Geek-centric… There’s a moment in the animated Transformers movie – the one from the ‘80s rather than this super-branded CGI-fest filling DVD-shaped stockings this Christmas – where the character Blaster responds to Perceptor’s question of, “Do you think you got through to Prime?” with, “Let’s hope so, ‘cause if I didn’t we’re all gonna look like burnt-out toaster ovens” (link). Not being au fait with typically American kitchen appliances, I didn’t really stop to consider what a burnt-out toaster oven would look like. But, burnt-out humans I’m now familiar with: they’re called Gallows and they’re playing Brixton Academy in about five hours’ time.
Livewire front-man Frank Carter is slumped on a sofa; around him, band-mates bustle without purpose; mineral water and continental bottled beer sits in ice, while across the corridor Rise Against’s dressing room is vacant, the door wide open. I take in the view from its window: a tour bus, a behemoth filling the side street outside the famous south London venue. It’s a sight Gallows know only too well.
“We want to get back to being a ‘proper’ band,” comments bassist Stu Gili-Ross, “rather than just a machine that gets on and off a bus.” We’re in a quiet room – one wall is covered in padlocks and chains hanging from hooks; against the opposite wall is a table, upon which I park my behind – downstairs from the dressing rooms for the Taste Of Chaos line-up, featuring acts such as Aiden, The Used and The Blackout. Tonight is the last date of the tour, a jaunt that began in October in Perth, Australia. Alongside Stu is drummer Lee Barratt; guitarists Steph Carter, Frank’s brother, and Laurent Barnard stay upstairs with their singer and press officer.
“The second album, it’s here that we start to become a ‘proper’ band,” says Lee. “Don’t you think?” The bassist nods, does a button up on his jacket, leans against the wall. He’s all smiles, as is the drummer – but the eyes give the pair’s state of fatigue away; the light that flickers behind each is but a fraction of the brightness it was when Orchestra Of Wolves, the band’s debut album, first began making waves in the music press in 2006.
Video: ‘In The Belly Of A Shark’ promo
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Go back a year, to Christmas 2006: surely there’s no way at that point you could have predicted all that’s happened? Signing to Warner Bros., touring all over the place, a top 40 single…
Lee: Christmas last year, we were playing a show in Norwich in the back of a bar to, like, 50 kids. And it got cut short after three songs, and it was freezing cold. And now, a year later, here we are sitting at Brixton Academy, and we’ve toured the world, basically, in a year. So, it’s been good!
Stu: It’s been a crazy year, really. We’ve been so busy. It’s been a lot of fun though, and that’s the main thing. I mean, we’re all knackered now, but we have been at it since January. We just want a break now, as that’s the thing that gets boring – playing the same material over and over.
Lee: Thing is, we were playing this set of songs the year before, too. Some of them go right back to the first demo.
Stu: We’re pretty ready to put some of these songs to bed.
There will be kids out there tonight – those who’ve come for Aiden, or whoever – that won’t have heard the songs. I guess that drives you to play the same songs night after night, to make an impression on these new ears?
Stu: That’s the thing that keeps us going, really, the kids that come to the shows. We wanted to stop touring, but the crowds are always there, and always expectant.
Lee: We’ve been lucky to go to some places where the people haven’t heard the songs and it’s fresh for them. Then, if they’re getting into it, it makes it feel fresh for us, too. Every show on this tour, we’ve been playing to new people. Most of the kids come to see The Used and Rise Against, and Aiden. So if we can pick up a few new fans along the way, then that’s good. We’re not really like any of the other bands on this tour – our live show is still as intense as ever.
Stu: It’s been really cool. I know it’s been a long year, and we are really tired, but I don’t want to take anything away from the fact that we’ve done really well, and we’ve had a wicked laugh.
I suppose if it all fell apart tomorrow you’d be able to look back and go, wow, we really did something in the past year…
Stu: If it did all fall apart tomorrow, I’d have this – Brixton Academy is the last venue that I always wanted to play.
Lee: If it did all fall apart tomorrow I’d feel quite upset, because it’s all happened so quickly that I’ve not really had the opportunity to take it all in. That’d be the thing for me.
