Like many good things that burn white hot, Columbus, Ohio progressive indie rock titans Six Gallery were a raging behemoth of finger tapped guitars, bone shaking rhythms and heartswelling melodies that blazed a blinding trail for a few years before eventually flaming out. Before they did, they released a handful of twinkling instrumental EPs, an influential, before-its-time full-length, titled Breakthroughs In Modern Art (via Superball Music, home of …And They Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead), and left fans in DIY venues and bars around the Midwest breathless.
It’s been nearly a decade since the band called it quits and few expected to hear from the band again…until they announced a reunion and vinyl reissue of Breakthroughs In Modern Art earlier this year. Joined by vocalist Phillip Cogley of The Saturday Giant, the band has lined up a few special appearances for Fall 2017.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Six Gallery bassist Alex Weinhardt who provided what amounts to a complete oral history of the band. This is what he told us.
Six Gallery came together while you were students at Ohio University, right? How did that happen?
Ben Schreiber and I [Alex Weinhardt] played in a band called And the Sun Went Out with Six Gallery’s original drummer, Samer [Almadini], from about 2003 to 2005 while students attending college at Ohio University. We were much more of an emo\screamo band, but this is the band that really laid the foundation for what would eventually become Six Gallery. During the summer of 2005 our singer made a decision to leave the band/school/Athens to pursue a music/acting career in L.A. It kind of came out of nowhere, and was somewhat devastating as we had really started to generate some momentum. We had done a few short tours and started to gain a steady following throughout Ohio and West Virginia and had yet to release anything proper.
At the time of our breakup, Ben had graduated and didn’t really have any reason to stay in Athens, so he moved back to Columbus to live with his parents and started working at a car wash. Samer and I still had a year or so left of school and decided to keep playing music one way or another. Samer’s roommate at the time [Will Vokac] had some songs written and Will was a fan of And the Sun Went Out. He brought the songs to Samer and they jammed a few times. Samer told me about the new project and asked if I would be interested in playing bass. We jammed a few times, and admittedly I was not into it from the beginning. It took a while for us to really find a sound/style that we all agreed on. We continued to write songs throughout the fall of 2005.
Ben came back to Athens one weekend to party/hang out/check out what we had been working on. We played the three or so songs for him and he immediately made the decision to quit his shitty job in Columbus and move back to Athens. He lived in a large closet in my house for the next nine months and worked at Pita Pit while we worked on what would end up being our first instrumental release, The Mathemequation of Scientifaction. This also solidified what would be the line-up of Six Gallery for the next three years and first two instrumental EPs.
You were originally an instrumental band. When did you decide to pursue a vocalist?
The intention from day one was that we would have a singer. In fact, when we first started we asked a roommate of ours to write some vocals over a few songs. We practiced with him once and it didn’t really work out. We tried singing ourselves for a while and came to the realization that that was not an option. We really wanted to have a vocalist, but realized that the songs stood up on their own as instrumentals. We couldn’t find anyone who fit the bill and we ourselves couldn’t do it so we just kept writing. When it came time to play our first show we were still playing under the assumption that there would eventually be vocals. It wasn’t until after we played our first few shows that we realized that maybe we don’t need to make vocals a priority. We were getting a great response and eventually put the singer thing on the back burner. It always was in the back of our minds as something that we would have liked to add, we just hadn’t yet met the person who could fill those shoes. We operated as an instrumental four-piece for about four years before we invited Dan Francis to join as our vocalist.
When did Samer leave the band?
In 2007 I think, after we had released our second instrumental EP, Prelude, and many tours out to the East Coast and throughout the Midwest, Samer decided to pursue another passion of his. He had been offered a position as a photography assistant for a very prominent photographer based out of Chicago. I remember the night Samer told us he was leaving the band to pursue this new position. It was devastating. I felt like I was re-living the ATSWO break-up and definitely said some things I shouldn’t have said. There was lots of anger and resentment…..but that quickly melted away once we could see past our own shit.
He is a great friend and fantastic drummer. We really grew up with Samer having played in And the Sun Went Out together, doing our first tours together, spending time in real recording studio’s recording for the first time….many milestones that some of us had never experienced before as musicians. One of our best friends was given the opportunity to pursue his passion, which is ultimately what we were all trying to do. Samer ended up leaving the band on good terms. He is now a VERY successful photographer who travels the world. Also, to this day is still a close friend to everyone.
Where and under what circumstances were the first EPs recorded?
