Gallows Interview

Our full, uncut interview with the celebrated UK punks...
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‘Orchestra Of Wolves’ was the most unexpected runaway success of the past few years, a hardcore record that crossed over from small-town clubs and the bedrooms of discerning scene kids into a mainstream full of disgruntled youths desperate for a new breed of catharsis to relate to.

Its makers, Gallows, were suddenly front-page news. ‘Orchestra…’, originally released in 2006, was plucked from its indie label roots and re-issued with bonus material via Warner Bros. in 2007. Frontman Frank Carter almost immediately became a pin-up for the disaffected, topping NME’s annual Cool List and, over the years between said debut and their second LP, added enough ink to his body to stain the complete waterways of the Home Counties. Extolling the virtues of tattooing? The man could write multiple-volume verses on his favourite hobby. He is an accidental icon, but an icon nevertheless.

But Gallows aren’t all about their fiery, ginger-topped frontman – the band’s muscular musicians pound out a furious beat that ticks both the boxes of brutality and, vitally, accessibility. Even though their new album ‘Grey Britain’ – released next week and reviewed HERE – is hardly without its passages of utmost heaviness, the balance between what appeals to long-time acolytes and complete newcomers is masterfully held. Should Gallows be a new band to you, there are ‘ins’ across the record to guide you closer to the heart that bleeds truly black; if you’ve followed the five-piece since day one, ‘Grey Britain’ will reinforce your opinion that, yes, this is a special band indeed.

Because the Hertfordshire group – completed by Stu Gili-Ross (bass), Steph Carter (guitar), Laurent ‘Lags’ Barnard (guitar) and Lee Barratt (drums) – have taken the hardcore template and shifted their perspective on the hows and whys of the genre’s typical dynamics, incorporating not only acoustic segments but also a 30-plus-piece orchestra. Ambitious? You won’t know the half of it unless you listen to the beast in full.

Which is what Clash did, several times over, prior to meeting the band in central London for a serious session of face time.

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Gallows – ‘The Vulture (Act II)’


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While there’s obviously been a gap between albums, your hard-touring ways have kinda kept the momentum from the first record going, so this album seems to have arrived almost quicker than perhaps expected.
Frank: Maybe it has, I guess. I think now we’re excited because we’ve got something to say. We never really had much to say before.
Stu: Before we were sort of playing catch up with ourselves.
Frank: And to be honest, this sort of blew up out of the blue. Nobody can expect us to say that we thought ‘Orchestra Of Wolves’ would be massive, blah blah blah, because we never expected it. I was writing about Watford, for fucks sake, and Slough, and nobody can expect that to do well in the charts. So this time around we thought: fuck it, we’re on a major label, so guess that means we’re a semi-professional band now, so let’s say something real. So now we’re excited to talk about this record.

Whereas before you were keeping your cards close to your chests?
Frank: Now everything’s done, we’re so proud of it, and we’re excited to talk about it because we have got something to say.

And the final product, does it exceed any expectations you had for it before recording commenced?
Frank: Yeah, massively. I mean, it’s got a 33-piece orchestra on it.
Stu: I think we’d be really disappointed if we came out of the recording studio with our demo sounding better than the finished thing.
Frank: Which nearly happened.
Stu: (Laughs) Yeah, which nearly fucking happened. Working with Garth (Richardson, producer of Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Biffy Clyro and more), and having the luxury of time on our side, I think you can really tell we’re a lot more comfortable with our instruments and our roles in the band. Having the statement of intent with the lyrics has given everything a focus we lacked on the first album.

The lyrical content of the album is a lot more developed than on the debut – there’s a conceptual framework at play, which can’t go without mention in any review. Was this set out prior to the writing of the music itself?
Stu: It wasn’t set as such, or really well structured. We were putting music together, and Frank was working on lyrics separately, but as soon as his words reached the rest of us we chucked a lot of songs out, ones that didn’t fit the themes. We literally just picked the darkest riffs and the heaviest breakdowns, to fit the mood of the lyrics. They were uncompromising, so the music had to be, too.

