The Atmosphere Is Perfect for ISIS Offshoot MGR to ‘Rise’
For over a decade, Mike Gallagher has been building the foundation of Mustard Gas and Roses the L.A.-based (mostly) instrumental post-rock outfit. MGR started out as a solo venture that Gallagher did during downtime with his former band ISIS. The focus was on ambient soundscapes, mood and free-form meditations on musical texture, which have been captured on three previous full-lengths and a number of splits, releases and collaborations spanning from 2005 to the present. When ISIS disbanded in 2010, he was able to put more of his creative energy into MGR. It evolved into a full band that included J. Bennett (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare), Bryan Tulao (Chelsea Wolfe, Black Math Horseman, Mother Tongue) and Sash Popovic (Black Math Horseman, Mother Tongue).
Becoming, the aptly titled new record (dropping October 14 via the Mylene Sheath), marks a period of transition, as MGR enter a new era. In addition to a stable lineup of seasoned musicians, Gallagher has also delved into the often daunting task of writing lyrics and singing; check out an exclusive CLRVYNT premiere of "Rise" for a example of Gallagher’s somber reflections on the sad and beautiful nature of the human experience.
When you formed MGR, ISIS were still active. What factors guided you to start producing solo material?
I had been writing a lot of these small pieces of music that weren’t fitting into the ISIS song structures, so I had these leftover ideas. I had bought some recording gear and I wanted to learn how to use it, so I started to put these pieces together into whole songs or soundscapes, whatever you want to call them. It was a marriage of trying to learn the new recording gear and finding a home for the little orphans that I had kicking around in my brain.
The early material is very atmospheric. Was that the direction you wanted to go in, or was that a function of the available material?
Although ISIS was very atmospheric at the time, it was more a reaction to playing songs so often. I wanted to create something that I could zone out to and have some quiet time.
Is the name Mustard Gas and Roses a Kurt Vonnegut reference?
In the beginning of Slaughterhouse-Five, he talks about being drunk late at night in his house after his wife went to bed, and getting the operator to connect him to ex-girlfriends. The operator did not seem to mind his mustard-gas-and-roses breath, according to the main character, Billy Pilgrim. Vonnegut, to me, does a very good job of capturing the sad and beautiful nature of our existence; that was one thing that really stuck with me.
Originally, MGR started out as a solo project, with you being the sole member. Did you ever plan on performing live as a solo project?
No, in the very beginning I did not. There were typically 12 to 24 tracks going at the same time, and I didn’t think that I would be able to recreate that live. There would be some pre-programmed loops that were note-for-note from the record, but the more I did it, the freer it became. In the beginning, it had to be as close as possible to the record, but that was more fear talking. As I got more comfortable on stage and more confident with how I was playing, it became a freer venture. I was able to make it weirder.
You’ve played literally thousands of live shows in your lifetime within the band format, so what was it like stepping on the stage alone for the first time?
Despite the fact that I was well-prepared, It was utterly terrifying. I had practiced a ton, but I was fearful of an equipment malfunction. I was fearful of the loops being wrong. If you’re building up loops, which I was at that time, if you put some bad notes in there, it’s going to be with you forever. I was quite scared.
A while back, you did a film score. How did that come about?
The director, Koen Mortier, was working on a script for Slaughterhouse-Five, but the deal didn’t go through. While he was at a record store, he saw my second CD, Wavering on the Cresting Heft, by the counter, and the name Mustard Gas and Roses caught his attention due to the Kurt Vonnegut reference. He bought it sight unseen and got in touch with our distributor, who got in touch with me. There was also a connection because he used ISIS music in his movie Ex Drummer. He asked me to score his next film, 22nd of May. He’s a good dude; real easy to work with. Writing music for someone else is a challenge. It’s good; it doesn’t need to be about you all of the time. I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to work on the film. Film scoring is an extremely difficult thing to break into, so this was a gift I was handed seemingly at random.
Is the score available anywhere?
Not really. It’s probably on iTunes, and I have it on my Bandcamp page. Serious Records put it out, and they are now out of business.
There are vocals on the new record. How did you develop your singing skills?
I’ve been going to open mics to get right with being in front of people and singing. It’s just me and an acoustic guitar in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know. The first one I did was in Boston. I played a show with Cast Iron Hike in June, so I booked an open mic. I felt really good, performed well, stayed in key for the most part, everything was good. I did one about five days later, also in Boston, and it was terrible: no confidence, no mojo, not really in key, my guitar playing wasn’t good. It hasn’t been like that since then. Not all of them have been great, but it’s been a steady improvement.
MGR eventually became a band with consistent members. Do you still retain all of the creative control?
It started out with me writing everything and the band playing my parts. When we started writing Becoming, I had it all basically worked out, but I didn’t know the guys playing well enough to trust them. But when we got deeper into the writing, everyone ended up having their own input. The songs are written and structured by me, but everyone has free rein to write their own parts. I haven’t changed the lineup for a couple of years now. I’m really happy with these guys; as long as they’re willing to stay, I’m happy to have them.
Josh Graham offered me a European tour with A Storm of Light in 2014, and I wasn’t interested in doing music by myself anymore. It had been so long that I played in a band, so I asked him if I could grab three of the members of Storm of Light and write some music with them in mind, and we would open the show. It worked out, so that’s what got me on the path I’m on now.