Johnny Gallagher has been teasing fans with his musical prowess for years. Whether it was on Broadway starring in Green Day's American Idiot or whether he was picking up a guitar when given the opportunity on The Newsroom, Gallagher has been leaving his fans wanting more, and today the wait is finally over with the release of Gallagher's debut LP Six Day Hurricane. Beautifully introspective, diversely influenced, and perfectly executed, Six Day Hurricane exceeds the highest of expectations and delivers everything fans have been waiting for and more.
The Reel Spin: Congratulations on the album... you must be excited?
Johnny Gallagher: Thank you! I am, it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time, so I'm really happy it's finally happening.
TRS: Yeah, absolutely, and I love the title too... Six Day Hurricane.
Gallagher: Oh, thanks!
TRS: I’m wondering if it’s a nod to the recording process... did you record in a week? Or is it that life can just be a bit like a hurricane at times?
Gallagher: Yes, I mean definitely... the answer is yes to all of that really. We recorded it in kind of a whirlwind... we recorded it in six days, because we had really six days to do it. We recorded it in the fall of 2012. I live in New York, but I was filming The Newsroom at the time in Los Angeles, and we were about to start season two. So, I had been called back to, you know, report for duty on the set of The Newsroom in the fall of 2012, but I really wanted to get this record recorded before I left New York, because that’s where the band lived and those are the studios that I am acquainted with, and so I wanted to just go for it. We knew we only had a very limited amount of time. I think that we set out to do it in seven to eight days, but then on the day that we started recording, Hurricane Sandy hit New York.
TRS: Oh wow...
Gallagher: Fortunately enough for us, we weren’t too terribly affected by that storm, but it kind of colored the process of recording it, because here we were doing this thing that felt very, very kind of important, and we had six days to do it, and we had to do it really fast. Then you had this force of nature seemingly come out of nowhere and just kind of decimated the city for a week, and everything felt kind of scary and kind of apocalyptic, but we were still going to the studio every day to record, because the studio was in Greenpoint and didn’t lose power. On the day we were recording the bass and drums, which was the first day... that was the day the subways started shutting down and Thad DeBrock, who produced the record and played guitar on it in addition to other things, had his car so his job was to give everybody rides home at the end of the day, so everyone could get back after the recording process. I racked my brain for a while about what to call the record, and there were a lot of things on the table and a couple different aesthetics, ideas, and themes... and then that one just kind of jumped out to me in that we ended up only having six days to do it, and then a hurricane of all things hit the city while we were doing it. The idea of a storm... the eye of a storm and it having highs and lows and moments where it’s really violent and kind of strange moments of serenity and peace, and how it can turn on a dime at any minute was something that felt kind of reflective to me about the songs we had picked, because we had picked songs that covered a bunch of different styles and a bunch of different tones and a bunch of different volumes. So, yeah, it just kind of organically came out that way, and it felt like since the record was such a snapshot of that moment in time that it kind of made the most sense for a title.
TRS: Absolutely, because I mean I had no idea that you actually recorded during a hurricane, and I already thought the title was perfect. It really works for the album.
Gallagher: [Laughs] Ah, that's great!
TRS: Since we're talking about the recording process I know that a lot of times in between your work you do a lot of solo acoustic shows, and I’m assuming whenever you went to record, this possibly could have been one of the first times you did a lot of these songs with a full band. Did you find that recording with other musicians really took the songs to another level?
Gallagher: Oh, definitely... definitely. I had been playing a lot of the songs on the record by myself for several years. I had been playing solo acoustic concerts and playing around my apartment and getting familiar with them. A lot of songs I had written with the intention of someday having a band play them. I don’t do it as much as I used to, but I used to really write for the mythological band that I would someday put together, but I never got round to doing, and so finally getting a song together with a band was so liberating and exciting. Not only was it a lot of things that I had heard in my head for several years coming to life, but then naturally when you get a group of talented musicians together, they start adding their own flourishes and their own touches and bringing their own personalities to the songs, so it really elevated the whole thing in ways that I kind of predicted and in ways that I totally didn’t. So, it was so fun getting to hear those songs get fleshed out.
Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez
TRS: Let’s talk about the first single too, "Two Fists Full." How did that song come to be specifically?
Gallagher: That was one that had been kicking around for a while. I think I wrote that song in I want to say 2007 or 2008, so it had been around for a while, and I had been playing it at solo acoustic shows. And, my producer and guitar player/collaborator, Thad, who helped me make the record, we had played it a couple times at solo shows just the two of us on two guitars. That was a tune that came about the idea of a relationship that’s a bit messy that can kind of drive you crazy. I had been going through something in my life where I felt that I was being kind of manipulated in a relationship, so I wrote that song as a kind of a love letter to anybody out there who is kind of feeling like they want to pull their own hair out over a relationship situation. Then when we brought the band to it, suddenly that song made the most sense that it kind of ever made, because I had written it with the intention of having the big loud, percussive, explosive sound to it, and there's only so much of that I could achieve on my own with an acoustic guitar, so the band really brought that together. I feel like from the opening moment, it has this sense of foreboding when it begins, and to me painted that picture of the idea of maybe you've got a crush on someone who's needling you or toying with your emotions a little bit.