Was this recording experience strange, at all, after putting ‘Orchestra…’ together on a shoestring budget?
Stu: It was different, but then again it had to be. ‘Orchestra…’ is three years old, and was recorded over the course of about a year, more or less.
Lags: But we had to write half the songs [for ‘Orchestra…’] in about a week or something.
Frank: It was all put together really slowly for ages, but then at the end we had a mad rush, literally two weeks to get everything done because we had to put it out. I wrote the lyrics for six songs in the studio. Lags would pick me up from work, in Slough, and I’d be writing in his car on the way to the studio. ‘Do you think this’ll work?’ Well, we’ll find out when we get there.

So walking in to work with Garth – something of a ‘whoa’ moment?
Frank: Extraordinarily. The first day I worked into the studio it was pretty cool.
Stu: The craziest, bollocks-tightening moment was probably when we went to see the orchestra. We all got out of bed early and went, and that’s when I started thinking… fuuuuck.
Frank: We were sitting up on the balcony, watching over thirty people playing our music.
Lags: Thirty something professionals, and we’re there, hungover.
Stu: When that happened, it was like: shit.
Frank: Especially when it sounds so beautiful.

You must be pleased with how the strings sit within the record. They don’t have that ‘tacked on’ feel that some will be expecting.
Lags: I’m sure people will read about the orchestra and think: ‘What the fuck?’ But you’ve really got to hear the album to know that it does work.

I think it plays a vital part in the establishing, and maintenance, of the album’s atmosphere – dark, and full of dread, but richly textured too.
Frank: That was the whole point. When I was writing the lyrics, it was very much about definition. They had the incendiary energy building in the studio, but it was loose. When I wrote the lyrics, it was very much set in quite a bleak mindset, to tie it all together to have that fury there. But that needed to be contained, and focused. And even when we were doing that, I knew we needed breaks; I wanted the whole album to run continuously from start to finish. Then Lags, half pissed, writes the whole outro on GarageBand and sends it to this composer, and he pretty much transposed it as he wrote it. There were a few clever tweaks he added, because that’s the sort of music he’s good at, and only he could do them, but in essence it’s very much what Lags wrote.
Lags: Even though there are other people involved this time, the album is still Gallows. I was chatting to [Lethal] Bizzle, and he was saying in hip-hop the producer pretty much writes the track, and all the artist does is put the lyrics over. He was shocked that we wrote all the music. I was like: ‘This is how proper bands do it!’ But it can happen to bands, where a producer just does his own thing with a record and sort of makes it his own.
Stu: The reason we went with Garth over anyone else is because we didn’t want a producer who would sit there and tell us what to do; we didn’t want a Bob Rock character. We just wanted someone who could capture our sound the way we wanted it.

You spoke to a few producers before settling on Garth?
Stu: Yeah. We spoke to Dan Gallucci, from Murder City Devils, and Alex Newport and Butch Vig, but none of them felt right. Garth, he felt right.

I see someone like Alex, and Dan for that matter, being more of a ‘punk’ producer; Garth crosses bases, as he’s worked with a lot of different-sounding bands.
Stu: I dunno. We didn’t really think in terms of genre. It was decided strictly on the premise of who was the better capturer of sound.
Lags: He used to be an engineer, so he knows every trick in the book.
Frank: Also, he didn’t need to do it, but he wanted to do it. Everyone else, we got the feeling that they needed to do it – the way they saw it, however it sounded, it would have put them on another level. But Garth didn’t need to fucking do it. He doesn’t need to do anything.
Stu: He’s still living off that first Rage album.
Frank: He genuinely had a desire to do it, and you can’t turn down a person with that much passion for your band. He came in and listened to the whole album, and we expected him to list a load of changes, but he said one thing about one song. So we told him we were thinking of playing it another way, did it, and he agreed that was better. And that was it. What about the other songs? ‘Oh, they’re fine,’ he says.

