Today, Teenage Wrist released their new album Earth Is a Black Hole. Punknews' Max Qayyum caught up with guitarist Marshall Gallagher ahead of the release to talk about the LP, the ongoing pandemic, and baking.
What’s it like to be doing the album prep during the pandemic? When we got into the flow of it, it was very much like any other record. We were on somewhat of a time crunch and we like to put our heads down and work every day. We like to keep studio crews to a minimum anyway - we don’t really bring anyone round to hang out or anything like that. It’s just the band. So Covid restrictions became less of a problem. But when we were in the middle of it, in March when everything locked down, nobody knew what to do.
The studio we were working in, which was Colin’s place that he was leasing, we didn’t know if we could go there. There were shared bathrooms and the studio downstairs didn’t give a fuck about any of the restrictions, and they were still bringing people round with no masks and shit. So we were thinking we should keep our distance, because we all have people that we live with. Anthony [Salazar, drums] was living with his grandparents at the time, so he didn’t want to bring home Covid. Colin [Brittain, producer] has a wife and a one-year old. So we just halted that process for like a month and a half. It was like ‘oh okay we’ll get back in two weeks.’ Two weeks would roll round and it would be like ‘nah, we’re not there.’ So it was about a month and a half later.
We had tracked drums, bass and a little bit of rhythm guitar, then it was just a dead stop. Then we slowly got back in. So that was a bummer, but it was actually kind of a blessing. We were able to step back for a bit. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of shit you don’t really know whether what you’ve done is good or not. So it was cool to step away for a second and get some perspective and think about it a little bit more. So it was interesting.
It’s been such a turbulent time. Thinking back to March and April, it felt as though things were gonna be over a lot sooner. Yeah. So we were sitting here thinking we would finish the record, and maybe it wouldn’t come out in time for touring. We had a tour slated for September/October, and we were keeping optimistic that that would probably happen… Then this descent into madness. It’s been a little weird not having any of the expected stuff happen and having to draw out the release process a little bit more. We’re just doing what everyone else is doing. It would be one thing if this was only happening to us, but everyone is in the same boat. We can almost rest easy knowing the entire industry is behind and everyone is trying to catch up. That said, it fucking sucks what is happening to the music industry right now.
Are you excited to get back to things or nervous or worried about what the whole landscape will look like? Definitely a little apprehensive. Definitely skeptical and a little bit nervous as to what live shows are gonna look like. It’s not just gonna go away. I think everyone’s social interaction is gonna drastically changed. I think there will be a mini-war between the maskers and the non-maskers, maybe tension at shows [laughs]. Probably like 30% capacity everywhere you go, so it’s gonna feel like you’re playing to an empty room. Maybe you’ve sold the place out even though you’re bringing 100 people to a 400 capacity room. Maybe that will be cool, maybe that will be weird, I don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see.
But yeah, a little bit nervous. But I’ve also reached a sort-of state of acceptance about all of this. Whatever is gonna happen is gonna happen. How’s the past year been for you on a personal level? Has it been difficult not being able to tour? Yes and no. Generally, it’s been tough to get used to from an emotional standpoint. Teenage Wrist is still in the early stages, even though we’ve been around six or seven years. That’s around how long it takes to break a band. So we’re not making a shitload of money. It was not a financial loss for us to not tour [laughs]. It was a massive loss emotionally and obviously with the record coming out and not being able to promote it properly. So we’re just waiting to see what the fallout is from that, because obviously we can’t just rely on online marketing or streaming. Everybody seems pretty over the whole livestream concert thing. Unless it’s really well produced. This Friday 311 are doing Grassroots… I’m fucking there [laughs]. But that’s one of the few I’ve wanted to tune into.
The year in general. I’m not gonna lie and say it wasn’t difficult [laughs]. All in all, we’re happy we’re still able to release a record. We’re happy to have a whole team behind us and not have cutbacks affecting us or anything like that. I think the bigger struggle is gonna come with the future fallout, like what’s gonna happen with all of these venues. Already we’re seeing some of our favourite venues in town closing or completely shifting to be like a restaurant or something. There’s definitely gonna be a lot less opportunities to play, which is gonna make it really difficult to tour. Especially if you’re not trying to have every venue be an AEG or Livenation venue. I’ll take what I can get at this point, which is where I’m at in my entire life. So, it’s been weird [laughs]. But overall, we’re fine. We’re making it through. We’ve been lucky enough to keep our day jobs. I’m freelance and I do a lot of production and mixing. I don’t know whether that’s because of where I am in my life right now or because of the pandemic more people want to create art, but I’ve actually seen an uptick. Anthony’s been able to keep some gigs and work his multiple jobs as well. We’re still lucky.
How busy have you been day to day if you’ve been working? Have you picked up any new hobbies? I’ve tried to pick up a few hobbies. I don’t know if I actually succeeded in doing that. I tried to take up photography. I bought myself a little Olympus point and shoot. I’ve been trying to do that. Some cool shit came out of it. I wouldn’t consider myself a photographer. I still have no idea what the fuck I’m doing. I bought myself an animation tablet when I was hell bent on learning how to animate. I didn’t even mask it past the trial [laughs]. A few things here and there… A few are sticking, a few not. I put out another record of some solo material which was chillwave, nearly hip hop leaning… I don’t rap, don’t worry [laughs]. That was just to do it, just to make something happen, just to put something else into the universe. I’ve been working out a lot. I think we both have. That’s one silver lining, I’m in better shape.
I’ve done the opposite. I started baking. All I’ve done is eat. [Laughs] that was another one. I tried my hand at baking the first couple of weeks.
