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Gallows’ ‘Desolation Sounds’: Wade MacNeil Talks Occult, Alexisonfire, Sonic Unyon, More

Gallows

Gallows

Desolation Sounds, the fourth album from British heavy act Gallows, and their second with Canadian singer/occasional Alexisonfire member Wade MacNeil, very consciously moves the band away from their hardcore punk roots.

Sure the rage and the yelling and the menace are still there, but there are also decidedly-not-hxc topics like the occult and nods to gloomy death rock and goth acts like Killing Joke and Siouxsie And The Banshees. It all makes for a newer, more dynamic if less overtly face-smashy Gallows.

MacNeil talked to Risky Fuel about Desolation Sounds, the Dead Kennedys, what the recently revived Alexisonfire will be doing this summer and more. Read the conversation below:

Risky Fuel: I feel you’re kinda like the Hey Mon family from In Living Color, you got 17 jobs, mon. How many jobs do you actually have?

Wade MacNeil: Well, I’m singer of Gallows, I’m once again the guitar player of Alexisonfire, I’m a radio show host, I’m working on music for a film. I’m married, so that’s probably the one that takes the most time. The hustle.

With Desolation Sounds you’ve now officially sung on as many Gallows albums as (former Gallows singer) Frank Carter. Do you feel more comfortable, more entrenched now?

Yeah. I think the band before was so much about the circus of the band and not the music of the band and that’s something I wanted to have zero part in and let the music speak for itself. And for us I think it’s definitely the best Gallows record, not just of my two, I think it’s the best of all four. The other guys in the band all say that, too. And I don’t think it’s trying to be anything. I think it’s just a collection of all of our influences and us trying to challenge ourselves. And it’s a lot like a band trying to write their first record in a lot of ways, you’re not fencing yourself in, you’re just doing it because it doesn’t fucking matter. So it’s kind of nice to be at that point where when we were writing it we weren’t worrying about anything. Is that career suicide? Maybe. Are we happy? Very much so.

There’s something to be said for going out on your shield and doing exactly what you want.

Yeah, absolutely. To be honest I wouldn’t know how to do it any other way. I’d never get into a room and go, “Let’s write a pop record.” Like, getting into a room with some creative people and writing music, that makes sense to me and finding what you get inspired by, what you get excited about, that’s it. Not trying to… I don’t feel anyone’s gonna have success sitting down trying to write what they think people want to hear

I’ve always considered Gallows an artistically ambitious band. Not so much like Fucked Up where they’re trying to create, like, “flute hardcore” or whatever, but more like a hardcore version of The Who. Were there specific things you wanted to do with this record?

I don’t really think so. This started like “here are the influences that are kind of soaking in” and I think maybe because we weren’t trying to do something specific. I think a lot of the more goth and death rock stuff that Lags (Gallows’ Laurent Barnard) and I like a lot really found its way in there. Which hasn’t really found its way into a lot of other Gallows stuff. Or would have had no place in any of my other bands, but that’s music I’ve always really really liked. And I think maybe just it’s kind of how bleak we’ve made the aesthetic of the band since I started and the way we present everything it seemed like now it kind of made sense to go down that road.

I think what’s interesting, what I’m really proud of is the songs that aren’t really that aggressive, they still have this overbearing tension to them and I feel like they fill the same vibe of this dark kind of feeling even though they’re not full-on hardcore songs.

You guys have been talking about the goth influence on the new record, acts like Siouxsie And The Banshees. But I heard something else from that same era on the song “Desolation Sounds” — a guitar part that reminded me of Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday In Cambodia.” How much mining of your old records did you guys do?

It’s all kind of mixed in there. DK records and stuff, those are the records that had more of an affect on me in high school than most of my teachers did. So they’re totally ingrained in my brain. But I think the punk of that era was a lot more undefined because there weren’t boundaries yet. So a band like DK, there’s tons of weird synth stuff in those songs and it wasn’t problematic and they were playing with bands like The Screamers and Suicide or whoever because it wasn’t segregated to the point where now, like honestly Gallows can go play some fest in Germany where all the bands play hard breakdowns and they all fucking wear streetwear and all the singers have tattoos on their faces and beards. And it’s like so fucking finite. That could be a show. That could be a show for a thousand people there for that specific shit. But I don’t know. I don’t feel particularly embraced by that scene. I don’t fucking give a shit about that shit.

