Talking about the unknown with filmmaker Seth Klinger and Ron Gallo of Toy Soldiers (documentary Maybe Trails premiers at Johnny Brenda’s Friday)
It’s kind of fitting that my voice recorder was (accidentally) on for the full half hour between the time I stepped out of work and the moment I met with Ron Gallo (Toy Soldiers‘ front man) and Seth Klinger (Toy Soldiers’ “intern” and documentarian). The two worked together to film Maybe Trails, a reality film about real people in a real band on a real tour. And, while it was real annoying to have to listen through over 20 minutes of my own trails (which sounded like a horse galloping around town in a pocket), in the end it was fitting.
Maybe Trails is about a bunch of self-proclaimed “maybe” boys on a tour that may be successful playing shows that warrant the same unknown. It’s really all up and down, clippity-clop, going through the motions and taking the steps and seeing where that takes you.
“You know, this is my first interview” says Seth Klinger, the 25-year-old behind the documentary. He’s sipping a golden beer from a glass outside in the sun with his Ray Ban-ish glasses on looking like a pro, though. It’s Tuesday, three days away from what Klinger expects to be one of the most important nights of his life. This Friday, he’s premiering his first full-length documentary made to show what life is like on the road as a touring band. He followed Philly’s Toy Soldiers, a five-piece folk-soul outfit headed by Ron Gallo, on two almost identical tours (from Philly to Austin for the SXSW Festival) in two years.
But this film really isn’t about the band. “One of my major influences was something Ron showed me, it was a Jonny Corndawg video where it starts out with him stretching and he talks about how he likes to run on tour. It wasn’t really about the music, and that’s one thing I wanted to do was make it less about the music and more about being on the road.”
Stray Dawg from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.
It’s about being in a band and all driving, driving, driving that goes with it. It’s about playing a show, driving more, breaking down, and playing another show. It aims to show the truth about touring. As Gallo puts it,this film “will show what it’s really like. [We decided] let’s not make a documentary about our band, let’s make it about doing this and we happen to be the subjects of that. And thank God for the negative, really.” Negative which included speeding tickets picked up so as not to miss a show in Pittsburgh, a sentimental van scrapped for $200 down South after its final breakdown, the general weirdness that is the Midwest and driving eight hours to find out the venue you’re supposed to be playing misspoke and is actually closing in a half hour.
Klinger says, “When the van broke down, that was a joy, because I knew that would be the climax of the movie… there were a lot of negatives but, I think, this is what the film portrays is that [the band] just moved away from it all and saw the positives in everything.”
“When those things happened, it was completely natural because I wasn’t even thinking about being on film. Especially the scene where [the van] actually does break down and is smoking and all that, I was so beyond that at that point and in shock like, ‘what the fuck are we going to do?’ that I didn’t realize [we were filming],” Gallo admits.
Klinger met Gallo and the rest of the group was an intern at Ropeadope Records years ago while Toy Soldiers was working on its Get Through the Time EP with the label. At the time, Klinger was a Temple University student studying film stuff and he knew wanted to get into the music industry in some form or another. The two became quick friends and decided to continue working together. Now, Klinger is basically the Soldiers’ in house videographer, shooting shows, music videos and other promotional material for the group.
The documentary covers the group’s last two trips to Austin’s South by Southwest festival, as well as periphery shows. Klinger tagged along both years, even choosing to put off getting a job so that he could be on this year. Now, he’s got a gig at a Baltimore radio station and two road trips under his belt. Going on tour and being the only non-band mate in the van and sleeping in bags and watching shows the group’s shows nightly taught Klinger how to “interview people and how to be on the road and how to be social,” he says.
Being the subject of documentary that spanned two years of his life on the road gave Gallo some insight, as well. He says (about touring), “I think a lot of people romanticize it, I know that I did the first time I went, and it’s funny because the first tour I did was all around great. Nothing really bad happened, every night was a magical thing, and I think that was kind of a naive perception of it all.”
And the difference between then and now?
“Going through it and realizing how stupid you [were]. It doesn’t get better, you get better and you just realize how to handle it better,” he says, “That’s where the title comes from, the ‘maybe trails,’ because nothing is ever certain. Maybe it will be good, maybe it will be bad. Everything is a gamble.”
You see, on one tour everything smells like roses and on the next you’re not finding enough “shittable” bathrooms in Austin. It’s an infinite open road the first time around and the second, your beloved van breaks down outside of New Orleans and your friends, The Kid Carsons, have to drive you eight hours to the next venue just so that by the time you get there, the space is closed.
Because it’s all up and down, the road is filled with maybe’s. It may be good and it may be bad and it will probably be a little bit of both and you just have ramble on and see where it takes you.
To see exactly where it took Klinger and Toy Soldiers, check out the video premier at Johnny Brenda’s this Friday, when the group plays with The Holy Ghost Revival. Also, get a sneak peek at Toy Soldiers’ newest album (due out this fall), which spans the soundtrack.