lBy: Gemma Mastroianni
Ron Gallo is a Philadelphia-based artist who makes alternative rock music while dipping his toes into a variety of other genres such as R&B, Pop, and more.
I found out about Ron from his recent performance with Amazon Music and have been loving his collection of music ever since. His colourful branding, eccentric songwriting, and no-bullshit personality can't be missed. Check out his most recent album PEACEMEAL and enjoy the interview below:
Tell the readers a bit about yourself.
I live in Philadelphia. I've been making music for way too long. I started in high school, I'm still doing it, and I like many different things, kind of a chameleon, and I tend to shift and change and evolve often.
Favourite colour is orange.
How would you describe your genre?
I'm a bit of a chameleon. So with each record, it's sort of a completely different world. So like first was "HEAVY META'l, I think you could kind of throw that into the type of garage punk. Rock world, maybe a little psychedelia, the second record, “Stardust Birthday Party,” is like a new wave post-punk record and then ‘Peacemeal,’ which just came out, is kind of like my weird attempt at pop music. I guess, you know, it's kind of a blend of everything I like. That's not what I had already done. You know, like there's some jazz R&B, 90s hip hop, a little bit of the punk and previous stuff, kind of like thrown in there.
It's spoken word. It's kind of a big mishmash, like a fruit salad or something, you know. If anything, my genre’s fruit salad because I'm just kind of like a bunch of different colours and all over the place all the time.
I was going to ask you to say, how would you say your art has evolved over the years. But I guess a better way to phrase it would be what has influenced your art’s evolution?
I think it's always kind of about chasing myself. Any time I go to make something, it's like, what are you really into? What's the honest thing to say where you write at this moment and then create from it? And if you kind of always does that through your life, I think it's always going to be different. Evolution should be natural because, I mean, I don't know. For most people, I feel the way you think about things or what you're into kind of changes constantly. You know, I know that it does with me. And so that's it.
Try to stay rooted and like, what's the most earnest thing to do at any given moment, what's the most accurate version of myself? And since that changes so often, that's what kind of leads to the evolution.
You said you've been playing music since high school. How did you first get into music?
My first instrument was trumpet back when I was a kid, and it didn't last very long. I dabbled a bit. On the last tour, I used to play it terribly in between songs. It was a joke part of the show.
At some point, maybe when I was 12 or 13 years old, I got a guitar, and I took a couple of lessons, kind of just learning Green Day and Blink 182 song, and then I was like, I think I can teach myself how to do this and I didn't have any natural ability.
The first time I ever played music in front of people was at an audition for the high school talent show. A friend and I did it as a duo, and it was basically my first time singing in front of people. At the end of the audition, the judges said, “You can be in the talent show, but you have to perform instrumentally.”
As I said, I didn't have a lot of natural ability, and so I had to work for it to figure out how to do my thing. I just started bands in high school and then in college, and I'm just kind of still doing it. I don't. I just started, and I'm still here.
So then it wasn't influenced by someone in your family or anything you grew up around?
Yeah, not at all. I didn't come from a musical family. Nobody. I was always a bit of the weird one, the one against the grain or non-conventional member of the family. I guess part of the reason I got into music was that I always tried to challenge everything.
What was your first piece of gear?
I got this line six convoy up with like a bunch of really cheesy built-in effects. I think that was the first time I used something beyond plugging my K-mart or Wal-Mart guitar into an amp that I found or was given to by a friend.
What is your songwriting process like? Do you usually do it in the day or the night? Is it pretty random? Do you lay down instrumentals before writing lyrics? Tell me a bit about it. And, where do you usually write?
It’s very random, but there has been a consistency to it during the last year or so. Most of the stuff that I do is written between 5:00 to 7:00 AM, and that's just been basically pandemic induced. I've gotten on this schedule where I wake up around 5:00, and the first couple hours and awake are my most creative hours before that when life was “normal”, very random whenever I really can. I feel like I've written a lot of stuff while I'm driving into my voice notes on my phone.
I guess I'm always thinking about and collecting little pieces when I'm out in the world, just kind of living, observing things. And then they all just kind of pour out at once, in small gaps where I get time to myself. Some start with just pages and pages of words, whereas others begin as a fully fleshed musical idea; others are sitting with a guitar.
It's always different, and I think that's the enjoyable part of it for me, constantly changing the process.
Did you say that you wake up most days at 5:00 AM?
