Riley Gale, the lead singer of the Dallas thrash and hardcore band Power Trip, died last month at the age of 34. It was a shock to the region and the state, but also to music scenes well beyond Texas.
Look no further than the reaction from the national and international music press and associated fandoms. It is rare that a band from North Texas gets more extensive coverage from Brooklyn Vegan than from local publications. Power Trip toured with bands that had the sort of household recognition that takes decades to build. Gale recently collaborated with Ice T’s Body Count, who left a tribute to the late musician on Twitter. True to Gale’s Dallas-centric ways, a poster of the former Red Blood Club on Commerce Street is featured prominently in the background of the video.
The success of Power Trip may seem like a foregone conclusion, but their winding roots spread out of the ramshackle do-it-yourself venues and defunct message boards of the Dallas hardcore community. By the time of his death, the band had spread to places seemingly impossible. In the early 2000s, Gale was just a scrappy kid attending shows at places such as the now-closed Across the Street Bar by SMU.
A dozen or so years later, Power Trip was set to return the crown of metal dominance to Dallas in a way the city had not experienced since the Pantera era of the 1990s. The group released a demo in 2008 before recording what is considered their masterpiece—the tightly wound Nightmare Logic—in 2017. The album’s muted chug is almost restrained in a way that allows Gale’s vocals to take the spotlight, and they do. In a recent tribute on 96.7 The Ticket, it was almost comical how long it took for the thrash portion of the music to subside before Gale enters the frame; over a full minute goes by. This is not music made for the radio—it is a call to action. Power Trip was a live band.
They also possessed a conscience not always shared by their metal and hardcore brethren. Politics in extreme music can be a very mixed bag and just as diverse as any other industry. Gale made it clear which side of the fence on which the band stood. He was constantly engaging in Twitter spats expressing his left-leaning and inclusionary beliefs. The group had a song named after a John Lewis quote, “If Not Us then Who?”
Lewis was not exactly a common figure in metal.
In a number of interviews, Gale’s friends, collaborators, and booking associates have a constant theme: what a nice person Gale was. It is not always common in the sometimes partisan music scene. Most of them also spent time on the notorious Dallas Hardcore message board, which was more reliable than the Dallas Observer and various other aspirational show lists of its time. It was not the friendliest local music site, however.
That message board was the comment warsite of its day. While Gale also frequented the site, he did not take its exclusionary attitude out into the world.
Show booker and musician Tyler Berry became acquainted with Gale in the Dallas underground scene far ahead of his rise to fame. Before Power Trip, Gale was the singer in a band called Balls Out. As with Power Trip, subtlety was not high on Balls Out’s list of priorities. Berry recalls Gale’s meeker days.
“I had a booking company and he just started showing up to hardcore shows,” Berry says. “He would be that little dude … He would pop up at shows at Across the Street Bar and Red Blood Club. The hardcore community is a very tight-knit community. If I’ve seen you at a show more than once then more than likely I’m going to go up to you and ask, Hey, man what’s your name? Talk to you. That’s kind of what happened.”
Gale pressed Berry for a slot opening for the skate-punk band Kids Like Us. His group only had a handful of songs but they still pushed for a slot. Berry saw something in Gale.
“He always had that potential,” Berry says. “He always had such charisma and people were drawn to him. Balls Out wasn’t the best band but they were a fun band … Every show wasn’t just a show; it was a party. You weren’t going to a show, you were going to a party. And who doesn’t want to be at the party? And who doesn’t want to be included? He tries to include everybody at his shows. He wants everyone to feel like they belong. I can see that was going to happen. If he started something else with really good musicians, things will pop off. And it did. And I’m proud of him.”
Booking is often where much of the friction between commerce and art becomes most pronounced. Talking with various colleagues who did business with Riley, this wasn’t the case. Gale would also sometimes let Power Trip play a venue they had clearly outgrown, if only to support the spaces he grew up attending.
Al Rios was volunteering and helping run shows at Fort Worth’s 1919 Hemphill, an all-ages, alcohol-free space that was focused on area kids in the early to mid 2000s. It shut down permanently in 2016.
“If you watch videos of him playing at 1919, it was pretty nuts,” Rios said. “I think the last time they played there it was 2013 and it was nuts. It was irresponsibly packed. I remember when we were booking that show and talking to Riley and we were like: I don’t know if this is a good idea but we’ll make a lot of money.”
One show with Power Trip and the all-volunteer venue could pay its rent for the month.
“When it came to the DFW Hardcore scene I always had a love/hate relationship with it,” Rios said. “That kind of hardcore, not hardcore punk but hardcore-hardcore. Those shows were not really my thing. And there were so many of those bands that blended together and the kids tended to be more bro-ish than the punk kids. The shows got kind of violent sometimes, more violent than I was comfortable with. And I came into conflict with promoters a lot too over stuff like money and who was playing in what order.”
Rios depended on Gale not only to handle large sums of cash made at the door, but also for his ability to connect with the audience, specifically when things were on the brink of exploding. He helped smooth things over with other bands, too.
“Whenever it came to money or the order of bands or shows getting out of hand or shows going too late, he always had control of it,” Rios says. “And it was wild. Not knowing him super well, but knowing him through that, he’s a little guy. And I say that … just seeing him talk to people and how people respected the shit out of him.”
