While writing my debut solo EP, Jestem Krzywym Lasem, I found myself thinking a lot about an old online friend of mine named Sean Gallagher.
As it would happen, this led to a lot of decisions that made the final record, so I wanted to take a bit of time to tell you all a little about him.
If you’ve been following my Twitter though, you might’ve already caught me speaking about him.
Sean was someone I never formally met in person, but I spent years writing letters back and fourth with, and through that, he influenced a lot of my musical tastes when I was just really getting into bands and starting to write music. He’s also the first person I ever collaborated with on lyric writing when I was only 13 years old.
I met Sean in a pretty unconventional way but at the time was wholly second nature to me. We both frequented the old official Treble Charger message boards starting back in 2002 or 2003 (I can’t recall exactly when I started an account over there, but I know that the band went on their indefinite hiatus back in 2003 after the release of Detox and this was something we on the boards talked a lot about).
Because of the bands hiatus, the boards got quiet real quick, and there were really only a handful of us that were regularly active, so we became pretty close over our time there.
There was a guy by the handle IceMan who always recommended cool old-school movies like “Cool Hand Luke”, there was a guy from I think it was New Mexico that would share lyrics, and he was like a mini Jaret Reddick from Bowling For Soup; great writer. There was a girl about my age named Vee who was a major Sum 41 fan, and then there was me and Sean. That was the main group of us I remember anyways, I know there were a handful of others but when I think back to this time, that’s who really stands out.
Sean and I became pals pretty quick, something about the way we both typed and talked about things, I guess. Plus, we shared a lot of similar interests as far as band were concerned, so it was an easy friendship to kick off.
When Sean first introduced himself he had this funny story; he said he was in his later-teens, I think 17 or so, and that he was from California but he was really into Canadian bands because he was somehow friends with Avril Lavigne.
13-year old me didn’t care much for Avril Lavigne so this didn’t really sway my opinion of Sean too much, but I found it pretty funny. I’d ask him how he, a California native, could’ve ever met the girl from Napanee ahead of her fame, and he had some sort of story that explained it well enough that I don’t remember now, but it was enough to say, “alright, sounds possible,” and we didn’t speak too much of it otherwise.
Sean’s handle on the boards was actually an Avril Lavigne reference, “TripLosinGrip” after her song “Losing Grip” back then; so we’d all affectionately call him Trip.
My handle was more ridiculous. “Nori_Is_God”. He’d call me NIG for a while which made me uncomfortable for what I assume is an obvious reason now, but when he didn’t call me that, he’d use other nicknames like “Champ” for me.
Everyone else stuck with NIG.
Suffice to say I was a big fan of Greig Nori and the band at the time (still am) and I’ve often credited Greig for being one of the major reasons I ever took an interest in music production and songwriting at all. He’s arguably, to this day, my biggest influence.
Vee, meanwhile, was the biggest Sum 41 fangirl I’d ever come across (and there were a lot of big Sum 41 fans in my town). She was from Orillia, Ontario, a year or two older than I was, a singer (mostly karaoke until she started performing with an acoustic guitar at local open mics). Sean and I, after having established ourselves as the funniest people on the message boards, would pick on her a fair bit every time she brought up Sum 41, taunting her, reminded her what boards she was on and to watch herself. You get the idea.
She took it in stride.
That was pretty common back then, though, too, because Sum 41 had catapulted to the top of the Canadian music scene (and quickly, into the U.S and rest of the world), and Treble Charger were effectively defunct without ever really touring their latest record, Detox, which was actually a killer rock record.
Young me would take every opportunity she could to remind Sum 41 fans that they wouldn’t be shit without Greig.
Summer of 2003
When I turned 13, I had finally saved enough money for my first guitar and I went to Arcadia Music Academy to see what $500 could get me.
I settled in on a red and white Ibanez GRx40 that came with a little Fender practice amplifier and a couple lessons “on the house”.
I was stoked to get home that day and tell Sean I finally had it.
Because when I first started talking to Sean, he told me he played bass; so I told him I had already started playing guitar and the lie was already weighing on my sensitive 13-year old-self.
So I finally had one, and we could really start talking about music now in a different way.
At some point around exactly this time, we decided to take our conversations off the message boards and onto e-mail. His e-mail address matched his username, and mine was another Treble Charger reference; I had two, actually – sickfriendcalled and caseinfact.
When we first started e-mailing back and fourth, we already had a lot to talk about. Sean would recommend bands to me from the west coast that I hadn’t really heard before, or were just starting to make their way to Canadian radio; I credit him entirely for getting me into bands like Hum, Mae and Death Cab For Cutie (one of his favourites). I’d, in exchange, try to recommend some Canadian bands, but Sean knew a lot more about bands than I did then.