Oh, my gosh, that's wild. And you're the most creative at that hour?
Right. It all happens between five and seven. Seven-thirty probably.
That's insane because I'm thinking to myself, and it's like I struggle to get out of bed at 9:00 AM, and I am certainly in no way, shape or form creative. Do you have a morning routine?
I wake up, go down to the kitchen, and sort of have a ritual of making coffee. I grind the beans, put the water and turn the kettle on, and I make myself an excellent pour-over coffee and grab some sort of snack. I usually come up here in the studio where I'm sitting right now; on the House’s third floor. And yeah, I just kind of jump around from different creative outlets. Sometimes I'll just open up something that I'm working on musically, or I'll write something for the Really Nice website that I run. I usually do that, like I said, for like two hours or so.
Then Chiara starts to wake up, and she'll probably message me actually from the floor below and say hi, and then we usually have breakfast and start the day.
That sounds like a perfect morning. We love coffee over here. I’d love to hear about what kind of coffee you're into these days?
It became a part of my routine at the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s a big part of life. Especially with touring, any time we go to a city, I was kind of constantly seeking out the most ridiculous over-the-top high-end fancy coffee shop. That's what I always gravitate towards; I do my research! When I was going to be put in one place for a long time and not even be going to places near me, I signed up for this thing called Trade, which is basically like Netflix for coffee. Every few weeks, they send you a new bag of beans from a different roaster from all over the country.
I tend to kind of gravitate towards the Ethiopian stuff, usually the light roast. I've just been getting different versions of that from other roasters from all over the country for the last year and a half.
It’s been so fun, and I mean, that is kind of the thing that's kept me going, that little ritual. I just never would have expected to get there because I don't remember when coffee began to play that role in my life. But it's like my favourite thing now. I'm probably completely addicted in a way, shape my life around it, but it's nice.
Tell me a bit about the website you run.
So it's called Really Nice. It’s named after an EP a few years back called Really Nice Guys. It was sort of this joke, experimental commentary about being in the music industry. I made shirts back then that just said Really Nice on them.
Rewind a little bit when I was over in Italy at the end of 2019 with Chiara, and I was sort of in this breakdown rebuild period. I just got off a long tour, and I was over there as a kind of alien in this foreign land. I had this idea that I wanted to start this thing called Really Nice. I kind of started the website as a place to just put my ideas in something that I could focus on while I was over there. As amazing as it is, you're still in a foreign country, and it's hard to communicate and connect with people. So I needed something to feel like a home base for me creatively. So that's where kind of the website started, and it was just a blog at first.
At the beginning of a pandemic, I started a Really Nice fest, which was kind of like a nine-week-long digital festival, and I got a bunch of people from all over the world basically to play. It was comedy music, conversations. I did like jazz DJ sets and all that shit, and then it kind of fizzled out. Shortly thereafter, I started the clothing line aspect of it. That's been going for a little over a year now.
It’s just this kind of big web of some creative world that just kind of continuously morphs.
Give me a bit of a rundown of what PEACEMEAL is all about and what it means to you.
It's kind of like a rediscovery, sort of self embrace of myself through the course of an album, just very drastically kind of letting in all these parts of myself I haven't explored before, sonically, musically, lyrically. I've always been pretty outward looking at many of my songs, but now I'm looking at myself.
It’s kind of neat looking in the mirror and reflecting on this isolated space I've been looking at my life over the last few years, relationships and trying to be as brutally honest as possible. The record is like me looking in a mirror and accepting a lot of the stuff there that maybe you don't like, but also embracing a lot of stuff to even neglecting yourself.
Many of the first songs are in a pretty aggressive, dark space, and I'm like, that's not really who I am, so let in a little bit of the light. You can talk about serious stuff. You can talk about it the human condition and your own mind, but it doesn't have to sound like that; it can actually sound really fun and light. I don't have to keep making the same three-piece guitar fuzzed-out records; I can make whatever I want.
The record is basically self embrace of where I'm at in this current moment with no limit, really.
Did you record that with a band or everything on your own?
Before this, I always recorded live in the studio with a band, but this is the first time I pretty much played everything on it. There's a couple of guests here and there.
There are even some electronic drums throughout the record, whereas before, I was such a purist, just like “Everything has to be real,” but that even felt limiting to me. So, yeah, it's kind of a mix, but I finally allowed myself to play everything.
