Ron Gallo is a character who I came across in 2017 after a friend recommended his single at the time ‘Young Lady, You’re Scaring Me’. I was hooked in the way that you rarely are after hearing a new artist, and so I absorbed the rest of the album ‘HEAVY META’ within a day, intrigued by Gallo’s mixture of bluesy, pedal-heavy musicianship with humorous and witty punk poetry. Other favourite tracks on the album include ‘Kill The Medicine Man’ and ‘Poor traits Of The Artist’. At the time, it stood him in the guise of a modern day, more frantic Bob Dylan, trademark curls ‘n all.
After looping tracks off ‘HEAVY META’ for the rest of the year, I was looking forward to his next projects, and 2018 could not have gone any better for fans, as he released an album and an EP; ‘Stardust Birthday Party’ and the ‘Really Nice Guys EP’. When I heard ‘Always Elsewhere’, off of ‘Stardust Birthday Party’, it was an even bigger surprise than the first time I heard Gallo’s music. I was hooked all over again on this new direction. He had dropped his Dylan-esque blues roots for a more relentless, post-punk sound that he paired with a general theme throughout the album, which was to dissect the upkeep of the human condition. With tracks like ‘It’s All Gonna Be OK’ taking the musicianship up yet another level (complete with a lounge-jazz outro) and ‘Love Supreme (Work Together)’ channelling the positive punk of Talking Heads, it couldn’t have been a more timely album.
Then in yet another turn of events came the Frank Zappa-esque piss taking EP of ‘Really Nice Guys’ which was an outlet for Gallo’s frustrations towards the music industry. The concept EP picks apart guestlist blaggers and awkward supermarket encounters between musicians trying to get each other to come to their shows. Nobody is safe when in the firing line of Gallo’s razor sharp sense of irony on the EP.
The instrumental jam, ‘YouTubular’ can’t not be mentioned either.
With a new album ‘PEACEMEAL’ scheduled for 2021 where five of those tracks have already been released, Gallo taps into more of a lo-fi, pop inclined direction in yet another switch of style. This constant artistic evolution has had myself and many others fascinated by the changes that his music has gone through. It’s a fascination that caused me to email Ron, asking if he’d be willing to shed some insight on his music that has served me well over the past three years. Not long after, I received a grateful reply from Ron who was more than happy to take part in the interview. And so I rushed together a plan and set up a zoom call to Nashville USA, where he is currently living with his new wife and musical collaborator, Chiara.
I wanted to start by getting the geeky music gear questions out of the way first if that’s alright. Watching live sessions on YouTube from around the ‘Stardust Birthday Party’ era, you create a massive sound for a three piece band consisting of just guitar bass and drums – so I was intrigued to what effects and pedals you used to achieve that?
I’ve added a few since we played as a trio which has been kinda disbanded since. But back then it was really pretty simple, I was using a Tuner Pedal, a Boss DD-T Pedal, a Fat Fuzz Factory, an Ibanez Tube Screamer and a Fender Compression Pedal. I’d alternate between those four different sounds through my Princeton amp.
Your first band ‘Toy Soldiers’ had up to 12 musicians at one point. How did you find refining your sound down to just three members?
God, that feels like multiple lifetimes ago. Back in 2009 we had 10 to 12 people, but I have fluctuated. That band was a duo at first and went up to 12 and then I went solo and then into that trio. My mindset was – if you can’t pull off a song with the bare minimum of three people and it not being compelling, then there’s something missing. At least when I go to a show and see 5 or 6 people on stage with multiple synths and whatever that’s great, but ultimately it was more about the energy and finding a minimal way to do that. Moving forward, when and if touring resumes, I want to expand it again to a five-piece to work with different sounds and not have to be playing all the time, and just be more free. So it’s just about shifting with whatever feels right I guess.
It’s a case of finding the right musicians to do that with as well.