And when we weren’t talking about bands, we’d talk about our lives. I’d offload a lot of my petty teenage issues onto Sean, complaining about school, work, family, and Sean was always there to lend an ear for me, and often times, helpful advice, even if that advice was just, “tell them to fuck off”.
Our e-mails were long, sometimes multiple pages (for a while, I printed some out).
For a period of time Sean was definitely the person I confided in the most, he probably knew more about me than anyone back then. Especially because, on top of all of that, I had begun sharing my lyrics with him, which was even more personal than spouting off about the day’s tragedy’s.
I think I’ve lost a couple along the way somehow, but for years I had them printed out in a box for safe keeping. My first 3 songs that I felt comfortable enough sharing with my dad as a “hey, I’m trying to write songs now,” life update, were all cowritten with Sean.
He helped me learn song structure in a way that was easier to understand somehow than even just reading it from other artists, making sense of my scattered thoughts and helping me determine what might make a great chorus. He’d even include notes for backing vocals which helped the lyrics jump off the page in a way that I could hear them just by reading. I don’t really know how to explain that any further, but it’s very much the way I still write today, hearing the melody as I add each word to the page.
While I was no doubt Greig Nori’s biggest advocate on those boards then, Sean was the lead campaigner for everything that makes Bill Priddle great. We’d talk about their different lyric styles often and Sean would always argue that Bill came out on top, where I’d always ere on the side of Greig’s. As I get older, I understand completely why Sean would say that and be so adamant about it. They’re both great songwriters, but even for my own tastes, what pulls me in most is when they get more introspective, and Bill kills in that department. There’s a reason why Canadian music critics toute “Red” as one of the greatest songs of all time; they’re right, it just is.
When we weren’t talking about this band, we’d talk a lot about Green Day. Green Day’s one of those great universal bands that almost every single person you meet admits they’re a fan on some level.
When Vee first started performing at those open mics, she’d play “Good Riddence” often, and we were all a little taken aback; the girl could sing, who knew! She was quiet and mousey, so it was surprising to see her perform and you could tell she really enjoyed it, even when she was just singing karaoke instead.
And Sean had begun playing drums somewhere along the way; Tre Cool was his favourite drummer. Next to DCFC and TC, he’d always say Green Day was his favourite band (actually, I think they were the top of his personal list).
Aside from the music itself, we’d talk about Green Day a lot because of how politically charged they were.
I grew up watching an excessive amount of late night television led by comedians like Conan O’ Brien, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and I was into David Letterman, and of course sketch comedy shows like MadTV and Saturday Night Live; this meant I had a bit more of an understanding of U.S politics than most Canadian girls my age, and since I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about this stuff, I’d find myself mostly talking to Sean about it.
Sean was your typical All-American boy and he loved everything about it. He had strong opinions, some we clashed on, and he was tough to change his mind on virtually anything once he had settled in on it.
Somewhere around this time, when we’d engage in intense political discourse, dissecting the latest Bush news conference at length, Sean sent me a lengthy e-mail that I wasn’t expecting.
He had something to tell me and he wasn’t sure how I was going to take it.
As it turns out, Sean Gallagher actually had never met Avril Lavigne at all. He was just a fan.
And he was a couple years older than he initially said he was, but not by much, literally a year or two.
I don’t have the e-mail anymore but he said that it was really bugging him, because I had been so forthcoming about personal issues I was going through in my own life with him, and he didn’t want to keep lying to me about these things, he felt he owned me the truth.
In the grand scheme, they were small things, but I understand why it was weighing on him.
So in this lengthy e-mail he came clean, about his age, his name, the town he was from, that he had never been to Canada, and hoped that we could still be friends despite it all.
I took a bit of time before responding.
On one level, I always knew he couldn’t possibly have known Avril Lavigne based on the story he told, and on the other level, I legitimately could not have given less of a shit abut that.
I used the opportunity to come clean about some things, too. I had developed a habit of embellishing things a little as I’d retell them to Sean, out of my own frustration of course and I imagine now, looking for a little more sympathy that I wasn’t getting from my circle then. And also, I think, to try and make him feel a little better about it. It really wasn’t that big of a deal to me, I’d spent years on the internet at this point and the amount of fibbing that went on throughout that was ridiculous.
So we both breathed a sigh of relief and carried on, and Sean began sharing even more intimate details about his life with me, too. He was from a town called Fullerton in California and he really hoped I’d be able to get out there one day and he’d show me around, “we can drive all the way up the PCH!”. He’d send me pictures of himself and what he was up to, the cool beaches, and when he started dating her, his girlfriend Tara, too.
