Ron Gallo’s ‘Heavy Meta’ Is Fun and Dark and Garage and Psychedelic and Nice as Hell

Sure, it’s kind of a dumb joke. Ron Gallo will admit that about the title of his album, Heavy Meta. In fact, it’s the first thing he’ll point out. But, hey, it’s a little heavier than what fans of his might know him for—the rootsy Americana sounds of the Nashville via Philadelphia songwriter’s former band Toy Soldiers—and it’s trying to talk about some heavy shit, and that’s pretty meta to even acknowledge all of that.

Ron and his new band, made up of drummer Dylan Sevey and bassist/producer Joe Bisirri, take a grunge-y, fuzzy turn on Heavy Meta, leaning into the bombastic snark of songs like “Why Do You Have Kids” and “Young Lady, You’re Scaring Me.” The goal was, as Bisirri explains, to “channel the frustration and the anger in the songs into the sounds around them.” At the same time, jangly reflections of classic 60s rock like Bob Dylan—who, with his bushy hair, Gallo can’t help but evoke a bit, even before you factor in the tongue-in-cheek lyrics—and The Beatles well up, as on the bouncy kiss-off “Can’t Stand You.”

Heavy Meta is out on New West Records this Friday, February 3, but you can stream it early below. Ron and his band recently stopped by the VICE offices to provide some context to the songs.

Noisey: What drew you into the sound of this album?
Ron Gallo: I look at it in two parts. Chapter one was years zero through 26 of my life, and then 27 through 29 was sort of the beginning of chapter two, which resulted in Heavy Meta being made. Toy Soldiers, we were kind of like a modern study of American roots music, and this stuff is kind of embracing a love for the late 70s punk stuff, The Stooges, Richard Hell, Minor Threat, and sort of more aggressive rock and roll music. Garage rock and psychedelic stuff combined in this weird blend. Which coincides with feelings and attitudes and confronting a lot of things on the record.

What kind of feelings?
It’s kind of a bit of an assault on humanity. The idea to start questioning things. Now being a good time to wake up and look within and look at the world around us and sort of understand our own ability to transform ourselves and the world. The record came from that place of me starting to challenge everything that I thought that I was. But it’s all in good humor too, which is kind of the two sides of it. ‘Cause we’re not serious people necessarily, but I think it’s important to use music to talk about that stuff. Dark humor is sort of where it ends up being.

Sort of like on the song “Why Do You Have Kids?” What’s the story of that one?
It’s been interesting to play over the past couple years because usually it results in some kind of weird audience laughter. Just from the first line, “why do you have kids?” There’s this intersection in Philadelphia I used to live a couple blocks from. It’s this strange place where all the subways meet, so it kind of creates this really strange gathering of all walks of life. You just see a lot of seedy characters and weird stuff. One day I saw one of the images in the song, talking about a mom’s cigarette ash falling into her kid’s stroller, and in my head I was like “why do you have kids?” It is a question I seem to have asked a lot through life, just seeing the way that people deal with it and the weird cycle that creates of shitty parenting is interesting.

You’re really going for it.
Yeah. And that song for me helped me step into a new realm that kind of led to the rest of the songs. Kind of being very straight up about stuff. Another one I guess would be “All the Punks Are Domesticated.” It started with the title. Before I moved from Philly to Nashville I had this house cleaning job, and all my coworkers were these straight up punk rock kids. Two of us would go, and we would clean houses for hours, and we would get talking. I just found it funny that these hardcore punk rock kids were talking about, like, their student loans and getting a place with their significant other and how they were looking into new schools. Just this totally domesticated existence they were living. But then also they were totally punk rock, and they had the aesthetic of being punk rock, and they were in punk rock bands. They were awesome to talk to. But I just thought it was funny, and it resulted in this song and me looking at my true feelings on the state of music and culture and society. Just this watered down sense that no one has anything to say. But they should. Because if you’re not completely asleep and you look around you realize “oh wow, maybe we should be using music and art to comment on what is going on in the world right now.” Especially now. All these songs are from years ago, but it’s becoming more and more resonant.

Let’s talk about another song, “Kill the Medicine Man.”
That’s probably one of the oldest ones on the record. It kind of goes hand in hand with those two, sort of my transition into not drinking anymore. I’ve never really been into drugs really much, but removing the social drinking aspect from my life and touring and stuff and how that led to this realization that like “oh wow, maybe I wasn’t always looking at myself and facing my pain and dealing with stuff.” And then this at least personal aha moment that I had of how my life changed by removing that aspect from it. So I really like that one. It’s just a personal ideology on self-medication and escapism, whether it’s going to the bar four nights a week and drinking or prescription medication or drug use or any kind of ways people are numbing themselves, my choice to sort of remove myself from it.

When did that choice occur for you?
It’s been a few years. I was in a relationship, still am, and they struggled with addiction and substance issues, and so for me it began as a support thing. You’re struggling with these things; that’s fine with me. I don’t mind giving up drinking in order to be with you and support you. So it started there, and then I turned into this whole thing like, “whoa, I’m just seeing my life like the people I used to spend a lot of time with, now I’m realizing that the only thing we were bonded by was going to the bar and having meaningless, bullshit conversation til three in the morning.” And I was no longer interested in it. That’s how it kind of began, and it’s been a few years, and I like it this way. It’s very, very ingrained in touring. Sometimes you play a show and you get paid in beer. It’s just like a natural thing. And for me, I don’t care what anybody does. But for me it’s been great being able to see a new light.

Photos by Jason Favreau. Follow him on Instagram.

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