I’m an adult. I like punk music. I like hardcore music. Obviously the community of it was very, very important to me when I was very young, and it’s where all my friends are actually from. But as far as the community aspect to it now? I don’t know, I’m too old.

The song “93/93” has some very specific occult references. I found this pretty interesting because it’s usually the territory of classic rock and heavy metal bands, not really the domain of “hardcore” bands. It almost feels intentional to separate yourselves from that hardcore box.

Yeah, and definitely I think there’s a lot of that stuff in the lyrics. There’s a lot of esoteric stuff in the lyrics that’s deep in there if people want to dig into it. That’s why I like “93/93,” it’s right up there in the song title with a cursory glance but if people are interested in that stuff and are interested in what we’re trying to say, they can dig a lot deeper into that. And I just think it’s very fascinating, especially spending a lot of time in London, that’s really the cultural hub of where all that really happened. There’s a bunch of great old bookstores that have these volumes. (Aleister) Crowley was there and a lot of characters… And there’s a lot of that in London. I think it’s really, really fascinating and yes, you soak up all these things. Obviously I was very interested in things like that.

Things like that show you’re more than just a standard hardcore band.

There’s a lot of people that wish we were still just a hardcore band. They wish we’d just do that.

We talked a bit about using your record collection for inspiration. On the album there’s some very specific late-1990s Sonic Unyon Records vibes. Like Shallow, North Dakota-influence, that only you could have brought to the band.

Yeah, they definitely wouldn’t understand that reference point, but they had their own bands like that. Like a band like Kittens, you can listen to them and in London they were going to see Iron Monkey and similar sounding types of groups.

It’s interesting how you and the other Gallows guys could have grown up continents apart, but still gravitated towards similar sounding music. It’s, like, you find your people in the long run.

Very much so. I think it’s just the way we grew up. And that’s the one great thing about the band and touring, it’s that the show is the constant. We always have these really interesting experiences. The cultures are so different, sometimes you can’t speak with people because of the language barrier and have food that you’ve never had before and you get lost in these cities. Then the show part is full of people there that bought Black Flag records when they were 14 and they skateboarded in high school and those few things that they did when they were younger, maybe they question life… I think a lot of people have a similar experiences.

It’s been five years since Alexisonfire became, well, whatever you want to call it, mostly inactive. Since then (Dallas Green’s) City And Colour has gotten huge, you’re in an international band in Gallows, I saw George (Pettit’s) new band Dead Tired and they’re great. Could it be argued this was good for everyone?

It could be made. That argument certainly could be made, but it just needed to happen. And I’m happy that there are things that have happened that have made it cool again. And made (Alexisonfire) exciting again and we’re all really at this point we don’t know what’s going to happen. And that’s really exciting. We’ve got all these shows this summer and we’re all really looking forward to it.

How do you treat Alexisonfire now? Is it, “Well, if someone offers us something cool and we’re all available…?”

I think that’s what we’re going to do at this point. I didn’t break all my gear at the last show because I thought we’d ever do something again. The last fucking show. I had very much put it to bed. Someone said to me the other day, “Oh, your band’s getting back together” and I was like, it took me a second because I don’t think of it being a band anymore. But I need to start playing the guitar and start making it a band again soon. Yeah, we’ll see what happens. It’s exciting that the future is unwritten for that band again.

It was always very good being on stage together and being in the room together writing and being creative. Unfortunately, like every other band all that fucking same shit, behind-the-music stuff happened to us. But luckily at least we were able to, like, in some weird way start to get past all of it.

Well, the Davies brothers in The Kinks would do shows where they wouldn’t talk to, or even see each other before shows.

Yeah, but right now there’s nothing like that. It’s all good. We’re all really excited. I think George has said breaking up is the best thing that could’ve been for the five of us for being friends. So yeah, I think it’s coming back in a really positive way and I can’t wait to play.

Are there going to be any more Alexisonfire surprises? Like, suddenly, “Here’s a new album!”

