With over a decade of recording, touring and performing under their belts, the folk-punk duo Two Gallants aren't just one of San Francisco's longest-running indie bands—they're a Bay Area institution. Next week, on Feb. 3, the band releases their fifth full-length album, We Are Undone, celebrating with three separate shows in San Francisco and Oakland.
For this episode of KQED’s performance series Main Stage, we caught up with Two Gallants at Cafe Van Kleef, a well-worn bar in downtown Oakland, the type of dusty, dark place that has fertilized the band’s alternately hard-edged and sentimental music over the years. Looking up at the high ceilings upon arrival, drummer Tyson Vogel cracked a wry smile. “I've spent many a debaucherous evening here.”
Soon, guitarist and lead vocalist Adam Stephens showed up, and before premiering the live debut of two new songs, “Incidental” and “My Man Go,” the two friends—who've known each other since they were five years old—sidled up to the bar to talk about We Are Undone.
Commenting on the album title, Stephens observed that “I think that we've reached a point where a lot of our actions show an inability to take pause, to actually step back and take a break from that kind of grinding towards nowhere, and it's left us literally undone and coming apart.” Such existential thoughts might have come from the drastic changes the band has seen in their hometown, and especially the Mission District, where the two got their start busking at the 16th & Mission BART station. Vogel still lives in San Francisco, but Stephens, like so many other musicians, has hightailed it to the East Bay.
“San Francisco means a lot to us,” Stephens says. “We’ve always really taken pride in coming from there. To have that altered before your eyes and be powerless to alter it—pretty much against culture and art, and tearing apart the diversity of the city—is really hard to witness and emotional.”
Vogel echoes the worry of homogenization: “We’ve been away from home for a long time. We’ve had this opportunity to see places around the world…. And it's hard to see a place like San Francisco, which is so unlike any place in the world, start to have an aesthetic that, like, blends in.”
Soon, as the band hit the stage, it became evident that no tech boom is about to slow down their thunderous presence. While the duo was blasting through “Incidental,” a sharp melodic blast with conventional structure (“probably the shortest song we've ever recorded,” said Vogel), the neighbors showed up to ask about the ruckus. “My Man Go,” with its languorous guitar melody and weary submission, showed that Two Gallants still excel at long ruminations of the human heart.
After three kickoff shows in the Bay Area (Feb. 5 at Leo's Music Club; Feb. 6 at the Chapel; and Feb. 7 at the Great American Music Hall), the band heads out on a European and U.S. tour that'll keep them in a van together, playing shows nearly every night, for the next three and a half months.
“It’s hard to know what or why keeps us playing together,” Stephens says about their ongoing legacy. “Pretty much most bands don’t last more than a few years. The fact that we have this foundation of childhood is like… it’s almost like we can’t escape each other.”