Philly's Toy Soldiers Headline TLA, Release Debut

posted May 11, 2010

Philly's Toy Soldiers Headline TLA, Release Debut

Philadelphia's Toy Soldiers are headlining the TLA on May 15 in celebration of the release of their raucously rootsy debut album "Whisper Down the Lane" on Drexel University's nationally renowned student-run label, MAD Dragon Records (WEA/ADA) on May 18th. "Whisper Down the Lane" was part recorded at the hidden recording studio at notorious Northern Liberties venue The Fire and part at a scruffy yet cozy warehouse space in Fishtown called The Woodstove. The Fire tracks were produced by the club's soundman and resident recording genius, Dino Leonetti and the others by local engineer and friend Parker Cipolle.

Toy Soldiers began its life as a playful duo: singer/songwriter Ron Gallo and long-time friend and sort-of drummer Mike Baurer. Ron, who'd been writing songs on his own for a long time, started having Baurer put a beat to ‘em and recording the results as quick and raw as possible. The inspiration for the name, "Toy Soldiers," came from a painting by that title that Ron Gallo caught sight of at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Two days after he'd noticed the painting, some strangers came into Ron's place of work at the time and told him that he looked just like a kid in a painting they'd seen at the Museum of Art the day before, fortunately enough it was the same painting.

At a certain point, Ron had become obsessed with rural American roots music and wound up spontaneously creating a song in that vein. Gallo recalls, "Me and Baurer were riding bikes back home from his work and I just started singing the intro lyrics and melody. Then he chimed in with a line. When we got back to our house we went in the basement and worked the whole song out in literally 15 minutes. It just flowed and all the sudden I was singing in a way I never had before. It was eye opening for both of us and sort of forced us in the right direction." Titled "Throw Me Down," took them both by surprise and led Gallo to commit himself to making music that grew out of traditional styles, and to the "throw together one hour, record the next" formula.

The two piece version of Toy Soldiers paid serious dues for a year and a half. Ron was constantly writing (about a song a day), he and Mike constantly recording their characteristic bare bones demos. They also drove all over in a Toyota Camry, playing a ton of shows and beginning to make a name for themselves in Philadelphia.

Having recruited a bassist, Toy Soldiers entered the hidden studio at The Fire club with Dino Leonetti. They brought in various outside musician friends to help out: singers Kate Foust, Vinchelle Woods and Josiah Wise, saxophonist Noah Skaroff, trumpeter Pete Veloski, guitarist Dan King, and pianist, singer and guitarist Zach Poyatt. As Ron listened to the finished results, he was struck by how much the guest musicians had transformed and redefined the songs and realized that this was how they were meant to be performed and invited these folks to become permanent band members. The final version of "Which Way Waltz" brought that home most powerfully. "It's me seeking the advice of someone I love on where to go, what to do, what is right, what is wrong? when I was lost and confused," explains Gallo. "The desperation behind it is that the voice behind the song does not have the ability to decide for themselves and so they are literally depending on someone else to tell them what is right. But I really think the band and all the arrangements made this song so beautiful. And the singers are just beyond this world. Kate's vocal arrangements brought the song to a whole new dimension and all of the unwritten parts we're just improvised on the first take. There's so much heart and soul in their voices. Almost gospel-esque which I love."

Ron then decided to open up "Whisper Down the Lane" to songs written by the other band members. "Dan and Noah used to play "Loaded on Sunday" in their old band called Holly Billaday and it was a song I always loved. Dan's finest. So we brought it out one day and made some changes and now I think the song has gotten to the point it needed to be at. Dan just did amazing things with the melodies and capturing this lazy, careless feeling in the song that has so much character to it. ‘Be Right Here' was written by Kate Foust. It was an old song she used to perform with her old band and it was always my favorite one of hers. After she left the old band we had talked about how the song would perfect for Toy Soldiers and so that's how it went down. It's a hit!"

Out of every song on this album "Beside You In Mind" is the one that Gallo holds most dear and really allowed himself to open up in order to write. It was a poem he wrote for singer Kate Foust the day before she left for a month-long tour. "I'd never been separated from a loved one in such an untimely and lengthy fashion and while she roamed around the country seeing all of these places, I was stuck at home. And I will admit I was miserable! Through the song I looked around and tried to create as many connections I could make with her working with such massive distance. Like looking to the moon, something we would both be able to see simultaneously. Or that all the millions of roads she'd travel would only run back to one place. Or that I could be like a ghost somehow going along with her. And by the end of the song the final day rolls around and the music just explodes it sort of sounds like the moment we met again."

The new, large, wild n' crazy band dressed up in costume and played their first live show all together at a one-time-hoorah-party at DIY venue Fishtown Collective on May 9th, 2009. Some members actually met each other for the first time on stage. Thereafter Baurer left the group and drummer Tom Cladek came in to fill his shoes. Later that year, Bennett Daniels took over the bassist slot. Since then the lineup has been the most productive and consistent yet embarking on two self-booked East coast tours, recording four new tracks that have been added to the now officially complete "Whisper Down the Lane."