by: Thomas D. Mooney
We caught up with Kevin Galloway, vocalist and guitarist for Uncle Lucius earlier this week. The Austin-based band are hot off the release of their fourth studio album, The Light,
out this past June. The soulful groovemasters will be performing tonight (Thursday, Oct 15. 8pm) at The Cactus Theater.
It’s been three years since the release of their last album, And You Are Me. But Galloway and company haven’t missed a step or lost any steam. The Light finds the band further expanding and broadening their horizons musically and lyrically, yet still keep a focus on what has made them one of the chief outfits within Texas rock and soul.
Watch/Listen Uncle Lucius perform “Don’t Own the Right” on Texas Music Scene below.
New Slang: It was around this time last year that I spoke with Jon [Grossman] about what was happening with the new album. You guys were in the process of making the album then. One of the keys to the album that he mentioned was George Reiff at the producing helm. For you, what do you think it was that George did to help capture The Light?
Kevin Galloway: You know, I call George a Zen Master because he plays mind tricks–in a good way [laughs]. He was good at keeping us comfortable. Then he’d ask us to do things that were out of the ordinary. We would start in one place and then take us to the other end of the spectrum on purpose. He’d then have us take a break and when we would come back, we’d nail it. I think it was a relaxation technique. He was always real open to the vibe of the song. If something happened and it felt right, we’d go along with it.
We’d done a lot of pre-production for this. We were in the studio for 12 days. With the pre-production, we had an idea of what we wanted the songs to sound like, but once we got into the room, if they took a turn somewhere and it felt OK, we’d keep going with it. Sometimes it’d happen on its’ own, but sometimes, it was happening at his behest. He knew what he was doing. It was my best experience in the studio for sure.
NS: It’s so key for a producer to be able to somehow be both outside the band and within it at the same time. You want someone to see things in songs that the band doesn’t and knows how to pull that out of them while still being “in the band” and knowing what their vision is as well. That comes with experience. What song on this album do you think was pushed in a direction that you just didn’t see and ended being the most different from the original idea?
KG: The one that comes to mind is “Flood Then Fade Away.” We had an idea for it. In the studio, we tried it, tried, it, and tried it, but it just didn’t work. It got very frustrating. We essentially started all over right there. I sat down Indian-style with my acoustic in front of the drums. Josh [Greco, drummer] had an idea of what he wanted to play. We really started over though. I strummed the basic chords. Josh’s idea was to have something similar to African drums–something similar to congas–but on the drums. George got that and helped us facilitate. Even though it was frustrating, we started all over from the basics. It was probably 40 minutes of doing just that. Everyone else had stepped away. We found what worked. Everyone came back in and we went from there. George knew that we needed to start over. He knew what we were looking for and that we didn’t have it yet.
NS: When something like that happens, a breakdown in a song where you just come to a wall–and when time is so precious–does any doubt creep in the back of your mind? Like with “Flood Then Fade Away,” was there any thought of just scrapping the song from the album and trying next time around?
KG: Oh yeah.
NS: Is that something you bring up or do you try and keep that doubt internal and stay positive?
KG: I try and stay positive. But I’m also human. There’s pressure in the studio. You only have a certain amount of time. We’re not a band that has the luxury of having a studio we can just go to when it feels right. We’re not The Stones sitting in the South of France [laughs]. So when it happens, there is that thought that creeps up saying, “OK, am I wasting time now? Do we need to just have 10 or 11 songs on the album instead?” That wasn’t the only track where we’ve hit a spot where you think that. Everybody else did it at times as well. You all have your ups and downs in the studio. Then there’s George Reiff there who says, “No, it sounds good. Let’s do this.” He knew when we needed to step away and take a break and then come back.
NS: A few weeks back, I was talking with Shane Smith about what modern-day band would be The Band. The first name he brought up was you guys. I thought it was a great answer. You guys have that groove and soul. The storytelling. But also, part of why that works is y’alls ever-expanding growth when it comes to collaborative efforts vocally. The Light is easily the best example of that so far. You’re not singing every song on the album.