Right now there’s no more surprises. That’s it for now. But two months ago we were broken up, so who fuckin’ knows?

For more Gallows information go here.

For more Alexisonfire information go here.

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Aaron’s Top Albums Of 2009

Gallows' Grey Britain

Gallows’ Grey Britain

This is my official Top 10 album list for 2009:

10. Bat For Lashes Two Suns

I pretty much only like the song “Daniel” from this album. And it’s not like an intense gut-deep like, either. It’s just a, “Yeah, that’s pretty good.” Really, I’m not sure how this made it onto the list.

9. Dan Auerbach Keep It Hid

The Black Keys hadn’t quite really become THE BLACK KEYS yet, so I didn’t really know the name “Dan Auerbach” and took this record in on first listen with little preconception. The result? I dug it. Funny, if this same record came out right now I probably wouldn’t be as open to diggin’ its blues rock. This is perhaps my own failing.

8. The Veils Sun Gangs

Only recently did I learn that former Suede pillar Bernard Butler produced part of this album. It makes sense. The Veils are a high drama band and the music on Sun Gangs is perfectly designed for those predisposed towards flinging themselves onto their day beds when they catch the vapors. “It Hits Deep” is pretty sublime.

7. Lhasa Lhasa

I burn with rage when I think of this album. Not because it’s bad — it’s truly, astoundingly, deeply beautiful — but because my peers on the Polaris Music Prize jury didn’t think enough of the album to vote it to the 2009 Short List. This, even with the shouldn’t-officially-matter-but-definitely-does narrative juice of Lhasa de Sela’s advanced cancer at the time.

6. The Flaming Lips Embryonic

This album was cool and all, but we’ve pretty much reached peak Wayne Coyne, right? A good decade-long time out for the Lips would probably be just about right for everyone.

5. D-Sisive Let The Children Die

There aren’t exactly a wealth of truly “classic” Canadian rap albums, but Let The Children Die might be one of them. If not full classic, then it’s at least a pioneering disc. Listen carefully to almost any hoser rap record released since then and when that inevitable heart-on-sleeve, song-about-the-struggle comes on you can fairly argue it exists as a direct lineal descendant of the songs on Let The Children Die.

4. K-Dot-O-Dot The Life And Times Of Lucha Lonely

Between this album and Let The Children Die I was convinced Canadian hip-hop was on the vanguard of some brilliant new mope-rap scene/sub-genre. It would be all about this inward-searching, deeply confessional personal insight and less about whatever worst case typecasting you’d want to assign to the worst bits of late-’00s urban music. I ended up being half right. There was a shift to this sort of intense, soul-bearing hip-hop… except it ended up manifesting itself in the much higher gloss form of Drake and all his subsequent shade-of-grey, marketshare-powered spinoffs (see The Weeknd). Apparently sad-sack raps from fat, drunk losers were not what the kids wanted to hear.

3. Alela Diane To Be Still

If we’re being dismissive, Alela Diane is just another in an endless line of School of Joni balladeers who are oh so common on the fringes of coffeehouse open mic nights. To do that, though, would be to miss out on a truly sublime voice. “The Ocean” in particular is a brilliant, melancholy exploration on what it means to sacrifice love for a dream.

2. Timber Timbre Timber Timbre

This was the other album I was super-furious about the Polaris jury not giving more love to. Sure they made up for it by short-listing the next Timber Timbre record, but that felt at least halfway a make-up call.

1. Gallows Grey Britain

It takes a lot for a heavy music record to affect me. I’ve got the requisite rage in my soul, but most of the time hard rock just doesn’t get it right. Not Grey Britain, though. This album speaks. And not just to me. It’s for the millennials left behind, the ones who aren’t cool enough to navigate Tumblr memes, whose parents can’t afford to let them go to school for seven years. It’s for those kids who get scheduled for 18 hours a week at work and when they ask for 40 hours they get laid off. It’s for the kids who’ve looked around, realized everything’s fucked and just want to set it all on fire.

The only reason I can think for Grey Britain not being as big as Nevermind is there’s too much truth for people to handle.

Other album lists…

2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1

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