I regret it because I’ll bake brownies and then not do anything the rest of the time. Yeah, you feel accomplished when you’re making the brownies, and then you start eating them and realise you’ve had about four in the past 20 minutes [laughs].
What’s it been like taking on all lead vocals now? Has it changed much in the way of writing songs or been quite natural? It’s definitely changed the way we write. Before it was a pretty down the middle collaboration between Cam and I as far as melody and lyrical stuff. Anthony did contribute quite a bit as well, but now he’s been able to take on a heavier role as far as that goes. He’s been able to really dive into the melodies and contribute to some of the lyrics. Also, this is the first time Teenage Wrist has done any outside co-writing. We did two tracks with Colin, the producer. One track we wrote with a couple of my pop-writer friends, for a lack of better classification. We had an old guitar player called Danny Murcia who actually has his own project now, he’s a pretty successful songwriter, and we wrote a tune with him. So kinda trying that. Shake it up a little bit, see what different shit we can come out with, and that’s been really rewarding. It’s been cool to see that we can keep the Wrist sound, and keep the lyrical content and the overall aesthetic, I guess. We can keep that in tact, but still work with other people, and it can still all make sense.
So yeah, it’s been cool taking on the singing. I’ve never considered myself a singer, really. I kinda only did it in the first place as a necessity. Back many, many years ago, I wanted to started a band but there were just no singers out there I genuinely could get on board with, so I was just like ‘fuck it, I’ll try it and see what happens.’ It was terrible for a number of years until I started to ease into it. Now it’s gotten to the point where I’m pretty confident. That may or may not change when we have to start playing shows again. I haven’t done it in a live setting for a year and a half [laughs]. But I’m comfortable in the studio, I always have been. I think a lot of people don’t realise that I did a lot of the lead vocals, even on Chrome Neon Jesus and Counting Flies, a lot of that is me. People can’t differentiate between me and Cam, which is really, really strange to me. But listening back, from a more objective viewpoint, I get it. We have a similar tone. So yeah, it’s been different but in a good way.
The album covers a lot of ground musically, there’s some on the poppier side and some which are heavier. Do you think that variation comes from other people contributing or is that just the way you tend to write? We went in with that goal. To create some harder, faster, poppier stuff. Some of that we accomplished ourselves, but with others we wanted to see what a pop song-writer could contribute. So it was definitely a mix of our own aspirations. We wanted to take some of these heavier elements, but keep the shoegaze-y guitars and the fuzz. We wanted to take the grunge style drumming, and just keep doing what we do, but inject some bigger melodies, and also see if we could push ourselves in terms of tempo and things like that. We didn’t really push ourselves before that to see if we could create something up tempo, or something which could go to radio - not that we necessarily give a fuck about that. But it’s just where our heads were at. We wanted to see if we could do that, without sacrificing sound or musical integrity in any way.
There are definitely a couple of big radio-sounding songs. I hope so! [Laughs] It’ll be interesting to see where radio lands after all this. We’re just trying to reach as many people as we can and still make ourselves happy.
What’s it been like working with Colin Brittain on this record? Colin is so rad. He has a different approach to any producer we’ve worked with in the past, including the stuff we’d done ourselves. He’s kinda down for anything at any point. He makes the process very fluid, to the point where we could switch instruments or modes whenever. We could roll with whatever we were feeling. That was cool to experience. I’m a very meticulous, organised person, so part of me was irked by that for a while. But I realised ‘I don’t have to worry about this, this is in somebody else’s hands and he’s got it.’ Overall, it was the best experience I’ve ever had with a producer, and our engineer was phenomenal. Not only did Colin co-write some killer songs with us, but he was just really great with bringing out our vision, and allowing us to drive the ship, tonally. He’s one of those guys that can create whatever sound you want him to, but at the end of the day it still sounds like him, because he’s a phenomenal mixer which we got lucky with. It was awesome, we love him. He’s got such a wide range of stuff that he’s done, too. That always helps.
What were your main influences going in for this one? Were you listening to much in particular which you thought had an impact or did that fade away since you had such a clear image of what you wanted to do with this record? I always go back to the same shit. The same shit I’ve been listening to since I was 10-11 years old. Trying to chase Rush, Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. That whole guitar-worshipping era of music. That was our main goal, our influence I guess, if you can put it that way. Make heavy guitars relevant and cool again [laughs]. It sounds like some Trump shit but it truly did leave the public eye a little bit. I just wanted to layer the hell out of everything, guitars and string sounds that make me happy. But I’m also super inspired by some electronica and hip hop. I've been going through a heavy 90s hip hop phase for a few years now. I just started listening to this guy, George Clanton, who is like a vaporwave artist. I just tried to slide in a few of those kinda things, with the electronic stuff we did. Then just the same shit. We would like to make the next Third Eye Blind self-titled, perfect album, front-to-back. It’s all the same shit.
What are you plans going forward? Are you booking anything or not thinking too far ahead? We don’t have a physical tour booked. We have something in the works for something we’re gonna do livestream-wise. We’re definitely gonna give everybody something cool to watch. I don’t know exactly what it’s gonna look like yet. It’s definitely gonna be a long live show. It might be a play-through of the record. It might be a long set with some of the old shit. We’re just gonna have fun with it and see what happens, and pray to god that by summer or fall of 2021 we can get back in it. Nothing’s booked yet but we’re working on it. It seems presumptuous yet to get anything booked in.
We’ll leave it there, but I hope the album release goes well for you. Thank you.