ON THEIR NEWEST RECORD, What the Toll Tells, Saddle Creek's Two Gallants, the frenzied duo of guitarist/vocalist Adam Stephens and drummer Tyson Vogel, sound new and fresh in a way that feels almost untamed, as if their songs might leap through the speakers and carve out your eyes. "If you got a throat, I got a knife," Stephens bleats on "Steady Rollin'," and you wonder if he's joking. I was, justifiably I hope, nervous to interview Stephens during their recent stint in Japan. But he was polite, friendly, and funny, even while foretelling the inevitable self-obliteration of humankind.
MERCURY: Your songs are intensely lyrical and narrative; what is it like to play them for the Japanese, who probably don't understand a word you're singing?
ADAM STEPHENS: The fact that they tend to just stand there in complete silence in between every song has a bit of an effect on us. It can be a little awkward but we know they are just showing their respect. The only person we actually saw people go crazy for over here was Andrew WK. We could definitely understand why.
Well, you guys aren't big talkers in performance anyway. Are you opposed to onstage banter in general, or are you just not real chatty guys?
It's just something we choose not to do. We just don't think that anyone should pay money, let alone leave the comfort of their homes, to hear us speak. We didn't turn to music as an outlet for our soliloquies.
The deep connection you and Tyson share between drums and guitar kind of speaks a language of its own. Are you guys self-taught musicians?
I suppose we are basically self-taught. Each of us took guitar lessons from the same guy when we were about 12. But we only learned to play white-boy blues wanks like Johnny Winter or Eric Clapton. Things that were probably better left unlearnt. Tyson is a completely self-taught drummer. He only started a few years before we started playing together. People tend to be surprised by that. I learned to finger pick by listening to John Fahey, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt.
Two Gallants frequently get compared to the Pogues, who could often be best described as "drunken." Do you think you play "drinking songs," per se?
No. I don't think our songs are drinking songs. Perhaps some of them just concern themselves with what goes undiagnosed as the plague of our generation. I think eventually our generation will be recalled more for its drunken waste than any worthy achievements.
But do you even think that our generation will even be recalled some day? On "Waves of Grain," you sing, "and even I can't pretend that we're not near the end."
"Waves of Grain" is the product of observation. To me, our self-destruction is a matter of fact. Anyone who has spent the last three years crossing this country back and forth would have an equally bleak outlook. Our demise is inevitable and consequentially, so is the rest of the world's. I don't consider myself guilty of creating it. But just like everyone else who does not spend every waking hour in defiance of the ills of this world, I am somewhat of an accomplice in its destruction.