Portland Musicians Corner with DJ Sonic Szilvi – Interview with The Toads

The first time I saw The Toads was about two and a half years ago. There I was at the Firkin Tavern when these guys started playing and it was, honestly, “love at first sound.” It is hard to put these guys into a simple genre, their music is a mix of fun punk with dashes of country, pop, 90’s alternative, and rock. Their lyrics are straight up and honest, presented with humor and sarcasm. If you are into loud music with lots of energy, The Toads won’t let you down. To top it all, Matt Dinaro, Matt Kane and Dylan Valentine aren’t just amazingly talented and driven musicians, they are also super friendly and fun people.

As you know, I am one of your biggest fans and I am thrilled to do this little interview with you guys! I think it would make sense to start the interview with the most obvious questions on everyone’s mind: Where does the name come from and how did this band begin? I am thinking there must be some story behind it!

MATT D: Matt K and I started jamming as soon as I got to Portland in January 2015. I was originally playing drums, and it became a little in-joke to say between songs, in a quick little voice, “Thanks! We’re the Toads!” It sounded like a fake band from the ‘60s who might play at a school dance or something. I had also written a song called “I’m a Toad” back in 2005, which ended up in our set. I think Toads are funny. There’s Mr. Toad the deranged aristocrat from The Wind in the Willows, the invasive cane toads who are terrorizing Australia, the association of Toads with witches (Harry Potter’s Neville Longbottom has a Toad), and we’re told it’s the worst pet. When we had finally booked a show and were asked what our name was, we kept that name because it seemed fine. It doesn’t tell you much about the band, except maybe suggesting a bit of self-deprecation. There isn’t much to judge, you just have to listen to the music and decide for yourself. It’s signifies a creature that’s both kind of ugly and kind of cute, just like our songs are loud and heavy, but also melodic and sweet. So to me it’s really the perfect name.

MATT K: First off, we humbly thank you for all the support you have given to The Toads throughout our musical and spiritual journey. We are truly elated and gratified to have you pledge your fandom and undying allegiance to us.

I was living here in Portland for a year and some months. I hadn’t really been playing much music, and when I did, it was only on acoustic guitar and usually I was alone, which can get extremely boring. When I had enough money I bought an electric guitar and an amp. With this amplification came a bit more satisfaction. Shortly thereafter, I saw a drum set at Goodwill. I figured it would be the cheapest, most decent set I could hope to get anytime soon, so I bought it. Very soon afterwards, Matt D made his historic voyage to Portland, and we immediately started rocking. I had microphone that we taped to a tall lamp, that functioned as a stand, and plugged it into a tiny amp.

So we had all the things we needed to rock, and rock we did. I was playing many of Matt D’s old songs that I had known, being a fan of his music for a while. I was on guitar, he was on drums. One of the songs was “I’m a Toad,” which is an old Matt D song that not only pre-dates The Toads, but was written years before our first meeting. Anyway, whilst playing this rapid fire rock ‘n’ roll in a basement, it became funny to suddenly stop abruptly from time to time and squeal, “Thanks, we’re The Toads!” in that sort of hyper-specific tone that is sometimes used when someone gets off the bus at the back door and shouts “Thanks!” in that peculiar bright, peppy, sometimes jolting, pitch. Anyways, it was something we’d say into the mike, and it was funny, and we just sort of continued to say it. I hadn’t had access to electric instruments since I’d moved to Portland, so honestly, to be amplified and energetic, and hearing my voice and guitar back out of little boxes accompanied by Matt D banging on the drums made me quite giddy. That giddiness contributed to, and continues to influence, the general spirit of The Toad experience.

Let’s take you a bit further backwards in time. What introduced you all to play an instrument and sing? Was it clear from that moment on that being in a band is your dream?

MD: My father plays guitar. By the time I was thirteen, he had assembled a home studio in our basement. I was classically trained on the French Horn, but I sucked at it and didn’t care. I got into rock music at around the age of sixteen and started playing my dad’s guitars and writing songs, and recording them. It was way easier than French horn. And I love stuff that’s easy, so there you go.

MK: I had been taking in electric guitar solos and grunge intermittently as a youngster, and felt a special something whenever I’d hear something more overtly rockin’ than the mainstream music I was mostly exposed to. I remember being entranced by rock guitar solos when I was young. I just didn’t understand what made those sounds, and I gravitated towards the vibe like a moth to a flame, or flies to dog doo, or what have you. I kept asking for a guitar, and I got one for Christmas when I was eight years old, so it was quite a while ago. I didn’t think of the instrument as being linked to whatever being in a band is, I was simply hypnotized by the sound and wanted to investigate further.

I have seen you live several times and I always love the energy you bring to any place. Your music is upbeat, and your lyrics are so easy to connect with. They confront common everyday situations with straight forwardness and attitude. I know bands often don’t want to be pigeonholed by genre and would rather come up with their own thing. How would you categorize the music you are creating? And what inspires you to write the music and the lyrics?

MD: You just have to listen to it. I can put on my rock journalist hat and situate us very specifically, but I don’t think it really helps anyone. I have a feeling Matt K has some more colorful words for this one.