He was happy, for the first time truly in a long time. He met Tara online, too, but she was from the area.
And he finally had a band and they were starting to play shows, he was stoked. They went out to Las Vegas one weekend for a gig and he had a crazy time, he was so excited to tell me about it when he got back. “I tried cocaine for the first time in the bathroom. It was crazy!”.
Around this time was when we also moved our online-friendship to another unique stage. When I went off to study in Italy in 2007, I finally had Facebook (it was still for college/university kids mainly then, especially in Canada), and around when I got back we added each other on there.
Sean also had another update. He was still playing music but he’d decided to join the United States military.
He wasn’t sure what else he could do for work, and again, he was a good-old American boy and he felt it was his duty to serve his country, especially with everything going on at the time.
If I had to choose a point where our relationship started to shift a little, this was it. As a Canadian, I’ve never understood the appeal of joining the military; our culture surrounding it just couldn’t be more different.
But Sean explained why it was important to him, so I was supportive; as supportive as any online friend across the country and border could be.
It was at this time that I’d find Sean becoming a bit more combative about his political stance, so I’d find myself being more careful about what I’d say. Of course, I couldn’t possibly understand the emotional toll even just enlisting in the U.S military has on someone, especially someone so young, but mostly I was worried he’d get hurt if they drafted him overseas and from my limited understanding of the war in Iraq, I wasn’t sure it was worth risking his life.
He had his own opinion on that of course, and to him, it was worth the risk.
And he did have to go overseas. I lost touch with him for a few weeks leading into months before he’d surface again after some training and reestablishing himself at his camp. He’s share photos of himself with big assault rifles and sniper-looking rifles (what can I say, I know fuck all about guns), in the middle of the dessert, proudly hoisting them over his shoulder.
He had gotten in incredible shape during this time and he was really proud of himself and his fellow soldiers.
We were in pretty regular contact again around the time Green Day released their “Uno, Dos, Tre” records; “Have you heard these yet? They’re so good!” We’d argue about which record we thought was the best of the 3.
He’d ask me about my band and I’d tell him things we’re going okay. He was always supportive and waiting to hear some music.
But his life was heading in another direction again as far as his own music was concerned. He’d decided to become a Navy Seal.
“That sounds intense”.
“It is; The training is fucking nuts”.
We’d been e-mailing again and he told me all about what it took to become a Seal. In short, it truly is fucking nuts.
I told him he was insane for doing it, but it was impressive as hell, the types of things he’d be put through.
He was working out hard every day preparing.
He was confident. He knew he’d make it. I believed him.
And then somewhere shortly after this, he disappeared off the internet again; stopped responding to e-mails, wasn’t on Facebook anymore. Like at all, his profile was completely gone.
I thought maybe I’d said something that pissed him off and he just had enough of talking to me.
In retrospect I imagine now it was similar to when he first joined the army and had to remove himself then, too, while they vetted him and he went through all the training; I know a lot of institutions make their prospective employees do that sort of thing.
And I’ve just never heard from again after that point, so I actually don’t know what ever happened to him.
For some reason, in the pit of my stomach, I’m certain he died on duty.
But I try not to think about it, because I know I can be wrong about that. I base it off nothing other than the fact that I don’t understand why he’d disappear on me a second time, and now it’s been something like 10 years since we last spoke.
When I started the Crooked Forest project last year, the sole focus for the first few months was on myself almost exclusively, trying to wrap my head around why I felt compelled to get back into songwriting again after taking so much time away from it.
And it wasn’t until the writing of Jestem Krzywym Lasem started formulating that I really found myself thinking a lot more about Sean again.
Like I said, I really try not to, but he’s a difficult person for me to get away from given how much time we spent sending e-mails back and fourth.
I remember when I bought my bass guitar I really wanted to share that with him, but I couldn’t.
Every time I listen to a Death Cab song, or Hum shuffles its way onto my Spotify, there he is again.
And when I went to Chicago earlier this summer, trying to clear my head…. fuck, he was everywhere.
There was a street near my hostel that I couldn’t believe the name of; Fullerton. First time I’d ever seen it outside Sean telling me about the one in California.
And it led straight to Lincoln Park.
It ended up being one of the first stops I made in Chicago, wandering around just thinking and looking at stuff.
And then I found my way to the beach, and I had no idea Chicago had such nice beaches. It wasn’t California, but it was the closest thing I’d seen like it. The way the walkway wraps around the beaches, turning left and right along the shoreline, reminded me a lot of the aerial images Sean had shown me of the PCH.
And I walked that all the way to the Navy Pier.
And I was completely overtaken by profound sadness when I got to the edge of it, where a large anchor sits surrounded by American flags and a plaque for soldiers who died while in training at this same Pier.
