Original photo: Matt Shaw. Handmade mixed media collage by B.
Naarm/Melbourne band The Toads’ jittery post-punk hums with both a nervous energy and a groundedness with a mordant sharpness lyrically they dissect the mundanities, grind and absurdity of life. The band features members of The Shifters, The Living Eyes and Parsnip. Gimmie is excited to premiere The Toads’ first single ‘Nationalsville’ from their forthcoming debut album, In The Wilderness (which features many indelible moments). We were excited to learn more about the band, their coming album, new single and its accompanying video, from members Stella Rennex, Elsie Retter, Miles Jansen and Billy Gardner.
We saw The Toads play your first show last year at Jerkfest; how did you feel in the lead up to the show and what do you remember about the show?
STELLA [bass]: I remember that I was wearing a t-shirt that said “Chicken Every Sunday” and we couldn’t find Jake’s snare and cymbals before we played.
BILLY [guitar]: We rocked up super late and were playing first, I was stressed on the drive down but the show went sweet and we all had fun.
ELSIE: [drums] It was my first show ever so I was pretty nervous and had a tequila sunrise to calm my nerves. I remember my friend Bec (Delivery, Blonde Revolver) rocked up in some home made Toads merch, which I think we should replicate and sell.
MILES [vocals]: First shows are always a touch nervy, I think.
We did ok? I had to play twice so I was trying not to drink too much.
I remember the show and the evening being a bit stressful as I was going overseas the next day and I was paranoid about getting Covid. Somehow I avoided it and got to Belgium, all good.
What initially brought The Toads together?
STELLA: Billy and I have played in other bands together and with each other’s bands for a long time. So we jammed a few songs with my dear friend Elsie who wasn’t playing in any other bands and had learned drums earlier in life! We were just having fun with friends really. Then when it sounded good we tried hard to think of the perfect singer. After several options that didn’t quite make sense Billy suggested Miles who is a great friend of ours and was the perfect match! ❤
Photo: Matt Shaw
How did you find your sound?
STELLA: We all have relatively similar taste in music so it’s not difficult to agree on things.
BILLY: We tried a few different ideas at first and discussed which direction to go in. We all agreed that we should make more songs in minor keys, so we did, but recently realised the album is five minor and five major songs – so it ended up an even mix anyway.
Does The Toads have a preferred way to write songs?
STELLA: Mostly Billy makes the tunes and Miles makes the words. And I doodle around on bass and Els plays the drums.
BILLY: The songs are extremely simple even at the finished point but they start off so, so basic. Usually just some chords and a melody that work over each other. Stella plays the melody on bass over my chords for the verse and then I’ll play the melody as a solo or lead over her rhythm as some sort of break. Elsie makes a cool beat and Miles usually has words before the night’s over. It’s a very basic and fun process.
MILES: Chuck-Billy and Stella write the music and I just add my words. It’s cool to see them working stuff out together.
We’re premiering your first single ‘Nationalsville’ for The Toads’ debut album; what’s the song about?
MILES: It’s about a cotton farmer/ National party donor, water farming in the northern sector of the Murray Darling. He removes the water gauge and lies about how much water they are stealing, while diverting a huge amount of it into his catchment. A charming situation.
BILLY: The working title for this one “Country Song”. When we first jammed it, it felt real ’65 era Stones song or something – with some country I guess. Miles’ vocals’ gave it its own vibe.
Album cover art: Ian Teeple
The clip for it is fun! It was made by Leland Buckle. What can you tell us about making it? Where was it filmed? How did the audience seated in the chairs watching the band come into being?
BILLY: We referenced “Stranded” and “What Do I Get?” video clips and then passed the baton over to Leland….
LELAND: The old folks in the chair is a homage to the ‘Underwater Moonlight’ album cover, was listening to that one a fair bit when we started talking about the video.
ELSIE: It was a great day, pretty funny playing in some hall in Preston on a Saturday morning, surrounded by references to catholicism whilst staring down the eyes of Leland’s creepy (but amazing) paper mache people.
How long did the album take to record? Who recorded it? Where did you record? What was the most fun you had during recording?
STELLA: We recorded the album in two batches because we initially were planning on an EP. But once that was too long for a 7” and we made some more songs we decided to make it an album. Recorded it at Billy’s place in Preston. Took two full days, three months apart, with many overdubs after the fact. We had lots of fun and always do.
BILLY: Yeah, what Stella said – initially it was just five songs for a 7”. And then we went for eight songs to be a 12” EP. But along the process we fleshed out two tracks (Two Dozen… and Tale of a Town…) into their own new interlude/reprise things with new words and melodies. I like those ones. Miles’ vocals on The Wandering Soul are terrifying. The funnest part of recording was definitely – and pretty much always is – the overdubs.
ELSIE: It was definitely a lot of fun. I think we lost our minds a little at the end of each session but just made the overdubs a lot more fun and out there. I think it took Stella and I a few extra takes to get some harmonies done without cracking up laughing. We are also really lucky that we have Billy in the band who can record everything himself, so it made the whole process seem a lot more comfortable.
MILES: We always have fun together. Lots of beers/seltzer’s and dexies. It was really cold on the first day and I slept all rugged up in my coat while the others were busy laying down the tunes. You gotta respect it.
Which track from the forthcoming album do you like to play live the most? What do you appreciate about it?
STELLA: I like Gimme Little More to play on bass because it feels tough.
BILLY: Probably just Nationalsville or something. Tale of a Town is fun when we hit the quiet part.
ELSIE: Agree with Bill, seeing him rip his solo in Nationalsville is always sick to watch. For me, I like playing in the ‘In The Wilderness’ because the song has grown so much from what it was once. I think it has a lot of quirkiness and sort of goes against the structure of a ‘normal song’, like the extended outro. I also love the bass in this and Miles’s vocals do a few twists and turns which just sound so good.
MILES: I think I like playing “In the Wilderness” I like the end part , it’s a bit Eno / Bryan Ferry or something.
What have you been listening to, watching and/or reading lately?
BILLY: Michael Rother. Fair bit of krautrock in general.
STELLA: Been listening to lots of Rosalia, watching Atlanta and rewatching Extras.
ELSIE: I’ve been listening to this album Fantastic Planet by Lealani which is kinda moody synth pop which is a big vibe. I’ve been watching The Last of Us like the rest of society at the moment. And reading Politics of Public Space.
MILES: I have not been listening or reading much at all lately. I’ve been watching Will Ferrell movies, The Mandalorian and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
What do you get up to when not making music?
BILLY: I’ve been cooking heaps. Lots of salsa verde’s.
STELLA: Going to Tafe and working mostly!
ELSIE: I work full time at a local Council so mostly that, but outside of work, I’ll either be walking my dog, going for a run down the creek or in a Youtube hole. I also have just picked up Spanish classes!
MILES: Work, watch people play Dayz on Twitch, play Total war games, visit the same pub every weekend and hang out with my partner.
What’s the rest of the year look like for The Toads? Also, are members working on any other projects?
BILLY: Just hope to work on some more songs. Also hope to do a split record with Modal Melodies at some stage, but where all members play on all the songs like a collab. There’s a Toadal Melodies joke in there somewhere.
MILES: I have been very lazy with The Shifters, so I would like to get back into that, soon.
In The Wilderness out via Anti Fade Records (AUS) and Upset The Rhythm (UK) June 9 – pre-order HERE.