AUSTIN, Texas -- There's a time-honored adage regarding the patience required for aspiring artists who move to Nashville. There's even a song (by Tim Carroll) about the likelihood that success will come slowly. It's called "Five Year Town."
So when Ron Gallo, former leader of the Philadelphia band Toy Soldiers, packed up his guitars and sought a new beginning in Music City on the day after New Year's Day in 2016, he might have reasonably expected to land a record deal in 2021.
It happened a lot faster than that. By August, the songwriter and bandleader had signed with New West Records, which put out Gallo's solo debut album, Heavy Meta, an uncharacteristically hard-rocking release for the mostly Americana label, in February.
And last month, Gallo and his power trio played a baker's dozen worth of gigs in this Texas capital city at the proving ground that is the South by Southwest Music Festival.
Gallo's assaultive sound harks back to 1970s bands like the Stooges and Richard Hell & the Voidoids -- he cites Hell axman Robert Quine as a guitar hero -- and he enjoys playing the provocateur.
At SXSW, he began shows by saying, deadpan, what an honor it was to play alongside "some of the biggest names in music," then name-dropped fest corporate sponsors, like McDonald's, Toyota, and Capitol One.
Kim Buie, the New West A&R director who signed Gallo to the label, calls him "a semi-punk-rock instigator."
"I like to take the antagonistic approach," the 29-year-old Temple graduate says on a sunny St. Patrick's Day afternoon after a show at an outdoor-lifestyle-products store near the Congress Avenue Bridge, where the world's largest urban bat colony resides.
Sipping on Topo Chico -- the Mexican mineral water that's the Austin nonalcoholic beverage of choice -- with poufy hair and sunglasses, Gallo's rock-and-roll court jester's look is straight out of the mid-1960s Bob Dylan playbook. Passersby in green shout out, "Great show, dude!"
"Not to intentionally go against things, but just staying true to what I really feel," says Gallo, who will play a hometown gig opening for Hurray for the Riff Raff at World Cafe Live on April 21 and return for the Non-Commvention on May 18. "I'm going to go into the crowd, I'm going to stir s- up. Because for me, it's just so liberating and fun."
Heavy Meta's attention-grabbers start with "Young Lady You're Scaring Me," which thunders in on a powerhouse riff reminiscent of Link Wray's "Rumble" and makes reference to the Philadelphia killer who became known as the Kensington Strangler in 2010, the year Gallo graduated from Temple with a communications degree.
"Why Do You Have Kids?" was written while Gallo was living on East Girard Avenue and fronting Toy Soldiers, the band he formed with drummer Mike Baurer at Temple that stayed together through their The Maybe Boys album in 2013.
"Falling asleep standing up on the corner, with cigarette ash falling in the stroller," he sings.
"That Front and Girard intersection of the El was just notoriously bad for attracting rough, seedy groups of people. I would get off there and see some of the stuff in the song, people hitting and yelling at their kids. Not in parent mode. One day, I saw that scene. Just taking a direct observation and putting it in a song. That was a big leap for me."