INTERVIEW: Phranque Gallo of Karabas Barabas Chats About The Band’s Third Album “Degenerate National Anthem”
Music Director Tom Gallo recently had the chance to catch up with Phranque Gallo of Brooklyn experimental rock act Karabas Barabas. We know what you’re thinking – yes, they have the same last name! They’re not brothers, but they may be cousins?!? These two Gallos already hashed that out on Tom’s show, Look At My Records!, last summer, so the below interview is all about the band and their tunes. You can check out that episode via Megaphone if you’re at all curious about their potential blood relation.
Tell us a little bit about your background as a musician.
I put out my first full-length album at 15 and since then made somewhere around 30 more of them. Although I love playing shows I’m a bit of a studio rat.. about half of my releases are me futzing around in my home studio, the rest were made with my friends-engineers-co-producers Max Caselnova, Dean Jones, and Steve Albini (+his crew).
As far as a writing partner I’ve had only one, Mr. Andrew Tuzhilin. We’ve just finished our seventh album for kids (Avocado) and third full-length Karabas Barabas lp (Degenerate National Anthem). It’s been a weird and unexpected journey from making rock records in high school and college, to full-time kids music for our entire 20’s and now the last 4 years making unapologetic absurd records at Electrical Audio.
How’d Karabas Barabas start?
We were toying with starting Karabas since 2009 and even played 3 shows in 2011 and released a one-track demo, but the timing wasn’t right so we put it on the back burner. When Rolie Polie Guacamole switched drummers in 2015 we started playing with Josh Davis (Starlight Girls, New York Gremmies) and while rehearsing kids songs played some of the early KB stuff. We soon found ourselves writing more for Karabas and less for RPG we were in need of a rest from the Kindie thing. By January 2016 we had recorded a demo ep with Dean Jones and played our first gig. A few months later we found ourselves recording the debut lp at Electrical Audio in Chicago with the great sonic commander Steve Albini at the helm.
How would you describe your sound? Who are your primary influences?
We love Primus & Ween which are probably two of our biggest influences. As we’re all children of the 90’s there’s a bit of Nirvana, RHCP, South Park, and Rage Against the Machine deep in our subconscious. After recording with Steve & Bob Weston I delved deeper into Shellac. Their tone and ability to stay fresh over a 20 year period is truly inspiring. When people ask us what kind of music we play its hard for us to pin down a style, so we usually say rock or alt-rock. A lot of people compare us to Mr. Bungle / Mike Patton.
You’re a children’s musician by day. Do you ever find that part of your work as an artist influencing/bleeding into some aspects of Karabas Barabas?
In a way. Kids music gave us a lot of practice playing and writing together. Without 10 years and thousands of shows, Karabas wouldn’t been so weird, fun, and pure, because nothing is more humbling than playing for an audience who shits their pants. A lot of the KB songs are inside jokes or things we come up with while on tour with RPG. At first, we hid behind masks as to not offend parents, but after 4 years we’ve grown bold enough to make a record with shit on the cover and in nearly every song. And for the first time our faces are clearly visible on the back standing on the grassy knoll admitting once and for all that we were the ones who pulled the trigger on JFK.
This is the third album in which you worked with legendary recording engineer Steve Albini. What’s it like working with him and how has he influenced your recorded output?
Steve is to the point and is a total professional. It’s always a pleasure working with him, his knowledge and precision of the craft is bar none. It’s hard not to pick his brain – he’s seen it all and knows it most. Since working in Chicago, it majorly changed my guitar set up. After playing out of a Hiwatt custom 100 and using Steve’s Veleno, EGC, and Travis Bean, I switched from a fender combo and Rickenbacker to a small Hiwatt & ordered a new EGC-Bean.
We love working at Electrical Audio. It’s like making a record in Disney World and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame all at once. The upstairs is littered with rock artifacts from the last 30 years. Sleeping in the studio, waking up to coffee with Todd Trainer (who’s in town for Shellac practice), knowing the Breeders were there the week before, and Ty Segall will be there the week after helps you be on your A-game. The entire crew Greg, Taylor, Gregoier, and JSP are a big part of its draw. We fuckin love those guys. Knowing such a magical place exists keeps us wanting to have a new batch of songs ready to go every year.
How would you compare this album to your previous releases?
Our first two records are more cohesive rock records, DNA is a bit less of a rock and more in the Ween realm. The songs span rock, country, Russian dinner music, new wave, punk, jazz, with some Roy Orbison vibes thrown in. The degenerate stories each have their own vibe but they are held together by their absurdity and the Electrical Audio sound. What was very different about it was unlike the first one (where we tracked everything in Chicago and kept production to the minimum), we were instead able to have our phantom band member Dean Jones work on it. Greg Norman flew over the tracks to digital which allowed us to add all the bells and whistles that DNA called for. Then when it was ready, Greg put it back on the tape for Steve to mix.
Like Return of the Sexy Demon, we had Bob Weston master it. Bob has a very holistic mastering style that compliments Steve’s mix. This was the first time we had time to do an attended session at Chicago Mastering Service, which is like a space ship inside a pyramid. If you’re not familiar with Egyptian revival architecture of the 1920s, its worth a little google/youtube burrowing.
Who are some current Brooklyn based bands/artists that you’d recommend to Radio Free Brooklyn listeners?
There are so many good bands right now that this question could be an article on its own so we’ll keep it to three.
AshJesus – Emily is a star, her voice… buy stock in them now if you can. She’s like an A list pop star in a great rock band.
Def. GRLS are our all-time favorites and their new tunes are killerrrrrr!
Butthole University is my spirit animal.
What does the band have planned for the rest of the year?
We’ll be playing select dates in support of the album and making lots of videos.
Don’t miss the official Degenerate National Anthem release show on Wednesday, February 19th at Our Wicked Lady with Def.GRLS, V0id Boys, and Emerson & Her Clammy Hands!
You can pre-order the Degenerate National Anthem via Bandcamp.