"The writing seems effortless ... it's more just riffs and rockin'," singer Lee Gallagher says. "I love Soul singers. It seems different than a lot of stuff that's going on. I play harmonica through an amp from the '40s."
Guitarist Phil Day says, "It's Hard Rock heavily informed by the Blues."
Bassist Marc Mayo adds, "We play loud and fast. No computers. When I listen to it, I rarely hear modern influences."
Even off stage, hanging out, The Way Downs look like genetic celebrities. First, if you've seen Gallagher, you know that he drips a Rock vibe.
In crowds he sticks out like a ghost among the living.
With his wiry frame, big eyes, long, uneven hair, sunken, pale cheeks and full lips, he's an obvious walking, talking lead singer, someone about to grab the nearest mic and wail. And wail he does. He moves with slow fluidity and when he dances, he's snaky, sultry, at home with an audience.
Day is an equally commanding presence. With long blonde hair, high cheekbones and a strong, cut jaw, he seems thoughtful, kind and preoccupied, as if he's thinking about chords rather than conversations.
With a wide smile, rather shy, Day gazes down when he says, "I've just been studying and wailing away in the basement."
He doesn't mention former bands or credentials. He doesn't care. What matters, he says, is the intense songwriting energy and commitment he feels with Gallagher.
Mayo has hair the shade of coal, deep brown eyes and long sideburns that lead down to his lips. He's edgy, playful, at times quiet, at times full of soft sarcasm complemented by subtle smiles. Before The Way Downs, Mayo had never played bass.
"We had some bass players over that were really good," Day says. "They were too good. They were virtuosos."
Mayo says, "It wasn't on the radar. It was a nice surprise. I have patient bandmates."
All three breathe an air of recklessness. Mischievous, handsome, quiet trouble.
At a recent Stanley's Pub gig, they added short-haired drummer Matt Kools, who appeared more clean-cut than the rest. But he keeps up with his rambunctious bandmates, on and off stage.
Hitting the stage at 1 a.m., The Way Downs are sexy, sure, together, right on, and everyone is into his job — damn, the singer can sing. Day's fingers blend into his instrument and his expressions blend into the lights and noise. Bass and drums hold it up. And except for Gallagher's ancient amp, there are no special effects.
Down and dirty, crowd-churning Rock. Retro style, they take over the club with a vintage presence, a "band mystique." Surely, Gallagher came out of the womb holding a microphone.
"It goes back to the old thing where you look at bands and you know the singer, you know the lead guitar player and the guitar player can play, and the singer can sing," Gallagher says. "Like The Who. Everybody knew Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey."
Over the years, I've seen talented bands play cozy Stanley's. But I wondered what the hell The Way Downs were doing here. No offense, Stanley's, I love you, but it seemed like this band should've been playing some concert hall. Striking and weird. I scratched my head.
So Gallagher's past bands include greatmodern, Lavender Drags, Mister Scarlet's Plume and Crazy Chester. All were popular, but Gallagher often ends and re-creates outfits.
"I always stop myself and start everything new," he says. "I guess I like to push myself. I never carry songs over from one band to the next."
The Way Downs' music is heavier than his former work, but it holds Gallagher's powerhouse voice and kickass songwriting. He and Day are a talented match. With particular fiery energy, I'd hate to see this spark extinguished prematurely.
With December recording plans, Gallagher says, "I think the intent would be to do this for a living."
When asked if he thinks the major-label deal is possible, big-eyed and without hesitation, he nods and says, "Oh yeah." And, without hesitation, I believe him.
THE WAY DOWNS (myspace.com/waydowns) play their next local show Jan. 12 at Northside Tavern.