After signing with Reprise Records in 2008, Gallows was afforded the funding to write Grey Britain, a record that seems to capture the dynamic, dramatic, sometimes psychotic nature of the Refused’s final full-length better than their previous release. Epic and operatic in scope, Grey Britain uses restless, heart-wrenching rock ‘n’ roll; somber swells of strings and piano; and the sounds of the streets (trains, sirens, and so on) to paint a bleak picture of Britain. As a band, Gallows has never hesitated to criticize what they love, whether it’s the state of their homeland or the state of punk-rock. In an interview with Dane Erbach, drummer Lee Barratt discusses the motivation behind Grey Britain, their time on the 2009 Warped Tour, and why there’s more to Gallows than merely making music.
Gallows has spent much of the summer on the road with the Warped Tour, which seems more controversial this year than in previous years. Describe what the experience has been like so far.
It’s a bit of a strange time for a band like us. We feel a bit like we’re out there on our own, in the minority of bands who still want to play good music, who still want to play our own instruments. There’s a ton of bands on the tour this year that sicken the rest of Gallows and I because their music is basically shit. We can’t even call it music.
I came across this band today called Breathe Carolina who I’ve luckily managed to avoid up until this week but, today, they’re right by our merch tent and I have to hear them. It bums us out because loads of kids turn up to see these bands when proper good bands can’t even draw fifty people. Bands like the AKAs and the Architects - good, solid rock ‘n’ roll bands - are lumped in on the same page as these fucking awful whatever you want to call them - bands, I guess.
In a way, though, it drives us on because it reminds us we have integrity. We know we’re better than these bands at the end of the day. And it drives us on because it gives us something to say. We’ve got a point to prove. We want to rid the fucking tour and the world of these truly shit bands. And we’re hopefully going to turn a few kids on this tour onto good, solid, heavy music without key-tars and auto-tuned vocals.
It sounds to me like the band has turned this into a crusade of sorts; do you feel like it’s your duty to steer kids away from this style of music and towards bands that are more traditional to the Warped Tour?
The way I see it, this tour is a long way from what it used to be. Even five or six years ago, you wouldn’t get any bands like the kinds that are out there now. You’d get rock ‘n’ roll bands with keyboards, but you wouldn’t get any of this crossover stuff.
If we could turn a few kids, then that’s cool, but maybe the battle’s lost already. These bands are the ones pulling the majority of the kids to the tour, and I think Kevin [Lyman, founder of the Warped Tour] realizes that. Probably everyone out here realizes that. But the music has gone so far down hill. I’d like to say Gallows and a few other bands on this tour can kind of save it and people can see that there’s real music real music on the tour, but there’s too many fourteen year-old girls at this tour that think Breathe Carolina and Brokencyde are the shit. They’re never going to listen to Gallows and, if they do, they’re going to think, “Why are these fucking scary Englishmen shouting at me?”
Does Gallows ever get in trouble for being so outspoken about bands like Brokencyde and Breathe Carolina? Do your opinions piss off the people running the Warped Tour?
I think if that were the case, Kevin would have said something by now. Every day we’ve played, we have called those bands out. The tour is now six weeks in and he’s hasn’t actually come up to us to say, “Stop calling out these bands; they’re part of the tour too.” I think he lets us get on with it because he knows that we’re so outspoken and, if he tells us to stop, we’ll just carry on doing it more. I don’t think there’s much chance of us being thrown off the tour for calling these bands out. I think Kevin knows what we are. He still understands real good punk music at heart. We haven’t got a problem with Kevin; we know that the tour’s a money-making business too.
And I’m still glad to be a part of the tour, in a way. Despite all the shit bands, there are still a handful of good bands that we hang out with every day, like Alexisonfire, I’ve been a fan of their stuff since the first record - and Bayside. And you still have bands like the Bouncing Souls and NOFX and Bad Religion; I hate to say it, but their crowds have dwindled a bit even compared to two years ago. They still get a big crowd, but it’s still not the crowd it used to be. Days to Remember are another band we’ve connected with; they do a kind of similar thing. They’re kind of in the hardcore scene, but they’re crossing over now as well and are much more mainstream than Gallows now.
