Accidental Harmony: An Interview with Greg Gallagher

I had the privilege of sharing a stage with Greg Gallagher a few weeks back when we played at the Nail in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, in support of Scoopski. As soon as he stepped onto the stage, I was pretty sure I’d met a kindred spirit, particular given Greg’s apparent fondness for offset electric guitars and big glasses. Goth and moody, his set consisted of original tunes and covers that he brought to life with self-deprecating wit, plaintive vocals, and a mint-green Jazzmaster guitar—the perfect opening to a great night of music.

You did a haunting cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” when you played at the Nail, and I was definitely impressed when you hit all the high notes. What drew you to that song, and do you have any plans to release a recording of your version?

Thanks so much for the kind words first of all. Singing is one of the last things I learned how to do so getting any kind of praise for it is always a nice surprise.

I always liked the brooding nature of the song.  As a teen, I became drawn to more dark, gothic sounds and discovered a band from Finland called “HIM” They do a wonderfully faithful, yet musically much heavier cover and that drew me to the song. My wife also happens to love the original so I like to play songs she enjoys.

Your Bandcamp bio mentions that you played in a number of bands before taking a break from music. What are some highlights from that period of your life, and what led to the break?

I would say one of my fondest memories from playing in a number of local bands was getting to record a full-length album at the Creep House studio with Arik Victor, and that album’s record release show on my 20th birthday in a parking lot behind the Exton mall. I was in called “Drop Out Academy.” Cringeworthy name? Yes, but we had so much fun in that band. We ended up splitting up by the end of that year, but we reformed three years later under moniker of “Atom Outcome,” not that much better of a name but it was another band that wrote material that I look back fondly on.

The break from music happened in December 2013 when I found out that I was going to be a father—to twins! So, I had to put music on the back burner for a while.

Then you returned to music as a solo artist. What brought you back?

Well, once my kids started creeping up on five years old, they were no longer consuming ALL of my time outside of work, hahaha.

In the five years off, I still wrote songs. No one besides me would hear them. I also had a handful of songs I had written for my last band and I really liked them. I thought it was a shame that some of the tunes I was most proud of would seemingly never see the light of day. So I decided to say “fuck it” and just do it myself. I’m really glad I did too!

Your latest album, 667, includes a track called “Cynically Derivative.” Is it a comment on the music industry?

That’s interesting, because you could definitely interpret it that way and I guess it partially is that. It’s also a bit of a jab at myself, the song is very similar musically to a Bad Religion song “True North,” so it’s kind of poking fun at myself as well as commenting on the pronounced lack of originality in popular music.

It’s a great album, by the way. I know you played pretty much all of the instruments on that one. What’s your approach to recording?

Thanks so much! My usual approach is to start with the drums. I know if I have a good, solid drum track then I have a strong foundation for the song. Even if I just record the drums with 1-2 room mics (like I did on Burst) getting a good drum track for a rock song is crucial. Burst was done entirely in a basement and and upstairs rehearsal space and I did everything by myself. Which, in retrospect, may not have been the best idea. Hence why I decided to hire my friend Ian Shiela to do 667 since he very much knows what he’s doing, hahaha.

How do you translate that to your live set? I’m thinking in particular of the challenge of taking songs that you’ve arranged and recorded with multiple instruments and adapting them to just an electric guitar and vocal.

Even with the faster or more punk-inspired songs, I always start writing stuff on acoustic guitar. I do that because I kind of always have and also, to make sure that I can pull these songs off live when it’s just me and a guitar.

That’s a good strategy–very smart! Speaking of writing, you recorded Burst in 2020, but it consisted of songs you had written in 2010. What was it like to revisit those songs—and, I imagine, the headspace of who you were ten years earlier?

It was really fun and something I needed to do because I often find myself doubting my abilities, going back, revisiting those songs and not only seeing the growth as a person and musician was helpful and inspiring. I also was surprised that not all of the songs were terrible! Some of it was painful as I remember certain songs that were written during tumultuous times, but overall it was a really good and fun experience. I recommend it if you’ve been making music for ten or more years.

I might try that! You mention in the notes for that EP that you hadn’t yet learned all the techniques for proper recording. What are some things you’ve learned about recording since then? Would you change anything?

