Stream What The Toll Tells by Two Gallants while you read.

By Kayceman

Two Gallants (Vogel-left / Stephens-right)
By Charlie Villyard
There's an interview segment in Martin Scorsese's film No Direction Home: Bob Dylan in which Dylan is almost blowing off the idea that he is special. He speaks in a nonchalant manner, shrugs his shoulders, and tells the camera that he has no clue where his ideas came from; they were just there. Two Gallants, San Francisco's most potent and perhaps most important band, speak in much the same way. On a recent evening in a dark bar tucked into SF's Mission District, I sat with guitarist/vocalist Adam Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel and spent the better part of the night trying to uncover how these two young men (Adam is 24 and Tyson 25) are able to produce such emotional, visceral, intelligent, timeless, and original music. What I wound up learning was that these burgeoning troubadours have no idea how good they are.

Two Gallants by Mason Trullinger
For example, when I push the issue with Adam, asking him how his songs are able to tap into the universal struggle of the human condition and how he's able to channel the pain of men twice his age, he shrugs just like Dylan did and tells me, "I think whatever emotions it might bring out, anyone can feel that. I think the difference is that for the most part, the older you are the more developed it is and the more comfortable you are with it, and you kind of have a better understanding of your mood swings. I just think it's kind of there for anyone at any age as long as you pay enough attention to how your situation affects you. I think it's credited to older folks just because older folks are more familiar with pain." He's so fucking un-assuming that I almost think he's trying to be humble, but by the end of his 24 oz. Tecate and our game of billiards, I believe him.

Two Gallants (Vogel-left / Stephens-right)
By Charlie Villyard
Two Gallants are a special band, receiving incredibly high marks from MOJO, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Paste, Harp, Vice, NME, Rough Trade, CBS News, and the list just goes on and on. In fact, I don't know that there's been a negative piece of press yet - quite an accomplishment for a couple kids who cut their teeth playing impromptu gigs outside public transportation terminals in San Francisco's seedier neighborhoods. Speaking loud to be heard over the blaring jukebox, I question Tyson and Adam about those early days when they used to play the now legendary "16th St. BART shows" not far from where we have chosen to gather. Adam pulls himself from a distant glare and smiles as if he's remembering an old friend, "I think it just kinda brings it back to the primitive, original reason for playing music in the first place. Music from the beginning was sort of created as a communal thing that brought everyone together. And that's sort of what those shows were like, that's the most communal gathering imaginable. Everyone's welcome, it's completely free. There would be grandmothers there, families, little children running around, homeless men, junkies, and kids there to see the bands, just everyone. That's how music should be, and that's music in its purest form, just directly to the people."

Someone said that to me once, that what our music does to her; she said our music makes her feel like herself. And that was one of the biggest compliments I've ever received.

-Adam Stephens

Two Gallants by Charlie Villyard

Adam Stephens by Misha Vladamirskiy
This sense of ragged purity and absolute dedication to their music is a defining aspect to what makes the Gallants so special. What began as two friends making noise in their parents' basement slowly grew into pick-up gigs at the bus station, to shows in the park to art galleries to bars. Maybe it's the fact that things have grown so naturally since the band formed in 2002, maybe it's just who they are, but there's no mistaking the fact that Adam and Tyson are void of the ego issues that plague many bands with half their talent. Throughout our conversation, not to mention the ten or so times I've seen them perform, there's never even a glimpse of pretentiousness. If anything, they are a bit self-conscious, maybe even a wee bit self-loathing, but never in that whining, cry-baby bullshit manner, more in a world-weary, "I've seen too much to smile" kinda way. Regardless of how or why, I still can't get over how grounded these two are. Here they are standing square in their mid-twenties, and they've already managed to tour all over America and Europe and to play at festivals like Leeds and Redding in the UK, High Sierra in California and SXSW in Austin. They are receiving press in every major outlet and have just released their sophomore album, What The Toll Tells through Conor Oberst's (Bright Eyes) seminal indie label Saddle Creek, yet they refuse to even realize their current worth or address their future prospects. Adam says, "I think all we really want – and this isn't necessarily even our ambition or intention – but I think something that we both enjoy, or makes us feel validated in what we do, is when people actually take something away from a show that we play. When something about our music resonates in them, I think that's the most powerful thing about art - when you read something or hear something or see something that is so profoundly personal. It's something you've always thought but never knew that you thought. Like I remember the first time I read Walden by Thoreau; it was like every other line in that [made me think], 'Yes, of course. I completely agree with this, I've just never really thought about it before.' It was just like over and over again. Someone said that to me once, about what our music does to her. She said our music makes her feel like herself, and that was one of the biggest compliments I've ever received."