Video: Gallows @ South By Southwest, March 2007
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Gallows’ flirtation with the mainstream – never expected when they struggled to piece their debut album together on a shoestring budget and, until near enough pressing record, without a vocalist – began in earnest when they became one of the most talked-about acts of 2007’s South By Southwest music conference – or, to you and I, the biggest industry shake ‘n’ fake fuck-fest imaginable; drop a bomb on Austin in March and you’ll do more damage to the UK music business than you would by tipping a few skips of napalm over the ‘guest’ area at Reading. Since then everyone from the free London papers littering the Tube to NME to the usual suspects of Rock Sound and Kerrang! (who, admittedly, got in there early doors, much like DiS) to the broadsheets has wanted a sound bite from Gallows, and particularly from Carter, F. Never knowingly over-outspoken, the vocalist is an editor’s dream. Copy comes easy, but not every feature the band’s found themselves the topic of has gone down especially smoothly.
It must be getting pretty old now, seeing your faces beaming back from the pages of magazines and newspapers…
Stu: We just get pissed off when the focus is taken away from the music and a feature concentrates instead on something like tattoos, or us getting into fights.
Lee: Which doesn’t happen. Some of the people that come and speak to us now, they don’t have a fucking clue about any of the bands we listen to, or any of the history associated with the band and this type of music. So the easiest way in for them is to talk about tattoos, or Frank’s ginger hair. It gets to the point where you do think, “why are we doing this interview?” At the same time, though, we do need to be speaking to new people.
I’d guess that the widespread interest in the band – beyond the conventional rock press – began at South By…
Stu: Yeah, totally. South By Southwest was the first time we were playing an event with very different types of music around us. So we knew we’d be playing with indie bands, and even with country and western bands, and that we’d really stand out. We knew we’d stand out like the proverbial sore thumbs, and we thrive on that. The fact that people were into it from the very first show we did – which I think was the one we did with you guys – that… Well, I knew that when we played the bigger Emo’s show, and the outdoor one with Mastodon, that it was gonna be okay.
Lee: That outside show was weird. It was a family picnic, and kids everywhere. We went on after some band called ‘The Sippy Cups’. (Link)
Stu: South By was wicked. We’d love to do it again next year, but we’ve got to find some time to write some new songs. There are loads of shows that’ll come in that we’d love to do, I’m sure that’ll happen, but we need to focus on writing new material.
Lee: The tour I’d have loved to do next year is the European Dillinger Escape Plan dates.
Stu: That’s in February and we’ve our own UK tour then, so we can’t do their dates too. But that was annoying. That said, I really do want to stay at home for a while.
No doubt – in addition to this lengthy Taste Of Chaos tour you endured the slog that is Warped Tour over the summer, in the US. Was that as bad as some bands make out?
Stu: I had more fun on Warped Tour than this one, and this tour has been just as long.
Lee: I’ve enjoyed both, in different ways. Warped Tour was fun because… well, the shows there were better really. It was cool going out to places where nobody really knew us.
Stu: The weather was always nice, and there was a party every night.
You didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn and flyer your own set? I’ve heard some real horror stories…
Stu: Well, we had a good tour manager – it was his thirteenth year in a row doing Warped Tour, so he knew how to get the best breaks, how to sort us out the best place to park, and help move the gear. So we had it pretty easy. It was our first time in America, and because we’d signed to Epitaph over there we had a lot of press to do. A lot of press, so our mucking in was doing a tonne of press every single day, while other people lugged the equipment everywhere.
Lee: I don’t know how bands in vans can do Warped Tour.
Stu: Yeah, we saw and made friends with some bands who were doing the whole thing in a van, with no tour manager or anything.
There was some speculation over here – given the band’s history of near-splits – that the Warped Tour would be the end of Gallows.
Lee: We really nearly didn’t last the distance.
Stu: We’re the only British band to have done the whole of the Warped Tour, so we’re pretty proud of that. But there were a few times where we were just like, FUCK this.
Video: ‘Abandon Ship’ promo
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Forming in Watford in 2005, Brixton Academy represents something of a homecoming for Gallows, especially after so long touring overseas. Between now and Christmas they’ve a handful of domestic commitments to honour, rescheduled shows in the ‘regions’ originally postponed due to Frank suffering a particularly nasty head injury. After a four-week breather, they’ll head back to the States for another tour under the guidance of Epitaph; kicking off in Atlanta, the tour will keep the quintet in the US until February 10. After that: more domestic touring. Quite where this new record is going to be graced with recording time, nobody really knows.
