In Search Of Tone: Phil Gallegos & Steve King Of The Penitent Man

The Penitent Man is a five piece band consisting of Phil Gallegos (guitars), Steven King (guitars), Allan Davidson (vocals), Chris Garrido (drums) and Ethan Garrido (bass). Together they create some truly moving music, will be releasing the split album Legends Of The Desert: Volume 2 alongside Cortége next month and I feel honored to have met them before they sell out huge arenas.

The Penitent Man / Live At Pale Horse Sound Set Up
The Penitent Man / Live At Pale Horse Sound Set Up

We discussed genres and how music is categorized in the interview. Phil asked me what my thoughts were on what genre The Penitent Man would fall into. I couldn’t really answer and told him I don’t really understand genres. We tossed around genres like blues, stoner rock and desert rock but ended with me stating that categorizing music didn’t make much sense to me. After our interview, I thought about this and I think I have an answer for you Phil. The Pentinent Man should be listed in the genre of music you FEEL.

I recently started playing guitar with a neighbor of mine and find it hard to get our tones to sound well together. Since I have the opportunity to speak to you both, how do you guys mesh so well with your tones and what you’re playing?

Phil: It depends on if you’re talking live, which you kind of are I guess. A lot of times we’re playing in stereo. When you hear us come out of the PA system Steve may be on the left and I may be on the right for the most part. So we’re separated to a certain extent. We both play through the same amp live so I don’t know if I gives us a lot of tone variations, but we use the Orange AD30.

Another thing we do is alternate leads. Sometimes Steve will play a lead, then I’ll play a lead and when we want to get heavy, we lock in and play the same riff. I think it sounds good together guitar wise and I play a Fender Jazzmaster a lot live.

We both play through the same amp live so I don’t know if I gives us a lot of tone variations, but we use the Orange AD30…

Steve: and I play a Fender also, so maybe that helps sync up the tones.

Phil: It’s totally different live than in the practice room as well. In the practice room, we may not be able to hear each other depending on where we are and where the amps are set up. You can see it’s fairly tiny in here so it makes it difficult to hear each other sometimes.

Steve: The room in Pale Horse is a killer room and Greg from Pale Horse did a great job with the sound. It’s not always like that though. Sometimes the room is different and makes it hard to hear.

Phil: Yes, Pale Horse was great. Greg did everything from the camera work, mixing, everything. It was just him. He had cameras set up and he would be working on the sound and then he would grab a camera and walk around filming, put it down and see if the mix was good and grab a different camera. He was amazing to watch.

Phil Gallegos / The Penitent Man
Phil Gallegos / The Penitent Man

That was a great show! Most of the songs on Live At Pale Horse are not on your Self-Titled album. Will they appear on future albums?

Phil: Yeah definitely. With Brad we have Legends Of The Desert: Volume 2 coming out. One song, Rest My Weary Head, we haven’t even played other than recording. We did it during COVID. We wrote and recorded during that whole time. Allan, our singer, had a verse and the chorus for it so we branched out from there. The Butcher is on both Live At Pale Horse and Legends Of The Desert. The third song on there is called A Long Deep Breath Of Sadness which was originally named Untitled on Live At Pale Horse because it was really untitled. We wrote it just prior to the show and decided last minute let’s just open with it. The others we haven’t recorded yet but we’re going to start sometime this year.

That’s interesting, writing the songs just prior to playing them for that show. What is your writing process like?

Steve: Phil comes up with a lot of riffs. I’ve got to give credit to Phil. For example, the song Red Giant we’re recording has a great riff Phil started and a lot of it comes from jamming.

Phil: This band really thrives in collaborations. For example, Steve or Allan may bring something to the table and we will go in and just jam it for a while. It then fleshes itself out as we play. It’s a really cool process and everyone puts their stamp on it. This is the first band I’ve been in that really does that. You look forward to what the other people have to contribute.

This band really thrives in collaborations. For example, Steve or Allan may bring something to the table and we will go in and just jam it for a while…

Steve: Rest My Weary Head was very different, we wrote it and recorded it by everyone coming in at separate time and putting their tracks down. Most of it was all done remotely. That was a different recording process but a cool experience.

Earlier I showed you all my little recordings on my phone. Out of all of those I may have three that are different [laughs], how do you guys create unique music without repeating yourself or others?

Phil: [Laughs] Yeah, I’ll play a riff at times and think didn’t I play that already? Sometimes I’ll steal a riff from an old idea and add it into a song, as long as we haven’t released the song of course. To keep it going for me, I like to listen to new, or different music, stuff I haven’t listened to before and if it’s not working, I don’t force it. Then maybe Steve will come up with something that I haven’t thought of and that sparks an idea and we go from there.