MK: I would categorize it as Toad music only. It’s a specific sound only found in the Toad-o-Sphere, unique to a particular corner of a corner of a corner of space-time. It’s very hard to define music.

For me, I try to do as little thinking as possible regarding creating music. Ideally, I’m in some sort of trance-like state and something musical happens, and later I shape it a bit. I’m not the type to sit down with a clear intention and proceed to compose a song. I don’t usually write lyrics with a narrative in mind. More often I have music, melody, chords, changes, and the general schematic movement and flow of things floating around in my head, and I try to guide it all along its merry way to becoming a song. Matt D creates the more coherent songs, with words that make sense on their own, with funny stories and scenarios. But then again, I don’t think we are tethered to any specific approach or genre and I hope our band continues to reflect that.

You’re in a world where everything is possible. Name one band you’d want to open for, one festival to play at, one country you must play a show in?

MD: Well I’d want Paul McCartney to open for the Toads, so he can cross the last thing off his Bucket List. I’d also like to play on the holy day in that part of India where they let rats crawl all over everything (I think that’s a thing), and I definitely want to play for the sheep in the Falklands.

MK: Well, this one is a toughie. Truly, I enjoy so much music and entertainment that it would be simply impossible to select just one band to open for. Right now I’m remembering that Frankie Muniz plays music and if he’s still in a band, then it would be a rare treat to open up for him. But yeah, superstars are cool, like Biebs, Britney, Beyonce, Kanye, Bjork, and Katy Perry. All of them would benefit from a Toad opening slot. But really, I wouldn’t know how to select the best scenario.

As far as festivals go, I don’t care really. I’m not as hip to all the goings-on. But ideally we would be involved in an event that raises awareness and support for any of the numerous relevant issues of the day. I assume festivals involve a butt-ton of people on all fronts, and I would prefer to use the platform as a way to participate in helping to promote a just cause instead of just sort of having it be a celebration of consumption, where money gets funneled to liquor companies or other corporate sponsors. So yeah, for me, the ideal festival for The Toads to play at would be one where we would be able to take advantage of playing to lots of people where everyone comes together in support of improving any of the many social, political, and environmental issues that are currently on the docket in this complex modern world we inhabit. Any country, any time, so long as it’s consensual.

I know you guys are excited about your upcoming tour, The Toads Fools’ Tour 2018. Can you tell us more about it? And what is planned in the next years for The Toads?

MD: While Matt K was in Italy this past fall, gorging on sage butter sauce, little sandwiches, and white bean soup, he conceived a tour based around the release of our upcoming single Brain Nail/The Act. And he said, “lo, let it be based, further, around the date of April Fools,” which happens to be Easter this year. As we know, the resurrection of Christ was the greatest April fools joke of all time. We’re playing more than a dozen shows in California and Oregon, and finishing off with a killer bill at Bunk Bar, with Mo Troper, and The Minders.

MK: Yeah, the Fools’ Tour! All I know is Matt D and I have sore fingers and are developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Did you ever try to book a tour, when you aren’t the coolest dude or dudette on the block? You gotta send links with your music, that you already put enough time into making, and you gotta sit there and copy and paste the little link, and hope the receiver will click on it, and that they give it a solid ten seconds to win them over. It’s so fun I wouldn’t know where to begin! Oh, and the logistics, and not having a van, and having to take weeks off from work. Oh man, it’s gonna rule! But for real, I plan to utilize a lot of pent-up anxiety and frustration to make for some potent rock ‘n’ roll experiences on the road. Hopefully everything goes well. This is a big deal for us: to plan it, get the time off work, and so on. I am very excited to go to other places, meet new people, and have new experiences. These have always been some of my primary life goals.

As for the next years, we plan to just stay active so long as we are all truly invested in keeping the band alive. I like being in the band. Hopefully I’ll continue to feel that way, and hopefully Matt D and Dylan will as well. God-willing, we shall live long and prosper.

Last question. Tell us something we’d be shocked to know about you, something crazy, unusual or amazing!

MD: I got in McSweeney’s one time.

MK: Well, I dunno… could it be my eleventh toe? Or my inability to stop seeing the world as a myriad system of complex, expansive fractals, ebbing and flowing eternally in what has been revealed to me as the spirit dance of the cosmos, both visible and invisible to the naked eye? Or perhaps that I’m a Taurus with a Gemini rising… or was it Aquarius?

We have come to the end of this interview, thank you for sharing your deepest darkest secrets with us. Okay, maybe not the deepest and darkest secrets, but we are certainly happy to know a bit more about The Toads! To follow the band, and maybe find out even more, visit their website or find them on Facebook.

The Toads play at Bunk Bar on Sunday, April 1. You can purchase advance tickets here.

DJ Sonic Szilvi, a European native, joined the Portland music scene a few years ago, currently playing bass for two active bands and one on hiatus. She recently joined the Freeform Portland family as a DJ. Sonic Szilvi co-hosts the bi-weekly show Dark Noise Radio with her good friend DJ Devon.