Do your opinions piss off the people whose bands you criticize? What happens when you see each other backstage or at the barbecue at the end of the day?
Normally, it’s just a daggers look. They know we don’t like them. They keep their heads down if we walk past them.
It gets pretty tense, but no one ever really says anything to anyone’s face unless there’s a reason to. If Brokencyde wanted to, they could come up to us and say, “Why are you saying this about us?” But they don’t, and I think that’s mainly due to the fact that they know we’re right. They must know that the music they play is awful. I don’t know how anybody in that band could listen to his own music.
I guess they’re in it for something different. They’re in it for a party and for the money; they’re going to be an overnight success and leave some kind of shit-crunk legacy that, unfortunately, a bunch of other bands are falling into as well.
Gallows performed on the Warped Tour in 2007 as well; do you think this year’s experience has been better or worse for the band?
Personally, it’s been a much better experience than the first time. We didn’t really know what we were doing back in ’07. Last time we did the tour, our debut had only just come out; I think it had been out maybe a couple of weeks. We were on Epitaph back then and, of course, they didn’t push our record as hard as Warner [Music Group, parent of Reprise Records] is pushing this new record of ours.
The crowds have just been bigger; more people just seem to know who we are. I guess I’d say we have kind of a cult following now on the tour. I think people come to see us because they hear that we’re these crazy English guys and Frank’s outspoken.
It seems like Grey Britain has brought a lot of change for Gallows; since Orchestra of Wolves, how has the band evolved?
Since we wrote that record, we acquired Steph [Carter], Frank’s brother on guitar. He actually wasn’t even in the band at all for that album. The rest of us—myself, Lags [Laurent Barnard, guitarist], and Stu [Gili-Ross] on bass—wrote the majority of the music on Orchestra of Wolves and, after, Frank added his lyrics. It was all kind of thrown together in the space of maybe a month, that album. And, then, we literally toured it for eighteen months to two years because we released the album on a smaller label at the time. Then Warner picked us up and asked us to do another year of touring with it. By the end, we were pretty sick of playing most of those songs.
When we got asked to do the second record, it was just a totally new experience. They gave us maybe four or five months to write the record, so we camped up in a studio back home writing every day. Then we had two to three months to record it in this huge, big studio back home in London with GGGarth Richardson, who’s one of the biggest producers in the world. It was a totally different thing for us to do; we didn’t really know what to expect, having all this time to write. Because we’ve been playing together for quite a long time on tour, we knew that when we got into the studio that we’d have a bunch of ideas. It would just be a matter of creating and album that was more based around the unity of the songs instead of throwing riffs together, which is what we did on the first record.
So, this experience felt pretty foreign for the band.
It did at first, because we were going in there with maybe ten different song ideas going on at the same time—there was stuff that we were writing sounded like Converge, stuff that sounded like the Deftones—but we had nothing tying it together. I think it was because we hadn’t been in the studio for so long that we were just letting loose.
Frank wasn’t involved in the writing process at all until after the first month or two. When he came in, he was like, ‘Boys, you have all these ideas, but there’s nothing holding it together. Some of it is complete shit and you need to get rid of it.’ He had a lot of the lyrics for the record written down. When we saw those and he gave us his ideas for what he wanted with the record, it was more of a natural thing. We’d all come in together and get all the music written; Frank would be in there writing lyrics for songs as we played them.
It maybe felt a bit unnatural for the first month or two but, as soon as Frank got involved more, it felt like something we could do properly and the record became what we have now.
To someone outside the band, this might seem like a counterintuitive or tense way of writing a record.
It might seem like we don’t, but we get along well. We all know when to get out of each other’s face, which is the most important thing. We all have very different personalities as well. I think most people from the outside who didn’t really know us as a band would ask, ‘Well, are they even a band?’ because our personalities class quite a bit sometimes. When it comes down to it, we all look out for each other and make sure each other is okay. There’ll be days when we hate each other, but it doesn’t really affect the band to the point where one of us wants to kill the other person and the band breaks up.
I think that the fact that we all do have very different personalities does affect the music. All the different sides of the band come out of the music. Steph might listen to Mogwai one day, and Frank’s listening to Frank Sinatra, and Lags is listening to ‘80s pop or whatever, and I’m listening to Metallica. I think that our individual quirks and personalities come out in the music more. It kind of seems to work.
