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Ron Gallo: If These Walls Could Talk …

March 5, 2014

ToySoldiers2012eRon Gallo and his bandmates in Toy Soldiers recently moved into Meth Beach, the studio formerly occupied by Dr. Dog. He writes about the legacy they’ve inherited and the impact the space has had on the band. Images by G.W. Miller III.

Meth Beach is a musical oasis surrounded by dilapidated shores where occasional waves of maniacs and junkies get lost at sea and wash up on North American Street looking for a cure.

Desolation emphasized by a vast thoroughfare making it look like the old wild west on, well, crystal meth?

Who knows where the studio’s name came from but I imagine it has to have something to do with this really strange juxtaposition of musicians providing a bright and sunny soundtrack pouring out the windows and reverberating across a dark and seedy land.

One day I got a call from Zach Miller of Dr. Dog in regards to their aforementioned Kensington studio of six years becoming vacant as they moved on to another home. He mentioned he wanted to “keep it in the circle” and gauged my interest in taking over the locally notorious spot.

The allure of this proposition was really exciting.

The records they made there were the soundtrack to my earliest days in Philadelphia. I was 18-years old, living in my first house – a pretty relentless party spot during a time when all the romance of the unknown still added to many sunshiny afternoons, and even more late night drunken stupors.  Frankly they’re some of my favorite, most nostalgic records made in this city and beyond. And now, seven  years later I’m getting the opportunity to become a part of the place.

Financially it wasn’t feasible for just my band to take it over – let alone on my own. But I was determined to find a good group of bands to go in on the space with us. It seemed too good to pass up.

After months of meetings, conversations and personnel changes, we finally had a group of four bands – Toy Soldiers, TJ Kong and The Atomic Bomb, Purples and Cold Fronts – to take over the former home of Dr. Dog. We have called that big old room at American and Diamond streets home since May.

I always sensed just from their records, live shows and passing conversations that Dr. Dog was a pretty brilliant and quirky group of people even away from music. That really showed through in a lot of the remains left behind at the space when we moved in. From the hanging umbrella’s, mysterious Sharpie messages written all over, bags of ponchos, fireworks and old clothes to the mixing console they made their first few records on.

When Zach asked me if we wanted to inherit their old sound board they used to make “Easy Beat,” “We All Belong” and “Fate,” the answer was pretty simple.

On move-in day, I understood why they left it. It was a big, disassembled pile of circuit boards that was really just a nuisance at the time. However, after weeks of it just sitting there in a big dumb pile, one day I grabbed a ladder and whatever screws and nails I could find laying around and began attaching the circuit boards to the wall.

A few hours later, I had a circuit board face for wall art and inspiration.

Before this space came along, doing band things like writing, recording and practicing music were a rare occurrence off the stage.  We would seek out some haphazard situation – a basement or a friend’s living room. We could buy some pizza and beer and they’d let us make noise for a few hours. Other than that, we literally practiced on stage at shows.

I figured getting a place like this would provide motivation to do the tedious task of scheduling five people who live in different cities and make it a little more exciting to make music and things.

So far, it has surely gotten us on our way.

We recently shot an Out of Town Films live session in front of a small live audience at Meth Beach as a preview of our new album, The Maybe Boys. We also shot a video of all of us playing with devil sticks for an upcoming music video during a party we had at the space.

Long story short, off the road we’re feeling like a band again!

The room is not just a set of walls. There are ghosts of music’s past lingering, weird writings on the wall and just some magic energy that makes Meth Beach a place full of character.

And that’s not even mentioning the urban nightmare happening all around it outside. Let’s just say when I leave alone some nights, I’m not taking my time getting things into the car. I’m often barreling out of there nervously, constantly looking all around..

As a new band, I think we all hope to carry on the legacy that Dr. Dog built while using this room and we want to ensure that good things continue being made there.

In the meantime, we should probably think of our own name for the place.

Maybe finding out what other hard drugs are popular in the neighborhood would be a good start?

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