With a name that evokes classic notions of taste style, you might initially think of The Gallerist as something pretentious or esoteric – art school dropouts more concerned with presentation and aesthetics than the actual music. Well, you might think these things if you’re particularly judgmental about band names.
Nothing about this trio of Philadelphia musicians actually reeks of ostentatiousness, though. In fact, on this somewhat quiet Tuesday evening at Ortlieb’s in Northern Liberties, they’re the only people in the bar still talking about the heart-wrenching removal of the US Men’s National Team from this year’s World Cup. Talking about it with a distanced reverence for the team’s accomplishments (particularly goalkeeper Tim Howard, whose considerable talents are now meme boilerplate), the conversation goes towards local sports very quickly. These are men who would sit comfortably in a number of crowds, and their music – a spirited take on familiar Americana and folk tropes – does much of the same.
Maybe you saw them open for some other local artist like Ron Gallo at a place like Tin Angel or Fergie’s, playing one-off gigs with just frontman/guitarist Mike Collins. Or perhaps you were lucky enough to see them open for the quickly-ascendant English singer-songwriter Laura Marling at the historic Prince Music Theater last year. Either way, their driving hooks, deft harmonies, and impassioned lyrics stayed with you well after the performance. On their new self-released EP Twine, which is officially released on Tuesday, July 15th, (and which initially gets offered to the public tomorrow at an album release show at the Bourbon & Branch), the band presents their clearest manifesto yet: five songs, each more instantaneously catchy than the last. The Key’s Skye Leppo wasn’t kidding when she said that The Gallerist “may just be one of the Philadelphia folk scene’s best kept secrets”, and we suspect that they won’t stay in the shadows much longer.
But right now, Collins and his bandmates – bassist Kai Carter and drummer John Holback – are understandably shrouded in some misconceptions about who they are. This is probably thanks to their name, which has made some people think they’re a one-person act. To be fair, the band name is in the singular, which dates back to the project’s origins as Collins’s solo vehicle in 2011. He still plays some solo acoustic shows, like last night’s at the Tin Angel, as The Gallerist.
“If you think about somebody who owns a gallery or frequents galleries…they really like bringing things together into one place. I liked the concept of someone collecting different things…experiencing different things, collecting experiences,” he explains. The 29-year-old New Jersey native started performing as The Gallerist while living in Boston, where he released the gorgeous A Falling Waltz EP in 2011 as well. When he moved to Philadelphia later that same year for graduate school, he chose to keep the name while looking for other members. Holback came to Collins’s attention via a Craigslist search for a drummer and bassist, while Carter came to their collective attention via his own Craigslist ad nearly a year later. Collins and the 31-year-old Carter played a few shows together as a duo while Holback, 26, was serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the Midwest; when he returned, they began playing as a trio and building a slow buzz for their evocative songs and tight musicianship.
The happenstance way in which these three musicians came together is fairly indicative of how a lot of local bands start, but few sustain their chemistry for this long a period of time; one gets the sense, when spending time with them, that their chemistry is completely natural and consolidated over a dedication to craft. This carries over into how they create music, and the collaborative dynamic is important to all of them.
“I’m not making all the decisions in this group. There are sounding boards, and we all discuss what’s going on collectively,” says Collins.
“The Gallerist was a huge transition for me,” adds Carter. “I moved out to Philly and left my previous gig playing for a solo artist, where I got told what to do. I got really burned out on being in some guy’s band and being a hired gun. To be a member of a band, writing harmonies and arranging with Mike. To have more creativity was good for me.” Continue reading →