Being back in London must feel special after so long away.
Stu: London is the only show – and this is gonna sound bad, but it’s true – that I really give a fuck about. I really care about how we go down here, because if you’re wanting anywhere to go well for you, you want it to be your hometown. I’d hate for us to be disliked in Britain and, say, huge in Japan. I know a lot of bands survive like that, but I’d rather be big in England than there or America or anywhere else. I just hope that we’re still liked here, especially after we’ve been in the press so much, and in peoples’ faces so much. I dunno when the backlash is going to start.
It’s one thing to be in peoples’ faces, but I swear I’ve seen the same promo shot – landscape with you guys leaning against a wall – at least a hundred times now…
Lee: That promo shot was taken, like, two and a half years ago! And it still gets wheeled out.
Stu: We did that off our own backs, before we got signed, and it’s still getting used. And now when we go out to photo shoots for magazines, they want this elaborate thing… We were talking with Rolling Stone, and they were going over ideas for the shoot we’ve got later today: “Oh, shall we have someone getting tattooed, or have everyone dressed in football kits?” I’ve an idea: why don’t you just take a photo of the fucking band and then talk about the music, not about fucking tattoo guns.
One shoot I recall, for Rock Sound earlier this year, must’ve been at least a little bit fun – you were in a strip club, properly suited and booted…
Stu: The Rock Sound shoot was the first time we’d ever been asked what we wanted to do for a shoot, so we just took the piss and said we wanted to be surrounded by naked chicks, and told them they could pay for it all. And they were like, “Alright”. So, y’know… That was a tongue in cheek thing, a total fuck you to the Guns N’ Roses thing.
Do you find journalists, and photographers for that matter, approaching the band with stereotypes in mind at all?
Stu: In America, their mainstream press is rather more clued up. You can turn on a radio in the middle of the day and hear Hatebreed – and that’s not just on some special one-hour programme, it’s across the whole station. So, generally, rock and hardcore seems more integrated into their culture over there than it is here. American interviewers tend not to ask stupid questions, and when they do they do so knowing that they’re being funny, and we know that too. Some of the press here, they’re just clueless.
Video: Gallows Do Texas promo, part one (episodes 2-5)
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While some of the domestic music press’ best journalists are indeed rather clueless when it comes to hardcore and punk circles, they’re nevertheless very interested in the ‘next Gallows’. Despite the band’s breakthrough in 2007 – from dirty toilet circuit venues to sizeable academies, and from online messageboard bitchin’ to NME stickers – no other group of a particularly similar ilk has successfully hopped atop their coattails and rocked up to a major label. Sure, there’ve been suggestions in the media – Meet Me In St Louis, Beestung Lips, November Coming Fire – but nobody has yet reached a level of recognition beyond sites like this one. No DiSrepect of course…
So, why have Gallows done so well this year, yet the bands you were playing with – the bands you were supporting – a year or so ago haven’t?
Stu: I think the reason why Gallows are doing as well as we’re doing is because we don’t really have an image. We’re not like Bring Me The Horizon – as much as I like them, they’re a ‘fashionable’ band. We can’t really be copied in terms of looks. Sure, people can copy how we play.
Absolutely. No offence, but Gallows’ music isn’t exactly revolutionary stuff…
Stu: Yeah, exactly, and no offence taken - you’re exactly right. We try to play stuff that’s simple, as simple as it can be anyway.
What I hear, when I play Orchestra Of Wolves, is more of a pop album than, say, a hardcore album. It might have meaty riffs, but compositionally it’s verse, chorus, verse – totally pop.
Stu: Yeah, I’d agree. To me it’s a pop record with a hardcore influence. But, erm, I dunno why there isn’t any sign of a Gallows mark II coming out yet. I’m sure there probably will be, but I do like to think that we have been something of a breath of fresh air.
Are there any bands in particular, right now, that you’d like to see take a few steps up like yourselves?
Stu: I really like Lakes (MySpace). They’re on Signature Tune, and they’re really good. Who else? Dead Life Portrait (MySpace) are getting back together, and they’re probably going to tear everyone a new arsehole.