Tyson Vogel by Dave Vann
The concept of seeing oneself in another's art, or having certain music resonate within, has certainly helped propel Two Gallants into the rising tide of stardom. Their songs have a lived-in quality that people connect with. There's something so familiar about the message, calling heroes of folk, devils of the Delta, and misfits of punk and grunge to mind, yet it never sounds stolen, borrowed, or contrived. It's unique and original, but it has touch-stones in our collective memory. It even incorporates aspects of literature and history - just consider the fact that they took their name from a 1905 James Joyce story. But don't start thinking the music is stuffy or high-brow; it's blue-collar genius, not book-worm. Two Gallants craft ruthless murder ballads and tales of despair with beaten wives, runaways, rail riders, drunks, and prostitutes. They sing of hard lives and lost nights. It's often difficult to swallow, and if you're really paying attention, it can force a tear to gather in the corner of your eye.

And you hide the dead while my friends head to die in your name. 'This playground is yours' spoke God when you met behind closed doors, 'Gesture your hands and the pawns shall subside.' And though you play alone, you never get lonely, you never get bored. Who needs a friend when God's on your side? But oh no, I see them falling. Let's all pray for rain. And even I can't pretend that we're not near the end. But what when all your fields are rotten, your waves of grain, amber waves of grain? When your days are done, I hope you've had fun with your game.

-"Waves of Grain" from What The Toll Tells

Adam Stephens :: High Sierra Music Festival by Dave Vann

If the band's gut-wrenching stories, down-home demeanor, and raucous live shows don't gain them fame and fortune one fan at a time, their new album just may. With a real producer, Scott Solter (Spoon, Mountain Goats), a real record label (Saddle Creek), and a dedicated team who believes in the band, Two Gallants stands a legitimate chance of "making it." It's not that their debut, The Throes, is lacking in any way, shape, or form - quite the contrary. It's an arresting and impressive album that put the band on the map. It's just that with their February 21st release, What The Toll Tells, the Two Gs have taken their trade and refined it. They've long since "found their voice." Here, they amplify and elaborate on it, creating a more patient, more mature record. Adam explains, "With What The Toll Tells, we chose to do it on analog first of all, and The Throes was just a very different time for us. We were only given a certain amount of time to record the album, which was like seven days, and to mix it and master it. It just wasn't a very conducive atmosphere for creativity, and the producer was more like a person there to press the buttons and tell us what not to do."

Adam Stephens recording for What The Toll Tells
By Charlie Villyard
With time and a budget to let ideas grow and with Solter, who Adam describes as having "an amazing, really sensitive ear," each of the nine songs on the new album are fully realized and broad in range. Shifting in form and style from the abrasive, half-folk, half-punk opener, "Las Cruces Jail," to the tender, eight-minute ballad with subtle cello and violin, "Some Slender Rest" (Adam's favorite song on the album), to the poignant, incredibly affective story of slavery told from the black man's point of view, "Long Summer Day," there is an incredible amount of ground covered.

It's the type of album that unfolds before you; the more you listen, the better it gets. In fact, with every spin I find a new song claiming "my favorite" status. First was "Steady Rollin'" with Adam singing, "My lovin' lady she's a ball-and-chain / I still can travel but my speed has changed / I bring the money I take the blame / Steady Rollin' I keep goin' / But I shot my wife today / Dropped her body in the Frisco Bay / I had no choice it was the only way / Death's comin I'm still runnin." Next was the haunting, sparse "Threnody In Minor B," which Tyson references when I ask him what song he has really been enjoying, followed by the twangy, dusty "Age of Assassins," and lately, the political-burner "Waves of Grain."