Steve: Yeah, that collaborative aspect we discussed helps because I know for myself when I’m playing I’ll think to myself, ‘OK that sounds like the last five songs I just played’ so it’s good to have other people to play with because someone will say let’s try this and that’ll take you down a different path.

Phil: Once you go down a different path and then you add vocals, it changes again. Allan is an amazing singer and will put a vocal line on there that’s perfect and that’ll spark another part.

Steve King / The Penitent Man
Steve King / The Penitent Man

We may have touched on this a little with the last question, but what do you guys do when you’re having an off day and how do you get inspired to play again?

Steve: I’ve been having an off month [laughs]. Recently I started to hit the books again, just running through different scale patterns and learning more that way. For me that works well. By doing that, I actually just came up with a riff that I’ll probably show Phil after this. But learning different skills and different modes like a harmonic minor and other scales pulled me out of my rut. Growing my knowledge helps me become more creative again.

If I’m in a rut then sometimes I’ll just put on some different music or something that I really enjoy like Free…

Phil: Not at all for me. I hate learning new shit [laughs]. I’m totally different. I wish I was more like that though. Anytime I’m playing, I like to write and don’t like to practice. Writing is one of my favorite things to do on guitar, but I need to be more like what Steve is saying.

Steve: No, you need to keep writing [laughs].

Phil: If I’m in a rut then sometimes I’ll just put on some different music or something that I really enjoy like Free. I’m a big fan of Free. I love Paul Kossof’s simplicity in his style of playing and I feel like I gravitate towards that. He plays these riffs and leads that seem simple but are awesome. Also, there is tons of new music out there and that’s very inspiring as well. We’re always finding some new band to listen to, as I’m sure you are by doing these interviews.

The Penitent Man / Amp Rigs
The Penitent Man / Amp Rigs

I started in December 2020 and I’ve discovered so much new music. Like this really cool band called The Penitent Man [laughs]. One of the many things I love about your band is the simple leads that sound so good. If I were to play a few notes it just sounds like I’m playing random notes [laughs]. How do you create those simple yet effective parts?

Phil: I don’t even know [laughs].

Steve: Just searching for it really in the song.

Phil: When you’re playing with people, you feel each other out and parts can come naturally that way.

Steve: A lot of experimenting and practices for me anyway, also comes with a lot of sour notes too.

We briefly discussed amps earlier and you both mentioned playing the Orange AD30. Are those your main amps?

Steve: That’s my main amp, but this guy is the king of tone.

I recently got this Germino which I used on Legends Of The Desert: Volume Two, it’s a hand wired Marshall clone…

Phil: I recently got this Germino which I used on Legends Of The Desert: Volume Two, it’s a hand wired Marshall clone. Steve actually played through this other one. It’s another clone of a Matchless DC-30 and he played the leads on Rest My Weary Head on that and some of the first album as well. I didn’t have the Germino for the first album. We did a lot on the Orange AD30 but also the Matchless clone. It’s called a Ceriatone DZ30 or Muchle$$ DZ30. I also have a Mojotone Blackout. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Mojotone.

I haven’t actually.

Phil: Well, it’s also based off a Marshall and I think it sounds really good. I think that’s about it. I do have a Vox AC15 here also. We’re terrible on tracking what we used on certain songs. I started reading your interviews and thought I should really start writing stuff down [laughs]. We’ll find a tone and say ‘that’s it’ and will record it, but if not, we’ll switch a head out or a guitar out, but it all ends up working out in the end I guess.

The Penitent Man / Pedalboard
The Penitent Man / Pedalboard

With the variety of amps you have, do you prefer distortion from the amps or pedals?

Steve: I prefer the distortion from the amp

Phil: Yeah for both of us, it’s the distortion from the amp especially for recording. We do have fuzz for live in certain instances. But, recording I always use the amp distortion because I love the sound of the amps. I have noticed that a lot of people have been using distortion in your interviews. It’s interesting how everyone’s a little different.

Yes, I’ve done around 30 interviews at this point and I haven’t really had the same answer yet. There are so many pedals and amps and people have a variety of combinations. It’s really great to see the creativity out there. Speaking of which what other effects pedals are you guys using?