So he kinda kept his distance?
Lags: He would offer ideas, but we’d usually be like, ‘Nah’.
Frank: The first day he told us he was gonna throw a lot of shit at the walls, and whatever we wanted to stick we could let stick. I just said: ‘You can throw whatever you like, but I’m telling you now, this is the way we work’. He’s seen us play live, so he did understand us.

I think that live energy, despite the bigger production budget, comes through pretty clearly. It’s kinda got that ‘us against them’ vibe of the first record.
Stu: I still very much think we are an ‘us against them’ band, and I don’t think that’s changed. The only thing that has changed is now there’s more of them. We’re on a bigger scale.

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Gallows – ‘In The Belly Of A Shark


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Does your touring never take its toll? I mean, you’re hardly reserved on stage…
Stu: I tell you what, it feels like fucking ages since we’ve been on tour.
Frank: All we’ve done lately is fuck all, and I’m hurting. I need to get back into the tour to harden myself up. I feel like an old man.

You’re doing the Warped Tour again stateside, which I’ve heard some horror stories about – playing in stupid heat in a car park at midday to a crowd of 50 people, having to essentially promote yourselves…
Stu: It’s what we thrive on, though. It takes us out of our comfort zone in a way, but into our element, as we’ve always been a live band first.
Frank: The first time we ever did that tour I swore to God I’d never do it again, but then again I don’t believe in God so there you go. So this time we’re doing ten weeks.
Stu: We have a UK tour first, and then some European festivals, and then we’re fucking off on a plane and we’ll be gone ‘til October I think. We might tour around Christmas in the UK again, and maybe do Australia and America again before that.

And the touring side of things, is it still as exciting for you now as it was back when?
Stu: Oh, we can moan until the cows come home. We’re never happy.
Frank: We have the best jobs in the world, but complaining is just a natural British thing to do. The problem is that it looks awesome when we’re going to Stockholm, Italy, Finland, the whole of America and Japan and Australia – that all looks great, wicked – but we don’t get to see much. I see international taxis, hotel rooms and departure lounges. That’s all I see. The greatest thing is that I play a show in all those places. So while the travelling might take all day, at the end of it I still get to play a show, and there are memories there. Like, I can pretty much remember all of our international shows. We played 40 shows on Warped Tour last time, and I can remember most of them now and if I really put my mind to it I bet I could recall all of them. I can pretty much remember every show we’ve played, for a specific incident or just the way a song worked so seamlessly. Regardless of how little time you spend in a place, that 30 minutes on stage provides the memories I’ll never forget.

You never sort of ‘zone out’ on stage, and go through the motions?
Stu: That’s exactly what we do when we’re off stage.
Frank: That’s it. I am literally the most bored person the rest of my life, unless the band is playing.
Stu: If you saw us in the dressing room, backstage before a show, you’d just see these five guys…
Frank: These five morose motherfuckers…
Stu: …On their MacBooks. Me probably in the corner shaving my head and pissing in a bin, but that’s about as rock and roll as we get before we go on stage. Afterwards, we go onto the bus and go to bed.

How does the band keep it together, in terms of your relationships as friends and family, when you’re on the road so much and, I imagine, getting under each other’s feet?
Frank: We give each other a lot of space all the time. When we want to roll out as a band, we do, and we’re the tightest group when we need to be. But for the rest of the time I think we do allow everyone their own space.
Stu: It comes with our age, too. We’re not 18 years old anymore. Because we pick all of the bands we take out on tour, we’ve not really had any moody c*nts. We’ve been lucky in that respect. A couple of the guys in Fucked Up weren’t exactly party animals.
Frank: But then again nor am I.
Stu: That’s not annoying. I’m just saying… I think the point I’m trying to make is that the way we generally are off stage works well for a lot of bands. Bands that try really hard to be rock and roll, they’re the ones that don’t last.
Frank: Also, how many fucking bands do you actually know that are backstage tattooing their friends, stealing alcohol from venues to give to homeless people, throwing bootleg merch in a river.
Lags: Actually, we are pretty rock and roll!
Stu: We just don’t brag about it.
Frank: You should watch our studio diary, which we’ve never published. It’s as rock and roll as it gets.
Stu: That’s a whole new level of debauchery.
Frank: Because it’s so boring.
Stu: You can have nothing at all to do some days, when other people are recording parts, so you sit around and plan parties. Luckily at RAK we had these apartments in St John’s Wood, and that was awesome… it was always party time.

