Gallows get even more brutal with Wade MacNeil

When the U.K.’s Gallows lost a singer and Canada’s Alexisonfire broke up simultaneously, it was serendipity for both camps. Wade MacNeil discusses the difficulties of being a band’s new frontman, and the ease of his new band’s evolution.

Gallows 2.0

Three days ago, Wade MacNeil was unsure of whether the show his band Gallows was scheduled to play in New York’s East Village was even going to happen.

A massive power generator down the street from Webster Hall had exploded during Hurricane Sandy, submerging the city that never sleeps into a deep and dark slumber.

“I can’t believe the show happened,” MacNeil says over the phone as the band headed toward the Buffalo border. The power was restored the morning of the show, resulting in a pretty good night overall. A quick pit stop at Sneaky Dee’s in Toronto later, and the band’s ready to start their cross-Canada tour in earnest; they’re hitting up Montreal tonight.

“Montreal is great for music. It’s a strange place. It’s kind of like a sexier version of Toronto — kinda scuzzy, kinda European…” MacNeil says.

Tonight’s show is on the first leg of a tour that will toe the 49th parallel, bringing Gallows down the middle of the continent as it heads toward the Pacific Northwest throughout November. Though MacNeil knows these roads well, having been a founding member of post-hardcore band Alexisonfire, it’ll be his British brothers’ first journey to middle-Canada.

Gallows’ history is a bit of a strange one. The Watford, U.K., band formed in 2005, knew success in Europe, but hadn’t quite yet commercially crossed the pond before singer Frank Turner decided to call it quits. Around the same time in Canada, Alexisonfire announced they’d be hanging up their microphones. But nothing surprised fans of either band (or both) than the news that came less than a week later — that Ontario resident MacNeil would be joining the British-based Gallows as their new singer, but that neither would be moving their home base.

“Steph called me and said, ‘My brother left the band. Do you want to come and sing with us?’ I said, ‘Book me a plane ticket and I’ll be right over there,’” MacNeil says. Uncertain of whether he was auditioning or joining the band outright, he came prepared with a song.

A month later, the band released the 36-second-long “True Colours,” a brutal and uncompromising statement echoing across Gallows and Alexisonfire’s fan bases that both the band and MacNeil were far from finished. It took about two minutes to write.

That, coupled with the September release of a self-titled album, is in no uncertain terms a statement of intent. “This is Gallows,” MacNeil says. Still, joining an already-established band — particularly by replacing its original singer — is a tough sell to any fan base.

“With every decision a band makes, you alienate some people and bring other people on board,” he continues. “I think some people love it, I think other people find it offensive, but it’s not about ignoring the past. It’s about building on it and pushing it forward in a new direction.” Despite the new direction, though, Gallows still performs pre-MacNeil material, its increased brutality a symptom of MacNeil’s influence and vocals.

“I can’t imagine playing a show and not ending it with ‘Orchestra of Wolves,’” he says. “It feels good, and there’s a great reaction.”

The new material is, in some ways, proving ground for both old and new fans. MacNeil says “Cross of Lorraine” and “Depravers” off Gallows are a bit of a departure for the band — and a welcome one at that.

“For me personally, I think the record… is all my favourite stuff about heavy music. It’s dance-y, it’s melodic, but it’s really harsh and really violent-sounding. It’s stuff I always wanted to write. We’re all on the same page with this record, which doesn’t always happen.”

The self-titled Gallows was recorded last spring between European festival tour stops, lending it what MacNeil describes as a sense of urgency. The band kept receiving unexpected offers to play with some of the greats during that time — Refused and Turbonegro, among others — and so crammed recording in on off-dates. “I think it injected a lot of energy into the record. It wouldn’t have sounded the same had we recorded it in any other way,” he says.

As for MacNeil’s other projects, a new Black Lungs album is in the pipes, but with little time to tour behind it, it’s sitting on a shelf somewhere getting dusty for now while he tours with Gallows this month and Alexisonfire the next.

Alexisonfire’s farewell tour will cross continents in December, with dates in North America, Europe and Australia, but shouldn’t be mistaken for a sign that there may be a future for the band.

“We’re proud of what we did. It’s good to go out with a bang. It’d be nice to close the door in a positive way, and we’re glad to do it for the fans.”

When given a relationship breakup analogy, MacNeil laughs and says, “I’m glad we could not date, but could still have sex.” ■

Gallows play with openers Barn Burner tonight, Tuesday, Nov. 6 at la Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent), 7 p.m., $15/$18

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