Grey Britain feels like an epic record that seems to reach much further than Orchestra of Wolves. Why do you think that is?
That comes down to the fact that Wolves was recorded on two-thousand dollars. And we didn’t have a concept at all; we wrote that record about personal experiences.
This time around, with Grey Britain, we were given a bunch of money to record with so we decided to go all out. If we were going to have strings on there, we wanted them to be real strings, not synthesized strings produced by a Casio keyboard. I think the fact that we decided to make everything natural and organic sounding rather than putting in fake sounds and samples gives the album the epic feel that you’re talking about. All of the different kinds of segues into songs were all recorded on a tape recorder by us with our friends.
Were these instrumental segues part of the band’s vision for the Grey Britain, or were these decisions that GGGarth made for Gallows?
It was pretty much all us, actually. Even the outro to the record after ‘Crucifucks’—Lags wrote that. We had been listening to a lot of soundtrack stuff and Lags was like, ‘Wouldn’t that be amazing if we had something like that to close the album?’ So he got writing on GarageBand, just messing around with string parts. One night, he came home drunk and managed to finish this four or five minute outro. When we played it for GGGarth in the studio, he said it was amazing. He got someone in to arrange the parts properly, but the actual music was all written by him. Same with the segue at the end of “Death Wishes”—that was all written by Lags too. He’s a fucking talented guy; he could write film soundtracks without a doubt.
When we recorded it, we rented out this studio called Air Studios, which is where they did all the soundtracks for the Lord of the Rings movies. It’s kind of a huge, converted church, so it had this massive organ in it and there was a thirty-five piece orchestra. It was a really intense experience to hear all these musicians playing what one person wrote on his MacBook. To hear it now at the end of the record still sends shivers down my spine. It’s one of the best pieces of music I’ve ever heard, in my opinion. And I know that’s sort of a big thing to say, but I mean it.
On the whole record, I think there was only one part of one song that GGGarth had his hand in. He was like, ‘This needs to be arranged differently.’ And it sounded better for it. We actually went through our demos on our iTunes when we were in the UK and you can hear that the songs are identical to how they were recorded in the end.
The thought of Gallows recording with a thirty-five piece orchestra seems to have startled your fan base; some have used it as an excuse to call you ‘sell-outs.’
It’s something we’ve hearing since we signed to a major label. I don’t understand it. Since when is putting an orchestra on a record selling out? Surely, it’s more of a ‘fuck you’ when Warner Bros. has given us all this money. We could have done it on a shoestring budget and said, ‘This is us. We’re being punk.’ It think it’s more punk to do whatever the fuck we want with all this money. We went out there and said, ‘We’re going to go and get strings because we want this album to be as huge as it can possibly be.’
We’ve been labeled sell-outs since we’ve signed this record deal. It just washes over me now more than anything. Anyone who knows the band knows that we’re still the same band we were back in 2005. We still get in the crowd and play. We just have more of a platform to say something. We’ve got points to make, important things to say.
Why should we give a fuck? We’ve heard it so many times. It’s old news. If people want to call us sell-outs now after hearing this record, let them.
Grey Britain certainly is an album that makes a statement. Can you explain some of the ideas Gallows is hoping to get across with this album?
We’ve been on tour pretty much around the world for eighteen months. We’ve seen all of these amazing places. Playing in Japan was a huge eye-opener for all of us just to see how different the culture is out there.
Then we come home and, it’s no joke, Britain is grey. We have, like, a two-week summer. So much is going wrong in our country right now. It’s the same for a lot of countries around the world, but it hits home with us more because it’s affecting us personally. Friends of ours are losing their jobs because of the economic crisis. Other friends of ours, their kids are having kids. Sixteen year-olds are walking around carrying around knives. We look at that, we think, Why do we want to live in this country when we see all of these other places where we can get along?
Frank, when he wrote the lyrics, was so pissed off with the state of the nation and what it’s become. The record isn’t anti-Britain, but it obviously lays into Britain quite a lot. We’re still very proud of where we live and I think the record tries to bring back some kind of pride in our country. That was our goal, at least, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see what it affect it really has.