Being broke college students, our options were very limited for recording options. Ohio University’s TCOMM School had just built a brand new recording studio for student use only in 2005-2006. We had a friend who was an audio production major and he had access to that studio in the spring of 2006. We spent three to four nights sneaking our gear into the studio after hours to record when no one was around. Ben had dabbled with pro-tools a little bit and with the help from a good friend, Jay Alton, we were able to produce something that was pretty decent. I am very proud of those songs and they still hold up today. The recording is a little rough around the edges but fuck it, we got that shit done fo’ freeeeeeeeeee.
Our second EP was recorded and mixed by Jay Alton at our practice space, which was a room in the basement of a storage facility in downtown Columbus. I honestly don’t remember a lot from that session….we liked to party…
When did you begin working on the LP?
Originally, the plan was to write an instrumental full length. By the time Samer left the band we had kinda sorta fully embraced the idea that maybe we would just be an instrumental band forever. We had two EPs under our belt and had started to tour more extensively in the Midwest and east coast and with the likes of Pelican, Explosions in the Sky and Russian Circles becoming popular…remaining an instrumental band seemed like a viable option.
Our second drummer, Benji [Miller], joined the band in 2007 and we started to write with him immediately. With a new member of the band and our music evolving in a different direction, we decided to take that as an opportunity to revisit the vocalist idea. We asked a few friends/musicians in the Columbus music scene to jam with us and not much came of it. By late 2008 we had another four-song instrumental EP written and recorded. We gave this material to Dan Francis, whose previous band, Pirate, had just broken up. He recorded a few lines over one of the tracks and all of us unanimously said “Fuck yes.” That was the moment we started to work on the LP.
Were you shopping labels with the LP or did your label home come to you? How did that come together?
We sent 3,000+ emails to booking agencies, record labels, management companies, PR firms….really just about anyone whose email address we could find on the internet. The subject line of the email said, “Teenage Mutant Harry Potter” and we included a download link to our album and some contact information. Mostly we didn’t receive a response from anyone….except one guy — who will remain nameless because I can’t remember who it was — who responded to tell us that he thought our music was bullshit. Buuuuuuut, he knew a guy who had a record label that he thought would totally dig us. It wasn’t long after that an email appeared in our inbox from Thomas Waber of Superball Records asking us if we would be interested in a worldwide distribution deal with his label. Once again, all of us unanimously said, “Fuck yes.”
What were the earliest tours in support of that record like?
The “before we were signed to a record label” tours were predominantly weekend warrior style. We all still had full time jobs, apartments, girlfriends, pets. We were somewhat tied down to Columbus with no real reason to dive in head first. We did a stint of like eight or nine weekends in a row in the fall of 2009 playing just about anywhere that would have us. The shows were generally not great, we partied a bunch…shit was exhausting…but those shows played a huge role in us garnering interest from a record label and learning how to function as a band on the road. It was like getting to swim in the deep end but with floaties on.
The “after we were signed to a record label” tours were tough also. We quit our jobs, left our apartments, broke up with our girlfriends or had to leave pets behind and hit the road for what was supposed to be an indefinite period of time. I think ultimately what I learned is that touring full time playing music is a tough thing to do. We did a 10 week run in the winter/spring of 2010 and I think I lost 15 pounds surviving off of handfuls of cereal, tuna sandwiches and beer. You drive 8 hours to get to a venue two hours before they open up to let you in. You eventually load your gear and the show doesn’t start for a few more hours. Then you play last or second to last on a bill of four bands sometimes to only the members of the other bands…it’s a lot of fucking waiting around to play for 30 minutes. I probably sound cynical as fuck right now about the whole thing, and believe me when I say that it was hard…but it was also the best time of my life. It’s difficult to explain but being able to throw up a big middle finger to everything you know as having been stable in your life to do the thing that you’ve been working the hardest on for most of your life is unbelievably gratifying. Even though life on the road was hard, it was the life that I had always wanted to experience and I would never trade that or do anything differently.
Eventually you split from Francis. How did that come about?
As I mentioned, life on the road is hard when you have six strong personalities crammed into a tiny van running off of little to no sleep or food and tons of booze. It’s difficult to be someone who wants/has to be in control of everything/situation and it’s tough to be around someone who wants/has to be in control…mostly because you have so little of it on the road. You’re at the mercy of your record label, booking agency, venue who is hosting you, the amount of money that’s left over each night…it’s actually difficult to control anything. You really have to be able to go with the flow and take shit as it comes. If you’re not able to do that you become a very unpleasant person to be around which is what ultimately drove us to make a decision to part ways with Dan Francis. At this point there are no hard feelings between any of us and we actually asked him to join us for our reunion. He declined due to work/tour obligations.
