Throughout the past couple of years, I’ve written a quite a bit about Ron Gallo, a Philadelphia-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist and JOVM mainstay, whose musical career began in earnest with an eight year stint as the frontman of the Philadelphia-based indie act Toy Soldiers. Now, as you recall Gallo was in a long-term romantic relationship with a deeply trouble woman — and once that relationship ended, Gallo relocated to Nashville, where he wrote and recorded material that eventually became his acclaimed 2016 full-length debut HEAVY META. Thematically, the album touched upon a number of themes within his own life, including his own personal ideology of abstaining from drugs and alcohol, self-empowerment, domestication, dead and unhappy love, not truly knowing yourself and the things that could happen to you when you don’t, mental illness from the perspective of both sufferer and close observer, and a burning, misanthropic frustration with humanity and civilization. And yet, there was some level of optimism — that music can wake someone up and get them to change what they were doing. As Gallo said in press notes at the time, “this record comes from my frustration with humanity and myself, and from my wanting to shake us all. At my core, I’m compassionate for humanity and the sickness that we all live with, and from that comes something more constructive.”
HEAVY META’s follow-up Really Nice Guys EP was released earlier this year, and the EP was a concept EP largely inspired by the previous year in Gallo’s life in which he was busy touring and promoting his full-length debut — and the EP’s material wound up being a satirical sendup of the contemporary music industry with the EP featuring songs about rough mixes, broken into three parts — iPhone demo, live band demo and overproduced, autotuned, overproduced to death studio recording; the painfully weird inability for those within the music industry to honestly admit that someone is just an awful musician, so everyone winds up saying “well, they’re really nice guys . . . ,” the number of friends, who will ask to be put on the guestlist so that you can never actually make any money off a show, and more.
Gallo’s sophomore album Stardust Birthday Party was released last year, and the album’s material was inspired by a life-altering, seismic shift in Gallo’s life. Remember the woman who inspired much of the material on Gallo’s critically applauded debut? Well, as the story goes, she had taken a trip to South America, found a healer and miraculously got herself and her life together. Understandably, when Gallo heard the news, his interest was piqued, and he began reading and searching fora more inward path for his own mental and spiritual development. Early last year, on a whim, the Philadelphia-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter and guitarist booked a trip to California for a silent meditation retreat. Despite his initial discomfort, Gallo reportedly experienced a profound experience that quickly became the answer for his existential searching — and the thematic core of the album: how inner transformation impacts both the outside world and your perception of it.
Or, as Ron Gallo says in a lengthy written statement about the album:
“Stardust Birthday Party is about human evolution. Specifically, one human’s evolution: mine, Ron Gallo. That’s the name my parents gave me. Hi.
At one point, I was a very lost mid-twenties person living in Philadelphia, in a relationship with someone struggling with mental health issues and crippling heroin addiction. I was asleep. I didn’t know how to handle my life. I was also writing songs for HEAVY META – my “frustrated with humanity” album. I laugh about it all now, but at the time it all felt like an absolute nightmare. It was the perfect doorway to look inside the place I’d been avoiding forever: myself.
Stardust Birthday Party is about what is happening underneath all of this life stuff. My path inward. The details of my path are pointless because everyone’s path is different. It is about me sitting with myself for the first time and confronting the big question “WHAT AM I, REALLY?” It’s about the love and compassion for all things that enters when you find out you are nothing and everything. I think at one point I wanted to change the world, but now I know I can only change myself, or rather just strip away everything that is not me to reveal the only thing that’s ever been there. And that’s what this album is about, it’s me dancing while destroying the person I thought I was, and hopefully forever.
In the liner notes of John Coltrane’s album A Love Supreme (which we pay tribute to on this album) he wrote: ‘During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.’
That’s it. That is the pure essence of creativity. Someone embodying what they have realized about themselves and the world that surrounds them. That is why this album exists. ”
Stardust Birthday Party’s first single “It’s All Gonna Be Okay,” was an angular ripper centered around two disparate things — the first a relishing of life’s ironies with a bemused yet accepting smile that points out that there’s a larger connection to everyone and everything; and that the only way we can actually change the world is if every individual on this planet began to take a serious and sobering look at their own fucked up shit and then do the opposite. Until then, we’re speeding our way down to hell with explosives and lit matches in the backseat.
The album’s second single “Always Elsewhere” continues in a similar vein of its predecessor, an angular and furious ripper that evokes our age of perpetual and unending fear and anxiety that has most of us running around like the White Rabbit, looking at our watches in panic and saying “There’s not enough time! There’s not enough time!” As Gallo says in press notes, “Most of the time we perceive the world, ourselves and others as ideas we have about them rather than what they really are. All our fear and anxiety stems from speculation about what COULD happen, not what is actually happening here and now. I’ve done this most of my life and still do, and the best way I’ve found is to become aware that you are not being aware or present, and suddenly you become present, that’s what this song is for — a frantic representation of modern life and our inability to live in the moment.”
“Do You Love Your Company,” Stardust Birthday Party‘s third single was a tense and anxious New Wave and post-punk take on garage rock, centered around angular blasts of guitar, a steady backbeat and an enormous, shout-worthy hook but underneath the rousingly anthemic nature of the song is something much deeper, more urgent — the very modern anxiousness and uncertainty that comes about whenever we’re left to ourselves. As Gallo says the song is “about self-inquiry. I think a lot of people struggle with being truly alone or fear silence because it forces them to look inward, but ultimately, i think it’s one of the most important things we can do to understand ourselves and others.”
Stardust Birthday Party‘s latest single “Love Supreme (Work Together!)” is an angular, New Wave-like track that at points sounds indebted to Fear of Music and More Songs About Buildings and Food-era Talking Heads — but centered around a profound observation. As Gallo explains in press notes, “I wrote this song on GarageBand on my phone on an airplane. I was listening to A Love Supreme by John Coltrane, eating my really adorable but terrible tasting airplane meal of bowtie pasta (originally the first verse was about that) and looking down at the earth from the sky where you see no separation between people or things, there is just one thing. The chorus goes ‘God loves it when we work together.’ The God I am talking about is not a specific one, but everything, the one thing that is everything, the common thread in all existence, life, whatever you want to call it. In my head this is the soundtrack to a party in the streets where there is no line between shape, color, size, gender, sexuality, beliefs, anything, none of that shit exists. Just anyone and everyone dancing kissing hugging laughing at the absurdity that we couldn’t always see that our core we are all the same. Nice!”
Directed by Joshua Shoemaker, the recently released video for “Love Supreme (Work Together!)” is a surrealistic fever dream set in a fully realized and self-contained world and shot in one incredibly long take. “This video is a total mind fuck, and I really love the colors,” says Gallo. “The level of genius and work it took Joshua and his partner Albert to conceptualize it and build the world it takes place in from zero, and then find a way to shoot it all in one shot is beyond me. Iwas just happy to be apart of it. Shoemaker told me he was in a long bout of depression and making this video pulled him out of it and that’s really what the song is all about – making people happy and helping each other out as humans.”
Gallo is currently touring across Europe before returning to the States to make an appearance at the Hinterland Music Festival. Check out the tour dates below.