A lot of it was done on GarageBand on my iPad, which is not normally what you think of a record. When I was doing it, I didn't expect any of it to actually be on the album, but it ended up sounding cool. You know, no one would even know the way that it was made, so.
Do you feel like you're going to continue to go in that direction of doing most things on your own now that you've done it?
I think so. It's really liberating, and you can be anywhere and do whatever you want, and I love the concept of that. I like to say that I want to keep going in the direction. One of the cool things that I've realized about the past year is that you can pretty much do everything yourself or collaborate with people, and you don't even have to be in the same physical space. So I think that's something I'm intrigued by. You could go to any place in the world and get a little bit of space and make a record, and that's such a cool concept.
Where are you located on the album art?
The front cover is a picture from the last day that I left my house without a mask. It was a beautiful day, and I thought the symbolism there was cool. The image was taken outside of a coffee shop in Nashville called Ugly Mugs and, I had this crossword puzzle; it was a great day. No one knew what was to come, and it just kind of felt it felt right for the album.
Could you name an essential piece of gear or two that you used on this album?
GarageBand for iPad and this little tiny Tascam IXZ, which is an interface for the iPad.
As underwhelming and not fancy as that is, I feel like it's the most honest thing because that really was what I used the most throughout it.
I think it's a reminder that you don't have to have fancy things to make a great album.
Yeah, and I didn't know that until I just kind of started to do it. And so it's probably good enough for anyone out there. You don't have to wait; you just have to trust yourself.
Exactly. Do you have a favourite venue to play at? And have you been working on booking any shows?
Yes, so we’ve been doing a handful! Last” week, we did a few very small-scale outdoor safe-style shows. It's very experimental, but we are also planning ten shows in Italy in July outside. Then we're going to kind of just go for it and book a full US tour for most of September and October. Nobody knows if it's going to happen, but we're going to try.
As far as favourite venues, I loved Rough Trade Brooklyn, Barracuda in Austin, Texas. Miaow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which I've never played, but it's my top list of places that I do want to play sweet. I like the Doug Fir in Portland, Oregon, Union Transfer in Philly or Johnny Brenda's, which is right down the street.
That's so exciting to hear that show you're able to play shows. What are those like right now?
It's very, very strange, which is expected. My experience the past week was when you go into it, you know that it's not going to be what you remember, and everybody that's coming to the show kind of knows that as well. We're there and trying to recreate the feeling that we all have a desire for, but it just feels like it can't get there.
Many venues are trying to move stuff outside or on their rooftops, backyard or their patio. It’s like reverting to playing house shows back ten years ago or whatever. It's weird; it’s like there's this invisible wall that none of us want to break because it's about respecting the fact and understanding we're still in this.
After these following three shows, I think I'm good to just now wait after this until the real thing can return and do it right.
So, I found out about you from your Amazon music performance. I got really, really into your music after that. Did they write that script, or was it a joke?
I ultimately made up the whole thing. People tell me a lot that they can never tell when I'm serious or when I'm joking, which makes it fun for me.
I guess in retrospect. I probably should have thought maybe I don't know if people will realize that I entirely made this up; I just thought it's funny that you ask.
I just thought that was so dope that after that, they decided to start paying people because it's ridiculous that one of the wealthiest companies in the whole world and you can't pay artists!? It must have felt kind of cool that, as a result, they decided to pay people.
Oh, yeah, it was awesome. I kind of did all that without any real intention; I didn't think it was going to turn out the way it did for me. It was more like, well, I said yes to this thing, and I feel conflicted about it because of what you just said. But I'm already kind of committed to doing it. So the only way I could feel good about it is if I had fun with it.
That’s where it started, making it tolerable for me to do an Amazon performance for free- I had to say something. The outcome was when I got that call; I like lost my mind. I laughed for like forty-five minutes, just like there's no way this is real right now.
Could you give a couple of music recommendations?
Chiara makes music under the name ‘Chickpea,’ so check that out; she is soon putting out some more music. This band called Sports, who did a remix for me a couple of months ago, is great.
Going back to the coffee conversation I've been listening to, as I said, I'm really into the Ethiopian, and I’m really into Ethiopian jazz stuff. There’s an artist named Mulatu Astatke on this compilation called Ethiopia. It’s just like a bunch of awesome obscure Ethiopian music that I've been really, really into.
Follow Ron Gallo.
Listen to PEACEMEAL.
Browse Really Nice.