TRS: Right... I think that's something that I think everyone can relate to, and speaking of people being able to personally relate to your songs, one of my favorites on the album is "Imagine If."
Gallagher: Oh, sure...
TRS: It's one that I personally connected to, and I think a lot of other people will on some level, because everyone can relate to wondering what if we'd made different life choices and finding ourselves. Was that your hope... that at some point your lyrics would connect with listeners on a personal level also?
Gallagher: Absolutely. I really think that's why I write music. I mean I write it, because I kind of have to. It's just something that kind of organically and naturally comes out of me. Music for me is all about that exchange. I can't imagine how alone in the world I would feel if it weren't for me being able to listen to my favorite music.
Gallagher: To hear a song where I go, 'wow, I recognize myself in those lyrics.' I've had so many amazing and therapeutic moments of just feeling like 'wow, somebody else out there gets it and understands it.' If I can do that with a song then it's job done and dream fulfilled. All I really want is for someone to hear it and feel, 'Oh, I feel less alone,' because that is one of the greatest gifts music can offer, and it's certainly something that music has offered me time and time again in my life. It feels only natural that I can help pay that forward.
TRS: At times there is a bit of a loneliness or even a sadness to the album, but then you have a song like "Dangerous Strangers" that brings the energy back up again. There's such a nice balance overall... kind of like life, there's ups and downs.
TRS: Was that an intentional choice when you were selecting songs?
Gallagher: It's kind of funny, because a lot of it I feel like we just got lucky. We only had such a limited amount of time to record it, we really just kind of picked songs at random. Because I had been writing songs for years, and I had never recorded anything, we had this kind of daunting list of songs before us that was like 55 songs long or something.
TRS: [Laughs] Right, right.
Gallagher: So, what we did is we played a gig over the summer a couple of months before we made the album, and we didn't even know we were going to make an album at that point, so it was just kind of like, 'hey, let's play a gig.' I called everybody together, and we put this band together, me and Thad, and we really just picked like nine songs, or maybe less... I think like eight songs, and a few covers, and we learned them, and we played a show in New York. It went so well that when it came time to pitch the idea of making an album, we just said, "well, let's just pick the songs we learned, and that will be the record." That's really how the list of songs got picked, the sequencing once we had them recorded, we found an order that helped tell that story of the kind of peaks and valleys that bring you up one moment and then kind of take you more down to reality and the more somberness and some songs are more jubilant, a little bit more celebratory. We really just got lucky that the songs that we picked had that ebb and flow to them. That's something that I definitely think is a through line in all my music that some days you wake up and you're just not having it, and you're feeling down and you're feeling alienated, and those are the kind of songs that just naturally happen. Then other days you wake up and everything kind of seems like just maybe it's going to possibly all be okay, and you have these sort of raucous songs that come out of that. When you put them all together, you kind of get the best of both worlds.
TRS: One other thing I wanted to talk about is your influences. I'm thinking being a part of American Idiot had to influence you on some level, because there are times on this album where I'm like that's almost folk meets punk, and I'm curious how much that experience influenced you musically just in your own personal life?
Gallagher: Yeah... that's a great question. It definitely did, it really did. When I got the job to do American Idiot, it was about 2008, we did all these workshops, and then eventually we ended up taking it to Broadway, and it was completely inspiring. It was really amazing. I had been a fan of Green Day prior too, but getting to really hang out with them and spend time with them, and see the way that they rehearsed and practiced... we made the cast album together and got to actually go into the studio with Billie Joe [Armstrong] and work on the record when I was putting down vocals and stuff. It was totally a flooring experience, and I feel like I got more connected to a lot of rock 'n' roll music that I had not got acquainted with yet through doing that show and going record shopping with Billie during that process.
Gallagher: He would be like, "You gotta hear this, you gotta hear this." Without knowing it, he was kind of giving me homework of all this music that I hadn't really gotten into, and a lot of it has completely stayed with me, and a lot of it ended up influencing stuff that went on the record. He got me into this record that I had never heard before, this guy named Paul Collins, who used to be in this band called The Beat, and now it's called The Paul Collins Beat (his band). They made this one record in 1978, and since discovering it around that time, it's become one of my favorite records of all time, and I was listening to it pretty much nonstop the months leading up to recording my record, so there are definitely elements on that record where I listen to and I hear it and I go, 'oh, yeah, I definitely don't know that I would have made this the same way without all of that influence, without working on American Idiot, without getting more connected to a lot of those punk records that I had missed growing up. Because, you know, I was living in the suburbs, and I was listening to a lot of folk music, and I was going to a lot of roots music festivals. Then I found out years later that I liked both in equal measure... that I loved the quiet stuff, and I loved the loud stuff, and it's something that I always want to bring out in my records... the duality between those two styles, and if I can do that organically, that's something I'm definitely interested in.
TRS: For sure... That's actually what I responded to the most about it, because I love both of those styles as well, and I think that makes your album super special.
Gallagher: Oh, that's awesome!
Purchase or preview Six Day Hurricane on iTunes here.
Follow Johnny Gallagher on Twitter: @johngallagherjr
Interview by Pamela Thomas