Nostalgia? Toys That Kill Are Ready to Go With New Video
Lately, the Recess Records Instagram is looking quite a bit like an old photo album. Maybe it's the nostalgia about the end of F.Y.P. at The Fest in October, but it could all just be tied to Todd Congelliere's mindset surrounding his new LP. Released in early July, Sentimental Ward finds Toys That Kill wrestling with the ideas of nostalgia versus progression across 16 tracks, crafting sweet power-pop nuggets rooted in classic punk rock. If you're familiar with his work, then you know that the new TTK album is another endlessly repeatable LP in his long-running partnership with Sean Cole, and a must-listen. The record opens with "S.D.R.T.T.Go!" the subject of the über-fun Brendan McKnight-directed clip that makes its debut here. Check it out below.
The video was partially shot during Toys That Kill's recent NYC appearance, which is when CLRVYNT sat down with the Recess Records honcho to discuss the LP, Black Flag in the '80s, danger in rock, and the resurgence — and hopeful death — of vinyl as a trend. Check out the video for "S.D.R.T.T.Go!" and then head below for a Q&A session with Congelliere.
Let’s start with the new record, Sentimental Ward. The last one came out in 2012. Was there a hold-up, or were you just working on Underground Railroad to Candyland material? You record at home, correct?
Yeah, we recorded in my garage. There wasn’t a hold-up so much as it was just us realizing there are no deadlines because I run the label. So, we just didn’t want to rush it out. Plus, it’s always good when you come up with a song you made at the last minute. Those are always my favorite songs.
What were some of the songs that came in the midnight hour?
“Four String” is definitely a later one, and one of my favorites. That was just kind of a song that, I didn’t know if it was any good or not, but by the time we got through, it was actually really good. I think some of the songs, like “Ready to Fall” — which is one of my favorite songs, too — are relatively old songs that we’ve been playing. We played here it last year, and it was a regular song in the set. I think the later songs just kept me interested because I have spent so much time mixing [the old songs] that I need something fresh that interests me.
Sentimental Ward. I feel like punk is filled with so much apathy; that’s the m.o. in general. It’s debatable whether the source of apathy is actually caring too much. Clearly, your songs, like “Times We Can’t Let Go” and the title track, aren’t afraid to dig into emotions.
The song “Sentimental Ward” is, to me, talking about people that just can’t let go. They only like old stuff; they only go to shows or the movies that come from their childhood. That is fine — I do that, too — but there’s so much new shit that’s really good that people won’t give it a chance. I’m kind of guilty of that, too, so it’s coming from experience, but I also know a lot of great new shit that people aren’t listening to right this second.
Did you grow up in San Pedro?
Nah, I grew up in Torrance, which is the next city over.
Tell me about seeing punk in that area growing up. The scene was fertile with some of the most important bands of the last 40 years: Black Flag, Minutemen, etc.
I remember seeing Black Flag flyers pasted all over our town — everywhere you would see Black Flag flyers. I didn’t even know what it was at the time. When I was 14, people started bringing tapes to my house because I had a skateboard ramp. One of the guys was the king of skateboarders in town, and he started bringing Black Flag, Minor Threat. And after hearing those, everything made sense. I knew what the flyers were for and I remember asking my mom, too! We were at a stoplight, and there was a flyer that I saw, and I was like, “Can I go to that?” My mom said, “No.” [Laughs] And that was it! After he brought the tapes over, it only took like three months for me to get to the point where I was like, “I’m gonna go to that.”
7 Seconds came over and played at a small club called Fender’s in Long Beach, and I finally got to go. It was kind of a big deal to where my mom was worried and I think I was worried, too, because I thought it was gonna be knives and ... it was a scary thing, you know? I went, and it was the most positive thing in the world. People were picking each other up, and there was an energy there, but there was nothing threatening to me at all. I definitely have been threatened before by cops when I was skateboarding. It was just this eye-opener where I went home, woke up my mom, and told her it was really good, really positive, people were nice and helping each other out. But all she could say was, “You smell like cigarettes.” [Laughs]
But it was all downhill from there. And I actually saw somebody crawling out of a D.I. show with a knife in their back. That element was true back then, but it depended on what show you went to — like, if you went to an Agnostic Front show, you gotta just keep your mouth shut. There are certain things you wouldn’t wanna wear if you didn’t wanna get fucked with. It was a totally different thing; in a weird way, I miss it, but I don’t miss violence either. But there was a sort of punk rock fear that was pretty exhilarating.
It’s funny because rock 'n' roll and the element of danger … there’s a lot of talk now about things like safe spaces. Clearly, no one wants anyone to get fucked with at any gig ever, but at the same time, there’s something exhilarating there: Here’s GG Allin throwing shit on you, or Iggy Pop exposing himself. I’m sure back then people thought Iggy Pop was a terrible person, a terrorist and a goddamn psycho.
I would’ve thought that for sure, and I thought that when I saw him a few years ago; this guy is old, he’s jumping around like a cat, he has to be a psycho. And I love it! I yearn for that. And I get the safe space generation …
Because that’s what older generations, like my own, were fighting for, too: an inclusivity thing instead of the jocks invading punk.
