was built for so long and I think that everyone having to move out for some reason is changing the face of the city. It doesn’t seem as rooted or hospitable as it was to me. I guess all that we can do is just play music and we’re from here and love the city and try to represent it correctly, we both grew up here you know and fight for the San Francisco we know.

Which is a very unique one because you guys entertain earthy undertones, the folk to rock continuum and on the new album I feel you don’t hear things elementally so much but there is more of a bridging of them where maybe they are the result of the post-genre world we all exist in. Could this have been due to time apart, and focusing on other things?

T: I mean, our duty I think as a band is to excavate a song that however it starts to grow and create a sound between us is to do it correctly. So it’s kind of hard to know if it’s like you say there has been these influences and in our time off we both learned a lot and I think and we were able to experiment and get a different perspective. Things change and you grow and as an individual you grow and your environment changes and I think on this record we just tried to represent the songs correctly and maybe there is a bit of that genre bending but it’s not conscious at all; we’re just trying to do what’s right for the songs.

Adam, after the Wyoming tour van crash you weren’t able to play guitar or piano, but was wondering what creative resources you found during recovery time?

A: Well, I couldn’t play music for a while after the whole accident and I actually out of desperation I guess would just write songs in my head, just these a capella melodies and stuff like that. It was actually a pretty important way to get through a lot of what I was going through because it probably was one of the harder experiences of my life. And eventually I was able to start playing piano, playing guitar again and that was when Tyson and I started playing together again and then we went on tour and I wasn’t able to do my physical therapy anymore so I had to do the best I could while on tour.

Then you guys later went on tours to China, South Korea, I remember there was a few big international tours but I’m trying to get my chronologies straight…

A: We actually toured Europe and the US last summer and that was our first tour in like…but yeah, we had a big international tour last summer, but yeah we did the US and Europe and then had a month off and then we went to Korea and China for like 2 weeks. We’ve kind of been on tour a lot since last year, little short trips.

How has it been working with John Congleton on the new album, had you worked with him prior?

A: No, it was a lot of fun, he’s a great dude.

Did he contribute elements to the creative process beyond arrangements and so forth?

A: He didn’t really do any arranging really, I guess he was more like, giving us a lot feedback if we had any doubts or if anything felt weird for us he was the third opinion, kind of the determining opinion. He gets really good sound, he knows what he’s doing, I think the drums sound best by far than on any of our other previous records. His presence in the studio is invaluable, it’s like he’s amazing in making things chill when they’re stressful you know, like cracking a joke and letting things go. You can get really caught up in your head when you’re in the studio for 10 to 12 hours a day for 3 weeks. It can be really, I don’t know, you get very de-centered and detached and confused and your perspective gets all jammed. He was always able to ground us and keep us moving, ‘it’s all good man,’ ‘this is great, ‘we’re doing it’, whatever. Crack a joke, get us out of our heads for a minute, he’s an amazing guy.

This fall what are the plans for touring with the album, other festivals, etc?

A: We’re playing this festival called Gentlemen of the Road with Mumford & Sons in Monterey at the Fairgrounds.

I once heard Dylan playing those Fairgrounds recently while staying at a hotel across the street. Now Tyson tell us about your recent residency at Ever Gold doing found sounds of the Tenderloin.

T: Yeah, I’ve been kind of travelling my day picking up items with a stereo recorder trying to capture all the sounds around us that we don’t pay attention to – it’s kind of creepy actually! Ha ha.

What have discovered in the Tenderloin thus far?

T: Um, it’s kind of a scary scene…sonically. It’s hard because I want to make the composition kind of flow happy and sad but as it turns out the city sound is a really aggressive sound; it’s not really pretty. Definitely in the Tenderloin it’s a little bit like a horror show. But I love it, don’t get me wrong, but sonically if I was a doctor I would say it’s a bit like a horror film.

How is that in any way informing your work with Two Gallants and beyond?

T: The study of sound, I think so much about Two Gallants is about listening to each other, listening to the songs and that’s basically just like an extension of the studying of music and sounds.

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