San Francisco’s Two Gallants return with louder, darker, folk-rock sound

Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel became friends when they were 5 years old. By age 12, they were playing music together. Now they’re 32 and 33, respectively, and they’ve performed as the folk-rock duo Two Gallants for more than a decade.

Over the years, their grainy, finger-picking melodies earned them a fan base that extends far beyond their hometown of San Francisco. But in 2008, Two Gallants went on hiatus. Last year they re-emerged with an edgier punk- and grunge-influenced album, “The Bloom and the Blight.”

The new sound wasn’t intentional. And it doesn’t necessarily indicate that the band’s fifth album, which Stephens hopes will be recorded and released next year, will follow suit.

Already, Two Gallants’ newest songs vary in style – and curious ears can hear them at Harlow’s on Saturday.

“I think songs dictate which direction they go in,” said Stephens, Two Gallants’ chief songwriter, vocalist and guitar player. “They make the decisions for themselves.”

“The Bloom and the Blight” is Two Gallants’ debut on Dave Matthews’ ATO Records, and it was recorded by Grammy-nominated producer John Congleton (Explosions In The Sky, Modest Mouse, St. Vincent). Their past records were on Saddle Creek, the label partially founded by indie giant Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes).

The two-man band’s older songs have an old-timey feel, influenced by Stephens’ constant devouring of country blues and William Faulkner. And though newer songs are shorter and more aggressive, their lyrics share similar roots.

They describe wild drunks and public hangings, and use apocalyptic and biblical imagery. From “Song of Songs”: “With the song of Solomon upon her lips/The light of morning in her eyes/Jordan River in her graveyard hips/You know I’m bound to be baptized.”

Lyrically, “The Bloom and The Blight” might be Two Gallants’ darkest record yet. Stephens said his outlook on life has turned increasingly fatalistic, and accordingly, his songs often carry an “undercurrent of hopelessness.”

“The more I’ve learned and the more of the world I’ve experienced, the more I’ve lost my idealism, unfortunately,” Stephens said. “A lot of the problems that I see in the world are so entrenched and so frightening, it’s hard for me to think much can be done.

“And it’s definitely hard for me to think a song can change it.”

The most disheartening place Stephens has ever visited? China. “It’s this entire huge civilization under this cloud of industry pollution,” he said.

The people were friendly and welcoming, he added, but a trip there left a lasting impression. In addition, climate change and recent catastrophic natural disasters tend to dominate his mind.

“When I want to write about something that’s more day-to-day, or a personal matter of the heart, it’s hard to look past these bigger issues,” he said.

Two Gallants’ long hiatus also wasn’t intentional – the original idea was for a yearlong experiment. They wanted to play with new musicians and explore themselves as individuals.

“We just got caught up in this somewhat repetitive cycle of touring and recording and touring and recording,” Stephens said. “It got too rote and predictable.”

Stephens released a solo album and Vogel formed a string metal band. They stayed in touch and went to each other’s shows, but side projects took longer than expected and a car accident put Stephens on the sidelines for a few months. The one-year experiment became a three-year ordeal, and it turned into a greater appreciation for their innate bond.

“Other people don’t really have the privilege of working with someone they know so well,” Stephens said. “I didn’t fully realize that until we took a break. We really grew together.”


When: 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: Harlow’s Restaurant and Nightclub, 2708 J St., Sacramento

Cost: $15