Steve: Distortion wise, I just have the Rat pedal with a JHS mod on it. It’s kind of like my boost and it helps my sustain. For example, on Rest My Weary Head and holding those long notes out. For reverb, I have an MXR Reverb. I’m not huge on effects. I’m kind of learning about it now. I’ve always liked a dry signal. But, this guy, he really does have a great tone, I’ve learned a lot from Phil and I’m still learning. I have an EHX Lester G, it’s kind of a Leslie rotating speaker in pedal form that sounds cool. I’ve also got a Boss Space Echo for the delay and I have a Fulltone Wah, no tuner. I don’t tune [laughs].

Distortion wise, I just have the Rat pedal with a JHS mod on it. It’s kind of like my boost and it helps my sustain…

[Laughs] Ahh, that’s the secret.

Steve: Exactly [laughs] my pedalboard changes though. If something doesn’t work out, I’ll try new things and it keeps rotating. I had an organ pedal and it sounded cool but when I brought it to the band it just didn’t sound great.

Phil: No, it sounded great. He was playing some stuff on there that sounded really bad ass, but, that happens, things change and we can get rid of stuff. Typically, I change up my board as well, I’m looking at it now and I’ve always loved the King Tone Vintage Fuzz but it started getting a little bit choppy and I don’t know what’s happening with the power. It keeps turning on and off, but I really like that pedal and Steve has one too.

I also have a King Tone 1968 which is a Chorus and Vibrato pedal and very cool. I have an MXR Phaser and Flanger I played up until recently. The Vox Wah which I loved kicked the bucket, so I decided to go with a smaller wah called an Xotic Wah. I don’t know maybe it’s good I haven’t played it too much yet but we’re starting back up on practicing so we’ll see.

I did just purchase an OCD pedal and the Strymon Flint which is a Tremolo and Reverb together, I love that pedal and for delay I use the Boss DD-500. I’ve never been a big delay guy but recently I really like it. Going back to Free, he is basic and I love that but, I’m expanding and Steve’s got these awesome sounds and tones that are bad ass.

The Penitent Man / Pedalboard
The Penitent Man / Pedalboard

You guys mention using a Fender Jazzmaster and tend to be more Fender guys. Are those your go to guitars or do you have quite a few to choose from?

Phil: Yeah, I use a Fender Jazzmaster live and it’s got the stock pick ups. I did just buy a Gibson SG. I think it’s a 61 reissue, I’ve been playing with that in practice and it’s pretty cool. I definitely like it. This Mulecaster is way cool, it’s a Mule Resophonic Guitar and it’s awesome. I have a regular resonator style guitar as well which I used on Buffalo on the first album, specifically on the mellow parts. I’ve used this Mulecaster live on Purple Kiss and Buffalo live, Mule is an insane builder and it’s awesome.

This Mulecaster is way cool, it’s a Mule Resophonic Guitar and it’s awesome…

Steve: I’m a Fender guy I guess. I’ve always played them. The Fender I have is Japanese and they call it the HRR. It’s from the 90s and I think it’s theirattempt to do a more aggressive guitar. It’s got a humbucker in it and from what I know it’s a 1963 re-issue. It’s a great guitar, it’s been through hell and I got it from an old junky friend of mine that sold it to me for 100 bucks back in early 2000. Then I come to find out that it’s another buddy of mine’s guitar, that he sold me [laughs], but I paid for it [laughs]. I have another Stratocaster that I actually bought from Phil. It’s a 2008 pretty standard Strat that also has humbuckers and a coil tap. The other Fender I have has that too. You can switch from single coil to humbucker, although I don’t really do that a lot.

Phil: I didn’t either with that guitar. You know why though, I don’t know if I told Steve this before I sold it to him but the button sticks.

Steve: It does stick [laughs].

Phil: You got screwed [laughs].

Steve: You’ll take another $100 off for me.

Phil: At least I sell my stuff to people I’m around all the time. This is something you’ll learn, keep all your gear. Don’t sell anything.

The Penitent Man / Guitars
The Penitent Man / Guitars

[Laughs] I have 7 guitars and a variety of pedals and amps. I try and sell things occasionally and my wife stops me. She’s right and I’m grateful she stops me [laughs].

Steve: You got a good woman [laughs].

Phil: Yeah you do [laughs] What guitars do you have there?

***After a short break of showing off my gear and a few musical tangents such as listening to Lincoln Durham and seeing Buddy Guy live (you should have grabbed that pick Steve!)***

Do you guys have a piece of gear you’ve had for a long time and will never part with?

Phil: The first instruments I had I’ve gotten rid of, but, I still have a Gibson Les Paul studio that I used to play a long time ago that I won’t sell. Gibson came out with these guitars called the SG-Z and it’s a cool guitar. Steve actually played it for a bit in this band and it was tuned down. They only had it available for one year, so I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of that and nothing else I have bought [laughs].

