Rob Gallas: Plenty of Life Still Exploding from this Black and White World

posted in: Articles, September 2013 | 0

Rob Gallas fronted one of my favorite bands that came out on Michael Knott’s Blonde Vinyl record label (back in the days when Blonde Vinyl was feeding us the best up and coming bands around): Black and White World. Their first full release was packed from beginning to end with songs that had pop leanings with a much grittier and rawer edge. The album cover is still one of my favorites to this day. It brought us the art and music of a band that had stellar potential and songs that were original and unique to the somewhat sparse world of what was “alternative Christian” music. Their second release was much different than their first – musically it expanded their unique sound but was way more beefed up sonically. It also introduced us to an expanding musical palette with horns and different song structures. I love both albums, but the sophomore release Life Explodes contains one of my favorite songs ever penned, “Too Young To Be Sad.”

After the release of Life Explodes I looked forward to hearing what would come next from these guys, but the all-too-familiar story of the best label going out of business (Blonde Vinyl) ended with us fans losing touch with so many great bands that we knew and loved. Rob went on to do vocals on an album with Undercover, but I missed that completely at the time. Remember, this was a long time before the internet and the ridiculous cycle of social media. There wasn’t a magazine that expansively covered these bands, HM was geared towards metal, I couldn’t even find Harvest Rock Syndicate where I lived, and it was a bit before the time of Visions of Grey and True Tunes. Where I lived in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, if it wasn’t on the independent Christian bookstore shelf, it wasn’t around. After Zondervan bought out all the independent Christian shops, the good music became much, much harder to find.

I was stoked to get into touch with Rob and talk about Black & World White and other projects he has done or is currently involved in. He was gracious enough to hook me up with some awesome tunes that really just make me want to hear more! He’s a super cool guy – I hope that you will enjoy the interview and get your slice of another inspiring music group that left too early. The good news is that Rob is still creating, so make sure to check out what he is up to now!

So I know you put out 2 awesome albums with Black & White World (as well as the 4 & 6 song demo), then you sang lead vocals on Undercover’s album Forum… what else might we have missed that you did?

There was a lot going on towards the end of the Black & White World (B&WW). I was also in another band at the same time as B&WW called Motherlode (ML). I was really into the funk, high energy music that was happening at that time i.e. Chili Peppers, Fishbone, etc. and wanted to try and get something going that similar. Brett Scott, who was the bass player in ML (still play w/ him to this day) and was a high school friend, asked if I would put some lyrics and vocals to some of the music that they had recorded. They ended up liking it, so we recording a demo and played out for a little over a year. At the same time, B&WW was going through some personnel changes since Burton Lalk, the bass player, was moving to Colorado. Fred McGregor, who Gym Nicholson from Undercover was friends with, had played with in the past and had recommended, ended up filling in for Burton. Fred was a great bass player and musician. Eventually, ML & B&WW merged and we continued on as B&WW. So the final line up of B&WW ended up being Paul Hanna and Brian Walker on guitar, Greg McGregor on bass, Dave Christensen on drums an me on lead vocals. It was a beefy line up and we wrote some great songs. We were practicing about 4 nights a week. Unfortunately we never recorded another album, but easily had an albums worth of material that’s probably packed away in one the boxes in my garage. I think Mike Knott’s label Blonde Vinyl was struggling financially at the time and eventually had to throw in the towel. I think we were lucky to have that opportunity with BV. It opened a lot of doors for us, gave us the opportunity to play some great festivals, and gave us the chance to meet and jam with other bands.

At the same time this was happening, Chuck Cummings approached me and asked if I would be interested in sitting in with Undercover since Sim was moving away. At the same time I had just started a relationship with Sharon my wife, who I now have been with for over 20 years. There was a lot going on. To be honest, I was young and driven, but lacked focus, obviously. I had a lot of opportunities and didn’t want to miss out on any so I thought I would just try and do it all at the same time. Eventually, I decided to put all my efforts into playing with Undercover. That lasted a few years. Undercover was a great run. We played some amazing shows/festivals and I had the opportunity to recorded Forum with them. They’re also great guys. I had a blast playing with all of them as I did with all the other guys during this time.

After Undercover I got back with Dave C. (drummer in B&WW) and Brett Scott (bass in ML). We auditioned guitar players for a new project and ended up linking up with Jason Vaughn who completed Oscar. Oscar was a fun band and we worked very hard, probably the most ambitious of all the projects. We had a lot of the same influences as the previous bands mentioned, but when you bring a new person in it always changes the musical landscape. There was already another band that had the rights to the name Oscar and we had management shopping our material, setting up showcases, so we had to change our name. We came up with Free Spin. After Oscar/Free Spin, there were other variations of the same band members and some new bands ­ Hyperfonik and Rocket Sauce to name a couple. Both HF and RS had a new guitar player Monty Sommers – who came from an Orange County band Smear that Oscar had played with over the years. Rocket Sauce was a trio; I played bass and shared lead vocals with Monty with Dave C. playing drums.