Rios trails off into an anecdote where he relied on Gale to take care of an issue with a band. He refers to him as a “fixer.”
Perhaps he’s a diplomat. “Oh, that’s an excellent word,” he says. “He’s a diplomat.”
Rios sees the loss of such a music scene diplomat as an unfathomable loss.
“If this had happened without COVID happening, in the middle of a regular scene, it would be like a nuclear bomb. It would upend everything,” Rios says. “If you say, ‘oh, you’re from Denton,’ people say, ‘Oh, Marked Men.’ That was the band (that city was known for).”
On tour, Rios noticed the same strong association with Dallas and Power Trip.
“He’s just somebody where I’m proud I’m from the same place he’s from,” Rios said.
The group’s influence spread far outside of North Texas. Austin musician Garrick Thurston noticed Gale’s strategy and philosophy for breaking outside of the local-only mentality early on.
“Riley was the first person I knew who treated the entire state of Texas that way: Houston and Austin and San Antonio,” Thurston says. “He was local to all of those scenes, as well. Just pick up and drive down to San Antonio for a gig.”
“If this had happened without COVID happening, in the middle of a regular scene, it would be like a nuclear bomb. It would upend everything.”Al Rios, longtime volunteer at 1919 Hemphill
Thurston met Gale when he was still in high school. “I was friends with a lot of people and some people would treat me like a high school kid,” Thurston says. “But there were certain people and Riley was one of them … it didn’t occur to them that I was 16. I was on their level immediately. They treated me like a friend because they were good guys and Riley was definitely that way. He didn’t see me as a young kid. He saw me as someone who was stoked on music.”
Thurston recalls that he did not make it to the group’s last Austin show over that common fear for everyone who knows someone who is a big deal—for fear of not wanting to bother them.
“He’s probably getting 800 of those texts,” he says.
Denton played nearly as much a role in Power Trip’s up-and-coming years as Dallas proper. Denton musician Ramón García fronted the band Sin Motivo, which shared bills with Power Trip in both towns. He did not perceive Gale as having been changed by any of his world travels or his band’s life-altering success.
“So many people get a little bit of popularity with flash-in-the-pan bands and forget about where they came from but with him it felt like that wasn’t the case, says García. “If anything he was trying to bring it to people’s attention that Texas isn’t just Austin. To us it’s obvious but to anybody outside of the state it’s just, ‘Oh, you’re from Texas? You’re from Austin right?’ No, there’s a lot of culture throughout the rest of the state, too.”
García notes that the last time they shared a bill, Power Trip brought a Canadian band to Denton.
“They were bringing these international acts to play Texas, specifically,” García says. “He was genuine about his love for what’s happening here, artistically and exposing the rest of the world to it. I think that’s what I really remember from then.”
Natalie Dávila is a project manager at Polyvinyl Records, based in Champaign, Illinois. She once ran a venue out of her basement in Denton called the Majestic Dwelling of Doom. She met Riley outside of a show at her house. They were in their early 20s, still in college.
“Within minutes of meeting him and discussing the space and the DIY scene as a whole, I felt a significant shift in my perspective. It was jarring,” she said. “He spoke with such conviction and passion, while somehow managing to never make you feel like you were being talked down to. It was a defining moment for me because I realized how much bigger all this was than just some punks playing in a basement.”
Dávila booked the band at 35 Denton, a music festival that had a short but successful run and brought a number of national acts to the college town.
“We had Power Trip perform at Hailey’s, opening for Pallbearer, as part of 35 Denton,” Dávila says. “I caught the tail end of their set and I never saw Hailey’s so alive. If my memory serves me correctly, Pallbearer was starstruck by Power Trip, aptly so.”
Last weekend, a memorial was held for Gale’s friends in Dallas. New York musician Andreas Ruiz de la Pena flew in for the ceremony. He met Gale at a Balls Out show. Ruiz de la Pena played in hardcore acts such as Dark Forces, Mean and Ugly, and Execution Tax. The last group was christened by Gale, which was also repurposed for a Power Trip track called “Executioner’s Tax,” one of the group’s best-known songs.
“Riley came up with the name,” Ruiz de la Pena says. “He loved it so much and he did the ‘Executioner’s Tax’ song. It was funny because people were like, ‘Did Riley co-opt the name?’ And I said, ‘Riley came up with everything. Riley did it all.’”
Pondering over his history with Gale back to his earliest days in the scene, Ruiz de la Pena takes a moment to reflect on the differences between then and now. He DJs under the name DJ Clone and is usually the highlight of a party. He does not seem like that guy at the moment.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week compared to a place like New York where the gatekeepers aren’t so friendly,” he says. “Maybe not everyone, but it’s just interesting—the contrast. Riley was the main guy for a long time doing things and he made everyone feel like his best friend. I don’t think you see that a lot, out of the people who gate-keep a scene and are involved in all the bookings and things sometimes. He was not an exclusive guy.”
Power Trip’s early practices took place in Ruiz de la Pena’s living room on Congress Street in Denton, which he affectionately calls “Bongress.” He too saw the promise of the group from their early work on.
“I think Riley had a goal,” Ruiz de la Pena says. “He had a vision. When he met [guitarist] Blake [Ibanez] I think he was amazed by his skills and they had a love for thrash metal. I think he knew what he wanted. He went for it. Power Trip just kept breaking the ceiling.”