Then you had a second vocalist, Daniel Erb, who eventually left the band too? What that the reason for the split with Erb?
After the departure of Dan Francis, we asked Daniel Erb to join. He was another friend of ours from the local music scene and an incredibly talented vocalist. Anyone reading this who saw us perform with him on that last tour knows what I’m talking about.
We ventured out with Daniel in July or August of 2010 for, again, what was supposed to be an indefinite period of time. The shows were getting much better and everyone seemed to be in great spirits about the direction we were headed in. Looking back on it now, it’s difficult to know why Daniel made the decision to leave the band when he did. It came abruptly, about six weeks into the tour, after a house show in Athens, Ohio. We had the next day off before heading out to NYC to play a sold out show with Biffy Clyro. Daniel left after the show with his then wife who had driven down to see us from Columbus. I remember packing up the van and he asked for his gear and took off without saying goodbye to anyone, which I thought was strange, but didn’t dwell on it too much. We received an email the next day saying that he was resigning. It was the ultimate devastation and the end of the band.
Daniel Erb recently passed away. It was an abrupt and devastating blow to his friends, family and the Columbus music scene. A fundraiser has been started to help his family pay for the funeral as Daniel didn’t have any insurance. If you would like to donate, you can follow the link below:
What have you been doing since the end of Six Gallery and whose idea was it for the reunion?
We’ve all been super busy! I joined a band called Phantods and toured around for a year and half right after the SG split which was super fun. I also continued to play drums in a much heavier band called The Black Antler, which I still do. Ben joined a few local bands as a ‘hired gun’ after Six Gal split. Oh, we also play in a ‘90s era Weezer cover band that has been going on wayyyy longer than SG was a band. We still do that and it’s the most fun. Benji played in a few bands, one called Babes in Cages with Dan Francis and one called Lonesome as Gold with Daniel Erb. Neither are active anymore but he recently joined a band called Vis Vis and they rip. Will didn’t play music for a while after Six Gallery. He moved to the Cleveland area and kinda lost touch with everyone for a little while. Over the past year he started up a band called Mostly Ghosts in which he plays guitar and fronts/sings and are currently recording. So far it sounds awesome.
We had been asked numerous times by many people across the globe to get back together. In the many years since the release of Breakthroughs in Modern Art, we’ve seen our fan base grow and develop in areas of the world I never thought would be possible. There are many videos online of kids covering the guitar stylings of Will Vokac and Ben Schreiber…there’s even a few drum covers out there. A few years ago some video surfaced of a Six Gallery cover band performing in Japan…I think that one blew everyone’s mind wide open. The question had been posed many times, but the timing never felt quite right. We had all moved past Six Gallery…some of us have kids, own houses, work for corporate America…big boy stuff. It always seemed too difficult to figure out how we would make it work.
I was approached by a good friend of ours and one of the organizers of Columbus’s Independents Day Festival. We had played the first few fests back in 2007 and 2009 and he wanted to know if we would be interested in playing this year’s festival, which was to be their last. Being a huge fan of the festival and, well, maybe it was because I had a few beers in me, I thought, maybe I’ll just text Ben to see what he thinks’. I sent him a text and his response was somewhere along the lines of, “I don’t know man, I’ve got a kid and shit is crazy with work. I don’t know that I’ll have enough time to dedicate to this.” To which I thought, ‘oh well, maybe we’ll do this someday’. I was in the midst of texting back my friend who had asked us to play to politely decline when I received a second text from Ben that said, “ah fuck it, let’s do this.” I then reached out to Will and Benji and everyone was on board! Or course there was the question of who would sing for us. We reached out to both Dan and Daniel and both declined our offer.
So there is this guy who has been in the Columbus music scene since I can remember finding out what the Columbus music scene was. He’s from the same hometown as myself and Ben and he’s become a very close friend over the years – Ben and I have played in the Weezer tribute band with him for about 10 years. We all agreed that we should ask him to take on the vocal duties for the reunion. I texted him to gauge his interest in joining the band and his immediate response was, “duh.” Oh, his name is Phil Cogley and he’s the real deal.
With the reunion comes a vinyl release of the LP, right?
You betcha! Pre-sales are going on now at https://sixgallery.bandcamp.com/
(Six Gallery performs with The 1984 Draft, Novagold at Blind Bob’s in Dayton, Ohio on Saturday, September 9.)