Starting fresh can be one of the most treacherous obstacles in the life of any independent musician or artist. Another band seems to break up or go on one of those trendy hiatuses every other day. More times than not they’re never heard from again, or worse: doomed to be eternally overshadowed by past projects. It’s not often that we see musicians rise from the ashes right away, determined to keep pushing towards the impossible.
This past summer, Greg McKillop’s (now former) band, Speaker for The Dead released a promising new full length entitled Ballad of the Undercrust. The record was bursting with raw energy from the enormous ensemble of wind and brass instrumentalists. With McKillop’s deliberate yet poignant lyrical style to reign in the chaos, Speaker seemed to be well on it’s way to becoming a DIY folk-punk powerhouse. But it all came to a screeching halt when the band lost their ring leader.
“I am quitting my own monster of a band,” McKillop stated plainly in a recent post to his website and Facebook page. Touring cross country as a musician isn’t always the magical adventure that’s portrayed in media. Playing shows at mostly empty halls only to barely break even starts to take a toll. This past summer found Speaker for The Dead on tour with a whopping 25 members packed into a seven vehicle caravan, and although they broke even McKillop explains how they were “playing shows where we passed buckets for tips.”
After the tour was finished McKillop began thinking ahead, writing “But now I think of next time…what is the bigger and better version of this? Can I handle that? I believe the answer to be no, and that my wings would melt and I would fall into the sea.” And with one Icarus metaphor, Speaker for The Dead’s leader and chief songwriter had resigned. He played his final show with them at the Worcester Pride Parade.
Less than a month after announcing his departure, Greg McKillop was back onstage belting his heart out at O’Brien’s in Allston. In a plaid shirt and baseball cap pulled over his eyes, he looked nondescript. Instead of the mammoth collection of horns, he brought along four friends to play the part of a mellowed, modest post-rock quintet ironically labelled “The Slightly Smaller Band.” It wouldn’t matter that they were 21 members short.
“We just had band practice like four hours ago,” he quipped after the first few songs of the set. This became more evident as the performance continued, with the backing band stumbling or getting lost on a few occasions. But despite their missteps, McKillop was always able to adjust, simultaneously conducting the band or shouting out chords while performing. The subdued, shoegaze nature of the songs might throw off those looking for the anarchist circus that was Speaker, but McKillop’s vocal fervor and lyrical prowess cannot be denied and is only getting better. In fact, the drawn out, minimalistic sound leaves more room for his witticisms and wordplay to be heard, more room for the drummer to swivel his stool just in time to reach the keys.
Never afraid to criticize or speak up on the complexities of radical politics, his newer songs delve into even more personal issues, specifically one song that highlighted the intense victimization and violence members of the LGBT community face every day. These problems often go ignored in communities, ironically even in punk scenes that usually pride themselves on progressive politics. It’s both refreshing and encouraging to see an artist harness such fiery passion to empower their audience. On the other hand, McKillop certainly has the versatility to still be playful and witty, evident in one particular song which begins as a harsh commentary on cynical, “bitter old punks,” but finishes with a self-deprecating twist revealing how even he has grown into a “bitter old punk.”
“These songs aren’t available anywhere—sorry,” McKillop said jokingly about his band’s lack of recordings. The budding band didn’t have any merch for sale that night either, although they were planning on doing tarot card readings for donations. “But it takes eighty bucks to get down to Delaware for tour…so if anyone just wants to give us money,” he said among chuckles from the band and crowd. To finish his evening onstage McKillop took out time to plug the other bands playing that night, along with his drummer’s new zine and several other DIY community projects.
Regardless of whether you like his music, Greg McKillop has done so much to keep the DIY scene afloat and push it forward towards the impossible. From organizing shows, to recording and releasing over 20 albums in total (nine solo and three full band), it’s clear how much he’s given back to the community. Recently, musicians and friends got together to make a Greg McKillop cover album in tribute to everyone he’s inspired. Please Make Sure Someone’s Singin’ Somewhere For You was released this past June. You can check it out and download it here. The project will give all proceeds to Greg so he can continue to share his songs and stories across the country.
- McKillop's lyrics continue to be brutally honest and passionate
- Sound is stripped down and more lean, lends itself well to his style
- McKillop has undeniable versatility, sounds comfortable in his new post-rock, indie skin
- Clearly still in the building stages of incorporating the backup band
- As a whole, there was little to no stage prescence