Technically, Andy Gallagher is Trains Across the Sea, but the neo-beatnik band functions more like a community project. Members add color to Gallagher’s folk-rock sing-alongs then move on to frontiers of their own — old-timey powerhouse The DewDroppers, virtuosic buskers The Apes and three separate math Ph.D. candidates among them.
“It's a hell of an incubator,” said Gallagher, who quit his job as an engineer to pursue music full time in 2007.
The communal aspect of Trains is inextricable from the music, a soundtrack to the camaraderie in Gallagher’s circle. He rolls with artists, musicians and free spirits, traipsing from Campus haunts Taj Bar and Kafe Kerouac to the so-called Peach District along King Avenue to the Franklinton creative space 400 West Rich.
“The Captain,” a highlight from Trains Across the Sea’s new album, What a Day, What a Time We Had, pays tribute to the freaks and geeks Gallagher calls comrades. It’s whimsical with possibilities (“We could go get wasted in the alley/ We could race each other to the top of the tree”) but frustrated by realities (“We could climb a mountain if we had one/ Lose another friend to NYC”).
Album closer “Love” shows there’s still loneliness sometimes amidst the bustle: “I write songs instead of letters to friends/ Maybe I should have put that in a song/ And that’s OK if there’s no missed calls/ There’s still some whiskey at home.” Seeking inspiration, he spent the winter living on Indian Lake an hour outside Columbus, commuting three days a week for part-time engineering work but otherwise going it alone.
“It felt like a situation where I just needed to repair myself and just be calm and comfortable. So I played plenty — I’m always writing, always got stuff happening — but it definitely didn’t turn into the Bon Iver situation, nor was that really the goal,” Gallagher said. “I just kind of wanted to be in a quiet space and see what I wanted. Which I never answered.”
Gallagher is moving back just in time to celebrate What a Day Friday at Rumba. Littered with local musicians, Trains’ fifth album presents a wide-eyed, harmonica-laden look at concepts like love, friendship and the gods of rock ’n’ roll. Gallagher’s uncertain about what’s next, but in the meantime, these songs are the best, brightest representation of his vision.
“I’ve got something I can show my grandkids when they ask what I did,” he said. “I wanted to get to that point, and I have that now.”