Yeah, but I think for the most part, it’s a bunch of people going around and looking really hard for something. So, if somebody goes and kicks a can because they are just excited or something, someone is gonna go, “Hey, you can’t do this here, and what are you thinking?” And that’s dangerous to me, because it’s going to limit a lot of good shit coming out. And I am not favoring that over people’s safety. I’m just saying that when you act like Republicans, and religious people that you are opposed to … you know, I don’t wanna generalize people that go online to talk about safe spaces, but most of them act like Republicans and shitty Christians, even though they are totally opposed to that mindset. All they are doing is just judging and pointing at people all the time. It’s just like … let people have some fun. If they do something wrong, whatever happened to just going up to that person and confronting them? Just saying, “Dude, you are fucking up, this sucks.” Just the fact that they can’t, do they have to make this premise up online? It’s just super annoying to me.
When did it become like that? That’s why I didn’t wanna go to church when I was a kid. I get the exact same feeling about this situation, where people would try to force their own values on everyone else, and if you have a thought that doesn’t align with theirs, then you shouldn’t exist or do music or art. To me, that’s just the craziest thing in the world, and it’s crazy that anybody want to work with anyone like that.
To me, punk rock was never about the popular thing: “This is what we are gonna do because we are invited to the party.” When I was in high school, I had one friend who also liked to skateboard, but he hated the music I listened to. So, nobody in school liked the same music as I did. You know, now it’s like, if you don’t like it, it’s almost like the table just flops over … and to just to use that as a social tool is crazy to me.
Toys That Kill share members with Underground Railroad to Candyland, and as such, the former's tracks have a lot of the same sound. How do you distinguish between what song is for what in the demo stage? Is it entirely personnel-based?
Yeah, we share a lot of members. I mean, there are certain songs that might fit one band. I talked to Jimmy [Felix], our drummer, about it. I will send him a demo and ask him, “What do you think of this?” and he may respond with, “Oh cool, this sounds like a Toys song.” If I agree, it goes into the vault for when it’s time to visit Toys material.
And your solo songs — do you keep songs to yourself as well?
I don’t, really. The solo album that came out recently, that was just demos that weren’t planned for anything. I didn't go out and try to make a solo album; it was kind of like what’s left over.
Do you ever feel like going down that solo acoustic path?
No, never. It just makes me uncomfortable. People ask me to do that a lot, and I tried it once, and it was just horrifying. Nothing feels like Toys That Kill. This core of guys has been going like 15 years now. There’s just something about that, playing with those guys, and then you go up with an acoustic guitar and just sit there … it’s the exact opposite. [Laughs]
Fair. What’s going on with Candyland? Do you have new material with them?
I have a bunch of songs in the vault that can easily be made into an album, but we haven’t worked on it. We haven’t really been playing newer stuff. There’s no desire to do it right now, but it’s coming. Candyland has always been a break band where it’s like, “OK, we are not really active right now with Toys, so ... ”
So, what’s going on with Recess? What do you have coming down the pipeline?
I got the new Future Virgins album, and am doing some reissue of the Arrivals. I don’t know if you heard them; they are my favorite bands. Besides that, not much. It’s just because the vinyl pressing plant situation lately has been crazy. It’s gotten better now.
I think the bubble is burst on vinyl, too. Even Urban Outfitters is selling tapes now.
It’s crazy. You know, at least they are selling music somehow. That’s the one part I can say, “Well, I don’t really care what format it comes on, really.” I’ve been into Bandcamp lately, especially from a label standpoint. Upload and sit in your Jacuzzi and drink some martinis; I don’t have a Jacuzzi, but that’s what you could do. As long the messages get out there, that’s all that matters to me. I’m also a record collector, so I’m in a weird position. Last year, I swore I wasn’t gonna put out vinyl anymore because it’s so stressful. Everything was coming in late — shit was coming out, and by the time it came out, you forgot we were hyping it. Now, I think that as long as I streamline to where I have few releases this year where I can actually focus on vinyl, it’s OK. It’s not fair for bands to trust me to put out their records, and the backlog in the plant causes issues.
So, as a record guy, what's your favorite acquisition?
My favorite is SS Decontrol’s The Kids Will Have Their Say. I don’t know how old I was —probably 16 — when I bought it at my local record store. I brought in probably eight records to sell to get a new one, which I didn’t understand at the time was a bad idea. They just gave me the worst pricing on these records. One of them was the first Bad Religion 7” — kind of rare at the time. I go back a week later and I see all eight records on the wall for like 60 bucks. I was just like, “They ripped me off.” I remember that their “secret box” had an SS Decontrol record and I was like, “I’ve been looking for that.” They had it for $40, which wasn’t bad at the time, but I was like, “I’m not spending $40 on a record, no way, ever.” So, I went when this dude that didn’t know about that kind of stuff was working, and I switched the price tag to five bucks. I got revenge and I got the record for five bucks. That has to be the sweetest one.