SVEN GALI – “You Don’t Know The Hell That I’ll Be Making”
July 23, 2020, 21 days ago
"Look at me, in the eyes..."
You know you're a Canadian metalhead if your brain automatically fires off the guitar riff that follows these words. This was the calling card of Canuck road rats Sven Gali, who brought their brand of '80s metal with a wink and a "Suck it!" into the early-‘90s and did quite well for themselves. They had a solid run that started in 1987 as a club band and peaked with the success of their self-titled debut released in 1992, which was certified Gold, fading away after a second album and disbanding in 1996. There were a couple sporadic signs of life in the 2000's, but with the passing of founding guitarist Dee Cernile in 2012 due to lung cancer it seemed Sven Gali was gone for good. Against all odds, the band returned in 2018 with a new single and a rejuvenated line-up featuring original members Dave Wanless (vocals), Andy Frank (guitars) and Shawn Minden (bass) along with Varga members and longtime friends Sean Williamson (guitars) and Dan Fila (drums). Over the next year-and-a-half the new Sven Gali played a handful of shows and released two more singles, which has resulted in an official comeback EP, dubbed 3. As Wanless tells it, however, a reunion was never in the cards, and he credits Fila for getting the ball rolling.
"Dan got a hold of me in 2018 because he just had this urge to get together and jam," Wanless begins. "I told him I had to check my schedule, I told my wife about his idea after I got off the phone, and she said I should just go and have a good time with the guys. I came home after that first jam, that first practice, and I said 'I think I'm liking this...' (laughs). We never meant for it to start back up like this. It was just a get-together for the guys, to let us get some energy out, and one thing led to another. It ended up being something like a therapy session for all of us after all these years."
"We were around for a long time and we went away for a really long time (laughs). I guess we've always had this thing about unfinished business in the backs of our minds. We always felt like we had something to offer to the Canadian scene and the international scene, so actually being able to get that done with 3 is a massive sense of accomplishment and relief. A lot of bands that get back together after such a long time, their music tends to be a little softer. I think we got heavier. To tell you the truth, my wife brought it up. She's very honest with me about whether she likes something or not, and she said that when you hear the new music you automatically identify it as Sven Gali. We didn't know what we were getting into. This is modern up-to-date music, but we kept it true to who we are."
When Sven Gali surfaced with their debut album it seemed to hit automatically based on the strength of first single, "Under The Influence". The band had their haters, of course, with more than a few dismissing Sven Gali as Skid Row clones. At the time Skid Row was flying high on the success of their untouchable second record, Slave To The Grind, released in 1991.
"What a lot of people don't know is that Sven Gali was together long before (Sebastian Bach-era) Skid Row," says Wanless. "We were on the road in Canada when Sebastian was in a band called Kid Wikkid, and we actually went out to see them play one night in the middle of Canada somewhere when our paths crossed. They just happened to hit at the right time and we got stuck being tagged as a Skid Row clone. But... whatever. If you listen to the stuff they've done recently, I think our new stuff stands up quite well."
Sven Gali's self-titled debut yielded four singles - "Under The Influence", "Tie Dyed Skies", "In My Garden" and "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" - but, much like Slave To The Grind, there is the tightly held belief amongst fans that there isn't a weak track on the record. Wanless doesn't agree.
"There's a lot of stuff on the first record that I hate," Wanless admits. "I think that's because I was so close to it and it was my first experience being on a record label, dealing with the pressure of that, and I knew that I could do better than what we had as the final result. For that record to be received as it was, I had to step outside of myself and listen to it like a third party and allow myself to say 'That band fucking rocks.' When we disbanded - I won't say we broke up, because we didn't - I didn't listen to any Sven Gali for years. I didn't want to see anything about it, I didn't want to have anything to do with it. One day I was in my backyard and I heard 'Under The Influence' coming from the kitchen. I look inside and it's my son; he asks me 'Dad, is this you?' I had never told my kids anything about Sven Gali... and now we're at the top of his playlist (laughs). He and his friends love the first record."
Sven Gali's all-important second album, Inwire, was released in 1995, and the band was raked over the coals for putting out a record that sounded like it was yanked from the bowels of the Seattle scene. At this point the Big Four Of Grunge - Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains - were years into reshaping the music world, and it's fair to say that Inwire was unleashed on a music world cluttered with clones. Inwire was very different from the debut; Sven Gali's fans and media supporters took it hard, particularly since their debut had caught fire one year after the Nevermind, Ten and Badmotorfinger albums had started to renovate the entire rock industry.
