The Green Gallows: Astoria and Beyond
By Ilija Sekulovski
The Green Gallows is a trio made up of Adam Steiner on the guitar, mandolin and lead vocals, Sean Donnelly on the fiddle, mandolin, guitar, kick drum and harmonies, and Cara Cooley singing, playing bass, keyboard and on percussion.
The band is super local, and super Astoria – a true testament to the fact that Astoria has talent hidden between all its nooks and crannies.
Adam is everything you’d expect out of a lead singer: He commands the attention of everyone in the room, and is quick to take hold of conversation. He grins with excitement when he talks about The Green Gallows, with the same exuberance of a child sharing great news.
Cara Cooley, besides having the coolest alliterated name, is quiet and intense – and clearly has her footing in a band with two guys – one of whom, Adam, is her fiancé. She seems delicate and fierce, somehow both at the same time.
Sean has a hearty laugh, and a beard that could probably win a contest or two. Seriously, look at his beard. That is a ridiculously awesome beard.
How did you come together?
Adam: We first started playing together in February or March of 2013…but that only lasted about a month. Job opporutinites took over, life got in the way – music took the back burner. We officially started back up in September of 2013. Cara and I were engaged, and music was a huge part of our lives, and Sean and I played together casually.
Have you always been musicians?
Adam: Absolutely. Sean’s dad is a bluegrass musician, Cara and I did Broadway Musical tours. We’ve always been about music.
Did you have a specific sound in mind, or a specific type of music?
Cara: We never had a specific sound we were going for – but the funny thing is, we all worked at The Strand Smokehouse when it first started. We’d hear bluegrass all the time, and it opened our eyes to this style of music we never paid much attention to – and we really enjoyed it. It influenced us a lot.
Adam: We’re a hybrid kind of band. We can open for a rock n’ roll band, or a country band, or a bluegrass band. Our sound is versatile enough that we can put on shows that are lighter or harder based on the audience.
You’re going on your first tour this November, is there anywhere you’re particularly excited to stop?
Adam: Yes! We’re really excited about City Winery in Nashville – there’s been some really established artists that have played there, and we’re thrilled to be able to play there.
Sean: The Masquerade in Atlanta, Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA, Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They’re all really well established venues we’re excited to play.
How did the touring process get started?
Adam: We went on one tour, and it was all really grassroots: We booked it ourselves completely. When we came back we played lots of Astoria and Manhattan shows, and really got a feel for playing. For this tour, one of the artists our agency manages asked if we could be on the bill – it was basically all set up for it.
Sean: They literally called us in August and said, “Do you guys want to go on a tour in November?” And we jumped on it.
Do you find it hard to balance your music life and your day-to-day life?
Cara: We’re lucky. I teach yoga and work at Astoria Bier and Cheese, Sean’s at Singlecut. Balance is hard when we’re doing both, but being in a community that really cares about arts is phenomenal.
Adam: We’re fortunate enough to work for a company that values us – and that supports us, and believes in us – and lets us keep our jobs when we come back! But there never really is too much balancing – sometimes you play a show and get home at 2 am, and you’ve got to be at work at 9 am the next day. It’s the life – you give it your all.
What are the best and worst parts of tour?
Adam: The best is the moment when you’re exhausted and don’t know where you are, and you’re laughing so hard at something so stupid, and you have cabin fever from being in the van, and you get to play music EVERY NIGHT and you’re with your family.
The worst is literally everything else. The waves of depression and questioning so many things in your life, and music. You’re thinking: Is this all going to be worth it at the end of the day? But you have to believe in yourself, and believe in this enough to make it your 24 hours, and make it your whole life. That depression or questioning doesn’t outweigh the feeling of it all.
Cara: The best is playing for different people who have never heard your music. If even one person gets excited about what you’re doing, it’s the best feeling. The worst is finding a place to shower.
Sean: The best is a complete stranger who owes you absolutely nothing, and they watch your band and follow you and tell you how great you are, and then they tell their friends, and they tell their friends. The worst is endless hours in a van. Being away from my fiancée, especially, and from my dog.
If you had to pick one song to play for someone who’s never heard you before, which would you choose?
Adam: Brave Young Soul – it’s my favorite song to play, and it’s our single. It just came together in different parts, and it’s really the peak of the show when we play. Everything we do in the show leads up to that point.
Sean: She Falls. It’s one of the first songs we wrote together. Brave Young Soul and she falls show the versatility of the bands, they fit into two different genres.
Cara: Onie Wheeler – totally different than those two. It’s Bluegrassy-very simple, and simple harmonies. It’s one of the first songs that really brought us together. We revisit a lot of our original songs, and they’ve all evolved and changed over time, and it shows us how we’ve grown and progressed. We’re just now getting to the point where we’re confident playing all these songs we’ve had for so long.
Do you think the community influences the band?
Adam: Absolutely. When we first started playing, we had to figure out whether we wanted to be a “New York City band,” or a Queens band, and we just decided to be an Astoria band. We rallied around the idea of really being the band that this neighborhood watches grow. We all live off 30th, we’ve all worked at The Strand, we play the Quays. We’re just as much a part of Astoria as it is of us.
You can keep up with The Green Gallows by checking them out on Facebook. Watch Sean and Cara’s picks for their favorite songs, She Falls and Onie Wheeler, below!