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Galaxy’s Stu Callinan: “I sometimes feel like a passenger when I write so I’ve just got to keep letting it all come out and capture it…”

Interview with Stu Callinan & Phillip T. King from Galaxy
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 08 December 2021, 9:55 PM

Think about a reel, a kind of reel that shows you every bit of your life, from the point of birth until present, and even showing you a glimpse of possibilities of what the future holds. In a way, yes, it sounds creepy, but no less interesting. Sitting there, in the best seats in the house, it gets you to think of what you did and what you didn’t, an endless contemplation, never to be resolved. The Australian Galaxy, orchestrated a general reel of life, twisting and turning, served under the title, "On the Shore of Life", inviting you to taste the sound, the atmosphere and more. Steinmetal talked to both songwriters, Stu Callinan and Phillip T. King about how things went along while this journey was created.
 

Hello guys, it is a pleasure of mine to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing?

Stu: Hey man thanks for hitting us up, we’re more than keen to chat all things Galaxy with you. I’ve been well thanks, plenty going on as always, other than the ‘normal’ part of our lives… the album just being released, packing orders, interviews, radio interviews.. all the good stuff mate. Over 2 years of hard work and navigating our way through plenty of obstacles has us at this point, which we finally get to sit back a little and enjoy finally having the album out!

Down under there appears to be a lot going on, pandemic wise, was the country reopened after rather long lockdowns? In overall, did this entire situation with Covid have a number on you mentally?

Stu: Yeah it has been a mess down here, but when looking at numbers and what not we have had a fairly low to minimal death percentage/ratio, so who knows? I’ve tried to stay out of it all as much as possible, you can ignore the news but some people just only want to talk about it and share their uneducated ramblings with you for which I return with minimal output because all I know about is music and food really haha.

Though for me, I was in a rather fortunate position where as I could maintain employment and with quieter weekends indoors, I’m happy with my guitar in a dark room so it suited me quite well to be honest. I enjoy my own (and my immediate family's company) so if everything was ok under the roof, everything was ok. Sure there was some confusion, frenzy and borderline chaos outside of our four walls… but I just kept my head down and focussed on the things that kept me in a positive state of mind and worked solely on things that I could control. I believe Victoria was the most locked down state in the world, towards the end of one the last lengthy lockdowns my family moved to the coast out of Melbourne which took the edge off the battlefield that I felt was in the inner north of Melbourne at times haha.

Looking into a bright future, at least you also have Galaxy as part of your life and there is much to celebrate with your debut album "On the Shore of Life". But first things first, since the band is more or less underground, what can you tell is the main idea that leads Galaxy? On the basis of what it was founded?

Stu: Galaxy, like most of my projects, is founded on audible or environmental inspiration. Often I'll dig a record that much that I go, “geez I want to do that” and then off I go. It’s funny when I tell people the initial spark that lit the Galaxy flame was when I was walking through the city of Melbourne with the (at the time) latest Darkthrone record in my ears, ‘Arctic Thunder’. It just had, and still does something special that really kicked me into gear creatively, some ‘Kill ‘em All’ riffage with the more modern heavy metal Darkthrone leanings, sign me up.

My wife and I were expecting our first child, so on one of our final weekends away together out into a forest we rented an isolated place and within 48 hours I wrote the bulk of the material from our EP ‘Lost From the Start’. I never thought th at a writing session would lead us to where we are now, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Even with you guys being part of a fairly big Metal scene, which has been a great ground for fine exports along the years, you signed with a German label, Dying Victims Productions, for the release of your debut. How do you find this signing as a strong interest of the Galaxy camp? What are your expectations from this move of yours?

Phil: The main idea behind wanting to be with Dying Victims is that we wanted to be with a Euro based label. The kind of music Galaxy makes just has a better home in Europe and even the US…and pressing our albums and distributing from Australia was just not possible. We’re fans of DVP as a label as we love the variety that Florian has on the roster, so the expectation is that fans of all different sub-genres of metal could hear Galaxy and maybe find something to like!

Diving into "On the Shore of Life", I have to admit that I was perplexed by the title, also while looking at the artwork, which is no less than a psychedelic feature on its own. What do you intend to address with this phrase? Is this a sort of clinging to life in your view?