I’ve learned that levels are very important, haha. The biggest thing is that guitars, especially these days, are so easy to record and get a decent sound. Drums are so different, and much more challenging to record and get a good sound. Especially since drum sounds change from room to room. I’ve also learned that lead vocal tracks always sound better when doubled. Lennon used to do it, that’s how Butch Vig convinced Kurt Cobain to do it on Nevermind. It’s a basic technique I use on basically all my recordings.

Also, working with my good friend Ian who co-produced and did all the mixing and mastering on my last two releases taught me so much about capturing the best performance. Another partner in crime, Andres Natalino, does all the mixing for my covers on YouTube. He’s taught me a lot of cool tricks for at-home recording on a budget.

Alternately, is there anything you’re glad you technically did “wrong” because it turned out sounding interesting in some way?

Oh god, I’ve done so many things that are technically wrong—haha! There’s a song on Burst that was recorded terribly, it’s the first real song after the intro track. However, the way the guitars are layered at the end. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time and the timing is all over the place (and I played one track on the wrong string!) but it created a really cool sound and even an accidental harmony, so I’m glad I had no goddamn clue what I was doing!

What’s next?

Oh boy. Quite a bit actually! I have a covers EP coming out next month. It will be on Spotify, Bandcamp, etc. It’ll consist of what I believe to be my strongest covers to date. Thanks to you, I think I may record and include “Wicked Game” on it! I’m also writing songs for a follow up to 667 I hope to start demoing those soon and get back in with Ian sometime next year.

 I’m trying to be more active on my YouTube Channel, where I post my covers and originals. I also do interviews. Late last year I had the privilege of interviewing one of my all-time favorite singers and songwriters, Joe Wood formerly of T.S.O.L. I got to perform with him this summer with his new band Change Today. That was amazing. My next guest is a goth rock/horror punk icon, Myke Hideous. He’s the mastermind behind the criminally underrated band “the Empire Hideous” but he’s perhaps best known for briefly fronting the Misfits in the late 1990s. So there’s a ton of cool shit happening very soon!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Thanks so much for talking to me!

It’s been a pleasure.

For me as well!

Training Yourself to Finish: An Interview with Eric Linden

The first time I heard Eric Linden’s “Chasing You,” I was immediately struck by the song’s energy. The David Johansen swagger of Linden’s vocal delivery left me with a distinct impression of the New York Dolls, and it also held echoes of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and a little bit of Peter Murphy. More recently, his single “3,000 Pieces of Me” revealed an incredibly sensitive approach to songwriting and an eye for telling detail. Curious about what makes the burgeoning singer-songwriter tick, I dropped him a line…

You’ve moved around a bit, living in North Dakota and Colorado before settling in Minnesota. Has all of that moving informed your songwriting? What have you taken from each of the places you’ve lived? Or, to put it another way, what kind of impression did each place leave on you as a songwriter? 

Growing up in North Dakota meant that my band really had to embrace a DIY approach to doing shows and recording.  Also, we were sharing shows with bands who had wildly different sounds so we had to write enough songs that we had options when we put our sets together.  

I moved to Colorado right after college and that was a pretty exciting and adventurous time for me.  There’s a lot of great eclectic venues in the Denver/Boulder area. Red Rocks is one of my favorite places on Earth.  And then you have places like the Mercury Cafe just teeming with creativity.  I was into the Spoken Word scene there, and there was also some really great Americana music bubbling up in the area.  The Lumineers and Nathanial Rateliff, for example, have hit it big. 

Coming back to the Midwest was a bit of a homecoming for me. Minneapolis has such a great music tradition and scene. Of course, Prince was a powerhouse, and the Replacements have been incredibly influential. I’ve been really into Semisonic and Dan Wilson’s songwriting. And there’s always really exciting bands stepping up like Hippo Camus and Durry. It’s a really creative city that supports its musicians.  

In 2020, you formed a virtual songwriters’ circle and started working on material for your first album, which will be titled Burning up the Marquee. How did you get the circle going, and how often did you meet? What were the logistics like? What did you learn from that experience?

At the start of COVID I split with a band I’d been playing with for a while. Tommy from The Negatrons suggested that we start a song-writing circle where every week we’d write and record a demo.  We’d share the songs and our feedback every week in a chatroom.  

