“I’m really into people that just really throw it all out there, like don’t hold anything back,” explains Ron Gallo, frontman and principal songwriter for Philly’s Toy Soldiers. Pressed for examples, he mentions Jeff Buckley. “Just somebody that has like otherworldly characters to his voice that you listen to and you’re like “well fuck,'” he says of the legendary musician. Talking with Gallo about his musical influences makes it very easy to understand what makes him such a great singer in his own right. Like Buckley, and many other greats, Gallo has a unique and powerful voice that he knows how and when to let loose. “Otherworldly” might be a good way to describe it.
Gallo’s vocals are certainly a huge part of what makes Toy Soldiers one of the best young bands in the country, but each member possesses natural talent that help make the five-piece a tight, well-oiled rock and roll unit. Bassist Bill McCloskey and drummer Dominic Billet, “the most musical people in the band,” work hard to perfect their respective crafts and form a strong backbone that the rest of the band can build on.
Lead guitarist Matt Kelly brings an experimental side to the band, often bringing that old time rock and roll feel back while doing something you’ve probably never heard before. That leaves keyboardist Luke Leidy, who seems to be the wild card of the group. “He likes being hilarious, hanging out, having a good time, playing video games and then just being awesome when he shows up and does his thing,” explains Gallo in bewilderment as to how Leidy always comes up with the perfect parts for songs.
Toy Soldiers was not always this lovable, harmonious five-piece of talented rock and rollers. After starting as a duo with just Gallo and drummer Mike Baurer, the group eventually grew to an unmanageable collection of around a dozen members. Their debut LP, Whisper Down the Lane, was like “a group efforted Jackson Pollock painting,” as Gallo mused at the time. The album was released in the spring of 2010. By late summer of the same year, only Gallo remained.
The big band dissolved quickly, with the brunt of the damage coming before and during an August tour down South. A week before the tour, the band’s drummer backed out. The day before the tour, Gallo and his girlfriend, who was also in the band, broke up. The band left for the tour with just “one hour-long practice where Bennett (Daniels) and Dan (King) would switch on-and-off on the drums.” Needless to say, they were not off to a great start. Three days into the tour, a family emergency drew Daniels away and on a 26-hour bus ride to Michigan. The band picked up friend and fellow musician Jordan Hull to try to keep it together but “couldn’t make it through a show…it was just crumbling. It was a nightmare.”
By time they returned home, Gallo found himself without a band and hometown shows on the books. He called Billett, who he knew through mutual music-playing friends. The drummer threw together a band and “it just immediately clicked.” The new group debuted at CMJ on October 18th, 2010 and “since then it’s been great.” Now, the solidified quintet is gearing up to release a new album (their first full-length together) called The Maybe Boys this spring (release date to-be-announced), recorded over the last year with Bill Moriarty (Dr. Dog, Man Man).
The new album took shape in a markedly different way than the Pollack-esque process for Whisper Down the Lane. This one Gallo compares to “a series of snapshots,” explaining that “all the tracks on the album are like captured moments in time.” Looking for a recording “that can represent our live show,” the band laid down almost all of the album live and, as a result, “you can kinda hear the room.” It is a quality that shows itself on many great older recordings, and is the perfect way for these guys, who have always put on an amazing live show, to record an album.
If you are a fan of the local music scene in Philadelphia, you have certainly heard of Bill Moriarty, and probably know that the great records he has helped make stretch far beyond his work with Dr. Dog. Working with Moriarty seems to be a blessing for any band, and Gallo points to one reason why: “he likes to maximize the talent of the people in the room.” His laid back approach in the studio, combined with that very simple, amazingly effective philosophy, has helped maximize Toy Soldiers’ extraordinary talent and produce what will be one of 2013’s best records.
Toy Soldiers will headline a show we’re very excited to present at Kung Fu Necktie on Friday, February 15th. Goodnight, Texas and August John Lutz II (of Levee Drivers) will open. Tickets are available here. More information can also be found on this Facebook event page.