“I’ve always considered myself primarily a songwriter” says Pete Galub, who also sings and plays guitar. For nearly two decades Galub has been a force in New York’s vast underground music scene. He started gigging at the tender age of 15, performing in CBGB’s and other NYC clubs. Over the years he’s played in numerous bands and shared the stage with Gillian Welch and Liz Phair among others. But as he insists, Galub is a songwriter above all else. He cites a diverse range of musical influences from the likes of Thelonius Monk to 60s and 80s melodic guitar pop music a la the Byrds, Big Star, and the Chills, as well as folk/country tunesmiths like the Louvin Brothers and Michael Hurley, and raw punk groups like Wire and the Undertones. Decades of experience and an eclectic taste in music have certainly made their mark on his songwriting, which embraces both the catchy and the quirky. As he puts it, “I love catchy melodies and great songs. I love dissonance. I love experimentation and growth and try to integrate improvisation, noise, and other things into live performances of the pop songs I write. Sometimes they’re an absolute train wreck, sometimes they’re the most gratifying moments of my life.”
Galub’s most recent project Pete Galub & The Annuals is a three piece rock band. Admittedly, rock is a fairly generic term. Pete Galub & The Annuals are anything but generic, but it’s the only term broad enough to encompass their unique blend of power pop, punk, blues, and country. In addition to Galub (guitar, lead vocals) the trio feature features Tom Gavin (bass, vocals) and Chris Moore (drums, vocals). Like Galub, both are prolific songwriters and seasoned veterans who’ve been performing for years. The result is a band with superb chemistry and a superior sense of song. One critic describes it as “Lou Reed meets Leonard Cohen meets Neil Young” and that’s not a bad comparison because like Reed, Cohen, or Young, Pete Galub & The Annuals play well crafted songs that could have been written forty years ago or yesterday or twenty years from now. They have an appeal that transcends trendy.
Galub’s latest album, Boy Gone Wrong, released in 2003 and featuring The Annuals on most tracks, is nothing short of a subtle masterpiece—subtle because it lack bells and whistles and, if listened to inattentively, might seem straightforward, even bland, but give it a closer listen and you’ll be hooked. From “Hidden Crumbs,” the mellow country-inflected first track, through “Serving Spoon,” the energetic and slightly bitter final cut, the album has impeccable flow. The lyrics are captivating and the songwriting is in a league of its own, each track arranged with deceptive intricacy. Critic Geraint Jones puts it well when he asserts that “Galub’s songs could just as easily be described as bleakly harrowing as they could blackly humorous, depending on your interpretation.”
Galub is currently at work on a new album, Weird Space, which is due out in early 2010. Although Weird Space is technically a solo release, it features The Annuals heavily and Galub considers the band vibe to be prominent on the album. This is certainly true of A-side “Reacquaintance,” an energetic rock song which features both Moore and Gavin.
“Reacquaintance” is only a three chord song but it doesn’t sound so simple thanks to Galub’s unconventional voicings and brilliant arranging job. The recording begins with a richly swept guitar but during the verses Galub steps back and lets Gavin’s hypnotic bass line anchor it down. Moore’s choice to lay off the cymbals, along with Galub’s palm muted guitar, create suspense during the chorus and help to distinguish it from the verse. The falsetto vocal line at the end of the chorus provides a nice hook while Galub’s guitar solo is another interesting touch, starting off bluely but quickly devolving into a noisy mess. The lyrics are a little hard to make out over the ruckus but, as with all of Galub’s lyrics, they’re worth a close listen. The imagery is fresh. Galub never says exactly what you’d expect him to say, but instead opts for unconventional but evocative metaphors.
“For 500 midnights, I wore your clothes
Referring to people nobody knows
Their green eyes grasping for some kind of feeling
Like amputee spiders stuck on the ceiling”
“Reacquaintance” ends on a strange note—literally—after the final chorus the band escalates to a fourth chord (oh my!) and completely falls apart. A fitting conclusion given the lyrics that precede it, “I have to go, my ride is waiting… Alone.” And indeed, each member of the band wanders off in his own direction… alone.
“Reacquaintance” is fairly indicative of Galub’s recent work. Not true of B-side “Ransom” which is the only track on Boy Gone Wrong without bass and drums. Galub explains “it’s a totally different vibe and I always liked that aspect of singles. It shows (hopefully) another side of my writing, that’s a little more introspective and intimate.” Indeed it does, and it’s probably my favorite cut off of the album. It’s one thing to make a song shine with a band behind it, but to pull off such a sparse arrangement is an absolutely remarkable achievement. This song is so good that it doesn’t need a band. The stripped down mix exposes it in unadulterated glory. Vocals are at the front of the mix, accompanied throughout most of the recording only by a softly strummed acoustic guitar. A few soft electronics creep in, but they just add a bit of color.
Galub’s voice isn’t exactly beautiful but it’s saturated with intensity. Those high notes push the limit of his range but his obvious struggle to reach them compliments the sense of desperation pervasive throughout the song. The lyrics are delightfully morbid. “I was the blood on the fan blade when your hands got too curious…” Galub’s mock operatic falsetto on “Every time you killed me” remind me of Jeff Buckley but with slightly more sarcasm. Curtis Eller’s absolutely dirty harmonica solo seems like a nod to Bob Dylan or, rather, like Dylan thrown into a rusty cuisinart and diced to oblivion. Eller’s screeching notes, drenched in feedback, bend in and out of tune. The solo drives the song several notches higher in intensity and when Galub finally returns on vocals, he’s practically shouting.
For such a gifted songwriter, Galub’s remarkably modest. When asked about his goals for the band in a recent interview, he replied, “to quote Spinal Tap -’no page in history baby that I don’t need/ I just wanna make some eardrums bleed.’”