Everyone in the group was people we knew from North Dakota’s DIY scene.  There was a really wide variety of genres represented.  Other guys were working with blues, metal, rap, pop-punk, and country.  Check out the music from The Negatrons, Clint Morgenstern, and Moutkeevin to get a sense of the wide range of this group.  

And then each of us were pushing our genre boundaries just to keep it interesting.  Every song on Burning up the Marquee was written while I was  in this group. It’s the strongest ten songs from that time.  I cut another 10-15 songs. 

The most valuable thing I learned was how to consistently start and finish songs. I’ve heard a Dan Wilson interview where he talked about the importance of finishing songs and training yourself to finish. I think I trained myself to finish songs rather than training myself to abandon songs. 

The title Burning up the Marquee is extremely evocative. Where did it come from, and how’s the album coming along?

The album title is  a line from my next single “Walk You Home” which will be out February 8th.  

It’s a song about finding connection even when the world has put you through the wringer. The lyrics are pulling details from a really cold night in my neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis: “Streets are uneven, sidewalks are heaving, lights burning up the marquee.” There’s a little theater a few streets down from my house.  

As an album title it takes on a couple of different meanings.  And I like that.  It’s a nod to the civil unrest in the city. It’s a nod to Chuck Berry’s line “Maybe someday your name will be in lights.”  My dad was a big Chuck Berry fan, and Johnny B. Goode is one of my go-to karaoke songs. There’s also quite a bit of fire imagery throughout the album, so it’s a good fit. 

Your song “3,000 Pieces of Me” depicts a breakup in intimate detail. How much of your personal life shows up in your songs? Are they autobiographical, or are you inventing characters? Or is it a combination of the two?

The song is about a fictional breakup. The narrator of that song is a persona, who is very much “not me.”    

Writing that song was kind of like writing a monolog for a character in a  play.  The first line I had was “I’m not understanding why you’re out standing in the rain.” So I knew she was incredibly upset and he couldn’t understand why she was seething. The rest of the song has a lot of telling details about how petty and materialistic he is.  

As I was writing it I thought it was a pretty funny song.  But I wrote it from his perspective and it’s true to his emotions during the breakup.  And that resonates with people too. 

I like that song has a couple of levels.  One radio DJ told me she took  the narrator’s side because she would be “pissed if someone was taking her records during a breakup.” And she has a point. Breakups have a way of bringing out the worst in people. 

I love the verse about the record collection: “But my record collection/ Is looking awfully sparse/ Don’t take my Elton Johns/ Please don’t go breaking my heart.” Is Elton John an influence on your songwriting?

One of the members of the songwriting group told me I had to cut that line.  I’m glad I didn’t.  I think that little pun/allusion points to some of the humor in the song.  Also, Max Collins from Eve 6 recently tweeted about how it’s good for songs to have a line or two that make you cringe.  I have no idea if he was being serious, but I agree with it.  The line feels pretty cringe. 

As for Elton John, I do  really like songs like “Rocketman” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”  But “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” worked for this line and this character.   It was one of the details that felt distinctly “not me.” 

I don’t know that Sir Elton was influencing this record that much.  I think I hear influences from Tom Petty, Dan Wilson, and the Rolling Stones at various points of the album. 

I also love the line in that song about the suitcase purchased for a trip to Belize. It’s so telling—a suitcase purchased but never used for its intended purpose, like a detail in an Ernest Hemingway story. What’s going on there?

I’ve never been there, but in the moment it sounded like an exotic and showy vacation destination. He’s more interested in the show than the experience with her. He’s more interested in the suitcase than memories he had with her. If they did go on the trip, she’s taking those memories with her too. 

After a breakup sweet memories turn sour. You can’t listen to some of your favorite songs anymore.  You might lose some of your friends. You have to buy a new suitcase. It’s a whole thing.

If you don’t mind me geeking out a little bit, what’s your recording process? What do software do you use to record? Hardware? Microphones? Interfaces? Do you have a favorite guitar? (Feel free to comment on any combination these topics!)

