Catching up with The Goddamn Gallows: An Interview With
by James G. Carlson
Every once in a while there comes along a truly exceptional band whose sound utterly defies the already long list of genre terms with which we classify today's music. One such band, The Goddamn Gallows, own a unique sound that has been given the previously unheard of terms of "gutterbilly blues" and "hobocore." Fitting, to be sure; but if one were forced to simplify or break down the sound created by this ensemble of miscreants and vagabonds, it could be said that it is a fusion between street punk and rockabilly. Be that as it may, there is a handful of other sound elements that make that comparison wholly inadequate, since it all comes down to a well-formulated balance of roots music and punk rock, touching on several of the subgenres and styles in between the two widely separated points.
Unlike most of today's punk bands, this one is just as concerned with injecting the vein of their sound with roots qualities as it is with punk or rockabilly or anything else. That is evident in their choice of instrumentation for one thing, with Mickey Classic's aggressive guitar playing and six-string prowess, Fishgutzzz' fingerwork on the thick strings of his upright bass, Baby Genius's fierce attacks on the drum kit, Avery's wild washboard and accordion bits, and Jayke Orvis's mandolin and banjo pickin'. On top of that we have Classic's whiskey-throated vocals, which are so many well-delivered lines accompanied by growling and spitting and yodeling and the like. Bassist Fishgutzzz, who, while plucking and pulling at his upright’s strings, leans into the microphone and unleashes these wonderful throat-ripping screams, provides additional vocals.
If nothing else, The Goddamn Gallows are a band that are meant to be seen live. Over the years they have toured the U.S. extensively and seemingly without pause, playing nearly every dive bar, hole-in-the-wall joint and seedy venue between the coasts. And speaking as someone who has attended one of their shows -- almost two years ago at one of those above mentioned dive bars, The Sterling, in Allentown, Pennsylvania --, their performance is not something one fails to appreciate or soon forgets. First and foremost, their live sound is excellent, to say the least, each song tight and gritty and full of feeling, not to mention executed in a way which exceeds that of the album version. And secondly, their onstage antics, which are entirely spontaneous and mad, consist of many different things. In the case of the show I attended, those antics consisted of Mickey Classic playing his guitar for a few moments while precariously situated on Avery's back, who despite the weight and movement also keeps scratchin' away at his washboard; Fishgutzzz the bassist shooting snot rockets and spitting, as well as performing sudden acts and gestures relevant to the subject matter of the song being played; Avery setting his washboard on fire and blowing the flames across the stage, like something one might witness at a carnival; and of course Baby Genius keeping the beat perfectly as Fishgutzzz dragged his floor tom and snare through the audience, towards the rear of the venue, and back again. While watching all of this, one thing becomes plainly evident: these guys are simply having a good time, and they end up doing their wild, sweaty antics just as much for their own entertainment as for those in the attendence.
When The Goddamn Gallows first formed they were a bunch of squatters and street kids in Michigan. Not long after that they went their separate ways, though only for a short period of time, eventually reforming across the country in Los Angeles. At that point it was Mickey Classic on guitar and vocals, Fishgutzzz on bass, and Baby Genius on drums. Since then, however, throughout their ceaseless touring, the trio have picked up two more filthy strays to add to their lineup. First they stumbled upon Avery, who they brought on board to play washboard and accordion. And then, more recently, they brought Jayke Orvis into the fold to play mandolin and banjo.
In the past handful of years The Goddamn Gallows have released three full-length albums and a split with Black Eyed Vermillion. 7 Devils is the title of their latest; a seventeen song collection on start-up roots label Farmageddon Records. If nothing else, this new album shows an undeniable evolution of sound, from their earlier songs on their debut Gutterbilly Blues, which were wild rockabilly and fierce street punk compositions, to their second release Ghost of th' Rails, a wholly impressive roots rock album. 7 Devils is a slightly different breed of animal than its younger sibling releases, and it shows The Goddamn Gallows at their best so far.
Recently I had a chance to catch up with The Goddamn Gallows' bassist Fishgutzzz, with whom this is my second interview in just as many years. What follows is the content of that interview in its entirety.
Punk Globe: Hard to believe it's been nearly two years since our last interview. A lot has taken place with The Goddamn Gallows since then. First, there is the slight shift in sound that began with your Ghost of th' Rails release, with more of a focus on your roots side over that of your street punk and rockabilly side. Was that a collective decision and conscious effort from the band members, or was it simply the natural progression of your sound?
Fishgutzz: It was a natural progression from Ghost, which is when we first started adding banjo to songs and writing songs on the banjo. We had picked up Jayke Orvis (formerly of .357 String Band) and he began touring with us as a mandolin and banjo player. With those instruments, plus Tv's Avery on the accordion and washboard, it allowed us to write the new album with a lot more for us to work with.
Punk Globe: In the interest of continuing along the same lines... the shift in sound is in sharp and undeniable evidence on your new album, 7 Devils. Obviously this one was a while in the making. And as a whole the songs seem to follow a specific and altogether effective musical design. Can you talk a little about what went into the writing and recording of 7 Devils?
