Hanging with the Gallows
By Naughty Mickie 

It's been almost a year since I received a copy of the Gallows' "Orchestra of Wolves" (Epitaph) and I still remember the first time I gave it a listen. I liked the band's British punk grooves with raw edges and deep emotions. I was also impressed that their lyrics were just parties and fluff, but also took on social commentary with topics such as hometown violence, date rape, divorce and even a bad trip to the dentist. I wanted an opportunity to speak with them.

Gallows, brothers vocalist Frank Carter and guitarist Steph Carter, guitarist/keyboardist Laurent Barnard, bassist Stu Gili-Ross and drummer Lee Barratt, formed in Watford, England in early 2005 and traveled to their gigs in an old Royal Mail van.They didn't have a budget when they originally created "Orchestra of Wolves," they recorded it in a bedroom and it was released on In At The Deep End Records in September 2006. They managed to get on the bill for South by Southwest in Austin March 2007 and from there, landed deal with Epitaph Records and released "Orchestra" in July 2007 with three additional tracks for North America.

Barnard was the band member who fielded my call.

"Me and Frank, the singer, wanted to start a band for a long time, but it just took a while to get our asses in gear and do something about it," he begins with a thick, gritty English accent. "We wanted to try to get something different started in the U.K because all of the bands in the U.K are trying to copy bands in America. In our opinion, about people who do it, if you start a band, you really should be writing music for yourself as opposed to writing for an audience that's already out there. When we started we didn't have any aspirations to have like hundreds and thousands of fans, we just write music we like."

I ask him how he came to a career in music.

"My dad used to listen to a lot of stuff, like the Beatles, and he used to play guitar," answers Barnard. "I was always interested in music from an early age, like stuff from Michael Jackson and Billy Joel of the '80s. I think that really helps because most people develop their taste in music when they're teenagers and they listen to a lot of stuff that's pretty much rubbish, like silly dance music. I'm always into the classics, legendary artists and stuff like that even though my band probably sounds a million miles away from all that kind of music, but it's definitively helped. You do hear a bit of subtle melody in our record and I do think that's important.

"I started playing guitar when I wanted to be in a band, around 13 years old. I can play a bit of piano and so we started a band with some friends at school playing keyboards. I was like 'Keyboards aren't very rock and roll', so I moved on to bass guitar. Then I was like, 'Bass guitar isn't very rock and roll either so I'll guess I'll play guitar'. The guitarists have all these solos and different things, but I was terrible at first. I eventually got hold of it and that's pretty much how I started playing guitar.

"I pretty much taught myself which is good and bad." Barnard goes on, "On the plus side, everything I write, I'm not fond of any kind of structure, I'm just doing what I want to do and if it sounds good, it sounds good. I know other guitarists who are set on following different patterns, that makes their music boring, not as exciting, so I figured it brings a whole new angle to writing songs. I don't have follow any kind of particular structure, just if it sounds cool to me, I'll go with it."

Barnard went on to college, but says, "I've got a degree in English, but I'd rather be in a band."

He didn't become a teacher, instead he found jobs that would support him while worked toward his goal.

"I didn't want to follow a career because I was so intent on doing well with my music that I used to work in Virgin Megastore and shops like Borders, just shopwork, little things here and there so I could afford to practice and pay for petrol to travel to the shows. You know (in a band) you don't get paid any money. It sucks," Barnard laughs.

"I'm so dedicated to the music, it's pretty much all I do," Barnard tells me when I ask him what he does for fun. "When I'm not doing band stuff, I'm going through merch ideas for T-shirts or going out watching bands. If I can, if I have time, I'll go out on tour with another band and just hang out and help out. I'm just totally dedicated to live music and everything that goes with it. I remix different songs for other bands, for rappers as well. Music's my life."

Barnard just dabbles in production.

"I don't know much about it, but I feel I'm going to learn a lot more," Barnard admits. "I've done a couple of remixes for people and they sound really good. It's really cool to take something that's already there and change it into your own style. I did a song for an emcee in the UK, kind of a hip-hop garage song, and I took away all the drums and all the electronic parts and rewrote my own guitars and bass and redid a drum loop. It sounds like a totally different song, but I left all the emceeing over the top and it sounds awesome."

I ask him how the Gallows write their material.

"When we did our last album, mostly I wrote all music and brought it to practice, but now when we have the time to hang out and practice, everyone brings in their own ideas," replies Barnard. "Now everyone gets involved, everyone brings something to the plate. It's a group effort, now it is anyway.