A lot of this album was written and recorded on a Fender Telecaster with a maple neck. It’s an American Professional model in black with a white pickguard.  It’s the first Telecaster I’ve ever owned, and I think it had a big influence during the writing process as well as the final sound of the album. I play various other guitars on the album, but that’s the one that stands out right now.  

As far as recording goes It’s all pretty standard stuff: Focusrite, Shure, Pro Tools. I just think it’s incredible that home recording is so accessible these days. 

Just to geek out a little more, have you picked up any tips or tricks with respect to recording? Are there any techniques that really work for you?

I wanted to be able to use my full pedal board, but micing a real amp wasn’t going to be ideal. So I settled on using the Strymon Iridium as the amp and cab. It’s a great piece of gear that allows me to switch between voicings for Fender, Marshall, and Vox amps quickly. I really value “convenient versatility” in the home studio. I choose pedals that give me a lot of options without diving deep into menus. 

You mention on your website that you’re open to collaboration with other musicians and songwriters. Beyond your writing circle, have you had an opportunity to work with anyone else? What’s your process for working with other musicians? What do you like about creative collaboration?

I’ve played in a number of bands, and I miss the spark of collaboration when everyone is contributing new ideas to a song. I’ve been an actor and director in theater too, and I love working with other people to create a performance.  

YouTuber Kristers Hartmanis played drums on the album, and that was a great experience. As was working with Tyler Pilot from Red Dot Recording. 

There’s a lot of great musicians on Twitter I’d be interested in co-writing with or creating a collaboration track in the future. I’ve also had people start to inquire about bringing me in as a lyricist.  I’m open to all of the above.

What’s next?

I’ve got a new single “Walk You Home” coming on February 8th. And the full album Burning up the Marquee will be out this spring.  

I’m looking forward to it! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Eric! 

Absolutely.  Thank you for the thoughtful questions.  

Songs With Scenes and Themes: An Interview with Kelly Kintner

I’m going to guess that it was Chris Triggs of the La La Lettes who turned me on to the Kintners, a rootsy, Texas-based songwriting duo consisting of husband and wife Kelly and Keri Kintner. After all, a quote from Chris appears prominently on their web page: “Keri’s voice is like the angels.” Add to that heartfelt lyrics and honest, homespun musicianship—not to mention Kelly’s always-insightful Twitter feed—and it’s easy to see why so many other singer-songwriters (Brian Lambert among them) admire the Kintners. Curious as ever about the ins and outs of making music in the midst of a constantly-changing cultural and technological landscape, I was very pleased when Kelly agreed to the following interview.

I’d describe your sound as “rootsy” and reminiscent of the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? What draws you to this style of music, and how might the style complement your approach to songwriting?

We generally write songs with scenes and themes. We were feeling “O Brother” that day, I guess. If you’re referring to “Smoke and Mud.” Some days we feel James Bond, or Southern Gothic, or Hudson River. But that’s a huge compliment to be connected with that film as the music Director is T-bone Burnett, one of my heroes.

You recently taught someone to use GarageBand, and they consequently announced that they were going to become a singer-songwriter. Of course, anyone who’s ever tried to write a song knows that it’s more than a matter of having the right software. What is songwriting for you? What are the challenges, and why do you find it rewarding?

That’s a loaded question. Songwriting for me is basically me keeping out of trouble. Some people have video games, some people get lost in their work, if we didn’t have these things then we might turn towards self-destruction or something. I feel like songwriting is something productive I can do with my time. Improvement and achievement are the rewards. Just like in video games when the numbers go up, when I hear old recordings compared to new ones, I feel like I “leveled up,” ha ha.

Definitely! I’m also thinking about being an independent singer-songwriter as opposed, I guess, to an artist on a major label. Why do independent artists—and, of course, their art—matter?

Have you ever watched any of the race cars with all the stickers of companies they represent? Hey, being independent might not enable you to race on the big track, however, you don’t have to race at all if you just like cruising. You generally start out on the small races anyway.

Your song “Smoke and Mud” will become available on all streaming services on December 30. I know you’ve described yourself in the past as “not spiritual,” yet the song employs quite a bit of Biblical imagery. I’m curious as to how those two influences came together in that song, and also how you might see them at work in the world at large, particularly as they relate to the larger themes of that song—namely getting past temporary, albeit substantial, obstructions in order to gain a clearer perspective on life?