Of course. It’s important to find people that click personally, but you need to like their playing too. I think it’s the universe at work that kinda leads you to the right people.
So is all of your music self produced?
The two records and ‘The Really Nice Guys’ EP were all collaborative productions between myself and my former bass player, Joe. The record that I just finished was recorded and produced primarily by me for the first time. There’s some collaborations with other people but other than that, this record was the first time that I played, recorded and produced most things by myself. I’ve always relied on other people for things, but it was nice to realise that I could pull it off.
What recording software did you go through?
It was mostly done on GarageBand for iPad and Mac – I’m talking about just a shitty little cheap interface plugged into the iPad, and a lot of tracks done that way are gonna be on the album.
That’s reassuring to hear as I use GarageBand myself.
It’s the best, it’s really easy to use.
Would you ever trust anyone else to produce your music?
The right person, yeah. It’s difficult to say because you just never know until you try something with someone. The new record was the first time going outside of my band in collaboration. Because of the pandemic we worked remotely, so it was interesting because I sent tracks to someone, and he did a bunch of work and sent them back, and it went well. So I just think it comes down to trying something and seeing what the result is. But I feel pretty good about what me and Chiara can do ourselves here, and that’s what I’m more interested in moving forward.
I wanted to go back to 2018 and talk about your EP ‘Really Nice Guys’. It’s almost a concept piece based around the typical things that you’re subjected to as a musician. I found it really accurate. I wanted to ask – do you hate the music industry just as much as it seems?
I do. And I think that it’s only gotten worse. It’s really gross and pretty evil grimy business, and in order to function within it you have to play that game in a way. Making that EP was a way to make it more tolerable for me to be able to laugh at myself and not take it too seriously. Because the artists are usually at the bottom of the totem pole, we get taken advantage of and are really undervalued to a point where you don’t even make money off of your actual music anymore, you have to go out and tour. The way that it’s all wired is not artist friendly, and artists are the blood of the whole thing. I realised that even more over the last 6 or 7 months, without being able to tour and be distracted from the reality, it’s made me hate it even more. Artists need to value themselves. We’re the providers of something that’s essential for human life, and societally it’s not seen that way when it should be. People need to reclaim that somehow, because without artists the industry is nothing, so I hope we can fix that.
You come across as an artist who needs complete freedom to do whatever you want, without anybody pulling the reins behind you.
Yeah, I try to be as self-sufficient as possible and go wherever I feel like I need to go creatively and not be ruled by people’s expectations on the kind of music you should make. I think it’s the only way to be able to do it for a long time. To be able to evolve and grow is to be in control of your own destiny I guess, it’s the only way. I made that assumption based on all of the stylistic shifts between your releases, because there aren’t many labels that would willingly let you do that.
Do you consciously strive to switch up your style to keep it fresh?
Very much so. It’s just kinda how I’m wired, I get really into something for a period of time where I become that and create that and then I change a lot. My interests change and I’d like to keep chasing that all of my life because it keeps it genuine, it keeps it current and it keeps me going, because I’m not the same person that I was five years ago.
As you have shifted styles, I have picked out different influences throughout, and stop me if you don’t agree, but beginning with Bob Dylan during the ‘Heavy Meta’ period through to elements of Frank Zappa in 2018. What’s your take on the importance of being ‘influenced’ by other artists? Do you find yourself seeking inspiration or does it just kind of happen as you go?
I always treat influence in an unconventional way. Like I was saying, I’m the kind of person who’ll get really into something for a period of time and I’ll let it influence me, but not in the kind of way where I’m trying to be somebody else. I’ll take a piece of influence from one place, and then something else and then the next thing you know it becomes a combination of so many unrelated things that it’s sort of new. It’s interesting that you say Bob Dylan, because I had a phase back in like 2008 where I’d exclusively listen to Bob Dylan and that was it. I don’t think I’ve listened to him since. But that’s how influence works, things can subconsciously affect you, especially from him, where it’s a case of cramming so many words into small spaces and emphasising lyricism, even though I haven’t listened to him in ten years. It’s interesting that you say that. With Zappa and the sort of weirdness in the music… This is probably gonna sound unacceptable but I’ve probably only heard about two Frank Zappa songs in my life.