Adam Stephens By Grace Dunn
When I ask Adam about the lyrics to "Waves of Grain" and tell him that they seem to be political in nature, he smiles a wry little smirk and says, "Ya, I guess. I think a word like 'political' is taking a side, and that song in particular doesn't really take a side. It's just sort of filling in the blanks and fleshing out the picture a little bit. I think it's pretty obvious it's not a pro-Bush song, but I don't really like the word political, I think in politics people get too wrapped up in 'Which side are you on?' and 'Who are you fighting for?' These days it's so vague and so overlapping. The Democratic Party is just as warped as the Republican Party, and I don't think either of us, or really anyone in our generation, feels much of an association with any of that, so it's hard to get very political about it. To me, it's more just like being moral - what's right and what's wrong - and it's pretty fuckin' obvious to me. Like imposing our agenda on the rest of the world and the fact that we're still doing it even fifty years after colonialism, and we saw how bad that was. And yet we're still doing the same exact thing right now. I just think it comes down to right and wrong."

Two Gallants by Mason Trullinger
Adam's response to my political question, "It's more just being moral - what's right and what's wrong," speaks not only to "Waves of Grain" but to the manner in which Two Gallants approach their craft. Throughout their catalogue, we find harsh, merciless and hard-won victories, yet we also witness the ultimate price being paid for deplorable crimes. There's no sugar-sweet ending and no benefit of the doubt; like the battle of life that many of us face every waking minute, this is real, to the core. They never apologize and rarely make us smile. That's not to say that their music lacks sensitivity or intellect because it most certainly incorporates both, but more often than not it's meant to make you think and often makes you bleed.

I think I'm most honestly myself when I'm playing the drums and when we're playing together. I think the drums, for me, are very cathartic, but also playing with Adam is very cathartic as well, and what we create is on the same level. And I think whatever is driving me to play the way I do is really about some strange peace and the understanding that we have in our music.

-Tyson Vogel

Tyson Vogel by Ryan Schierling

This is what makes Two Gallants so remarkable and so worthy of the praise they are receiving and shall continue to receive. They are able to cut through all the bullshit we face every single day, and with just a guitar and drum, paint the picture of our struggle. You've heard the term "old souls," Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel are the definition. There is no conceivable way to explain what they do or how they do it. When Tyson screams the blood-curdling cry in support of Adam during "Threnody in Minor B," there's no room for argument: this is pain incarnate.

Two Gallants (Stephens-left / Vogel-right)
By Charlie Villyard
When I ask Tyson if he can explain those moments of distress when his arms flail and he shrieks into the microphone, he tells me, "I guess I've never really thought about that, or really thought too deeply about it. To be honest, I think I'm most honestly myself when I'm playing the drums and when we're playing together. I think the drums, for me, are very cathartic, but also playing with Adam is very cathartic as well, and what we create is on the same level. And I think whatever is driving me to play the way I do is really about some strange peace and the understanding that we have in our music."

For those who have become captivated by the music of Two Gallants, for those who know they are hearing something born of the past but meant for the future, for those who have a new messenger to tell their dark secrets, and for those with a new favorite band, there is only one explanation. It's this same "catharsis" and "understanding" that Tyson finds in Two Gallants that we find. Like Adam reading Thoreau and discovering complete understanding, we learn something we already knew by listening to Two Gallants. They may be young and they may not even believe it themselves, but the Two Gallants are on the rise and they are bound for glory.

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Purchase What The Toll Tells by Two Gallants now.

