Hanging out with Gallows
Talk about coming from worlds apart—a situation made stranger by the two countries in question having no shortage of similarities.
On the one hand you’ve got Canada, a nation where everyone is brought up to be unfailingly polite, to the point where our rock stars don’t say anything terribly out-of-line about anyone, including international whipping boy Chad Kroeger.
On the other, you’ve got Great Britain, where—from Oasis versus Blur to One Direction versus the Wanted—trash-talking between musicians is considered nothing less than an art.
This schism was driven home during the Warped Tour’s last stop in Vancouver, back in 2009. On the mainstage, the impressionable masses were napalmed by a battle-ready Alexisonfire, members of which included guitarist Wade MacNeil. If you were there, you might remember the Canuck post-screamcore heavyweights going out of their way to praise the crowd, the other bands on the bill, the Warped Tour, the ice-cream vendors, and the Porta Potty cleaners. Their set was fucking incendiary and life-affirmingly positive.
A couple of hours later, closing out the day on a Warped side-stage, crowds witnessed an equally punishing performance by Watford, England’s Gallows, a band that has spent the past half-decade proving that Brits do hardcore better than North Americans these days. The big difference from Alexisonfire? Gallows was something less than positive or gracious about the day’s talent. The band’s angry little ginger of a frontman, Frank Carter, spent good chunks of the set ranting about how almost every band on the Warped bill was a steaming pile of shit.
The point? Well, flash forward three years, and Alexisonfire is no more and Carter is gone from Gallows over the usual ill-defined artistic differences. The new man at the mike? That would be MacNeil who, as a true-blue Canadian, isn’t going to challenge Carter, Noel Gallagher, or anyone else in Britain for this year’s Outspoken Cunt of the Year award.
The cross-Atlantic band is currently touring on the recently released Gallows, its first album with MacNeil. As locked-and-loaded as the five-piece sounds on the record, easily its loudest and most aggressive outing to date, the union of musicians from two different countries didn’t come without its challenges.
“People didn’t know what to expect,” MacNeil says, speaking on his cellphone from a tour van headed to Toronto. “Especially in the U.K. I think there was a bit of a backlash, even though I’d been touring over there with Alexis for a really long time. I think what it was was that a lot of people were sort of waiting to see what was going to happen with the band.
“When you change any part of a band, people are going to react to that,” he continues. “If it’s about changing the sound, people are really going to flip out. I can understand that. If you like a band and their music, you feel like you own that band a little bit, especially if you’ve grown up with them. So when there’s a lineup change, people get mad.”
From where MacNeil stands, though, it didn’t take long for Gallows fans to get over the switch.
“We’ve always felt justified in what we’ve done with this and believed in what we’re doing,” he says simply. “And the shows have been encouraging since day one. There were never any growing pains. The shows have been as crazy as they’ve ever been, and that’s been really inspiring. It was like we had our backs to the wall, and we decided to come out swinging.”
Gallows has also subtly changed sonic direction, stripping away some of the experimental aspects of the band’s final record with Carter, Grey Britain. Noticeably absent are the piano, strings, and synths that marked that album’s “The Vulture (Acts I & II)” and “Death Voices”.
The closest the band gets to dialling things back on Gallows is “Outsider Art”, although even that track eventually goes off the rails, the slow-boil guitars and clenched-teeth restraint at the beginning exploding into a street-punk roar. Mostly, though, Gallows keeps things a couple of notches past red-lined, with MacNeil and his conspirators taking a heat-seeking-missile approach that’s all metal-tipped guitar violence and blown-throat bellowing. They’ve also discovered the importance of hooks, something noticeably lacking during the group’s Carter years.
Tellingly, the band had the balls to make the album self-titled.
“It is a statement,” MacNeil says. “It was pretty important that we decided to make this a self-titled record. For a lot of bands, that tends to be their first record. We made this record as a statement of intent, like a hammer to the face. This is the kind of record that I’ve always wanted to make, and it’s the kind of record this band has always wanted to make.”
Things went seamlessly to the point where on Gallows, “Last June”, for example, finds a bunch of Englishman backing a Canuck singing lyrics about police-versus-protesters violence on the streets of Toronto.
MacNeil notes that he had hung out with Gallows enough on the Warped Tour to know that finding a consensus during the creative process wouldn’t be a problem, despite his being from a different world from his new bandmates, guitarists Laurent “Lags” Barnard and Steph Carter, bassist Stuart Gili-Ross, and drummer Lee Barratt.
“I basically sat down and said, ‘Here’s what I love about your band. These are the parts that I love on Orchestra of Wolves—the weird, atonal riffs that sound like the Wipers or Dischord stuff. And on your second record, Grey Britain, I love these big anthems, that’s almost like hypercharged ’80s U.K. Oi.’ The goal was to build on that stuff, and then also push things in a new direction. Everyone was on the same page, and that doesn’t happen all the time. And there was no tweaking things. It was like ‘This song either works or it doesn’t.’ ”
Gallows plays the Rickshaw Theatre on Saturday (November 24).
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