"I knew I had to do it now, or I was going to go another year or see another birthday without putting my music out, and I can’t live with that."
John Gallagher Jr. is best known for his Tony Award-winning performance as Moritz in the Broadway hit Spring Awakening. He’s made his mark in theater, film, and television, having starred in the Green Day-inspired musical American Idiot, the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge, and he gained fame as Jim Harper in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. Next year he’ll return to the Broadway stage, starring alongside American Horror Story‘s Jessica Lange the highly anticipated production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. But Gallagher’s primary passion, no matter what creative field he’s dabbling in, has always been music.
Today, Gallagher, whose music stage name is Johnny Gallagher, announces he’s releasing his debut album, Six Day Hurricane, on Jan. 15, 2016 via Rockwood Music Hall Recordings and EW has your exclusive first listen of the single “Two Fists Full,” now available for download on SoundCloud.
“[Music] is definitely important to me, no matter how busy I get with the acting,” he tells EW. “If I’m not out there playing music and writing music, it definitely leaves me feeling less inspired. “I’m excited to put the record out and to actually get up and do some shows. You put the record out the next thing you want to do is have everyone come hear it live, which is one of the best parts.”
Hear “Two Fists Full” and more from Gallagher below.
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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This album was a long time in the making in a lot of ways.
JOHN GALLAGHER, JR: It’s been done for a while and it was just a matter of time. Because I was doing The Newsroom for the last three years, I would get kind of busy with that for six or seven months at first, and then I would have half of the year off. By the time I got back to New York and recovered from filming, I was taking a little bit of time off, and I was like, “This is it! I’m going to set aside time, I’m going to figure out how to put out my record.” Then, inevitably, I just kept kind of pushing it back and pushing it back. I’m doing a play in the springtime here in New York and I was like, “Once you start doing rehearsals for that play in New York, you know you’re not going to be trying to put this record out.” So I knew I had to do it now, or I was going to go another year or see another birthday without putting my music out, and I can’t live with that.
You’ve been writing songs and playing guitar since you were a teenager. How do you think your musical style has changed and evolved over the years?
It changed a lot. At this moment in time, it’s really going to be the first time that a lot of people are even hearing any original music [from me]. I have 60-something original songs probably, so I could’ve probably just done a triple or quadruple record if I wanted to. [Laughs] But definitely, my music had changed, and you’re absolutely right — I’ve drawn on inspiration from just about everywhere, and certainly working on the different musicals — hanging out with the guys in Green Day, getting to know Billy Joe Armstrong when I was working on American Idiot. He turned me on to so many great records that I had never heard before.
This record in particular was the first time I had played a lot of my songs with a band, and that was very informative. I had been playing solo acoustic shows, so I was writing a lot of music just to be played on a guitar. And I was writing more ballads and songs that were a bit more delicate, that were really catered to be played by the one man band singer-songwriter-acoustic template. When we put the band together for this album and we played a show, we didn’t even know we were going to make a record. Basically I really wanted to play a show with a band. I had missed it. So my good friend Thad [DeBrock] played guitar with me for years and also produced the record, he was incredibly instrumental in the whole process but he helped put this band together. From one of the first times that I brought one of my songs to them and I said “Okay, here’s what I hear in my head,” they were able to bring it to life completely, and then some, and then add their own flair and flourish to it. That was very mind-blowing, and I started to realize that these songs can be opened up, I can allow them to change and evolve a little bit naturally just by playing with other musicians.
What were some of your musical inspirations when you were putting this together?
It was kind of all over the place, in a great way. A lot of the songs on the record were vintage by the time we got around to recording them. Some of them were five, six, seven years old. There were songs that were brand new, that had only been written this year.
We played this gig in New York, at the Bowery Electric, and said, “Let’s just learn 10 songs for a short cool set,” and we just went through this very rambling list of original songs that I had. And Thad and I just kind of picked ones and went, “Oh, this might sound cool with a band, that might sound cool with a band.” We weren’t even thinking about sequencing a record, but we played the gig and it went over so well that when it came time to make the record, we said, “Well let’s just pick those songs we’ll record them and then we’ll figure out an organic order and hope that it works.”
The stuff that I was listening to the most when we recorded it was Wilco, who I’ve always loved. I was in Los Angeles right before we recorded it and I was driving around a lot had I had two CDs in my car. One was of Wilco, like, from their whole discography that I had made myself. They put this record out a few years ago called The Whole Love and I was listening to a lot of that, and one of the things I really just love about them is that they have a total refusal to get locked down into one kind of particular musical style. They’re all over the map. That’s cool, that’s very exciting to me, when a band or musician is trying to be all over the map and that’s something that excited me about this record: that we could have different kind of things and different kind of styles. And the other record I was listening to a lot was a record by Paul Collins. He was originally in a band called The Nerves, and then he was in The Beat. He has this amazing record that’s just called The Beat and it’s really him out of 1978, and for my money, it’s one of the catchiest records ever made.I was alternating listening to that and the Wilco mix before we went into the recording process. I remember in particular listening to those a lot in my car and thinking, “This would be an interesting template for a record.”
The album has such a broad style. It’s so inclusive, there’s a little bit of everything mixed in there.
My instinct is to be more overly nitpicky about it, because we really only made the record in a week. We threw these songs down and halfway through the recording process I remember thinking, “Did we pick the right songs? Is this going to fit together? Is this going to make any sense?” It’s a bit of a genre-hopping record, but not on purpose. It was just this thing that kind of happened naturally. Luckily, just by getting the band together in the way where we were all talking to each other musically, we made something that does have that natural flow to it.
You’ve been involved in some life-changing things, creatively, in the past few years: Spring Awakening, American Idiot, The Newsroom. What would you categorize as being the biggest life changing moment you’ve had that’s related to your music career?
When we started working on the musical American Idiot — getting to hang around and observe a real rock band and get to know those guys [Green Day], and see this band that had been proving themselves over and over again with multiple world tours and millions of records sold, and here they were, trying this new thing, working with their past to make a musical out of it — there’s something really inspiring about that. And being asked to join that — they invited us to sing on the Grammys with them and we made the cast album with them and I hadn’t really been focusing on my music that much at the time. It definitely kick started it back up for me, being back around that environment with true musicians and songwriters and getting connected back into that energy. I started buying more records again and it really felt like a new burst of energy and appreciation for music, and that kind of reignited the fuel for me to shift musically. That kind of carried me on for the next two years.
What’s your favorite track on the album?
I never really feel satisfied. But this record was cool for me because it changed that for me. The first time that we got it all mixed and mastered and I listened to the whole thing, I thought we got it, it all worked. One that really got to me when I heard it was “Dangerous Strangers,” which is probably the loudest, most aggressive song on the record. But the arrangement on that is one of my favorites and so much of that was Thad, who shared the guitar duties with me. We both traded off on guitars for the whole recording process, he took that song and really turned it into a real event.