Local Frequency: Bay Area Band Q&A w/ Adam Stephens

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Dan Monick

Adam Stephens is the singing and guitar-playing half of successful San Francisco duo Two Gallants (Tyson Vogel is the drumming and backing vocals half). Signed to Saddle Creek records since 2005, they've toured incessantly in support of their three full-length albums and have finally taken a break. Although the plan is to keep Two Gallants going, Stephens and Vogel are also embarking on separate projects: Tyson is currently touring with Port O'Brien, and Stephens has been in the studio since September working on a solo album.

His record won't be out until next year, but Stephens is offering a preview of his solo work this week with a show at Rickshaw Stop on Wednesday night, in his first local performance in over a year. Local Frequency met up with Stephens at Atlas Café to chat about his upcoming release, Dylan Thomas, and Glen Campbell.

If you could describe your sound as a San Francisco neighborhood, which one would it be?
Not by any particular association, I'd say the Outer Sunset or Outer Richmond. I grew up here and the Outer Richmond and Sunset are the only neighborhoods that are unchanged. They still retain this sense of preservation, of antiqueness. I have a lot of strong influences from the past. I'm not necessarily trying to make the most cutting edge music, but just what feels right, music that I like.

Very few Bay Area musicians seem to break nationally. What do you think Two Gallants did differently to get noticed?
I don't know. I can't really speak for other bands, but music wasn't a hobby for us. From the time we played our first show at 22, we were both pretty determined this was something we're going to pursue. Here in town, there are friends of mine in some bands who don't really think that music has to be a profession. Everyone has this fear of selling out. It prohibits them from actually following their music to this rightful degree of recognition.

Within that whole DIY culture, everyone has this fear of being shot down. I think it's kind of sad. It's a lot of stuff we dealt with from the beginning. We played a lot of street shows and underground shows, and eventually, when we started playing bigger, more expensive shows. A lot of our old friends put us down for that. I understand that feeling to a degree, but how are musicians supposed to survive, especially when no one buys records anymore? I just think it's really shameful for someone to put down a musician for wanting to be a musician.


What have you been reading lately?
I'm reading Dylan Thomas in America by John Malcolm Brinnin. I was in Adobe Books the other day and just picked it up. It's written by his literary agent, who booked all of his readings during his first trip to America in the 1960s. The book talks about what killed him during that time--a lot of legendary self-destruction, with the whole literati of America watching him.

Your solo album is a bit of a departure from Two Gallants, where did the songwriting ideas come from?
I actually wrote a bunch of songs towards the end of the last tour we had that I thought were inappropriate for Two Gallants. That was a just over a year ago, but then I didn't start recording at the end of summer.

Do you feel differently about these new songs as opposed to what you've written for Two Gallants?
I don't know, they don't really mean anything to me. It's not very kind to pick and choose between songs; I feel a lot more freedom with them. In my other band we try to keep things pretty straightforward and keep the record true to the live show. We really didn't have any tricks or anything. And now this CD is the total opposite. I can do whatever I want, have friends with me. It's liberating.

You've gotten some great help on the solo album, was it mostly recorded here in the city?
No, we did a couple of days here at Tiny Telephone, but almost all of it was done in LA at Sunset Sound. While I was there a bunch of friends came through. Patrick Hallahan from My Morning Jacket played drums, Justin Meldal-Johnsen played bass, and the rest were just people who happened to be around. Cody [Votolato] is a good friend of mine. He came through town and helped out, Andy [Cabic] from Vetiver played on a couple of songs, and Jen Grady also sung with me on a couple of tracks.

Is this album going to be released on Saddle Creek?
No. Possibly self-released. We're not really sure at this point.

When you're at home, what are some favorite venues to check out?
I think the Independent is the best venue in the city sound-wise; the Great American Music Hall is the most beautiful visually.

What's a song that's been stuck in your head lately?
[Laughs] It's kinda funny you ask that. I've been listening to my record all day, and I was doing sequencing yesterday, so I've had my own annoying songs stuck in my head. But besides that, which is not the proper answer, I've been listening to a lot of Glen Campbell lately. He does this version of Bob Dylan's "I Don't Believe You" which is really hilarious and somewhat of a sad song, but he turns it into this cheap, country song.

Are there any local artists you're listening to currently?
To be honest, I'm gone a lot and I haven't really been into the scene. However, I'm really excited about this band called Honey who's going to be opening for me at this week's show. There's like, 12 people in the band, they're great.

Where can we see you next?
Dec 16th at the Rickshaw.
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