The members of the band Giallows, who were slated to perform on Tuesday, 13 November, at 8PM at Rozz-Tox (2108 3rdAve, Rock Island), have watched Hell blaze across the streets of the Quad Cities.
Well, not Hell, exactly. That may be overstating matters. And nothing purgatorial or bardo-esque, for that matter. But they’ve seen some stuff occur. They also seemed to agree that they would never really agree on the nature of such stuff — so they might as well play music.
A shared passion for urban exploration — also known as “exurbing” — brought the members (bassist/vocalist Devin Alexander, guitarist/vocalist Adam Hurlburt, keyboardist Andrew Cline, and drummer Jeff Carl) into one another’s orbit; and a familiarity with death is what keeps the gravitational forces pulling them together. Alexander, Hurlburt, Cline, and Carl performed their inaugural gig in November 2017, at the Life is Beautiful Fest, thrown in honor of the recently-departed local-musician William Martin. Held at the Bier Stube in Moline, the gig raised money for The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI).
“If you don’t have a deadline,” said Alexander, “you kind of put things off. So we got this deadline [to perform], and we started getting together, and started figuring things out” — musically speaking: “That was the thing that focused us up, [and] gave us a direction to go in.”
Speaking of directions, we were all riding of a late evening in a green 2003 Ford Focus with a retractable ceiling — you know, the kind of vehicle that just screams “nebulous”; not unlike the graveyard-visiting/graveyard-exiting Cadillac in the Television song “Marquee Moon”. Carl, unfortunately, had a job that precluded his presence in our interview/exurbing. Alexander, who was driving, and is involved in the Two-Toms-Two Production Company, and was involved with their web series Against the Odds (and with whom he had shot a scene in a record store earlier that evening), would point out local landmarks that were said to have experienced hauntings, whereas Hurlburt, a professional skeptic — “professional” in the sense that, aside from being a newspaper reporter for five years, his career included an unhappy stint working on “one season of a failed attempt at a new-hit international [basic-cable] ghost-hunting TV show” as a cast member, going to such dismal-sounding places as England, Scotland, Ireland, Romania, Belize, and Chile; and “unhappy” because the rest of the team were as enthusiastic as Alexander in capturing paranormal sightings, whereas Hurlburt, who went on record as saying, “I don’t think any of that shit’s real. I think it all comes from peoples’ brains…The rational aspect of my mind doesn’t believe that the spirits of deceased people exist inherently of themselves and have their own desires that they’re chasing post-death. It seems fairly ludicrous”, kept taking the jelly out of everybody else’s doughnuts. One got the sense from their interactions that Hurlburt had taken the jam out of Alexander’s own doughnuts an inordinate amount of times.
In downtown Moline, we drove past the old, abandoned Southwest library, whose construction was funded in part by a substantial donation from the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, in 1903. Carnegie’s one proviso was that the city furnish him with a “suitable suite” within the library, for his own personal use. According to Alexander, legend had it that he “entertained” local showgirls after-hours in that suite. For years, patrons would complain about the faint sound of a squeaking bed, of salacious gruntings, and of a male voice with a strong Scottish brogue repeating, “Take it, JP! Take it!” The librarians laughed off such public observations, but admitted among themselves that they could hear such sounds as well.
Hurlburt agreed that “a suitable suite” was indeed among the list of demands enclosed in his 31 August 1901 letter to the city, but that “Andrew Carnegie was all business. He wasn’t Stanford White: he wasn’t interested in ‘superior erections’ — ‘erections’ here having a double meaning, I might add. He was nothing but business. He was said to have laced his food with saltpeter in order to stifle such urges.”
Alexander scoffed. “He was a man, flesh and blood,” he said. “Now he’s a ghost — uh, ectoplasm and protoplasm. They have their urges.”
At this, Hurlburt rolled his eyes. Cline inquired about the statute of limitations on rumor-mongering concerning historical figures that had been dead for nearly a century, and looked at the ceiling.
Among the things band figured out was how their musical interests converged. “I’m really hung up on Italian horror soundtracks and stuff like that right now,” Alexander said. The Italian genre, known as the giallo, which typically turn on gruesome murders, an atmosphere of moral decadence, numerous variations on the “Ten Little Indians” story trope, and people talking in Italian, contributed to their moniker; the composers who wrote the soundtracks to such films as Cosa avete fatto a Solange? (Ennio Morricone), Zombi 2 (Fabio Frizzi), Suspira (the prog-band Goblin), and Tutti i colori del buio (Bruno Nicolai), have left a noticeable imprint on their decadent-Italian-horror-soundtrack sound.
