Image by Charlotte Rutherford and Soki Mak
American-Lebanese musician Gallo is just like her music: a little bit of everything. Watching the video to her song "Sugar Daddy" is like taking a direct look inside the contents of Gallo's mind, and what a view it is! With a theater background and childhood spent abroad, Gallo synthesizes the various parts of her upbringing into an ecclectic pop sound that draws on aesthetic influences from movies and books.
Gallo's sound feels like it's coming from another world, one brighter and bolder than the mundane gray of everyday sights and smells. Her music videos feel at once like a collage of her many interests and a unique creation sprung fully formed from her mind. In a word? Fantastic — both in terms of genre and of quality.
I called Gallo up this summer to talk about her new music, our shared Narnia obsession, and the importance of maintaining a strong sense of childlike wonder. This interview is a condensed and lightly edited transcript of that conversation.
So let's start with talking about where you're from and where you are now, both in terms of your background and how you got started in music.
I was born in LA and then we moved back to the Middle East. I lived in Saudi Arabia for about ten years and then I moved to Dubai for high school. And then I came back to California around 18.
I feel really fortunate to have grown up where I did. I think it brought a lot of really good things into my life. It's definitely a more conservative and modest lifestyle over there, but it really kept me close with my family. You develop really close relationships with all the other ex-pats that live there, just because it's more of a sheltered life. Music kind of proved to be my escape. I would just spend hours everyday on the piano, and I don't know if that would've happened if I had grown up in the states. It just kind of became my world, and I feel so fortunate for that.
You have a very strong aesthetic to your songs and especially your music videos. How did that develop?
I've always been super inspired by '50s. '60s, and '70s cinema. I love old films. A lot of my imagery is inspired by old movies, and just kind of taking the mundaneness and making it more exciting, being super colorful and vibrant. Some of my favorite directors are David Lynch and Tarantino — obviously.
I also love fantasy — I think it was because where I grew up, there wasn't much to do. We'd just kind of go between the houses and school. So I grew really into fantasy and [when I started making music] I knew I wanted to create a world where those escapes exist. I wanted to kind of give listeners a break from whatever they're dealing with. Somewhere they can go to have fun and kind of go crazy with their imagination.
I think that's awesome. That totally resonates with me. I grew up in a really conservative and sheltered Mormon community, so I got super into movies and fantasy. It was stuff that I could go into and escape inside of.
Yeah, definitely. It's comforting, and it kind of extends into your personality a lot, too. I mean, from being involved in all that, plus theater, I've always been super inspired. I feel like I'm really good at talking now because of all that theater I did, which is always a plus. And it really helps you mentally kind of push beyond what is possible and really tap into that creative side of yourself, which we can kind of get jaded about and take for granted. But it's something that a lot of people really wish that they had more of. So I feel very fortunate to, like you said, have that be a part of our world.
Even though the circumstances might have not been the greatest, it's a really cool part of our lives now.
Yeah, it's like when you're an adult you have the power to make it an actual part of your real life instead of just an escape.
Yeah, exactly. You get to live it, and kind of figure out how to incorporate it into your actual life. That's so true.
So how about music and your love of film — do those things interact? Are you really into cinematic scores? A lot of your music videos are very filmic, like there's a distinct narrative to them.
Oh, definitely. All my songs are very heavy on the narrative. They're very big on storytelling, which is kind of where you can see that film and theater aspect come in. When I start writing a song, I immediately think of a title — almost like it's the title of a chapter or the title of a book. It's kind of funny that you mentioned film scores because when I was younger that was my biggest dream, to be a film scorer. And I actually was going to go to school for that, I got accepted into a composition and film score program in LA, and then I chose to do theater over it. I'm a huge film score fan. One of my favorite soundtracks is actually The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe score.
Oh my gosh. I have a lamp post tattooed on my leg. We sound like kindred pop culture spirits, for real.
Oh my God, that's amazing! That whole movie, you can get so into it. I'd re-listen to the soundtrack and it's like my battle song, like "Yes, I can do this! I can get this light."
Yes, that's wonderful. I love film scores.
It's a nerdy thing and you don't hear many people talk about it that much. And when you find someone they're like so into it. But yeah, like Narnia — really a lot of fantasy stuff. I'm really into fantasy and period pieces, and just really big into film, and I think it's always going to be a big influence on my stuff.
I think that's good. Folk used to be a huge part of American music, and it's not as much anymore. And one of the things that we miss from not having it as a mainstream part of our music scene is the storytelling. And I think it's really cool especially to see women who sing pop music inflect a lot of that same storytelling into their work.
Oh, absolutely. And all songs aren't going to be autobiographical, you know? That's one of the great things about storytelling. I see situations, I see things people are going through, and I really try to get into their head, which is something that, going back to the whole cinema obsession, I think it kind of got from that. Because I think you can learn a lot about yourself through fiction, really putting yourself in other people's shoes. Thinking, "What would I do in that situation?"
That's so interesting that you say that because the one artist I kept thinking about when I was preparing for this interview and going through your music is Regina Spektor, who does the same kind of big sweeping stories. And people are always like, and of course I'm paraphrasing here, "Is it about you, are you writing about you?" And she's like, "Well, yes and no. Because it's not autobiographical but it's a story, and stories are human things. So it's always about me."
That's so funny, I'm a huge Regina Spektor fan. People used to call me mini Regina in high school because I played piano, that was my instrument, and I was part of the choir, and I played clarinet too — but I was also part of kind of that bad, beat music scene in school and everyone used to call me Regina. She's amazing. She's definitely one of the people that has taken to storytelling and really pushed the boundaries of mainstream music.
Well, before we wrap up, is there anything in particular that you wanted to talk about that we didn't get to?
One of the biggest things for me is what I want my listeners to take away from watching my music videos and listening to my music is to just really live, I guess, fully and boldly. Most importantly, to not ever let go of your imagination. Everyone's so eager to grow up and to let go of their youth, and I think there's something really amazing about that childlike sense of wonder that I personally don't even want to lose. And I hope with my music and my imagery that I'm kind of able to reignite that in people, that sense of wonder and that childlike anticipation of wanting to know more, wanting to see more.