Fishgutzz: Part of the record was written on the road, in the van, green rooms, peoples’ living rooms, sound checks, etc. The rest of the record was demo'ed out in various ways by Mikey and Fishgutzzz. We didn’t actually learn the songs as a band until two days before we recoded. We practiced at the tower in Cleveland, a DIY warehouse venue, and then drove to Nashville, where we recorded with Andy Gibson at his house. It was great recording with him. Recorded all day until two or three a.m., woke up about noon and started recording again. we recorded and mixed seventeen songs in under five days. We lucked out and had Joe Perreze with us from the previous tour, and he added banjo to about ten tracks.
Punk Globe: When I attended your show in Allentown, Pennsylvania, at the Sterling, you guys had only recently brought Avery on board to play washboard and accordion. He has definitely proved an invaluable addition to the lineup since. And now you have picked up yet another roots scene stray and brought him into the Gallows fold: Jayke Orvis, formerly of .357 String Band. Having gone from a trio to a quintet, how is the current lineup working out for you guys?
Fishgutzz: It's working out pretty well. Sometimes we play as a four-piece due to Jayke's conflicting schedule, but now Joe Perreze is starting to tour with us more. The van's gotten a helluva lot more uncomfortable...and smellier.
Punk Globe: Not all that long ago The Goddamn Gallows teamed up with Black Eyed Vermillion for the Swappin' Spit vinyl-only release on Farmageddon Records. Now, that is a truly great selection of songs, especially the way the two bands reworked and ultimately executed the material at two separate locations in the bands' respective studios. How did that project come about? What all went into it? And how do you guys feel about the final versions of the songs on both sides of the release?
Fishgutzz: That was the brainchild of Darren at Farmageddon Records. He gave us a Black Eyed Vermillion CD and we picked our favorite songs off it. I love how Gary Lyndsay used different musicians for each song. It really surprised me how cool and different each song sounded. I thought it turned out rad!
Punk Globe:Since last we spoke, The Gallows have joined up with start-up roots label Farmageddon Records, making them your home label. What prompted you to stop doing the whole independent and DIY thing and team up with a label?
Fishgutzz: Basically, because it wasn't that much different from being DIY, except that we had Darren, who had been a really good friend to all of us for years, in our corner helping us out. Spending eight months a year on the road can make it very difficult to book, record, or do much of anything; and that's what we are: a road band. Working with Farmageddon is fantastic and Darren has helped us in too many ways to even list. He always puts the bands first, and it has never been about money for him or the label. Farmageddon is a collective of close friends and bands that work together to help each other out on the road, in the studio, etc. I've seen a lot of fantastic bands pop up and get on the road, and I think a lot of that has to do with Farmageddon.
Punk Globe: Now, the fact that The Goddamn Gallows are an extremely hard-working band who tour nonstop is not lost on me or anyone who has knowledge of the band, which makes me curious: What have been some of your more memorable touring/gig moments to date?
Fishgutzz: One of my favorites was playing in New Orleans at Checkpoint Charlie’s last January. There were seven of us touring -- James Hunnicut, Jayke Orvis and the Broken Band, and us. Towards the end of the Gallows' set, Avery climbed onto the awning above the stage. Perched up there was a stuffed raccoon, so of course avery took off his clothes and started having mock sex with it...until he fell through the awning. The next day he was walking around the streets and some girl pointed at him and yelled, "washboard raccoon!"
Punk Globe:In recent years that has been a substantial roots revival, with a number of different styles, as well as plenty of fusions and hybrids. Bands and singer/songwriters like Slackeye Slim, The Devil Makes Three, Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, Possessed by Paul James, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Th' Legendary Shack Shakers, and so on. What are your thoughts on the revival or movement or whatever you want to call it as it stands presently...as well as the role you play in it?
Fishgutzz: There is an incredible amount of music coming out right now that is really getting everybody excited. Filthy Still, Viva le Vox, Sawyer Family, The Defibulators, Everymen, The Arkhams, Calamity Cubes, Perreze Farm, Graham Hancock, Owen Mays, James Hunnicutt, Rachel Brooke, Those Poor Bastards, Joe Buck Yourself, etc, are all badass and are out there pounding the pavement right now. I'm not sure what role we play in it except that we are out there with them trying to push it and get people to recognize that there is an amazing group of bands and musicians out there doing it without much radio, magazine or label support.
Punk Globe: Is there anything of note approaching for The Goddamn Gallows in the weeks and months to come? Tour dates? Special shows? Recording projects? Label news? Band updates? Etc?
Fishgutzz: Goddamn Gallows are on the road. Check out our Facebook or ReverbNation for tour dates.
Also check us out at Farmageddon Records.
Punk Globe: Lastly, if there's anything I failed to cover, or if there's anything you would like to discuss or express, feel free to do so now. The floor is all yours.
Fishgutzz: An unending "Thank you!" to everyone that came together to help us free and bring justice for Uriah and Quentin. ALL CHARGES DROPPED!