In Hurlburt’s case, “I wanted to combine kind of riffy, fuzzy, doomy, groovy stuff with Black Moth Super Rainbow-style synthesizers for years.”
“When we talked to Andrew,” Alexander said, “and said, ‘Hey, this is kind of like the thing that we’re aiming for’ — he knows both of those musical worlds.”
Alexander observed Cline was “really familiar with soundtrack work”. Cline clarified: “I don’t really watch the movies at all. I’m just more interested in the prog soundtracks. I’m just really into Italian prog, and prog in general: Goblin, Museo Rosenbach, Alphataurus…”
“Part of the reason I was, like, ‘Hey, we could combine these sounds,’” said Alexander, “is that all that stuff has sort of a — it’s back in the public consciousness, you know, a little bit. It’s getting a lot of fresh love from a new generation because of Fabio [Frizzi].” It’s at this point that Alexander’s enthusiasm bubbles over like a shaken bottle of some suddenly-released carbonated-soda drink. “John Carpenter’s touring now; Frizzi toured; two different Goblin [bands] are touring! Claudio Simonetti’s ego-project Goblin, and then the original Goblin without Claudio Simonetti.” [Calming down.] “Anyway, I, personally, was inspired by that stuff a little bit, to get out there and put it together and — yeah.”
“For me,” Hurlburt said, “I never consciously think about horror or horror themes when working on music for this band, or even conceptualizing it. It’s just that the stuff that I inherently make or that comes out of me usually has a little bit of a darker tinge to it, whether I want it to be there or not. It’s just what naturally occurs… The band in general is just sort of ambitious, in that, like, all of us have related but different influences and different things that we’re all trying to fold in — and it’s not always easy.” He chuckled.
We were approaching the Arsenal Bridge. It occurred to me to ask the three if they had ever seen a dead body; again, funerals don’t count, due to the cosmeticization of the dead. Cline mentioned funerals. Hurlburt cited his newspaper experience as keeping him up to his elbows in corpses. Alexander related a more direct example: “I was I think seven or eight years old, coming out of the Denver Baseball Stadium, and there was a body, face-down in a bush, outside there. I looked at it, and I go, ‘That guy’s dead!’ My parents are like, ‘Come on!’ And then later, on the news, [Les Nesman/WKRP in Cincinnati voice] ‘Dead body found outside the Denver Stadium’. [laughter] Swear to God!”
Hurlburt: [Nesman voice] “‘Child Confirms Death!’” [laughter]
Alexander: “He was straight-up face-down in the goddamn evergreen bush outside the Stadium.”
Hurlburt: “He was hit to death by a baseball that day.”
Cline: “Last December, driving home on 74, there was a car accident. I’m pretty sure I saw an arm just on the road. I’m like, ‘That’s pretty —’”
Alexander: “No way.”
Cline: “I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s a traumatizing moment.’ And then that Mariah Carey Christmas song came on [the radio], and I’m, like, ‘Yeah!’ [laughter] I forgot about it ‘til today.”
Alexander: “Really wipes away the tears.” [laughter]
Cline: “Also, I’m pretty sure I saw a dead body in a car driving over the Arsenal Bridge into Rock Island a few months ago, but I couldn’t confirm it. The guy was just in his car, and he looked dead, but he might have just been —”
Alexander: “Wait. He was driving, or he was a passenger?”
Cline: “The car was stopped, and he was just in the seat, and his head and his back were just like —” [Affects a gruesomely diagonal angle.]
Alexander: “Oh, God! At least he got stopped.”
Cline: “So maybe he was just, like, catching some Z’s.”
Hurlburt: “There was a cop investigating the car, and he looked really bummed out about something.”
Cline: “Maybe a dead body.”
Alexander: [Affecting a cop-like tone] “I got another guy who just died on the Bridge.”
The subject then turned to the band’s instruments and the sound they get. “More often than not,” Alexander said, “I play a bass that I actually designed and had built. I just designed the body shape [on the last one], the pick-ups, and most of the specs on it, and then — Adam’s cousin actually do all the wood-working and stuff. If I’m not playing that, I play just like a Fender Jazz bass that I got from Music Go Round for about fifty bucks that I dumped, like, three hundred dollars’ worth of parts into, and a pedal board to make me sound good, and bass cabinets that are enormous” [laughter]. “We like to get loud.”
Hurlburt: “I like my pedals more than I like my guitars. You can make all sorts of wankety noises.”
