In just a few years Philadelphia’s Toy Soldiers have gone from a duo to a 10-piece, transforming their sound from the White Stripes to Joe Cocker.
“It’s like listening to the sound of a stripped-down rock ’n’ roll band versus listening to ... ” Multi-instrumentalist Noah Skaroff pauses as he tries to finish the comparison. “The first time I heard all of us together made me think of Joe Cocker at Woodstock. There’s so much reverb on everything and it just sounds like it’s occupying this huge space on this very grand scale,” he says.
“Before that, it was the Black Keys or the White Stripes because we were doing this stripped-down, bare-bones thing,” frontman Ron Gallo adds. “It went from just a drummer beating the hell out of a drum set and a really loud electric guitar to [being] about everything else.”
Gallo and former drummer Mike Baurer started the band together two years ago, almost as a joke. They’d write and record songs and post them online hours later, eventually releasing an EP from that material. They soon added a third bandmate, bassist Tyler Beck, and began properly recording their first full-length album in February.
“We went into the studio as bass, drums and guitar, but I always had this vision of having a big band. I didn’t know if it was possible, but I wanted that. I wanted a lot of people involved. I wanted the horns and singers and a lot going on,” Gallo says. “I’m into the whole soul band thing, like Otis Redding and Ray Charles who had these big ensembles, and I love the sense of community. More people is more fun and just brings an energy and liveliness,” he adds.
Toy Soldiers’ debut album Whisper Down the Lane captures Gallo’s desires. Elements of blues, funk, brass bands, Motown and soul combine for catchy, bouncy tunes with a deep, sometimes dirty, edge. ■