TURN IT DOWN: Swinging with the Gallows

By Rich Tupica

A survey of Lansing’s musical landscape

After hours of driving down an Arizona highway, the tattooed members of Lansing’s Goddamn Gallows decided to call it a night and pulled their tour van to the side of the road in the middle of a barren desert.

The members set up tents for a night of what they call “renegade camping,” a common practice for the psychobilly group, which has toured almost nonstop across America since forming more than five years ago.

But this time they were in for a surprise, as the dark dessert sky lit up in the middle of the night. “We were about a mile away from a prison,” said lead vocalist and guitarist Mikey Classic. “Lo and behold, there was a prison break that same night. All of the lights on the prison started going crazy and there were helicopters flying over us.”

The startled members sat nervously in their tents, thinking of what could happen if law enforcement mistakenly raided their camp spot. As it turned out, the prison escapees were a stone’s throw away from where the band slept. “We were about 100 feet away from this abandoned house,” Classic explained. “All of a sudden, this police Jeep pulls up shining a light and yelled toward the house for the people to come out.”

“Luckily, they never found us, we sat quietly in our tents,” recalled standup bassist Fishgutz.

That night was just one of many the band has spent under the sky, or cruising down the highway on the way to its next gig. After many hours in a cramped van, cabin fever begins to set it. “You are so close to each other, even if it’s your best friend, in a van little things start getting to you,” Classic said.

After those small tiffs build up, Fishgutz said irritation takes over, and the band has often settled matters with fists. “I’ve pulled over the van so people could fight. I’ve pulled over so I could fight,” Fishgutz said.

Baby Genius, the band’s drummer, said this has become a way of life on the road. “We’ve had broken noses, busted eyes, fat lips,” Genius said. “But the next day we are all good and joking around.”

While the band members call Lansing home, about three years ago the Goddamn Gallows also spent time living in Los Angeles, which is when Genius joined the group. “Before we started doing our big legs of touring, me and Fishgutz were squatting on the streets of L.A. for a long time,” Genius said. “For like a year we were homeless.”

Perhaps this is why drugs and street life is a recurring theme in the band’s lyrics. It’s not a shtick, it’s the band’s everyday life. “We write about squatting, doing drugs and hopping trains,” Genius explained. “We don’t get into politics. We keep it to everyday stuff, like time we’ve spent in different cities, different binges and addictions we’ve went through and are still going through.”

The band also prides itself on not being the typical psychobilly band. Genius said the group mixes various American roots genres into one disturbing and aggressive style.

“It’s a huge mix,” he said. “Crust, pyschobilly, rockabilly, country, bluegrass and punk rock.”

Classic said the band also avoids the obvious rockabilly clichés. “We try not to sound like everybody else,” Classic said. “We refuse to write zombie songs.”

The band, along with Avery (the band’s creepy washboard player), will begin touring again April 15, and will no doubt come home with more stories of the road.

You can catch them before they hit the road at Gutter Fest! (a psychobilly-gutter punk- blues fest) along with Al & the Black Cats (Lowell) and The Arkhams (New York). 8 8 p.m. Friday April 3, Mac’s Bar, 2700 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing. 18 , $8.