You didn’t get frustrated with the length of the process?
Stu: We did all the drums live, so the first couple of weeks were pretty tough going, with everyone else not really involved. They needed to perfect, knowing what we were going to put on top of them next.
Frank: It wasn’t only pressure on Lee, but also on the rest of us. We were like: ‘He’d better fucking get this right’. We were being arseholes to him for the whole two weeks, and when he finished I just said: ‘Oh man, I’m sorry’.
Stu: It had to be done that way though. Records recorded to click tracks sound shit. We knew we were going to do it all live, and we were going to do it all to tape, analogue. And it was gonna be sweet.
Frank: It has an ebb and flow, which is how hardcore should be.
Lags: It flows, naturally.

It definitely sounds like an album ‘proper’ if you get what I mean – the debut could be heard as simply a series of tracks you’d written up to that point, with no real single hook to hag them on.
Lags: It’s definitely 13 songs together, which are arranged to be played together.
Stu: It’s like a sculpture, rather than something that’s been digitally arranged on ProTools, immaculately, like someone’s done the outlines for you and you’ve just coloured it in.
Frank: We went through so many different tracklist orderings before we finally found how to put it together. Then the segweys needed to be fitted, and if they didn’t it all had to be started again.

And the result is certainly ‘more’ than your typical hardcore record…
Stu: I almost feel like that’s a dirty word now, hardcore, regarding our band.
Frank: I don’t think of all the negativity and all the bullshit associated with the scene; when I think of hardcore I think of all the good times I’ve had listening to Ceremony, and the punk-rock attitude that’s not involved with the fashion. I love the energy of playing hardcore punk live, and that’s always what we’ve been about. We were never really accepted in the hardcore scene – we never really fitted in, because Gallows was almost a dirty word in the hardcore scene. But fuck them, because we’ve now done more than any of them will ever do.
Lags: A lot of hardcore bands are so formulaic and generic.
Stu: Well, in a way that’s sort of the appeal of it, but as soon as you step away from there, you get criticised for completely turning your back on it. But if you acknowledge that hardcore was a part of you and you want to open people’s eyes to the hardcore scene, you’re criticised for not being a ‘proper’ hardcore band, blah blah blah. So you can’t win, and now I just call ourselves a rock band. We don’t deny our roots, but…
Frank: Anyway, Keith Morris of Black Flag is telling people to go check our band out, so what the fuck…?
Stu: Exactly.
Frank: I was just thinking: who is the God of hardcore? Well, it’s him, and he likes my band, so fuck everyone else.

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Gallows – ‘Abandon Ship’


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Do you think Gallows can be a way in for kids, a starting point from which to explore more hardcore acts?
Frank: Here’s the thing, right. When I was younger, I’d listen to certain records, and look on the credits for bands they liked, and pick new ones to listen to. I remember the bands that inspired me to play music, like Deftones for instance. So now I do not look at our band as a hardcore band that got lucky; I now realise that we are a professional band because we are in the press that I read when I was growing up. We carry some weight with us, and now we’ve played with loads of my favourite bands – we went on tour with Poison The Well, we played stadiums with Rage Against The Machine. So now I want to be one of those bands that inspires kids, and if the next wave of 13 or 14 year olds pick up ‘Grey Britain’ instead of a record by countless other fucking terrible bands…

