John (“Johnny”) Gallagher Jr. is coming into the singer-songwriter scene in a rather unusual way. I don’t think I’m the only one who was surprised to hear that a Tony award winning actor and an HBO star is diving into the under-the-radar underworld of folk and acoustic music. Johnny Gallagher is a man with many talents. He’s shown countless Broadway audiences his diversity by appearing in several musicals and plays and has also show a more sensitive side from his work on HBO’s The Newsroom and Olive Kitteridge. He’s looking forward to returning to the Great White Way in 2016 when he appears in the Long Day’s Journey Into Night alongside Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne.
This summer I was introduced to Johnny’s music when he appeared at the legendary Philadelphia Folk Festival. He was a last-minute substitute at that show and is once again slipping into that role at the me&thee coffeehouse show on Friday, November 6 where he is replacing a musician who couldn’t obtain a visa to play the show. Having this spontaneous drive and approach to his varied career in the creative arts has served him well.
We will look forward to hearing his new CD in the near future, with more information about his original songs. For now, you can check out his acting credits on his IMDB page.
Here’s a video of John playing an original song at a recent NYC show.
You might recognize some of the music from John’s appearance in American Idiot.
I’m intrigued by the fact that your parents, John and June (how cool is that?) are folk singers. Did they gig when you were young and, if so, is that what planted the singer-songwriter bug in you?
Yes indeed. My parents played a lot of gigs when I was young and my sister and I would happily go along with them virtually every time. Listening to my parents sing was my earliest exposure to music and it was so informative and inspiring. I never grew tired of their repertoire and I am pretty sure that my first time onstage as a musician was playing tambourine to San Francisco Bay Blues with them when I was about ten years old. I felt extremely cool. Thanks to my parents I got to know the music of John Prine, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne & Simon & Garfunkel at a very young age and it definitely made me dream of being able to write songs.
Did you learn to play a guitar at an early age?
I did. I tried taking lessons in the fifth grade but at the time I had a very short attention span so I abandoned it rather quickly. Then when I was fourteen the drive really hit me and I taught myself how to play using my sister Joni’s Guild guitar and a big book of chord diagrams.
Did you ever balk at this kind of music and take some detours into the world or rap or hip hop or something else?
Oh certainly. I was pretty hungry for anything I could get my hands on. Nirvana’s record Nevermind blew my young mind and changed my idea entirely of what music could be. In high school I joined a punk band in my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. I only played two gigs with them but it was some of the most fun I have ever had on stage and I learned so much about the guitar.
Who are your favorite musicians to listen to these days?
I still listen to a lot of the music I was raised on. John Prine is probably my favorite songwriter. The potency of his music only multiplies the more I listen to it and I’ve listened to it a lot over the last twenty years. I listen to a lot of Bruce Springsteen. I’m a bit of a fanatic. I am pretty much always in the mood to listen to him. A few of my favorite modern bands though are Dawes, Titus Andronicus and The Avett Brothers. Jason Isbell’s most recent album Something More Than Free is terrific. Alabama Shakes are so super cool. Aaron Lee Tasjan’s new record In the Blazes has been rocking my world lately.
Have you ever thought about your desert island disks?
Oh sure. Paul Collins’ record The Beat is on there, The Monitor by Titus Andronicus, Pontiac by Lyle Lovett, Nevermind by Nirvana, Meet the Beatles by The Beatles, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen, Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams, Tim by The Replacements, Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara, After the Gold Rush by Neil Young, Blue by Joni Mitchell, Emotionalism by The Avett Brothers, The Very Best of The Everly Brothers. I could go on and on.
I understand that you’re going to be releasing your own CD soon. Can you tell us about it?
That is true! The details are still being fine-tuned at the moment but I should have something to announce very, very soon. I’ll keep you posted!
Are you a disciplined songwriter?
At times. I tend to write in bursts. Every now and then I can get very productive when I give myself an assignment or a deadline. I may go a long while without writing anything but then will tap into something and the next thing I know I have a big batch of new songs.
When you’re involved with a movie, TV show or Broadway play, do you find time for your music?
Definitely. I have even found myself writing more when preoccupied with an acting job because it becomes a respite from that schedule and brings a feeling of relief and escape. I have also found myself inspired by the mood of a character I’m playing and will use that feeling to inspire my songwriting. That said, there are some acting jobs I have had that were very involved and encompassing and I can end up not writing for a spell while working. I always reach for my guitar and play a bit when I come home though, even if I don’t write anything new.
An interview with you would not be complete without some questions about your acting career! Do you have any favorite roles?
I am proud of everything I have been lucky enough to be a part of as an actor. Spring Awakening was definitely a special experience. I also really loved working on a film I did called Short Term 12 and a mini-series I was in for HBO called Olive Kitteridge.
What’s more grueling—Broadway or film/TV work?
Definitely Broadway in my experience. The eight show a week schedule with marathon weekends and only one day off to recover is a very intense and draining thing mentally, emotionally and physically and yet it is completely magical and amazing at the same time.
You’re preparing now for another gig on Broadway with Long Day’s Journey Into Night? This play is considered one of the masterpieces of American theater and it’s a pretty intense play concerning addiction and family discord and dysfunction. How do you prepare yourself for such an emotional workout?
Right now I am just trying to take it easy, play music, spend time with loved ones and ground myself for whatever the experience of working on that play will be. I have three books about Eugene O’Neill that I bought staring at me from my coffee table. I don’t want to dig into them until I am getting closer to rehearsals though. I know once I go down that rabbit hole it will be very consuming.
Do you have any dream roles that you’d love to obtain one day?
Not that I can really think of. I just try to keep myself open to what might be out there. I love finding new projects that are exciting and inspiring and challenging.
What’s the best thing about being John Gallagher Jr? And what’s the worst?
The best thing is my family and friends. I am thankful for them every day. The worst thing is my head. I can be a major over thinker and it isn’t always fun getting trapped in there.
If you had to describe yourself in three adjectives, what would they be?
Oh gosh. Can I plead the fifth on this one? I think I’ll leave it to the audience at me&thee to decide!