Me too to be honest.
Yeah, it’s not the kind of thing that I listen to, but I think it influences the way that you can listen to a couple songs of his and then sense his weirdness and unconventional approach and you can take just that as an influence. So yeah, I’m just a sponge.
So you’re currently living in Nashville after spending a lot of your career in Philadelphia.
Yeah, I think we’re heading back to Philly soon though.
Are there any major differences between the music scenes in those cities?
Yes. The biggest difference, and this is why I’ll always identify with Philadelphia’s attitude & music there, is that it’s not a music industry town so the creativity and the music there is very free, it’s very weird and unconventional. No one’s trying to ‘make it’ there, so it’s much better.
That’s good, because Philadelphia is not far from New York which I imagine is a completely different monster.
Exactly. New York and Nashville are similar in the way that they are music industry cities, and there’s so many people who come from other places to ‘make it’. They all try to social climb and their music is more manufactured and it’s a lot of bullshit. So that’s the biggest difference for me. Not to say there’s not good genuine stuff in Nashville, but there’s such a lot of bullshit. There’s a lot of networking people who just wanna be your friend because of how you can help them. Whereas in Philly, nobody gives a shit. Everyone just does what they do, and they don’t care, and it’s awesome.
So that’s why you’re heading back then?
Yeah, I mean it’s home. But that helps too.
Your new album PEACEMEAL is out in February 2021, which will feature your recent releases, PLEASE DON’T DIE, YOU ARE ENOUGH, WUNDAY (CRAZY AFTER DARK), HIDE (MYSELF BEHIND YOU) and EASTER ISLAND, and again with the stylistic shifts, you’ve adopted a more hip-hop, lo-fi, even pop inclined sound – can I say pop?
Yeah, my version of it. I think with this new record, I’m trying to blend a lot more of my lifelong influences into the music rather than just right now, which is the difference for me, because a lot of my first CD’s were 90’s rap albums. So it’s all of the things that I’ve neglected so far that I’ve brought into the mix.
It feels a lot more relaxed when compared to your earlier work. And as you said on Twitter, ‘PLEASE DON’T DIE’ is also your first attempt at a love song. So I’m guessing that your relationship has also played more of a part in your music than ever before?
Yeah, definitely. Chiara and I met a little over two years ago in Italy, where she’s from. And then that was sort of it, it changed my life a lot internally for the better, but also creatively allowed me to spend more time in a foreign place and learn from other cultures and absorb that. She’s also a musician and she plays on the record and will be playing with me when live shows resume. It’s been a really beautiful thing, to be in a state of relaxation and joy as opposed to functioning in frustration and anger with the world. It’s just something I feel like I can base a life on instead of constantly returning to that dark, aggressive place – I can’t do that anymore because it doesn’t feel genuine. And so, it’s had a beautiful effect on it. I definitely feel a lot more peaceful than I did a few years ago, I used to be very angry at the world and be trying to change shit through my music. Just don’t be afraid of expressing joy, and don’t be afraid of other styles of music that you find yourself listening to.
Of course, we can’t have an interview in 2020 without talking about the pandemic. How has the pandemic been for artists over in America? Over here it’s been really shit, particularly in the events sector.
Yeah, it’s really sucked, but everything’s double sided. There’s been a lot of good realisations that have come from this time. Being able to create and learn new things by taking time off from the constant touring, and the grind on your physical and mental health – all that’s good. But I also didn’t realise how much I took touring for granted, and how much of myself and identity is centred around travelling and going to play music for people. So it’s resulted in a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about the future for me, and me just missing a huge part of myself I think. It feels weird putting music out, and not being able to go and be in front of people. I try not to think about it because we don’t know the answers, but I’m more in the mindset of how can we adapt and try to reconnect with people in unconventional safe ways, and to not just sit around and wait for this to end, but how can we function without risking ourselves?
