By Bella Savignano | July 17, 2022
Holy Toledo! (Sorry, we had to. It was right there!) This story is not about the phrase used to express surprise or astonishment, nor is it about Ohio’s fourth most populated city. Today, we’re talking about the Bushwick-based indie duo, TOLEDO. The band is Dan Alvarez and Jordan Dunn-Pilz, longtime best friends who started making music under their current moniker in college. They met as kids and quickly delved into music together, from busking on the streets of their hometown, Newburyport, Massachusetts, to playing in a band in high school.
“It had a different vibe, more like Two Door Cinema Club. A lot faster than what we do now,” said Dunn-Pilz of their highschool group. Were you even in a band in high school if that band wasn’t galvanized by the bouncy riffage and danceable electro-indie grooves of Two Door Cinema Club? That’s a conversation for another time, but it is a phenomenon worth thinking about. We digress.
“There were a couple of months when we were like, “Are we a surf rock band?” We would like to think the album is pretty genreless, and we try not to think too much about the playlist stuff,” said Dunn-Pilz. He’s justified. It’s no secret that the genre is dead, or at least dying. With streaming crowned King, bands don’t have to sell an entire album to a single listener. Journalist Amanda Petrusich reminds us that “genre was once a practical tool for organizing record shops and programming radio stations,” but with records and radio nearing irrelevance, exposure often comes in the form of getting a song on a popular playlist, one that’s less about genre, and more about the vibe.
“Getting on a playlist can be a really big thing, so it kinda jumpstarted things for us,” Dunn-Pilz adds. So, if it’s all about getting on a playlist, and the playlist is all about the vibe, then TOLEDO is in luck. Their music has no shortage of good vibes.
Alvarez and Dunn-Pilz, separate from their music, also have good vibes. Great vibes, even. They’re the kind of people whose sincerity transcends their music, blanketing the audience, in Dunn-Pilz’ words, in an “emotional group hug.” Music is genuinely the love of their life, and that is abundantly clear.
“We want people to feel like we’re the band they saw in high school that won the battle of the bands. They feel like they know us. We respond to every DM, we sell our own merch, and have people sign our guitars,” Alvarez shares. TOLEDO is a project that took off during the pandemic, so the last few months have been their first time taking their show on the road. The band is still coming to terms with what it’s like to have fans, and they’ve got some good ones. From a girl flying cross-country to see them in New York for her birthday, to a set of young twins citing them as an inspiration, it’s clear that people are responding to their authenticity.
All that, and they don’t even have a full-length record out. Don’t fret, though, because it’s coming. TOLEDO’s sound has waxed and waned, but it has always maintained an emotive, stripped-down rawness signature to their musical essence. 2018’s “Crane Song” is delicate and whimsical, a haunting aural fable in the style of Fleet Foxes. 2020’s “Lovely” is a venture into dreamy indie pop, an upbeat tune that invokes the sounds of Gus Dapperton and Dayglow. TOLEDO’s most recent releases, “Climber” and “Leopard Skin,” which are the first singles off their debut album, How It Ends, find a happy medium. “Leopard Skin” is restrained and mellow, a reverb-heavy ballad like those of “Slow Pulp.” “Climber” is radiant and shimmering, with lush orchestral sounds that evoke a cinematic quality. The song feels like a soundtrack to a coming-of-age movie–like some super artsy A24 flick where the protagonist is skateboarding down a Malibu street at sunset in slow motion.
For years, Alvarez and Dunn-Pilz have been renting out unconventional spaces to record their music. In college, they took refuge in cabins during winter break. For their new record, they rented out multiple cabins and a church. (Movin’ on up!)
“They were all shittier than the ones we rented a long time ago,” Alvarez joked, but the acoustics were good, and that’s what mattered to them. Those acoustics were important to recording their new record, How It Ends, which is a vulnerable delve into an experience that many people can relate to.
“There’s a lot of divorce stuff. It’s about learning and learned behaviors. Learning about love through the lens of your parents, whether negative or positive,” Alvarez shares. With TOLEDO’s track record, we’re positive the record will be bursting at the seams with substance and passion, and we can’t wait to hear it.
We sat down with Dan Alvarez and Jordan Dunn-Pilz, of TOLEDO, before their BK Made show where they answered a few questions for the groovement:
What were your first concerts?
Dan: Mika and Sara Bareilles. I talked to Sara after the show, we exchanged a few emails.
Jordan: Good Charlotte. I went in a limousine for my friend’s birthday party.
How did you get started in music?
Dan: It was the crux of our relationship.
Jordan: We played music first and then we became friends!
How would you describe your music?
Dan: Garden indie. My life is a movie.
Jordan: I would definitely say “my life is a movie.”
What inspires your music?
Dan: It changes all the time. My inspirations are very much late 90s lesbian rock. It’s always been my core. Indigo Girls are my favorite of all time. I love Natalie Merchant, Brandi Carlile, and Michelle Branch. Not all of them are lesbians, though.
Lesbian rock is a state of mind!
Jordan: We definitely are influenced by aesthetics. We love David Lynch and the 90s as a whole. We try to meet the lesbian rock and grunge rock aesthetics.
So we should expect some big, oversized Lynch-ian suits and choreography on stage tonight?
Jordan: Write that down!
Do you have a mission or message you want to impart to the people?
Dan: Our biggest one is about being a little bit more vulnerable. It’s something we’re working on a lot right now, and music is the easiest way to be vulnerable about situations that might be harder to talk about.
Jordan: It’s a community thing. That emotional group hug!
What’s your dream venue to play?
Jordan: This. This place (Brooklyn Made) is a dream venue.
Dan: I don’t know, Red Rocks, I guess?
What’s your ideal night in the city?
Jordan: There’s this account called Karaoke Kings that shows where the karaoke is every night. If nothing else, I could just go do that.
Dan: My ideal day would be drag brunch, hunting at pawn shops, and then karaoke. That’s my dream day.
📸: shot by Sierra Horne