Steve: I was actually just telling Phil the first guitar that I ever had when I was about 15, I still have that. I have it being redone right now in the shop. It’s actually a Fender also and it’s they’re Heavy Metal Series. It has that 80s look and its neon pink. I hated the pink so I sanded off, it’s been tortured, it’s been thrown at the drums back when Nirvana was really cool. So it’s just beat to hell. I’m having it redone but keeping the relic look on it. I should be getting it next week, then I’ll bring it into this band which I’m really excited about.

I kick myself in the ass every time I think about it, probably just needed new tubes and I could’ve had this old vintage amp. Instead, I took a baseball bat to it…

Phil: I had an old guitar my dad didn’t really play. He played a little bit I guess, but it’s a guitar that’s torn up in pieces and in my shed. I think I really should redo that one. It’s one of those that had all the switches and might be a Japanese type of guitar, I should probably look into that.

Steve: When I was learning guitar, my dad played and kind of got me playing. He gave me an old tube amp that he played back in the 60s. I don’t remember if it was a Fender amp or what it was, but I remember it was a tube amp. It had a 12-inch speaker and it didn’t work, probably blown tubes, but I was young and I didn’t know anything. I brought it to my stepdad who can fix anything and he said it’s a bad transformer so it’s garbage. Just being young and aggressive, me and my friends bashed the shit out of it and broke it. I kick myself in the ass every time I think about it, probably just needed new tubes and I could’ve had this old vintage amp. Instead, I took a baseball bat to it [laughs].

Are there any songs or part of a song you’re particularly proud of?

Steve: As a band, one in particular would be Rest My Weary Head which is out now as a single to the forthcoming Legends Of The Desert: Volume 2. The song originated from a partial verse and chorus our singer Allan brought. Typically, we flesh out a song by playing it together and bouncing ideas off one another while being in the same room. This one tested the band and our creative process since we wrote and recorded most of it apart during COVID. This was both fun and frustrating at times, but in the end we really dig what we accomplished. We would also like to mention that the insanely badass keys played throughout this song is by the one and only Todd Ögren from Rival Sons.

Phil: Another song would be a new one titled Red Giant Star which is the first song we have recorded for the next record. We feel the song kind of has this cool spacey vibe for the first half or so then changes into a heavy, maybe even Sabbathy, second half. Todd played keys on this one as well and took it to the next level.

***After another musical tangent that involved them teaching me how to play A Song to Remember (THANK YOU!)***

Legends Of The Desert: Volume 2 – The Penitent Man & Cortége

Phil: Have you ever asked the artists who they are currently listening to?

No, but that is a great question!

Phil: What are you listening to?

**Insert final tangent of all the music I have been listening to**

What are you listening to?

Phil: You mentioned Lincoln Durham and I have seen him a few times. He’s got a great voice and excellent performer. I’m excited for this Postwax Series Vol II to come out. I ordered that. I’m a sucker for that stuff. They announced a band off it called Mammoth Volume. They’re a pretty cool band and cool name too. I’m looking forward to that. Have you listened to the song called Black Woman by Mammothwing?

No, I haven’t it.

Phil: Oh that’s a great song! Do you know the Church Of The Cosmic Skull? It’s the lead singer’s older band and we’re going to cover them too. Another one is Godzillionaire, that’s a really cool band. What are you listening to Steve? Sorry I started this whole new category [laughs].

Steve: I’ve just been letting my Spotify roll and I’ve been on a High On Fire kick lately. I just let it roll and hear new stuff continuously. Witchcraft, Phil, you got me into Witchcraft.

Mark Lanegan’s Bubblegum album is great with some mellower stuff on there as well…

Phil: Yes, Legend is a great album and their new one is more acoustic but really good. We both love The Devil And The Almighty Blues. We’re into the heavy blues at the moment. Mark Lanegan’s Bubblegum album is great with some mellower stuff on there as well. I’ve always been interested in listening to what my favorite artists are listening to and hearing what piques their interest. After all, it’s what we do and love, listening and playing music.

This has been so much fun and I thank you both for taking the time to discuss many aspects of music with me. You’ve taught me quite a bit and it was a pleasure hearing your perspectives. Thank you and let’s do this again!

The Penitent Man will be releasing Legends Of The Desert: Volume 2, a split album with Earth meets Swans doom and drone duo Cortége on the 4th June via Desert Records.

Label: Desert Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Interviewed by: Josh Schneider