Gallows: "It's time for us to come back and come back hard"
It's been over two years since Watford hardcore crew Gallows dropped Grey Britain, a viciously nihilistic, sonically ambitious document which saw original vocalist/lyricist Frank Carter voice his disgust at the social, political and economic state of the UK in the midst of a recession. By this point in their career, Carter's presence had become a large part of the band's appeal; his perspicuous snarl had an unmistakeable flare both on and off record, and to witness him dominate the stage during one of Gallows' now infamous live shows was a sight to behold. It wasn't long, though, before rumours began to emerge of creative differences between Carter and the rest of the group in moving forward, and, sure enough, he announced his separation from the band last year. To think that their best work was still ahead of them...
Of all the people to fill Carter's boots, Canadian born Wade MacNeil (formerly of Alexisonfire and Black Lungs) doesn't seem like the most obvious replacement, at least on paper; Grey Britain was a claustrophobic statement from a very British-sounding band. Many fans expressed their alienation and distaste – how could someone from the other side of the world possibly tap into the band's headspace? Founder Laurent 'Lags' Barnard – who started the band in 2005 with Carter – downplays the emphasis placed on MacNeil's background: “Wade and I always joke that we're brothers from different countries. We grew up listening to the same bands, skating, going to the same kind of shows, watching the same films. Everything's global now: music's global because of the internet. If a band's making something and putting it out, they're broadcasting it from the other side of the world – you're hearing about it in London. There's no barriers.”
Nearly a year before the release of Gallows, the band returned with Death Is Birth, the first set of songs with MacNeil onboard. The EP was a brief yet savage seven minute assault on the senses packed with riotous hardcore and relentless power violence; MacNeil's throaty, gravelly vocal approach seemed to open up new gateways to aggression for the band. Barnard explains their approach to writing and recording during this period: “Death Is Birth was definitely a case of 'we need to get something out there'. We were finding our feet again with that EP.” MacNeil takes that notion a little further: “We were at a time were it was harder to ignore what everybody was saying about the band and its future. We really felt like our backs were up against the wall, so we just recorded that EP, and it was just like 'fuck everybody, fuck everything; let's just put this record out that sounds absolutely vicious'.”
The critics were happy, and some faith was restored among their fanbase – but there was a feeling that they'd need to knock it out of the park with another full-length in order to fully silence the sceptics. Now, with Gallows on the table, it looks like phase two of the band's career is truly underway. “There's a lot more confidence in our playing.” Barnard reassures. “There's more identity in terms of what Gallows is about with this record. We've toured [with MacNeil] – we've done a bunch of festivals. We might have slipped in the public eye a bit when Frank was in the band, but it's time for us to come back and come back hard.”
With Frank gone, Gallows have definitely altered their sound to a degree, but they still stand by their core beliefs: “At the end of the day,” Barnard affirms “we just want to play music we like. It doesn't matter who we're doing it with; a Gallows record is still a Gallows record. Musically, the new album sounds like what we've always been doing. It's got all the aggressive riffs; we just wanted to take it in a slightly different direction, and Wade was there to help us out.”
MacNeil talks particularly about the raw, live feel of the new LP: “We wanted to make it heavy, but we wanted to make it heavy in a more direct way, so we used very little gain on the guitars. It all comes from the way the songs are played – that down-picking and the pacing of everything. It's a vicious sounding record because of the way the boys played it, not because of overdubs. I think in that respect it doesn't sound like a lot of records – I think it's got its own sound. That's something we were trying to do.” It's true: Gallows is the band's punchiest record: at 32 minutes in length, it's hard-hitting, more focused musically, and has a greater sense of momentum than anything they've done before.
The political fire in Gallows still burns, too – but it's more far-reaching than previous. MacNeil says of Last June, the record's first single: “It's primarily about June 27th in Toronto and the things that were going on there. The city transformed into this police state for a couple of weeks. It wasn't just the random acts of police violence – there were a lot of black bloc anarchists that were there fucking stuff up for the sake of fucking stuff up. Nothing's so black and white. It was just about trying to deal with life against that backdrop for those few weeks and watching the city fall to pieces. I think a lot of people can relate to that; I mean, it seems like everyone's had riots outside their front doors the last couple of years at some point.”
MacNeil's lyrical influence may have given Gallows more of a world view, but the other members' experiences also speak volumes. “I don't think I'd write something that didn't have my own outlook on things,” he offers. “At the same time, it makes sense for everybody. All of us have been touring the world for the last few years – some of us even longer – so it was a pretty good way to express what was going on out there. It's also a pretty interesting dichotomy to Grey Britain to take that next step and look at things from a different type of perspective.” Barnard agrees: “Yeah, it has this kind of international vibe; I'm really looking forward to see how it goes down in other countries. I felt with the old incarnation of Gallows it was quite hard to get into if you weren't from England. This might be a bit more instant, perhaps.”
This new phase seems to have sparked an even deeper desire on the band's part to carve out an image for themselves. Take the cover art for both Death Is Birth and the new LP – both have a stylistic uniformity which is distinctly separate from old Gallows. When asked how these dark, grimy images came about, Lags lets it slip: “Wade and I are really into a lot of weird neo-folk stuff from the 80s and 90s. We listen to Death In June, but we try not to talk about it in interviews because people tend to get the wrong idea sometimes, but that's exactly the kind of vibe – that constant kind of imagery and slight bleakness and complete lack of glamour, basically. It was a conscious decision to try and create something with our own aesthetic.”
This passionate obsession with the look and feel of records is also coming to fruition in the form of the band's very own label: Venn Records. Barnard briefs out their mission statement with the label: “It's something for us to really be involved with; something that's completely and totally Gallows; something the band really endorses. Any bands we hear which we like and really want to encourage people to listen to, we really want to try and work with.” MacNeil reveals some early plans: “We're gonna do a bunch of 7"s this year – the first one's by this UK band called The Marmozets and that'll be out October 21st, so it's exciting. We'll probably do another Gallows 7" at some point. We've been talking to some other bands that I can't mention at this point, but you know, hopefully we'll release some split 7"s, and just keep releasing the music that we love.”
All this isn't to say that Gallows are completely turning their back on the past – the band are currently embarking on a UK tour, with their sights set on a potentially "crazy night" in Glasgow, but it's not exclusively in support of the new record. MacNeil defends the old material as well as the new: “I can't imagine a Gallows show that doesn't end with Orchestra of Wolves. Of course, we're gonna be playing the songs that people want to hear; we feel like we've injected a lot of new life into them. I love playing those songs. Every time we play it turns into a prison riot. Tut's is a great venue, and I'm sure it's gonna be one of the shows of the year for us.”