That brings us to the present, Straight 78, which is a funk, soul, R&B and disco cover band that plays the locally all around Southern California. Straight 78 are Dave Christensen, Brett Scott, Monty Sommers, and I. It’s a great time. It’s all for fun and great way to stay in touch with the friends you love to be with and doing what you love.

How did the deal with Blonde Vinyl come about and how come only 2 albums by Black & White World?

That is a great question. I know the timing was right because we started playing as a band around 1986 or 1987 and Mike Knott started the label around 1988 and the first album came out in 1989. I think Mike got a hold of a 4 song demo we recorded and he liked “Committed” which was the single on our first album. It was an exciting time and he helped open a lot of doors for all of the bands on the label. I’m sure Paul Hanna had a big hand in getting us on the label because he ran in those circles at the time and he is a go getter. Paul ended up working for Blonde Vinyl records for a few years.

Blonde Vinyl would get calls from concert promoters for Blonde Vinyl artists to play these festivals/shows and Paul would always do his best to intercept the calls and get B&WW on the bill. I know the money was starting to run out at BV in the early 90’s because we recorded our second album, Life Explodes, around 1992 and I had to put $2000 down up front in order for us to record the album. The plan was the money would be recouped after sales started coming in and I would get paid back on the back end. I was the only one in the band who had any money saved up. I had just graduated from college and my grandmother gave me $2000 towards a teaching credential. She definitely wouldn’t have approved of my investment.

Blonde Vinyl went belly up shortly after our recording the second album, but Mike still paid me back in full even though the label went under. I have huge respect for Mike for paying me back knowing he really didn’t have too. I’m sure he had people calling him right and left (me included) and he came through on his promise.

B&WW were unlike most of anything that was in the Christian market, what influenced you musically and lyrically and what are some of your best memories from the band?

We all had similar likes and influences, but we all had our favorites. Paul was really big into The Cult at the time. I think he leaned more towards the heavier stuff. Burton was more acoustic and folk driven. I remember working on songs with him at his apartment and he started spinning some Dylan. He gave me my first Dylan album that night. I will always remember that, I couldn’t believe he gave that one up. I remember Dave really being into REM at the time, early on in B&WW. He turned me onto Life’s Rich Pageant. That is probably my favorite REM album. I love the songs “Begin the Begin” and “I Am Superman.” Then Dave and I really latched on to the energy and funk of The Red Hot Chili Peppers later on.

My biggest influence growing up was definitely Springsteen, the earlier stuff, 72 to 78. I’m also a huge Elvis Costello fan. I also enjoy the standards like Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Deano, and the Louie’s. I love all kinds of music, but those are some of my favorites.

As far as memories…..

B&WW was a blast. Just being with the guys and playing music, that was the best memory. Dave C. and I remain really close friends. I try to keep in touch with Paul and Burt through e­mails. Burt is usually around every year or so and we try and connect when he is here. There were also guys outside of the band that were always there for us. Randy and Todd Stopnik were huge in making things happen for the band. Randy had this big Suburban at the time and would drive all of us to the gigs that were out of town, towing all our gear in trailer behind us. It was our tour bus. I remember he had a magazine of CD’s that we would play on long trips. That was very technologically advanced at the time. I guess you could say it was our iPod. You didn’t have to keep changing the CD’s out; I remember that really impressed me at the time. Both Randy and Todd were integral in making things happen from gig to gig, from running the sound to making sure we were all good to go. Good times and great people!

Can you give me the back story on the song “Bring Back the Beautiful”? On the album the whole band is credited with writing it, it has always been a standout track to me and I am curious as to how it evolved lyrically?

Both Dave Christensen and I collaborated quite a bit on our second album, Life Explodes. We both weren’t working much and would spend a lot of time writing songs down at the beach in Balboa Ca. since that is where Dave was living at the time. He and I would hang out at a place called the Fun Zone. His sister Anne was working at Kelley’s Coffee at the time and we would sit in front along the bay writing tunes all afternoon. We probably penned quite a few there with the help of some free cappuccino’s, always good for writing up tempo songs. Dave would write a lot of the lyrics, sometimes just ideas, and we would roll with it. I would bring my guitar and see what came up, sometimes just parts and then present it to the Burt and Paul and we would go from there. Dave wrote the lyrics for “Bring Us Back the Beautiful.” I asked him for his explanation and this is how he responded:

“It was simply a plea to remind people about the true beauty that surrounds us every day and not to get caught up in modern standards of what is “supposed” to be ideal. Sea Cows or Manatees were perceived to be beautiful mermaids by sailors, or at least that’s how the story goes. There is beauty in almost everything if you see clearly. My Mother was a big influence on me and she always encouraged me to see the beauty in the world that surrounds us.”

I would say that is a classic Dave. He has always been a positive influence on me because of his perspective on life. His mom is a beautiful person, very much a part of that lyric I’m sure. She was always very welcoming and loving when I was around.

I know you are still creating today as you mentioned before, do you have music available for purchase and where can people go to listen and buy?