Phil: The metaphorical meaning of the title is that standing on the shore of life, is those moments where you step back and look at the whole thing, at your whole existence or the existence of all people. And you are standing there as if on a shore, where people are coming and going, and at any time you don’t know which direction you are heading in your journey, from birth to life to death. It might sound morbid but it is meant to be thoughtful; and even triumphant, that you can step back and behold the entirety of it all.

About the artwork, as I was saying, it is old school driven, immensely artistic and quite mysterious on its own accord. I felt as if I was deep into a valley of symbols that I couldn’t comprehend. What can you tell about this artistry? How do you perceive it?

Phil: So the cover is a representation of the above answer… basically a kind of sci-fi ocean-scape to represent standing and gazing at existence and your place in time and space. There’s a clock on one of the floating rocks, and the vortex in the center of the water kind of represents the beyond, the mysterious parts beyond our understanding. Waiting there in the center of the water, so when sailing you might not know when you may come across these unexpected things in life.

If the title of the album has its enigmatic features, the tracklist appears to have more secrets than answers, like savouring everything for free interpretations. Nonetheless, help me out here please, what can you tell that is the main narrative on this album, which is a combination of the songs altogether?

Phil: The main lyrical concern for Galaxy is travel, both physical and mental. The “journey of life” as they say. I’m a sci-fi fan and that comes through in parts, but mainly I am concerned with life and death and the concept of time; how humans react to the passage of time. So that continues to be the main drive on this album,  though I would not call it a continuous narrative, or one story all through. It’s more like a series of short stories or vignettes. Observations about life and death, challenges and triumphs.

Musically, when it comes to "On the Shore of Life" it is kind of deceptive, for the better. Galaxy attacks on several fronts, rounding up old school Heavy Metal, entangling with progression and vintage Hard Rock, but also with enough swagger to charge up Speed Metal. In a way, quite adventurous and leading to fine obscurity. How do you relate to this massive fusion on the record?

Stu: I guess with ‘Lost’, we didn’t really have ‘our’ true sound yet. I didn’t know at the time how it was all going to turn out, I think at one point I was going to do a harsh vocal on the tracks but the more I listened to the demo’s, it was more melodic than I had thought and the tracks would benefit from a clean vocalist. Here Phil came on board and completely gave Galaxy an identity, whilst turning my tracks into actual songs.

So that leads us to ‘Shore’ which I believe is our true sound. I wrote those songs with Phil in mind, but at the same time I’m told I don’t give him much melodically to work with. Supposedly I love writing songs in chromatic minor, I don’t know what that is but I think it makes things difficult for the lad haha.

‘Fine obscurity’, I’ll take that! Music needs to be interesting, my ears prick up as a listener to the odd and strange sounds and sections. I love strange accents and curveballs, even if they don’t always work I’m entertained by them. I like that Galaxy is difficult to put into a box, I try to write without rules but of course there needs to be some structure to form a complete song, especially when melodic vocals are accompanying the instruments. Progressive technical death metal on the other hand can be free flowing riff after riff with not one repeating, Phil likes a verse and a chorus and we both love a bridge so here we have Galaxy haha.

In your view, what were the chief elements that led you during the songwriting process of the record? Which aspects helped you see things differently or perhaps aided you to find new possibilities as the record was in the works?

Stu: When I write, the process seems to happen organically and as lame as it kind of sounds, it’s my job to keep up with myself to capture all of the material as it happens. I generally write really quick and in a bulk lot, so a lot of work goes into that early stage of capturing those sounds and then mapping some demo drums to get all of my ideas out and laid down. I definitely wanted a more dynamic record, and a heavier one this time around. By heavier I don’t mean faster, maybe darker. As my family listens to Sabbath a lot, I don’t think there are any overly Sabbath inspired riffage on the record but maybe some of their spirit at times. Both ‘Firelight Palaver’ and ‘We Enter the Door of Death Alone’ choruses possibly for example.

I don’t know what inspired me to write the music for a ballad? Accidental noodling on an acoustic, phone recordings to jot my memory then soon to result in one of the coolest songs I’ve ever written, speaking of even before Phil got to lay his vocals and lyrics down which took it up to what we believe is a belter haha. Writing with Phil in mind clearly led to this creative opportunity to make that song work, which would have never appeared on ‘Lost’ for example.