"Everyone saw music changing between the first and second record, and back then it was not cool to be an '80s band," says Wanless. "We started exploring music so we could grow as musicians, to be more current and keep up with the times. I think it was a necessary stepping stone to do Inwire in order to do 3. If we came out with 3 just playing the same old thing, I don't know how that would have been received."
Everyone was hung up on the first album. Inwire's poor reception was a case of too much of a change in sound over a short period of time.
"Yeah, that's exactly what happened," Wanless agrees. "We woke up one morning and Nirvana was taking over the world, and being in the band like we were, Sven Gali became uncool real quick. We did get caught up in it, we did end up in Seattle, and it is what is. But, I think it was necessary to get that out of our system."
"Kill The Lies" was Sven Gali's official comeback single, a song that nobody saw coming. Wanless says the decision to release it rather than put it on a shelf came from the creative energy that went into making it.
"We did 'Kill The Lies' in New York City - we reunited with David Bendeth (producer for the debut) - and I was nervous when I was driving down there to do the vocals. I figured it was going to be a lot of fun, but then things started coming to my mind, like a lot of people were going to hear the song and then we were going to be judged. But, when we got there it just felt great from the very beginning. We were only supposed to be down there for three or four days, but me and Andy and Shawn stayed for 10. On the drive home I felt a big sense of accomplishment. The whole process of everything, right down to the artwork, it was so organic and just so cool. There was no stress, everybody put their flavour on top of it, we allowed everybody to express themselves."
"We've got albums worth of material," he says of the writing sessions between "Kill The Lies" and now. "We have so much material, I can't even tell you. Right now we're committed to doing an EP every year-and-a-half. A full-length record with our schedules and the lives we have now... right now we just want to keep putting out new stuff, and if we decide to do something bigger like an album we could make the necessary adjustments."
Bottom line is, 3 isn't a one-off.
"We're committed to each other to keep going as long as we can because we're doing it for the love of music," says Wanless. "It's a lot of fun."
The songs on 3 are clear reflection of that. While the EP is definitely a return to Sven Gali's original sound it isn't a rehash of old ideas. "You Won't Break Me" is a new twist to the trademark, "Now" is the band's progressive Frankenstein, and "Hurt" is an unreleased song from the early days that has been given new life.
"'Now' is a freakshow," laughs Wanless. "We didn't think about what's right, what's wrong, the structure, nothing. We just wrote and rocked and grooved, and at the end of the song we just let it all go. 'Hurt' was meant for Inwire. We wrote it in Europe when we were touring for the first record. It was meant for the second record, and when you put it up against 'Keeps Me Down' or 'Red Moon', it fits even though that song is probably more true to who we are now. It turned out pretty good. We're happy with it."
(Photo of Dee by: Carl Begai)
With Sven Gali's return to form some 25 years later, and the warm reception that 3 has received, only one question remains: How much of an influence did Dee's memory have on the new music?
"This is something that nobody knows, and I'll share it with you: we intentionally did not put a guitar solo on 'Kill The Lies' out of respect for Dee. And if you listen to the spoken work part in the middle of the song, that's a section of a poem that Dee wrote on his deathbed. We were all extremely tight, like brothers, and we had a really strong relationship. So, we put Dee on our comeback EP out of respect for him, and it felt good to do something to remember him. Before he passed, me and Dee would sit in his basement and write, and we've got tons of material, so there's a full-length album's worth of stuff just from what we did. I think his brother has all of that material, so hopefully one day we can discuss the possibility of finishing some of those songs because they're awesome."
It has occurred to me that the days of life are a forgetful mistress.
In my youth I would dance with her night after night with little thought of her being missed by the likes of me.
Time would be the one missing my robust ways and seemingly endless days.
Time would wonder where I am, where I've been and what other forces I've been with.
But today I found an envelope addressed, stamped and dated.
My, the hours fly by, and as wisdom would have it, I discover that my mistress, Time, has been dancing all along. I just didn't see her!
So on behalf of my forgetful mistress, Time, and my forgetful self, please accept this delayed message to you, and consider yourself remembered.
- Dee Cernile (February 2012)