As I mentioned, Straight 78 is keeping me busy right now playing out live, but I’m still writing and hope to record some originals soon. I have some songs that I would like to re­vamp and a lot of originals that I’ve written over the years that need an outlet. I really hope to record in the near future. I have a little studio at home that I just set up for my voice over work. Recording music is a lot more involved than recording voice over’s. I’m learning how to use it all, works for pre­production and getting the arrangements down. Just finding time for it all is the biggest challenge with everything that is going on. I really hope to record something in the near future. I do have a couple originals up on Reverbnation and plan to post more.

Do you still claim Christianity as your faith and belief system, and what does that mean to you today?

I started playing in the Christian music scene, not because I wanted to be in a Christian band, but because I wanted to play music. I just fell into it. It never had anything to do with me being a Christian, it had everything to do with me wanting to be in a band and play music. I answered an ad in the recycler for a band looking for a singer that read “influences The Cult and The Byrds.” I thought that was a pretty cool combo, heavier with some classic influence and harmonies. I called, auditioned and got the gig with Black and White World.

The guys in the band, Paul Hanna, Dave Christensen, and Burton Lalk all went to Christian college together and had been friends for some time. They also had a strong network with some of Burton’s extended family, the Stopnik brothers ­ mainly Randy Stopnik and Todd Stopnik and Randy’s kids Blair and Sean Stopnik. They welcomed me with open arms and there began my introduction into the Christian scene, very positive. I’m not even sure if my faith was part of the conversation at the audition, but it was more about the music, whether I could sing and was a fit for the band.

That being said, my faith or belief system is heavily influenced by Christianity because that is how I was raised, but I don’t think I would be honest in saying that I am a Christian in the true sense of the word. I was raised in a very devout Catholic family, went to Catholic grammar school for eight years and two years of Catholic high school. I practiced Catholicism until I was in my mid to late twenties and then intermittent from then on. I still attended Catholic Church when I was in B&WW. We would get into conversations about our beliefs, faith, etc. within in the band. It was good for me since this was the first time I was really challenged or questioned my faith. Though we wouldn’t agree on some issues, the guys in the band were very supportive and we became good friends, nothing was forced on me.

It was all very positive and we had a strong community within the band. Some of the things I experienced outside of the band (in the Christian community, churches, and festivals we played, where we played, etc.) I didn’t agree with or accept. For example, people claiming to know what is best for me because they have some prophetic capability and a direct line with Jesus. Also, I don’t agree with the views on homosexuality. It seems to me (what I get out of Christianity) that the universal message is the message of love, respect, compassion, humility, kindness. These are the values/lessons that speak to me and I try to live up to day to day. Is there a heaven and hell? Is there a God? Big questions that I’m not sure I have the answers too.

Personally, I don’t know if there is one true religion, faith, belief system out there – whatever you want to call it. I think it’s all about listening, sharing and continually striving to learn and also being respectful and understanding with each other as we make our way.

What else are you involved in these days, married, kids, etc.?

I’ve been married to my wife Sharon for 16 years, been with her for 21 years. We have been living in Orange County, CA ever since. I do have a daughter through marriage, Jennifer and granddaughter, Lilly. We try to spend time with them whenever we can. I also am very close to my immediate family. We have always been tight and close with each other. I also started doing voice over work on the side. I have done a lot of narration and commercial work and a little bit of animation. Dave Christensen recently finished writing a children’s book and we hope to record a books on tape creating voices for all the characters. Aside from that, still enjoy hanging out with friends and having a few drinks with some good conversation and hopefully some impromptu jamming. I really try to keep my life simple and as balanced as possible, but that is always a challenge. I guess that is one of the joys of life, the not knowing what is ahead. You can always count on change.

Who were some of your favorite artists back in the B&WW days, and who really moves you today?…(obviously we answered some of this in other questions, but read on!)

I was the youngest of six kids that all grew up listening to music, so I feel lucky – there was a lot of different types of music, from my mom and dad’s old standards ­ Nat King Cole and Andy Williams, to my brother and sisters collection of Bowie, Springsteen, Leo Sayer, Jackson Brown, Elton John and Hendrix.

Bands and performers that came to the forefront for me were Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, and Joe Jackson. I still remember the first album that I ever latched on too and fell in love with was Night of the Opera by Queen. The first live performance I ever saw was seeing Bruce Springsteen performing “The Detroit Medley” on the No Nukes concert. I think I was around 9 or 10 years old. That was the first time I really remember being excited about music and wanting to be a part of it. I remember being so excited! It was definitely a “moment” where I found something, I knew I wanted to do that, to be a performer and be right in the center of it all. I love it, but the thrill of it all is connecting with people – that is what really gets me off.

Right now I’m kind of regressing, listening to a lot of old stuff since we are always trying to learn cover’s for the Straight 78 project – ala 70’s. I love that era of music, probably my favorite. Last couple of live shows was the Black Keys and David Byrne and St. Vincent. David Byrne continues to ride high as one of my favorite artists. He is constantly trying different elements in his music, a lot of horns this time around, but very stripped down at the same time. One of my all-time favorites is Tom Waits, “Closing Time.” That would definitely be on my ‘desert island” list.

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