That’s the thing – this time out your album’s up against records by completely different acts, because your audience has grown so much since ‘Orchestra…’
Frank: Well, I don’t want to preach to the choir anymore anyway. I’m sick of it, and frankly they don’t give a shit anyway, and they never did in the first place. What we want to do now is teach new kids about this music. Any kid that listens to our record, and listens to the bands we’re influenced by… Jesus, what an educated child they’ll be, listening to Drive Like Jehu and Murder City Devils, and Hot Snakes.
Stu: I was into bands like Deftones, bands that weren’t particularly political in their messages, but as soon as I heard Rage Against The Machine and Downset I got into hardcore, because it was social commentary. There are no bands – which is amazing considering how fucked up this world, and this country, is – actually coming out with relevant social commentary.
Lags: Especially British bands. In the States you’ve got Anti-Flag, Rage…
Stu: Bands in this country are still singing about going down the shops for a pint of milk, or fancying this bird, or dancing at a disco or whatever. I do not want to hear that shit anymore. How can they be ignoring what’s going on?! Even if they’re just moaning about getting their allowance cut by their rich dads, at least that’d be something different to… We’re the worst state we’ve ever been in.
Frank: Here’s the worst part, right. British music is noted for its indie, but British rock is completely underwritten and is seen to be chasing American bands. American rock bands come over and do fantastically well; British indie bands go over there and do fantastically well. We’re a rock band, we don’t want to be a fucking indie band, and we want people to listen to us. We’re British rock and roll. Every other so-called ‘real’ British rock and roll band, saying this and that, are just chasing that completely false American dream.
Stu: Singing in American accents…

But you’re clearly influenced by American bands.
Frank: We’re influenced by American bands, yeah, but not wholly. We’re inspired by very few American bands of our time; we’re inspired by early 1970s, early ‘80s hardcore bands and real rock and roll bands.
Lags: Sabbath in the UK.
Frank: Fuck yeah. Sabbath is the only band you need. How did Britain go so wrong, that we’ve not produced another Sabbath. You can’t repeat it, but you can be inspired by it. We’re inspired by Sabbath, and I can hear certain elements of that on our new record.
Stu: One of our favourite genres is just bands ripping off bands from the ‘80s almost note for note.

Well, if it’s done with honesty…
Frank: And there you go, that’s the key thing: honesty. That’s the key word of today. None of those kids are honest with themselves, because what they want is something they can’t have. What they want is to be their idols – they don’t want to be inspired by them, they want to be them.
Lags: They want to be the next Every Time I Die.
Stu: Can you imagine how easy it would have been for us to take advantage of all the press we got and carve out something completely fake but so much more appealing to these brainless kids? We could have so done that, becoming these dick heads talking about sipping whiskey and chatting up girls.
Lags: We could sell some of the songs we rejected to these bands.
Stu: (Laughs) Those songs were good, they just didn’t fit the record. They weren’t as nasty as they needed to be.
Frank: There is no respite on our record. Even though it rolls in with the tide, it’s pretty ominous. The idea is you’ve thirty seconds before the strings even kick in, so kids are going to crank it up thinking their CD player’s broken, and when that bass drops: their stereo will blow up.

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Read an exclusive chat with Stu Gili-Ross on the five albums that shaped his musical world, including records from Nirvana and Napalm Death, HERE.

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‘Grey Britain’ is released by Warner Bros. on Monday May 4, and Gallows (MySpace) tour as follows…

May
2 Brighton Concorde 2
4 London Rough Trade East (in-store + album signing)
5 Sheffield Leadmill
6 Manchester Academy
8 Glasgow ABC
9 Newcastle Academy
10 Leeds Metropolitan University
12 Nottingham Rock City
13 Norwich UEA
15 Oxford Academy
16 Birmingham Academy
18 Bristol Academy
19 Portsmouth Pyramids
21 London Kentish Town Forum
25 Belfast Limelight
26 Dublin O2 Academy

Check ticket availability HERE

Photo: Craig Burton

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