Rabid Wombat: Musical Rehab For The World
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The band almost known as Celine Dion Sanders (What an awesome name) was started in 2010 by musician Kevin Galagan. Originally conceived as a way to adapt his solo acoustic music to a full band format, Rabid Wombat (Their actual and equally awesome name) has taken on a life of its own. Progressive Man was lucky enough to chat with him about why he didn’t go with the band name Celine Dion Sanders and the intense emotion that went behind the single, Cocaine Blunts.”
Hey Kevin, it’s great to chat with you about your band, Rabid Wombat. Originally, Rabid Wombat was formed to supplement your solo performance. How did you first start out in music and develop your acoustic act?
I actually didn’t start playing music until after I graduated from college. In 2006, I moved to Boston to pursue graduate work in philosophy at Boston College. I made some friends right away who attended Berklee School of Music in the Back Bay, and honestly, I was just a groupie! I followed two of my friends’ groups, one called Whoarfrost, who are still around, and one called Maria Sweeney and the State Troopers who aren’t.
Really, I can’t say enough about how supportive all those guys were, encouraging me to write, getting me a gig as a bass player in a group, encouraging me as a singer.
I was taught how to play in parks and bedrooms and sweaty basements, getting a free secondhand music school education, and was lucky enough to be at dozens of underground Boston shows that I later realized were really amazing. But bands break up and friends move away, and in late 2007 I dropped out of grad school and moved back to my hometown of Seattle, determined to play music for a living.
I spent my three years in Seattle as a bass player for hire, playing with The Jones, Red Cigarette and Styles Bently’s group, Del Smpl Wait.
My life was waiting tables while bouncing back and forth between frantic creative success in the summers and the slow moneyless drag of the winters. All the while, I was writing songs, playing guitar, and trying to muster the courage to sing. I didn’t sing in front of an audience until 2009, which was when I played my first open mic at the Hopvine Pub in Capitol Hill. And I was nervous, got trashed and completely bombed it. I didn’t go back for 3 months.
However, it only took a few successful performances for me to catch the bug. I started opening for my own groups, playing more open mics, and playing a house party here and there. I’m not some virtuoso guitarist. My solo act has always been about passion, honesty and baring my soul to the audience. I can sing things at the top of my lungs that I could never say to anyone.
The lyrics of my songs are the truest things I have, and writing them is a reminder, a portrait of my true self. My songs tell me who I am. It’s silly, but I’ve finished more shows than I can count with tears in my eyes.
That kind of personal sharing, that intimacy with the audience- I think that’s what songwriting is all about.
So what was it about your solo act that you felt was lacking? Why did you feel like it was the right time to find the rest of the Wombats?
Honestly, that was a question of circumstance as much as anything else. In 2010, I lost my job, broke up with a girl who I very much loved, and was forced to watch Del Smpl Wait break up over some silly bullshit, which in ways I still regret. At that point, I just felt like it was time for a change for me.
I had gone to college in Portland and knew a guy who would let me move in right away, so I went. Just like that. When I first arrived here, I spent a little time attempting to find a gig as a bass player, but to no success. I knew I wanted to sing, though. I knew I wanted to write. I picked up a weekly performance at the Sundown Pub in North Portland, and frankly the feedback I received was amazing, especially people’s reaction to my voice.
I’d never really considered that I may be more than a half-decent singer before. The number one thing everyone told me is “You need a band behind you, you’re wasted like this.” I wanted to see if my music was actually good. I wanted to see if I could hold up as a lead singer in a legitimate band. I wanted to really test myself by playing guitar instead of bass. I knew I could deal with failure, but not with never trying in the first place.
It turns out that singing on stage is exactly what I want to do with my life. It just took me until my mid-20s to figure that out.
You met the rest of the band while you were in college. How exactly did that come about? Were they already friends of yours or did you meet through friends?
Tyler Fife, our lead guitar player, is one of my best friends and has been since 2002 when we met as 18-year-old freshmen at the University of Portland. Around then I also met Morgan McDonald, our bass player, who went to Cleveland High School here in Portland with Tyler.
I actually left Portland in 2006, moved to Boston and then to Seattle, and didn’t come back until 2010. Luckily for me, Tyler had become a decent guitarist by then, and Morgan had always just been the nastiest bass player. Tyler and Morgan recruited another high school classmate of theirs, Gabe Reisberg, who plays drums for us.
The very best thing about Rabid Wombat is that the three of us are great, great friends. Our wives and girlfriends are friends, and this band is like a family. We get through all the bullshit that can derail groups because of the important relationships we have with each other beyond music. I was very lucky to find three first-class musicians so close to my own circle, and am living every lead singer’s dream of being the weakest musician in the band by default.
What happened to the sound once you assembled the band? Did it turn out the way you’d envisioned or was there a dramatic change when going from your acoustic set to a full band?
There was an extremely dramatic change, and I absolutely have loved it. These guys managed to turn my quiet folk songs into loud, epic hard rockers with huge choruses, and we started writing organically very quickly.