KG: Well, first of all, that’s a huge compliment. Josh would love that. The Band is his favorite band. Thank you for that. I think that goes back to when we formed as Uncle Lucius. In the very beginning, which was a little over 10 years ago, it was the Kevin Galloway Band. I had surrounded myself with people who really knew what they were doing. We knew the next step was to really make this a band and not just about myself. I didn’t want hired guns just playing my songs. It needed to be better than that. So we named it Uncle Lucius. So from the beginning, it was like that. Everyone has input and a say. I may bring more songs to the table, but they all get vetted by the five members–whoever they may be at the time.
What I think you see and hear now is an evolution of that. With confidence, I think you can go back to the first album in 2006 and go through the next three albums and see an evolution of a band. We’re a band who tries to improve itself in all facets as we go. Songwriting, the groove, the feel, playing our instruments–all of that–we’ve improved as we’ve gone along.
NS: This goes along with that. I think you can go back and see that you’ve touched on this previously, but on this new album, it feels like you guys wrote a lot about spirituality, the concept of reality, and really, just viewing the world through a wider spectrum. There’s a larger view of life in the grand scheme with this album and not as many day-to-day moments. How did you get to this point in songwriting?
KG: It’s human growth. Like you said, it is connected with the last question. You have to evolve beyond specific subjects. I’m 38 now and been doing it over a decade now. As a person, I’ve matured. We all have. I say if you’re really evolving, you never stop. You have to think about things beyond the material world. A lot of times, people and bands get comfortable. Let’s make this analogy. A lot of people find this formula that works and keep going with it. It’s the same thing over and over. Just as human beings we do that in our lives. But, it’s always there to expand so why not do it? Think about something than beer and your old high school love. I think we’re getting inundated with that.
NS: Yeah. It’s not just bands who get comfortable, it’s fans. I’m sure there are folks out there who wish you’d have written “Liquor Store” 30 to 40 more times.
KG: Yeah. I’m sure there are. You know, it has its’ place. That was something I had to wrap my head around. I wanted to move on from that and some other songs. There’s one from the first album called “Cigarettes and Gin” that people still ask us to play. But it does have its’ place. There’s a danger with getting too spiritual with things. You’ll become too detached from every day reality. “Liquor Store,” in its’ own right, is an empathy song. It has that sub-context. It works when it hits home with somebody and stirs an emotion. It’s fascinating that sense. It always will be. Our goal is to keep that, but also being able to add to it. Getting way out there with what we’re singing about. But have both because, that’s what it is to be human.
NS: I’m assuming that, in a way, this is a new challenge for you guys as songwriters. Of the last couple of albums–or new material–what’s been the most difficult song for you get out on paper? What’s been the most challenging song to write?
KG: I’ll go back to And You Are Me. The song “Set Ourselves Free,” I still sing it and it’s new to me as I’m singing it. It’s like a call to myself to step up and remember that we have this potential within us. Life can bring you down–the low-level, trivial stuff that’s a part of life. That song, it’s a remembrance that we are more than just this. We are spiritual beings and we can get in our own way. That’s what a lot of these songs are talking about. It’s a musing in the mirror. It’s a reminder to myself.
It’s not as hard to write those because it is where I am in my life. What gets harder is the simpler ones. I have been writing more of those recently. I think one of the best songs I’ve ever written is a recent one. It’s so simple and about when my wife was not feeling so happy. I was there to console her, but I remembered that I also not there to fix it. I’m there just to be there for there her. That’s one of the hardest things to get down in its’ simplest form. When I was writing it, I almost second-guessed myself because I thought maybe it was too simple. I would say those are the ones that have become the hardest to write.
NS: What’s the name of it?
KG: It’s called “We Don’t Have to Say a Word.” I don’t know where it goes exactly. But it was a reminder that, yes, we got very spiritual on this last album, but let’s also not forget the simpler songs about reality. It’s helped be a reminder of that.