And so I stood at the plaque with my hand on it, wondering where the hell Sean had gone to. I couldn’t even remember if he ever did pass his Navy Seal training. And I looked out at the lighthouse that sits in the water just ahead of it, and then I didn’t think much at all but again that overwhelming feeling that something terrible had happened to him settled in.
So I sat with it.
I went back to the Navy Pier in Chicago every day I was there.
I ran along the walkway, weaving in and out of people and obstacles with my backpack on wondering if his own training at any point had ever taken him there.
And if it had, if he, too, had walked along Fullerton into Lincoln Park like I did. And I imagined if he did, it must’ve made it feel like he was back at home, like I oddly did when I spent time there, too.
And he loved baseball (because of course he did), so on my birthday I walked out to Wrigley Field. I wouldn’t say I’m a massive baseball fan although I do enjoy going to watch on a nice sunny day, but more than that I love checking out the iconic stadiums, and Wrigley’s always been up on that list for me. I had been hoping that there would be a game, but the deserted street told me there wasn’t one that day. So instead, after walking over to the Cub shop to poke around and checking out the statues of famous players out front, I parked myself on a bench just to enjoy being in the area with that giant sign.
And then off to the left of that sign I saw a branded sign for “Gallagher’s Way,” like he knew I’d be there eventually. I know it’s a common name, but still. I sat there for a while watching a father play catch with his son on the field outside the stadium before it got too cold and I had to head back to my hotel to grab a sweater.
On the last day I spent in Chicago at the Pier, a band played outside. Really cool band, jazzy, soulful. But I only stayed for a couple songs.
There’s only so much time someone like myself can spend sinking into those types of thoughts and experiences alone.
It would’ve been a great band to see with Sean. He would’ve loved it, I’m sure.
So when I got back from Chicago, back to the same house I used to e-mail Sean from, back to the same desk I’d store our e-mails, all of these things lingered around me, and still do, as I write this right now.
When I finished, what I thought, was initially going to be the 3-song Jestem Krzywym Lasem EP, and had my startling realization that it was definitely missing something and couldn’t possible end with “Without You” as I planned at the time, I sat down to finish writing what became “Butterflies”.
And that still wasn’t enough. I was still missing something.
And I thought about how when I first started the Crooked Forest project, the first hard step to take was just presenting anything at all; Literally just putting myself on video and posting it was arguably the most challenging step in that process for the first few months. Much like the first step to learning how to write songs was just presenting one to Sean.
And even back then I couldn’t settle on just 1 song to present, worried that if I chose the wrong one, or that the one cover I wanted to present didn’t represent me fully and would deter people from what I was trying to do, I chose 3 instead, and none of them my own – all covers.
So I found myself thinking about how helpful and encouraging he was on that first set of lyrics, all the while wondering if I’d have ever continued trying at all if I didn’t have him in my corner then.
He had changed a lot of what I presented on that song, but the main idea was still there and in a way I now understood and felt like, if other people read it, they’d understand it now, too.
And that’s sort of what was missing on this EP too. The EP wasn’t finished because I wasn’t able to properly explain the concept as a whole without 1 more song. And because of the way I’d begun the CF project, I felt like it had to be a cover song.
Because there are a lot of writers out there who are able to present ideas in a way I’d never think to try, and a lot of them are a lot more present in my own work than the average listener might realize.
Instinctively, I felt like it had to be a Death Cab For Cutie cover; aside from Green Day, that was the band we spoke about the most. So I began my re-listen through the catalogue to find the right one. But I got a couple in and quickly realized that this was a bit of a futile effort; I can make meaning out of any Death Cab song that suited this purpose and almost all of them would serve the EP well.
But back when we first started exchanging lyric ideas back and fourth, we’d talk a lot about The Postal Service. “Did you know they just like send the files back and fourth to make these? Nobody else does that!”
Sean loved The Postal Service.
And I had already been fiddling around with “Such Great Heights”. Because of that, it took me a bit of time to settle on it, because I wanted to present a “new” cover, not something I’d already put out for people to hear.
And then I realized how silly that was and completely in the face of the entire reason I do any covers at all, to share the ones that are the most special to me, or that make me feel good when I sing them.
Besides, it sounded a lot different than the original recording, so it had my own “stamp” on it, so to speak.
On the next and final blog post for my track by track breakdown of Jestem Krzywym Lasem, I’ll talk a bit more about the decision to include this one on the EP and how I went about doing it.
But, spoiler alert; this one’s for Sean.
Pre-Save Jestem Krzywym Lasem on Spotify now! It comes out everywhere October 29th, 2021.