I was trying to evoke mood and atmosphere with those lyrics. My wife was helping me with her biblical knowledge. I just can’t think about old South without thinking about the Bible. I just had to incorporate the darker imagery from the Bible in the song when it started heading toward the swamp. Each verse, thanks to my wife, is a character. The first verse we have the main narrator, then the second verse we have Paul who was blinded as Saul, then David, then Jesus in the garden. Just because I don’t feel the Bible most days, doesn’t mean it’s not all around me.

“Smoke and Mud” also represents a team effort. The notes on your Bandcamp page describe the track as a “Collaboration on Twitter featuring a cast of all stars including Brady Jo, OrangeG, Kev Sharp, Jeff Harrington and crew.” Can you say more about that collaboration—how it worked, challenges it may have posed, how you overcame them? Or, more positively, why you enjoyed it?

Nearly everything we do is a collaboration on some level. We are currently working on an album where there are probably 20 or 30 people, I haven’t counted lately. I like writing the songs and performing acoustic and vocals if need be, but that’s about it. I would rather have professionals in other areas do the other stuff. I just think it makes the song sound better. Brady and I have been working a whole year on the album coming out at the end of January. Hopefully. We’ve broken a few computers on it. Sure it’s challenging with all the personalities and timetables. But you can plan for that. It’s all about trying to make your songs presentable to non-musicians. In our case we find it takes a lot of work and a team effort.

Who are some other artists you’ve enjoyed working with? What do you gain from such collaborations?

This is my favorite question. Bkbirge is amazeballs, as is Kev Sharp. Mixedbyadam has incredible ears and skill. Ben Shaw and Roger Brainard are frequently on my call list. Some of the best work I’ve ever done has been with Nathan Peter Illes. I’m going to build more about the people I work with on the website when the album comes.

I often get the sense from your Twitter feed that you’re looking for a sense of community among songwriter and musicians – and, more broadly, among music lovers. How well is Twitter meeting that need? What can it be doing better, or what might a better platform for genuine dialog about songwriting look like?

I’ve been on Twitter in the mornings for years and I have a sense of community there. But unless I try to keep it going it fades out like a match in the rain. This morning in fact I just started a private songwriters club on Facebook. And we have a website. I don’t feel like it’s Twitter‘s responsibility to make musicians better at hooking up. Twitter is fine. But it’s more like hanging out backstage with musicians than it is on stage in front of an audience. There’s a lot to be gained from it, it just may not be what you’re looking for.

I know that you work in a music store. Do you find a sense of community there?

I find local music scenes cutthroat and generally unnecessary for writing good songs. Maybe it’s just Texas. I’ve never had much luck with local music. As far as trying to develop community.

I’m also wondering if people still know what to do when they enter a physical store. Back when I worked in a music store—just as the internet was taking off—I liked meeting all the people who would come and go. It wasn’t just a place for business transactions. It was a place to meet fellow musicians and just chat about music. What’s it like in today’s world?

Most people who come into the store just come to hang out. That’s wonderful and we like it. We will even make them a cup of coffee.

You’ve written some music for film. What do you do to protect your work? Why is that so important

Movies won’t look at you if they feel like they’re going to get sued. So they’ve established protocols for songs before they even look at them. Register with BMI or ASCAP is the first thing. One or two googles and some good luck and you’ll be on your way.

In terms of “the industry,” such as it is, how do you navigate the streaming world? It’s clearly designed to financially benefit platforms like Spotify as opposed to the artists who make the music, but if we want to be heard, we have to play by their rules. How do you decide what to share with streaming platforms and when to share it, as opposed to making it exclusively available on sites like Bandcamp?

It’s simply not anyone’s responsibility, in my opinion, to blast my music to the world. I don’t know where this notion comes from. I am not entitled to an audience. But maybe if I keep working at making songs people want to hear, they’ll tell their friends about me. Then they’ll come see me play. I love Bandcamp because it feels like another circle of friends who support each other and listen to each other’s music, and I love those circles.

What do you have on the horizon? Any big projects?

We have an album coming, every song is a collab. Brady Jo is doing the production and BK Birge is doing the mastering.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Kelly! I really appreciate it!

Thanks so much for having me!