Within your musical exploration on "On the Shore of Life", you were able to find that atmospheric halo for some of the songs, a kind of element that wasn’t expected at all. Do you find this atmospheric nature as a catalyst on the songs it features? How did it integrate with heavier edges of your writing?

Stu: We found that out early listening back to our pre production demos, it was also quite unexpected for us too. Certain sections really excelled in the atmospheric/epic kind of vibe that we didn’t know we really had in us to be honest. I’ve not had a guitar lesson or really any musical training but one day in the writing period of the album I started experimenting with some different chord shapes that feature quite often throughout the album. Fuller, rounder and bigger shapes with a dark edge, Phil would know how to explain them in musical theory but I can’t haha but I think those shapes and some extra guitar melodies on top really spread out the instrumentation, and Phil’s carefully selected vocal melodies and lyrics also edge toward that atmospheric realm that Galaxy hadn’t really touched on before.

Phil: It’s cool that you pick up on the atmosphere and the epic side of things, I think Stu really excels at that, with the big riffs (sometimes coming in so damn slow and heavy) they really made some of these songs sound huge, which inspired me to try and write equally huge lyrics and choruses!

We talked about the songwriting process and the brainstorming, yet within this creative process there is a learning patch, or phase. How would you say that the songwriting of the record enhanced your abilities to write songs and your approach towards what is important to you in a song?

Stu: I guess just learning to trust yourself, and not to get caught up in what ‘should’ happen next in a song but just feel free within it. Phil was more hands on this time in some of the arrangements so there was a learning patch in there for me to let go a bit and trust him on his ear too. Phil is more experienced in traditional heavy metal than I, I come from the more extreme spectrum of metal so we meet in the middle often really well. He would often say ‘Stu, tone down the Voivod influence here mate’ haha and I’d always listen, imagine Halford singing over Piggy’s riffs? I’d probably still dig it haha. In terms of abilities being enhanced / songwriting importance I don’t really know man, I don’t put too much thought into what I do. I feel that if I start thinking and analyzing what I do, it would work negatively for me. I think with each song I grow, maybe regress a little at times too but with a continued charge forward, it’s almost all I do in my spare time, other than my family, songwriting is what makes me get out of bed, it makes me tick, my wheels turn.

Following the atmospheric nature in partial, there are the heavier mood swings surrounding the songs, some leading to quite interesting outcomes that are unexpected. In your view, didn’t you find yourself wrestling with whether it was important to maintain a flow within each of the songs although you wanted to keep exploring?

Stu: Explore, explore, explore. What is on the record is a little watered down than what once was. Phil was good at serving the song, again with the arrangement that comes with removing some riffs and making the song a more coherent piece. So from my point of view I’d have many twists and turns but they most likely didn’t always serve the song, so Phil as a songwriter himself (see ‘Flitcraft - Our Long Journey to the Middle’ coming out soon) and from a vocalist’s angle, he made the songs so much better from some of my initial sketches in my opinion.

Phil: This is something that I think might make the “Galaxy sound” if there is one, haha. It’s Stu pushing with some weird riffs and throwing in strange changes, and me trying to somehow smooth it out so a classic rock or metal fan could dig it?! Who knows if it works or not haha.

Since it was quite a tough year in Australia, I bet that it wasn’t that easy to make "On the Shore of Life" a reality as planned. What were the challenges that stood in your way in order to achieve the new record? If there were, how did you tackle them head on?

Phil: We have our health and the safety of our friends and families to be thankful for, so with that aside everything was a damn nightmare haha. Everything took longer, was harder to book, schedule, you name it. Nothing went to plan. Basically all we could do was persevere and keep trying, and fortunately being able to do most of it in separate studios, and working with Simon Phillips on drums via correspondence, that all got us through.

Stu and I have a good partnership so when we were struggling at least we could share the workload and keep each other motivated. So basically team work and having supportive families got us there.

The closing track, “We Enter the Door of Death Alone”, is an amazing example of the unexpected character of the album, twisted into a fine form that ended up as a jewel. The buildup of this track is immaculate. What can you tell about this particular track and it’s creative process?

