Intensity In Three Cities: Inside the mind of Gallows

photo: Derek Bremner

Canadian Wade MacNeil has been singing for British hardcore crew Gallows for two albums, though at this point their members are scattered across the globe. On Desolation Sounds, MacNeil’s tense vocal delivery will make the listener sweat just as much as the music will, because intensity is this band’s game.┬áThe album has swanky groove and isn’t afraid to get downright soulful at moments, as in the title track. We caught up with vocalist Wade MacNeil to get the scoop on the new album, the chaos of being in Gallows and what hardcore means to him as he grows up.

SUBSTREAM: You finished recording Desolation Sounds last summer. So now that you have that perspective and it’s been a while, when you put it on, do you still dig it?
WADE MacNEIL: I do. I hope I never get comfortable enough in my music career or my writing that I just am satisfied with everything. Obviously, revisiting it, there are some things that you think, maybe we could have done that differently but it’s more about minimizing those things. So if you can listen to your record and not cringe, I think you did a pretty good job. [Laughs.] And I’m not really cringing when I listen to it.

To me, it’s a very diverse album. It’s not like I put it on and you’re screaming at me for 30 minutes. There are a lot of different sounds on it, even more so than last time around, I think.
Yeah, absolutely. I think no matter how heavy the music you write is, if it’s full-out for half an hour or 45 minutes, it stops being heavy. There aren’t those breaths, those moments between that chaotic energy; you just lose the edge, you lose the bite. Dynamically, we tried to work a lot more with that stuff this time. And this is record No. 4 for the band, it’s No. 2 for me with them, we weren’t stopping ourselves from doing anything, and I think that’s why it turned out the way we did.

The word that keeps coming to mind whenever I listen to it is “swagger.” It’s got a lot of attitude.
That’s cool to hear. Everyone’s going to hear it differently, and it’s always interesting to hear. That’s the first time I’ve heard that used to describe it. What that says to me is groove, and that’s really, really important in heavy music especially, that groove, having that swagger. That’s cool; I’m very stoked on that.

You guys are separated geographically. How’s that working out now?
It’s difficult, but we make it work. We all are collectively writing, myself here in Toronto, Stu [Gili-Ross, bassist] in California, the other boys in London, and we have this wealth of material, tons of stuff, and then when we get together, it’s just all systems go. That’s why when I fly over we’ll do a bunch of radio sessions, we’ll probably write some more music, we’ll play as many shows as humanly possible, there’s just no idle time.

Do you think that might work out to your advantage?
Yeah, to a certain degree. It definitely keeps it really exciting, you get back together in a room, play the songs, it never feels old or tired. I’ll fly in, we’ll rehearse, we’ll go fly to Norway and play a show, then we’re back in a London studio the next day. It’s a whirlwind, it’s crazy, we make it hard on ourselves, but it’s the way it needs to be to have the output to get shit done. It’s never like, “Okay, let’s go write and then record,” or, “Let’s go play some shows,” or, “Let’s work on music.” It’s like all of those things together. It’s a fucking whirlwind, but it’s cool.

This is going back a bit, but I was quite shocked when you joined the band. To me, Gallows was such a British band. I think it was mainly the album title Grey Britain, it just made everyone think, “This is so British!”
To be honest, I think it was very intelligent on their part to not get a British singer. Because as you’re pushing forward, you can’t just get a singer to replace your old singer. If they just got some other British tattooed guy in there, I think it would have fallen flat pretty quick. Being so different caused a lot of people to wonder what it was going to be, but you can’t just try to recreate the past. The boys are very, very proud of those first two records they made, and I fucking love them too. But you get someone doing their best impression of the first singer, and why the fuck would you give a shit about the band? Any band, you need to be constantly challenging yourself and redefining what you do, challenging your fans and pushing yourself forward. If you’re not doing that, you might as well break up. And that being said, they wrote Grey Britain. What else is there to say about the U.K.?

I think Gallows are one of the most dangerous and exciting bands in hardcore today. It’s just exciting to listen to you. Do you agree with that?
It is incredibly volatile all the time. It’s something I saw from the outside for years. They’re my boys, the guys I’d have a beer with when I was in London when I was on tour. I’d see how explosive it was. It’s funny, all these years later, I never thought I’d be joining the band. But I’m definitely caught up in the whirlwind of it. Trouble follows this band. It’s just part of it. And, yeah, you’re totally right. We play like our lives fucking depend on it. This is not something we do fairweather; we’re all musicians, we all fucking live for this, we’re not going to take over our dads’ companies when we decide we’re going to start listening to more hip-hop. Music is our lives, for better or for worse. So, yeah, it’s a fucking mess and I fucking love it. [Laughs.] I can’t imagine playing in another band that’s just boring; I can’t imagine it.

What do you guys feel you’re bringing to hardcore with this album that’s lacking in genre today?
I have no idea. And I don’t really care to know. I think the best music is made selfishly. We’re definitely a punk band and a hardcore band, but as far as feeling part of that world… when was younger, a lot of my best friends I met through playing music, and we met when that was really important to us, that sense of community. The people I hang out with today, the bands I see every time I’m in New York or Boston or wherever, that’s something that really meant a lot to me. But as far as what the state of it is today, I don’t know I can really speak to it. I’m 30. I’m not a young man… But this music is still the stuff I love more than anything. That feeling hasn’t gone away.

A version of this story was published in Substream #45.