"Lyrics is all Frank, Frank writes all the lyrics. He's trying to base the stuff on issues that affect him and also other people can

relate to. There's not many other bands who will tackle stuff like divorce or even subjects like going to the dentist." Barnard continues, "Our album is basically a story of what was happening when we recorded the album in a weird way. Frank was going through a lot of dental surgery at the time and this meant he was having a local anaesthetic right in his mouth. He's the singer and he would come in to sing, but he couldn't sing because the anaesthetic would numb all his vocal chords, so we had this problem recording the album. Frank wrote a song about it on the album. We wrote a song about having all our merch stolen, which has happened to heaps of bands before, people we know, and it's just a very contemporary record. Every song on there is about the band and what was going on in the band."

Despite having only played one show in America (when we spoke), I still think Barnard will have some comparison of the music scene between the U.K. and the U.S.

"I'm really into the scene in the States, there's so many awesome bands over there," says Barnard. "They say the U.K. is really cool, but it's such a small country that it's really tough to stand out because everyone in the U.K., they just love American bands. And it's really hard for us to become big because it's only about making a living over here compared to the States where you can tour one state in America which is our equivalent of touring the whole country. Once you tour the U.K. a few times, you're basically just going around and around in circles."

The Gallows have received accolades from Kerrang! and a score of other media outlets, but the biggest marker of success is their rapidly growing fan base. I wonder what Barnard thought is the key to their popularity.

"I think the fact that we have such passion and are an honest band helps a lot," states Barnard. "We've already got an image, but we never set out to have an image. It's all just us, the whole band, we do all the merch, we handle all the artwork, everything's through us. We try not to have as many third parties involved as possible, so the whole idea of it is it's like a band that's started from scratch and literally forced people to listen to their music.

"Our shows have gotten quite a reputation for being..." Barnard stumbles around, trying to find the right words, "They're crazy. We go off. We give it totally 200 percent every night we play. A lot of band sit back and don't give any kind of passion, but Frank will give the crowd, he'll be diving off speakers and me, Steph and Stu, our guitarist and bassist, we just fly around jumping off stuff; going into the crowd with our guitars. We don't think when we play, it's like the music takes over. It's a release.

"Our lyrics are all about the frustrations of every day life or the frustrations we've had trying to get the band where it is today." Barnard goes on, "When we play a show it's 30 minutes of the day where we can get all our anger and energy out. I think for kids who come to our show, it's the same way. It's their chance at the same time, if they're had a bad day at school or a bad day at work, they come to one of our shows and they'll leave it feeling 100 times better than when they went in."

Since we spoke, the Gallows performed at Warped Tour 2007, the Redding and Leeds Festival in the UK, the Taste of Chaos tour worldwide and more. But at the time of the interview, I asked Barnard if he gets a chance to see anything while on tour.

"No, it's funny you say that," Barnard chuckles. "We're in Ireland today and I've never been to Ireland and all I've seen of Ireland is this little pub where we're playing, it's such a shame. As soon as we finish we have to drive to a hotel and then we've got to go to our next venue. I'm pretty tired today, I really want to have a look around and see what it's like, do a bit of sightseeing, but unfortunately I'm not getting that chance today."

"You have a tight schedule," I reply looking over their tour stop list.

"Yeah, we get hardly any days off. It's pretty intense at the moment," Barnard replies.

"But you do get to sleep," I offer.

"We don't get to sleep that much," says Barnard with a sigh. "We've got bunks in our van and it's so tiny I keep turning around and smacking my knees on the low ceiling. It's like sleeping in a coffin. I'm actually tempted to get my own hotel room today and have a good night's sleep for once."

Barnard and I finish up by discussing "Orchestra of Wolves." Not only are there extra songs, but the artwork has even been redone.

"It looks and sounds amazing. I think that's what's important with music today because there's so many kids downloading albums and we say if we're going to make the artwork really really special, then kids like that will actually buy and own a copy in their hands as opposed to mp3s in their iPods," says Barnard.

And as for their live shows.

"Come down, hang out, chat to us, we're not rock stars or anything so feel free to say hello," invites Barnard. "We'd like some friends in the States, so definitely come say hi."

Find out when the Gallows are coming your way at www.myspace.com/gallows   and www.epitaph.com 

Visit my blogs at http://mickieszoo.blogspot.com   and www.insidesocal.com/doodah

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