Stu: Firstly thank you for the kind words there man, cheers. That was the second song written for the album, with the first being ‘Valentine’. When we completed the full demo for ‘We Enter..’, listening back to the track for the first time we really felt that song was truly what Galaxy was all about. The pinnacle you might say. At that time we didn’t know Simon Phillips would be laying down drums for the album, and to me, the way he plays that intro, that simple beat but played in that Simon Phillips fashion truly takes it all to another level. I believe there is a fairly Metallica feel to this track, even though the verses and chorus sound nothing like them, a lot of my writing is inspired by Cliff Burton, melodically speaking. The single guitar intro, to the instrumental section with the winding guitars, and even using the neck pickup to try and get that Cliff bass solo sound. Again, my writing happens quite organically, there are no charts, I don’t plan anything out so that bridge and lead section just kind of occurred on it’s own, I sometimes feel like a passenger when I write so I’ve just got to keep letting it all come out and capture it. I remember sending the music to Phil and I think he added another verse in or extended a verse section, but when he sent his vocal demo back I was blown away. I hope it doesn’t sound like we’re pumping our own tyres up here but I suppose if you don’t dig your own music then what’s even the point haha.

One of the starlet tracks, and one that I found spiritual, is “Gemini”. It felt mystic right from the get go, touching that King Diamond effect but with a lot more for the listener to think about. It is a heavier piece, sounding classic, yet embracing with patches of grey. What is your take on this track?

Stu:  I really dig that intro, which got added after the body of the song was written. It was going to be the opener on the album but we didn’t think that main riff took it right out of the gates so we added in an intro. I think I wrote that as it is now, sent it to Phil, he gave it the tick and that was that. It has a Dream Theatre vibe about it or something for me, I like the loosely titled ‘lead’ guitar notes tangling in with the rhythms there to create that atmosphere of the unknown or the like. Initially the demo drums had this track rather jagged, it was harsh and sharp and we weren’t fully sold on it. Simon sent his drums back and we couldn’t believe how much a song could be improved from a drummer's interpretation but he smoothed out all the inconsistencies and just made it sound killer haha.

I’ve never heard a thrash beat played on a snare but he made that so interesting and such a point of difference that I just love it. I feel the outro section is one of those atmospheric / epic passages you spoke of early, Phil’s vocal and lyric here is so good. We’ve always rated ‘Gemini’ highly and we are stoked you took a mystic, spiritual feel away from the song.

When you listened to the record in full, what did it make you feel? In what journey did it take thought pattern wise?

Stu: It was a very thought out track order, many alterations and attempts to shake it up but Phil is big on keys of songs, tempos and time signatures so we always came back to where it stands now. There are some bold moves on there, a ballad on side A from a band who sounded like a speed metal band previously for example haha… and an a cappella track!!

When the album got released and I listened to it in full, I honestly feel proud and accomplished. It was a long and hard road to get this album out and released during a global pandemic, but we did it. I still listen to ‘Valentine’, the first track written for the album well over 2 years ago and I still back it man. I think ‘Shore’ will hopefully age well and we hope people keep discovering it, but yeah, I can drive my car, window down and still nod my head to the bridge riff in ‘Bargaining’ so at least there are some of us that’s stoked on the album haha. Musicians are lying when they say they don’t listen to their own works occasionally!

I noticed that the Galaxy lineup is more or less yourself and Phillip, therefore, are there plans to return to become a live unit anytime soon?

Stu: Right now, my passion lies within the creation element of music, writing, recording and all that goes along with it rather than the stage performance. The pandemic made us all step back from the stage and to be honest I haven’t missed it too much. My family have moved an hour and a half from the city too so it makes things a little more difficult too in a geographical sense so for the moment we are on hold from the stage I would say, but we will never say never. Some of these songs would go down a treat I reckon on stage with an audience participating nearly as much as us so we will certainly not fully close that door for the future.

Guys, thank you for your time for this interview. Also, thank you for producing such a challenging piece of old school twists. All the best

Stu: Thanks for the thoughtful questions Lior, it’s been a blast digging a bit deeper into things rather than the usual questions. Thanks for putting your time (including listening time) into Galaxy and for the folk reading this please share the record with a mate and spread the Galaxy word. Cheers

Phil: Thanks for your support Lior, I found a lot of great music through Metal Temple as a young Metalhead so it’s a real pleasure to be featured here and hopefully give you guys some cool content as well. Cheers and all the best.


 



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