Music Feature

A Philly Band You Should Know: Toy Soldiers

by Ryan O'Connell
Philly roots rockers on photos with Rachel Ray, bloodied faces and song genies.

An oral history of Toy Soldiers, as told by Ron Gallo to magazine.

The band has gone from 2 to 12 to 7 to 1 to a now solid 5 people.

Toy Soldiers, as a band, got started as a drum/guitar duo in 2007. It was originally just me and a drummer. Got started pretty much by accident. We originally wrote really terrible joke songs, made demos and didn't think anything of it.

We find common ground in love for old soul, blues and rock n' roll music. We all love a good song and that good feeling you get from it and aren't too concerned with overly trying to reinvent the wheel, but I don't think we're revivalists either.

Ron Gallo - lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, Dominic Billett - drums, vocals, Bill McCloskey - bass, vocals, Matt Kelly - guitar, vocals, Luke Leidy - keys, vocals. This lineup has been together since October 2010.

Think of Toy Soldiers as more of a vehicle for songs, not really a band that has a set style or limits to what we’ll do.

The band sort of coincides with my discovery and fond love for old blues, soul and rock n' roll music and since then has kind of followed whatever weird, sometimes positive, sometime disastrous path music has taken me.

We're working on our next full-length record with an incredible producer/engineer, Bill Moriarty, who has made some of our favorite Philly records (Dr. Dog, Man Man, Hoots and Hellmouth, etc.) In a way I think we all feel this is the first real Toy Soldiers record.

Songwriting is kind of like black magic sometimes. You can't really plan to write a good song, or sit down and try. I find it's best to not try, then next thing you know there's a song before you and you can't really remember where it came from or how you did it. A LOT of stuff never leaves my living room, or will just get lost, but that's why I like to write as much as possible all the time. I think it's more of a being in the right place at the right time and every once in a while the song genie will deliver you a good one, I'm sure that sounds ridiculous.

South by Southwest was pretty wild. It really was all it was made out to be. We had an amazing time. We did four shows, three on Thursday. Definitely felt the hectic side of the fest that day when we finished our first show at 2:15 and had to drive across town, set up and play again at 3. Then on Friday we played Rachael Ray's Greenhouse Party, which was almost the crux of the whole tour. That show was awesome, aside from a few technical difficulties here and there, the crowd was great and they told us to play longer because Rachael Ray was about to arrive and they wanted us to be playing when she rolled up...and then we got to take a photo with her.

We've always loved playing Johnny Brenda's because it's intimate and we have a lot of good show memories from there (like the time I got whacked in the face by Matt's guitar and had blood all over my face for the last two songs of our set.)

Rowdy would be a good word, like a tornado came through the venue and threw everyone and everything around the room. That's the goal.

There's been a few (shows) that really stand-out to us. One of them was last year’s 2nd Street Festival in Northern Liberties. We closed out the night, and the crowd was incredible, that's when we really felt the love and pride for calling Philly home. We ended up doing like 4 encores. We played every single song we knew.

Write, write, write. Record, record, record. Swim. Make a jetski 90's rap music video.

Have a ridiculously good time and make everyone there have a ridiculously good time and dance and go home and feel like they we're a part of something- not just watching a band play on a stage.

We tend to sound like whatever is happening or we're feeling at the time, we're like sponges or chameleons. To try and sum it up based on what others have said....dirty rock n' roll, soul, blues, some hints of folk and country. But then there are also songs that have nothing to do with that stuff. We're a song to song band.

I can say though, wherever we go it's always nice coming back (to Philadelphia.)

For music & show info, check out the Toy Soldiers here.

photos by Seth Klinger.

A Philly Band You Should Know is an ongoing series featuring oral histories of up and coming Philly Bands.

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