02.22.06 | 100 Club | London, UK
02.24.06 | Debaser | Stockholm, SWE
02.25.06 | Oslo | Garage, NOR
02.26.06 | Loppen | Copenhagen | DEN
02.27.06 | Molotow | Hamburg, GER
02.28.06 | The Paradiso | Amsterdam, NL
03.01.06 | AB Club | Brussels, BEL
03.03.06 | Sala Sidecar | Barcelona, SPA
03.05.06 | Schurr | Luzern, SWI
03.06.06 | Muffathalle | Munich, GER
03.07.06 | White Trash | Berlin, GER
03.08.06 | Gebaude 9 | Cologne, GER
03.09.06 | Le Nouveau Casino | Paris, FRA
03.16.06 | The Parish | Austin, TX (Saddle Creek SXSW Showcase)
03.17.06 | TBA | Austin, TX (SXSW)
03.18.06 | The Velvet Spade | Austin, TX (NY2LON SWSW Party)
03.19.06 | The Conservatory | Oklahoma City, OK
03.20.06 | The Outland | Springfield, MO
03.21.06 | The Record Bar | Kansas City, MO
03.22.06 | Vaudeville Mews | Des Moines, IA
03.23.06 | Sokol Underground | Omaha, NE
03.24.06 | Hi-Dive | Denver, CO
03.25.06 | Kilby Court | Salt Lake City, UT
03.31.06 | Bimbo's 365 Club | San Francisco, CA (Noise Pop)
04.04.06 | Troubadour | Los Angeles, CA
04.05.06 | Casbah | San Diego, CA
04.06.06 | Phoenix, AZ Modified
04.07.06 | Solar Culture | Tucson, AZ
04.09.06 | Launchpad | Albuquerque, NM
04.10.06 | Winchester Slaughter House | Lubbock, TX
04.11.06 | Rubber Gloves | Denton, TX
04.12.06 | Emo's | Austin, TX
04.13.06 | Walter's on Washington | Houston, TX
04.14.06 | TBA | New Orleans, LA
04.15.06 | The Earl | Atlanta, GA
04.16.06 | Common Grounds | Gainesville, FL
04.17.06 | Will's Pub | Orlando, FL
04.18.06 | Transitions Art Gallery @ Skatepark of Tampa | Tampa, FL
04.19.06 | Cafe Eleven | St. Augustine, FL
04.20.06 | New Brookland Tavern | W. Columbia, SC
04.21.06 | Wetlands Dance Hall | Chapel Hill, NC
04.24.06 | Bowery Ballroom | New York, NY
04.26.06 | Ma Chums @ Brandeis University | Waltham, MA
04.27.06 | Middle East Upstairs | Cambridge, MA
04.28.06 | NY Smog @ Bard | Collegeannadale-on-Hudson, NY
04.29.06 | The Downcast @ Bennington College, Bennington, VT
04.30.06 | The Living Room | Providence, RI
05.01.06 | La Sala Rossa | Montreal, QC
05.02.06 | The Silver Dollar | Toronto, ON
05.04.06 | The Temple club | Lansing, MI

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Uncle Fishbits Thu 2/23/2006 05:23PM
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Uncle Fishbits

All I can say is that they have finally put Steady Rollin' and Age of Assassins on an album... and I can stop coveting my shitty bootlegs. FINALLY.... damnit boys. You are doing fine.

SaltyDog starstarstarstarstar Thu 2/23/2006 05:24PM
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go see these guys!

Fred T. Fri 2/24/2006 11:56AM
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Fred T.

This article lays it all out. Forward it to anyone you know who is out of the loop when it comes to 2 g's. Well done Kayeceman!

toestothenose starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/28/2006 06:43AM
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Aaron - you've yet to steer the ship wrong! Sounds like another leftcoast band to keep an eye on. Great read!


snappy starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/28/2006 06:57PM
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The way Kayce burrows under the skin of the artist he writes about is insightful AND incite-ful. More than once his words have made me explore bands that became some of my favorites. The Two Gallants are no exception. This is a wonderful primer for this duo that's only just beginning to shine.

Acatosotp starstarstarstarstar Thu 3/23/2006 08:02PM
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Great band, in my opinion one of the most exciting bands out there currently. Kind of unfortunate there are hundreds of posts on every single bonnaroo update while a great article on a great band generates almost no interest. My only regret is I probably won't get a chance to seem them live. Great work Kayce. You put my feelings about these guys into words.