At a time when image trumps substance (see the above article for proof of this), there are few things more refreshing than the dirt-poor, rambling dusty railcar Americana of Two Gallants. The San Francisco duo of Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel have been friends going back to their kindergarten days, and shared the stage together since their teenage days, as they loitered the streets and bus stops of their hometown.
"There was this corner in San Francisco that was known for having a lot of shows because there was this outlet in this bus stop that you could steal power from," Vogel reminisces. "Playing parks, generator shows, and random places, I guess there really weren't many other spots in San Francisco at the time that would have a band of our status."
But their status grew, and the band inked a deal with well-respected Omaha label Saddle Creek, which released their stellar second record, What the Toll Tells, early last year. The album is a well-crafted throwback to a time when folk music felt so dangerous that it could be wielded as a weapon, one that could change the word and—if you believed it to be so—could destroy fascists as well. These old souls penned an album opener in "Las Cruces Jail" that is as close to the restless outlaw howl of "Folsom Prison Blues" as you can possibly get.
While the homesick payphone blues are a clichéd staple of rock music, the line "I've been gone so long, it seems like home to me" (from "Seems Like Home to Me," the opening track of their brand-new The Scenery of Farewell EP), takes on a new meaning coming from a pair of exhausted musicians who logged over 200 shows in the past year alone. This isn't Bob Seger "Turn the Page" territory—the Gallants might as while be traveling from town to town in empty boxcars, since their grueling tour schedule has brought along its fair share of danger and brushes with the law.
The band made national news when a Houston show this past October was interrupted by a very overzealous police officer called in on a noise complaint, who ended up Tasering and arresting Vogel, a 14-year-old fan (who went into seizures as a result), and members of touring partners, the Trainwreck Riders. The incident was well documented on YouTube, which in turn helped the band escape more serious charges, something they'd have surely faced in a their-word vs. his-word court case. Vogel explains, "The charges were forwarded to a Class B misdemeanor, which doesn't stay on your record." But his anger from the incident is still, rightfully, present, "It opened my eyes up to the awful bureaucracy and the inequality of treatment. It makes me a little bit uncomfortable to see how the process works and that the only way to fight it is if you have enough money—so you can pay for a lawyer and pay for all of these fees to eradicate yourself from what you may have, or haven't, done."
In the past 18 months, Two Gallants have done a little too much living, but the band feels like they are an impenetrable force. With a new full-length expected later this year, and, of course, lots of new tour dates, Stephens and Vogel have nothing standing in their way. That is, if they can just manage to keep jail living a subject of their songs, rather than a reality of their lives.