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April 23rd, 2009

Ten Questions With: Toy Soldiers

One of my favorite new finds on the local band scene is Toy Soldiers, which makes fabulously jangly, rootsy, soulful garage-rock that frequently gets Nuggets-y and often references several eras of British music — from Kinks-style Mod-rock to such ’90s Brit-pop acts as Supergrass and even the Verve (Richard Ashcroft would kill for the piano/slide guitar/harmonica-based melody and balladry of “Where is Your Love”). We caught up with singer-guitarist Ron Gallo the other day for a “Ten Questions” session:

What makes a live show especially memorable or special for you?
The most memorable shows are usually the ones that go most terribly. To date, I’d say that show would’ve been last year in a basement we played in South Philly. My guitar amp wouldn’ t work but somehow wasn’t broken, the PA speakers fell on [drummer Mike] Baurer when we were playing, the drunkest kid ever in the crowd had the mic most of the time, and I lost my voice just in time to drive down to Maryland the same night for a show the next afternoon. On the other end of the spectrum, the more people singing, dancing or getting involved is always memorable. And any time we play with our good friends Perkasie, the Armchairs, Controlled Storms, Tongue Sculptors, or Quantine Rabbit, and usually whenever we play at the Fire, which has become our second home.

What are the pros and cons of being in a band in Philadelphia these days?
The pros are that whether you like it or not, you’re connected to everyone else in one way or another. Also, there’s this certain grit or dirtiness or carelessness about Philly that shines through in the music made here. You don’t need to be polished and done-up, there is no image, you are what you are in Philly. It feels like home, it’s friendly and it’s open-minded. Also, successful Philly bands are few and far between, so whoever they may be are like the hometown heroes and they bring everyone together. That feeling doesn’t exist in a bigger city. As for cons, none! Yet!

What’s the songwriting process like for you guys — does one person bring an idea to the band and everyone adds to it, or do you come up with everything together at once?

Songs are gifts. I tend to be the main receiver, in my bedroom usually with an acoustic guitar and paper and pen. I then unwrap these gifts and show them to Baurer and [bassist] Tyler [Beck] and if not already complete or structured then we’ll finish it together. Otherwise I’ll play and sing it through, then they’ll play along, and next thing you know it’s in the bag.

What was the best advice you’ve ever gotten about making music?
“A song a day keeps the madness away,” that’s advice I gave myself. As for others, I tend to take some sort of advice from everyone I love and respect as a music maker without them actually having to say anything, whether it be Otis Redding or a friend of mine.

Who was the first musician you saw on TV when you were a kid and you were like, “I wanna do THAT!”?
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had that happen. Probably because from the time when I would have said that to now, I’ve come along way, meaning I probably wanted to be Fred Durst at one point and I probably, definitely don’t want to do that now.

What is it about the band that you take the most seriously, and what do you take the least seriously?

I take seriously the song and fun. We don’t take ourselves, as people, seriously because then we are taking things too seriously to be serious about the most serious thing, fun. And everything else between should be taken seriously as necessary and as it comes, never before, never after.

Who are the bands or musicians you absolutely hate being compared to?
The White Stripes.

Who are the bands or musicians you really don’t mind being compared to?
Some things we’ve been told and haven’t minded: Like Dylan lost out in Alabama; like CCR rocking the fuck out 2009 style; Chuck Berry; the Sun Records house band.

What’s your ultimate definition of success for this band?

I think the ultimate definition of success is getting whatever it is we deserve, whether everything, anything, or nothing, and not thinking it was a mistake. Respect will always top money, and integrity will always top fame. Looking at today’s “music stars,” that doesn’t seem to be a very popular belief. In my opinion, the most successful musician of today is Ryan Adams. He has found this perfect niche of success that I think is one-of-a-kind in a way where he can write 500 songs a day, release three albums a year, show up and play two songs and leave, marry Mandy Moore, have Elton John call him a genius, duet with Norah Jones, quit music to write books, play Madison Square Garden in platform shoes and a sideways ponytail, dance around with death metal and traditional country, release 11 albums in one day under a variety of aliases, act like a chameleon in his sound and appearance, hate himself publicly, love himself publicly and at the end of the day everyone else’s opinions never mattered and he walked out of it himself. Success is everlasting integrity, and always having your hands on the reigns is most important.

What’s your single favorite thing about Philadelphia?
Its people, and it has character.

Toy Soldiers plays the Fire on Friday, April 24th. 10pm, $7.

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