What’s perhaps most interesting is that we developed a number of different sounds, and I have been able to work in everything from funk to soul to pop to rap.
Honestly I went in expecting pretty much a straight transcription of my songs to sort of a folk-country format, and while we have a few songs like that, for the most part our music is very much hard rock and roll.
We’ve got about 30 original songs, and also have managed to transform a number of covers in interesting ways, and they’re all just a hell of a lot of fun to play.
I’m glad it worked out that way, though. I think being in a band is a special thing, and that every member should be deeply involved in the writing process.
If I’m just coming down from on high with songs every week, then it’s not a band. It’s a singer with HIS band. That’s not what we do.
I know that these three guys have a ton to offer musically, probably more than I do, and that maybe, the way to be the best singer for this band is to listen to them and incorporate what they do into what I do.
It’s hard to forget a band name like Rabid Wombat, how did you guys come up with the name?
Well, this is where we get exposed as total dorks here for a minute. We kicked around a bunch of different names, all of which were stupid (“Celine Dion Sanders”.) The running joke was always that we would either name ourselves Just the Tip (just to see how it feels!) or Rabid Wombat, after a Magic: the Gathering card which has a bit of a cult following.
Anyway, you’ll hear references to it throughout some of our music if you know what you’re hearing. Yeah, we’re huge dorks.
Let’s take a moment to talk about your featured song, “Cocaine Blunts.” Despite the title of the song, it’s actually not so much of a song about drugs, but about a man hoping that love can free him from the repetitiveness of life. Does that seem about right?
That’s definitely close. “Cocaine Blunts” is a song about change. It’s about moving on from all the stupid stuff in your past to make a better day, today. To be a better person, today. To really go out and shake the shit out of life.
The title simply comes from that: smoking primos is one of the stupid, lazy things I used to do instead of living life and being in love and alive.
In the song, which is written to one I loved, I say: I used to need all this stuff to make me happy: drugs, alcohol, danger. Now all I need is you.
What gave you the inspiration for the song? Is it a take on your own feelings about life or did the idea come from elsewhere?
I have to say I’m excited that you chose to feature this song, because to some of my friends up in Seattle, this is a song that really means something. I wrote it after I had moved back to Seattle and had picked things up with an ex-girlfriend.
We had all kinds of problems and it was clear to me that the issue was that she was not over some real shithead things I had done in our past.
In high school, I was a total little asshole. I had real drug and alcohol problems, and thought I was hard because I hung out with dangerous people and did dangerous things.
I used women like they were nothing, and this girl remembered that.
She was also convinced that my devotion to music was just a front as well, a smokescreen I could hide behind rather than finding a real career.
I understood all that, for sure, and this song was my way of expressing that.
I remember writing this song on a Sunday afternoon- I would have lost it if I hadn’t accidentally written it on a whiteboard in permanent marker.
It was a direct retaliation to an argument we’d had the night before, one which was punctuated by her telling me that I rapped like Fred Durst…hence, the first line of the song.
I have been told by other musicians that this song perfectly sums up the musician-in-love experience. I don’t know about that, but it certainly sums up my experience of trying to balance music with family and relationships, which is maybe the hardest thing to do in this business.
Now, Rabid Wombat is currently prepping to release their second album sometime in 2013. How has the recording process been coming along? How is it compared to recording for your first album?
It’s been slower, or faster, depending on how you look at it. One issue with our band is that we all have full-time work and relationships to keep us very busy. I myself have a one-year-old daughter who definitely occupies some time. As such, we play maybe a show a month, and are not able to devote the time to recording that we would like to either.
Our first album was written over 2 years and recorded in 2 days. We have been unable to distribute them beyond the city of Portland, but it’s a seriously quality product of which we are extremely proud.
The music for the second album is written- at this point it’s simply a matter of getting in the studio and recording it. I am confident it will be out within six months, however, and we are considering releasing them both as a double, and cutting a deal for people that way.
Our band is primed and ready to take it to the next level- we’re just pushing, pushing for that break that will allow us to take it there- we’re definitely looking for an investor to help us get these albums, and our band in general, out to the public.
Every band has at least one or two moments in their time together that really stands out to them, whether because it marked a new level of achievement or just happened to be a fun moment. What’s one of Rabid Wombat’s stand-out moments?
That’s a great question- obviously playing big venues under serious acts and getting positive feedback is huge for us. That said, I think what really does it for us is that we’ve been able to cultivate a reputation for being low-maintenance, easygoing and fun to work with.
When a venue invites us back quickly because we handled our business, or when a bigger band invites us onto another bill because their fans love us, that’s what makes us feel great. Music, especially in smaller cities like Portland, should be a community experience, one which is cooperative and successful for everyone, and we really strive to help cultivate that.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us! Where can people go to find your music?
Thank you so much for the feature, you can find our songs at
If you’d like a CD, I will mail you one free of charge, just send your address to email@example.com , subject line “CD.”
Rabid Wombat: Kevin Galagan, Tyler Fife, Morgan McDonald, Gabe Reisberg