Alexander: “Different colors of paint and stuff. And that’s an easy way to set yourself — an easy way to make yourself sound different is have an extravagant pedal board or something like that. I don’t know about you guys, but I take pride in sounding unique.”
Hurlburt: “Yeah, definitely.”
Alexander: “Not sounding like anything else. Especially in the Quad Cities. We don’t sound like anything else in the Quad Cities. I can say that without being egotistical. It’s just, we just sound different.”
Hurlburt: “Yes. It’s a matter-of-fact thing. It’s not like a compliment to ourselves or anything.”
Cline: “It can be both.”
Hurlburt: “It could be both. Yes.” [laughter]
Alexander: “Eventually, I’m sure it’ll be a horrible shortcoming.” [laughter]
Giallows are still accruing stage experience, and will assuredly accrue more; next year promises shows that sound promising. “I’d say we’re very much still on the formation stage,” Hurlburt said. “Of the six songs that we have in our set, I would say two of them are actual Giallows fully-formed songs that were formed by the band collectively” (example: “Leather Baby”). Now that they are in pupation stage, more are coming.
Concerning the visual image, Hurlburt said, “We have a friend who sets up all of our atmosphere for us for every show.” This includes a fog machine and a prop called the “Gi-owl-low”.
Cline: “We made an owl. Our designated owl.”
Hurlburt: “We found it in a dumpster.”
Alexander: “Two houses down from my house, somebody must have passed away, and they just filled a dumpster full of that dead person’s —”
Hurlburt: “Got so much good shit. It was ridiculous.”
Alexander: “I got a whole bucket of golf balls, I’ll say that. [laughter] But we got one of those plastic owls to scare away — things.”
Hurlburt: “Scare away other owls.” [laughter] “I just remember, we took it in the basement, and I said, ‘We should drill the eyes of this’, and then —”
Alexander: [laughter] “Not even five minutes later, we had the eyes drilled out. We put it on a base with a smart light-bulb in it, so we could control the eyes of the thing; and we ran a tube up the bass and it, like, blows smoke out of its eyes, out of its color-emitting eyes. We like to play in the dark as much as possible, so that the atmosphere of us takes the audience away, as opposed to the atmosphere of wherever we’re playing. I’ve probably thought about this more than you guys have —”
Hurlburt: “I just don’t want anybody to know that I’m wearing mittens the whole time.”
Alexander: “You’re so good, though.”
Hurlburt: “Everything’s just tuned straight across.”
Alexander: “B, B, B, B, B, and B. We’re all tuned to Bs. Different octaves. Different low octaves of B and double-strings. I play twelve-sting Martin Acoustic tuned to B.”
Cline: “And I believe B-flat in the Sixteen-Hundreds was also known as the ‘H’.”
Alexander: “The ‘H’ chord? We pulled all the keys off Andrew’s keyboards except for the ‘B’, and then it was only later that Andrew said, ‘Why did you guys do that? I could have just transposed the keyboard to be all “B”s’, and I just said, ‘Andrew, I don’t know keyboards. That’s why you’re in the band.’”
Hurlburt: “And then I handed him an Orange Julius and all was fine. Andrew would do just about anything for an Orange Julius.”
The Focus was now creeping along Rockingham, among the derelict houses. Alexander says that if there’s a Spirit Geiger Counter, it would be deafening; Hurlburt tells him to catch himself on, that his pretend-obsession with the macabre was beginning to seem like the real thing — that he was pushing “the whole faux-spooky bit” into an area where his breathless observations “just feel legitimately spooky”.
Alexander suggests that we get out, bust into one of the houses, and check it out for ourselves. “Show of hands!” he says. “Who’s down?”
Hurlburt glares at him.
I tell Alexander I don’t have a vote, not being a member.
Alexander shakes his head and turns to Cline. “You’re the swing-vote, Andrew. You’re our Souter, our John Paul Stevens, our Anthony Kennedy. What say you?”
Cline says, “I vote you go bust into one of the houses and check it out for yourself.”
Alexander, eyes narrowing, says, “I can’t believe you’d pass up the chance to see a ghost just because of the dangers of criminal trespassing.”
Hurlburt, triumphant that the swing-vote is bending his way, says, “That’s why we’re a nation of laws, not of ghosts.”
Alexander, eyes widening, says, “Did you just hear yourself? You said ‘ghosts’, man! Oh, shit, there’s some part of you that knows they’re out there!”
I point out to Alexander that the quote was “nation of laws, not of men” — hence, no ghosts, either.
Alexander looks at me like he wants to pull a Michael Meyers on me.
“You worship a dead faith, man,” Alexander says. “A dead faith.” And on we drive.