Lee: SSS are coming out to play with us in February.
Stu: We get to pick all of our support bands. What we tend to do is take an American act that we like on tour – an act who wouldn’t normally get the chance to come here but who we know can pull a crowd – and a British band who can benefit from touring with both ourselves and the American band. We took Blackhole (MySpace) out previously, with Poison The Well and Lethal Bizzle, and this time SSS are coming over to play with Set Your Goals and Fucked Up. We like to try to do that, because we were helped out in the past – Send More Paramedics took us out on tour, and that’s where it all started for us.
Do you think a lot of your success is down to your hard touring?
Stu: A lot of bands that want to ‘make it’ think they just have to tour hard. Thing is, though, a lot of bands don’t know what they want by ‘making it’, and it’s not something that’s ever been in our minds. You just have to play loads and love playing. We get asked, a lot of the time in interviews, about what advice we’d give bands that want to ‘make it’. I’d simply say, “Stop trying to make it”. That’s why they’ve not ‘made it’. Enjoy what you do. Stop trying to sort out 50 different t-shirt designs – go write some songs.
You very nearly didn’t make it as far as the first album, is that right?
Stu: Oh yeah, completely. The band broke up about four times, and we didn’t have a singer before we went into the studio. At one point we were all gonna do the vocals, and then Frank heard us and offered to do the vocals, saying he’d quit the band afterwards. Well, maybe after one tour… but he’s still here.
Like a bad smell… But the recording of Orchestra Of Wolves – done on a tight budget, quickly, and then sent to a label – is going to feel very different to the process of doing the next one, for which you must have many more resources available. If you could, I guess, you could spend ages in the studio, doing the same drum part over and over again…
Stu: We’re not one of those bands, man – whenever we’ve done radio sessions, we’ve just done one take and that’s the take. We’re going to spend some proper time on writing the songs, though – we’re confident we can spend eight weeks writing the songs, and then just a week recording them in the studio. Lee’ll get the drums all done in a day or two, I’ll get all the bass done in a day or two, and the same applies to the guitars. And then it’s just the vocals.
And do you expect the label to be breathing down your necks, awaiting results? There’s more money riding on album two, after all.
Stu: The label’s pretty cool – they’re like, “Go on then, fuck off to the studio”. We’ll get a couple of songs together and get them out to hear them, and they’ll be like, “Okay”. We were lucky when signing that we were able to essentially tailor the contract – we’re in complete control of all our artwork, which Frank does. We’re as hands-on as we can be without running our label ourselves. They really trust us, too, as they gave us our own imprint, and if anyone knows this music better than them it’s the people playing the music, us.
Video: ‘Staring At The Rude Bois’ promo
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‘Backlash’ is inevitable – a scan of DiS comments whenever a Gallows news story is posted makes it clear that listeners initially interested in Orchestra Of Wolves are, perhaps, a little worried about how Gallows’ business is being handled. Or, rather, how they’re handling their own Bizzle, Lethal: the collaborative cover version of The Ruts’ 1980 single ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’ has come in for quite the critical kicking.
There was some criticism regarding your release of ‘Staring At The Rude Bois’ given that Ruts singer Paul Fox had died only weeks previous.
Stu: Yeah, and all the money from that single has gone to cancer research. We knew he had cancer before we recorded it, so that’s why we thought we’d do it for charity. Sadly he passed away before it was released, but he heard it and gave us his blessing. He was really into it. We talk quite regularly now with his son, who’s just had a baby. He’s been coming to shows and hanging out.
It got compared in some circles to The Ordinary Boys’ collaboration with Lady Sovereign, ‘nine2five’ (link). Does that bother you at all?
Stu: It’s not really something we care about – you’re always going to get people who don’t like our stuff, as often as you get people who do. Would I buy it? I don’t know. I enjoy playing it though.
Well, it was your first top 40 single, so congratulations and all the best for next year.
Lee: Cheers. I hope it’s not our last top 40 single!
Gallows’ Orchestra Of Wolves is available now via Warner Bros.; the band’s MySpace can be found here and they tour as follows in December:
6 London Gonzo Fifth Birthday with Queens of the Stone Age
7 Inverness Downtown USA
8 Dundee Fat Sam’s
9 Middlesbrough Crypt