Musicians are storytellers. The same way we can thumb through the pages of black ink on crisp white paper to read an enchanting love story or watch a film about a historic hero, we can be told a story through the whimsical coalition of music and lyrics.
And it was this thought that I sat down to talk with Tanya Gallagher, a singer-songwriter originally from Pensacola, Florida, who now resides in Vancouver, B.C.
Let’s get to know you a little bit better. How long have you been writing and playing music?
I’ve been writing songs for as long as I can remember. I have old books of lyrics (poems) that I wrote as a child. At 15 I started singing in church. At 18 I picked up the guitar and put my lyrics to music. I think within that first week of learning a handful of chords I’d written two or three songs. I would play them for my parents, go to my room and write another. Now I just constantly write. Sometimes melodies come pouring out or I dream in song--I wake up in the middle of the night and start singing into my iPhone. Other times I do it as an exercise because I never really know what’s going to happen when I start writing.
I love that you would sing your songs to your parents. Did you grow up with a musician in the family that encouraged you to play?
My grandfather was always handy with a song. Some of my first memories of him are of us at his piano. I was just a little girl and we would sit together and sing. He has this amazingly deep voice that I find so comforting. He always encouraged me to sing. He always encouraged me to be heard.
What a wonderful memory to have. While I assume you’re constantly jotting down lyrics and thinking up melodies, is music your full-time job?
Well, I moved to Canada some three and half years ago to pursue a Ph.D. in Forestry. So, I guess you could say that’s my “day job”. I was having a conversation the other night with a close friend of mine about the balance between music and grad school. I’m always so hesitant to bring it up in interviews like this. I guess it’s kind of a curve ball in some ways. When I finish my Ph.D., music is definitely what I want to do full-time. I realize this is a bit unconventional--I know a doctorate in forestry isn’t typically necessary to secure a path as a musician; but then again there’s no “right” way, I guess.
That’s really impressive. And you’re right, there is no right or wrong way to do most things. In fact, I think that can apply to how we use music, too. For healing, to express feelings or to just write a catchy tune--anything goes. Has writing music helped you to achieve that?
As I’ve gotten older, I realize I haven’t always been the best at telling those I love exactly how I feel when things aren’t going well, be it to spare another person’s feelings or a confrontation I’d rather avoid it’s something I’ve never been great at. That said, I find that music has always provided me with an outlet to plainly state those thoughts I wouldn’t always readily express in conversation. I’m a bit of a romantic and repeatedly replay thoughts and conversations with others. Often it’s in these moments of reflection that songs are born. The album Virginia is chalk full of these moments--real life details shrouded in a fictional song-scapes.
Speaking of Virgina, the self-titled single has some hints of Watson Twins-like harmonies blended with some innovative Southern twang, and it’s unique to the rest of the album. How has your sound developed over the years?
It’s always interesting going back and listening to tunes I wrote years ago and comparing them to the those I’m writing now. I think it’s good to do that. To see if and how things have evolved. I hope I am constantly evolving as an artist, just like I hope I’m constantly evolving as a person. Learning from past mistakes and successes, finding out what works and what doesn’t and not holding back from trying something new.
I’ve self-released three albums – each time working with a different producer. Virginia was produced by my good friend Brandon Hoffman who is the man behind the Canadian sample-based electronic project Blocktreat. He approaches music in a way that I feel really compliments what I do. Elements of his electronic/dance background come through on these songs.
Absolutely. Someone is likely out there listening to your music and thanking you for writing it. I bet it’s wild to think that as a musician, you have the opportunity to change someone’s life, even if for just a moment. So as simple as this question is, I have to ask - what does it mean to be a musician?
To me, being a musician means you love your craft. You work at it and hone your skills and share it with others. Most importantly, I think as a songwriter it means you have something meaningful to say. There are so many different forms of music out there, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. My hope as a musician is to write songs that resonate with people.
I’d love to know, is there an artist or an album that inspired your own style?
I’m constantly listening to music, new and old. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of singer-songwriters. The newest Lori McKenna record has been on repeat in my Spotify for the last few weeks. She is a hell of a writer. It’s incredible how well she can craft a story and put it to music in what seems like such an effortless manner. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Paul Simon, The National, and Gregory Alan Isakov. I’ve had a musical crush on GAI for quite some time now. His writing is beautiful and his most recent record with the Colorado Symphony is inspiring. It’d be a real treat to play my songs with an orchestra one day. One of those life goals, you know?
Where else do you seek inspiration?
In terms of writing, relationships and travels and thought provoking conversations are really what I find inspire me. I’m not very good at small talk. I don’t really enjoy it too much. My close friends are aware that I’d much rather dive right into one-on-one discussions about relationships or spirituality or the ups and downs of life. Many of the lyrics I write are near verbatim conversations I’ve had with my good friends and loved ones.
Where do you see your music heading in the future?
I spent the last week of December in Austin, Texas with producer Daniel Mendez. He’s worked with folks such as Noah Gundersen, The Native Sibling, and Logan Vath. I played him some 60 songs over the course of five days and we prioritized and got a list of potential tunes for the next album. I’m really looking forward to getting back down to Texas this Spring and to working more with Daniel. He’s an incredibly talented producer and engineer. I’m running a Kickstarter for a full-length project. I self-released my last three albums, but there’s something really special about the thought of crowd-funding and getting others involved in the project. My hope is that this resonates with people and that I can get them as excited about it as I am.
Where can our readers listen to your music?