I know you put together a live stream festival encouraging people to stay home during the beginning of it all, was that successful?
It was great. We did that at the beginning of the quarantine period and it gave me a lot of energy and inspiration to have something to work for. It was before live streams became over saturated so it was still exciting. Connecting with bands, speakers and comedians all over the world to put together this thing was really helpful to get me through a couple of months. I thought it went really well, and even just the donations were nice to keep us going and get us through the quarantine. But then like anything it fizzled out, the energy kinda burnt out so we let it run its course after about two months.
Again going back to the ‘Stardust Birthday Party’ era, a lot of your lyrics were very outspoken within dissecting the human condition on songs like ‘It’s All Gonna Be OK’ and ‘Love Supreme (Work Together)’ – which i picked up another influence on being Talking Heads, if you’ve had that before.
Yeah that was me intentionally trying to make a Talking Heads song.
You did a good job of it. Was this reflection of mindfulness within your music something that you try to carry over into everyday life?
Yeah if anything that record was me trying to take my everyday practices and approach to living and combine it with music. I was on this very heavy inward path – which I always have been and always will be – but I was getting into meditation and spiritual practices, reading and going on retreats – just digging into the big existential questions. It consumed a lot of my everyday life, so I thought, how can I make a record on what’s the most genuine thing to me right now. It doesn’t necessarily have to sound like spaced out yoga music. It’s definitely not that.
So were you just discovering this spiritual side through that era?
Yeah, before that I had never been much of a spiritual person. I always had that sort of existential thing where things felt off. It always resulted for me in a lot of frustration, confusion and depression. Once I sort of leaned into that side of things I realised that what I was looking for was there the whole time. Before that it was the furthest thing from me. I was pretty resistant to it. But that’s how it works I guess – until you have your own experiences with those things, it can come off as a really foreign thing.
What would you say to anybody who might be struggling throughout this period?
One of the more comforting thoughts for me as time progresses and humanity becomes more complex, is to think that all of this is really one organism working together. We and all things are all part of one thing stemming from one source. It doesn’t have to be looked at in a religious way, it’s more as if you zoom out- it’s the appearance of reality. The way of remembering that when things get difficult, it gives you a more universal process to trust in. Things are being taken care of, and the universe ebbs and flows in the way that it’s written to do so. So when things get difficult, it’s all gonna make sense someday. It’s that natural part of evolution. When you saw those stories about when the pandemic hit and the air pollution above China improved and the canals in Venice were repopulated by wildlife, and things around the earth just generally improved. It’s things like that which shows that nature is in control whether we’re aware of it or not. That’s a really long way of saying, just try to let go – accept and trust the universe. Don’t get bogged down on the what ifs.
Exactly. – Any advice for artists looking to start out?
Well if you’re starting now, shit. I’m sorry but it only gets more difficult. The thing that I would say to anyone would be not to compromise. When it comes to making anything it has to be completely for you, because that’s really the only joy of it. The only purity in the whole musical pursuit are those moments of creativity. After that, everything is just watered down, destroyed, judged and tainted. So yeah, the creative part is the whole thing. Your value is not determined by any of this other bullshit. Fulfill yourself because everything else is out of your control and a waste of energy.
With 2020 being pretty much a write off, what’s your forecast for 2021? How’s it gonna go in the world of Ron Gallo?
I foresee relocating probably back to Philly, spending some time in Italy, the record coming out in February, and my hope that by maybe late Spring we’ll be able to do some shows. Maybe not a full tour, but a handful of things across the US, some things in Europe, and slowly get back into it. I can’t say for sure, but that’s my hope.
Ron’s upcoming album PEACEMEAL is out in February 2021. Visit his website and merch store: www.reallynice.world
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