That Totimoshi guitarist/vocalist Anthony Aguilar was on the road when we spoke was no big surprise. The principal songwriter behind the Los Angeles (by way of Oakland) outfit’s six albums spends most of his time touring, whether it’s with his own band, or as guitar tech for the Melvins or tour manager for Neurosis, Shrinebuilder or Sleep. Many of the skeletal parts of the latest Totimoshi outing, Avenger, were written in transit — and maybe that’s behind some of the energy the songs just can’t seem to shake.
Avenger (review here) marks Totimoshi‘s first studio outing since departing from Volcom Entertainment, the imprint on which their last two installments — 2006′s Ladrón and 2008′s Milagrosa — were released, and while the 10 tracks continue the complex melodic development that songs from those records like “Dance of Snakes” and “Gnat” first began to demonstrate, there is an undeniable noise rock crunch in Aguilar‘s guitar as well that comes across right from the bluesy swagger of “Mainline” down through the grandiose epic “Waning Divine,” which features guest appearances from Mastodon‘s Brent Hinds and Scott Kelly of Neurosis. It’s a sound fit for the oft-groundbreaking At a Loss Recordings.
The drummer for the Melvins, Dale Crover, also shows up in the intro and elsewhere, but Avenger is much more than Totimoshi showing off the fact that they have cool friends. The chemistry between Aguilar and bassist/vocalist Meg Castellanos is pivotal to the album’s success, as is the input of drummer/vocalist Chris Fugitt, whose versatility in no small part allows the band to roam in the varied and genre-defying directions they do on a cut like “Rose,” which is just as exciting for its melodic apex as for its stylized heaviness. Having also been fortunate enough to see Totimoshi live supporting Avenger, and earlier in the band’s career, it’s apparent that they’ve hit new levels of creativity, confidence and mastery of their craft.
Totimoshi are, and always have been, beholden to themselves. That comes across as important to Aguilar in the following interview, and that he takes the time to consider his band’s place in the overall sphere is no great surprise considering the effort that goes into actually making the songs. In our phone conversation, he discussed the touring lifestyle, the tribulations surrounding the 2002 album, Monoli, working with Melvins producer Toshi Kasai on Avenger instead of Helmet‘s Page Hamilton (who helmed Ladrón and Milagrosa), the differences between headlining a tour and playing in a support slot, potential future directions, and much more.
Please find the complete Q&A after the jump, and enjoy.
There’s been one kind of dud, and all the other shows have been great so far. The one dud was in Denver. Kind of weird, because we’ve had really good shows there before. I don’t think there was a lot of promotion for it, but other than that, every show’s been really cool. Been super-awesome. And this is our first time in 14 years where we’re actually trying to do a headlining tour. It’s a little scary, but it’s way more gratifying, because we actually get to play a whole hour. It’s way more fun.
I was gonna say, I’m used to seeing Totimoshi come around with the Melvins or whoever else. Is it different playing to your crowd?
Yeah. It’s more gratifying, because you know people are there to hear you specifically, whereas opening for other bands, it’s more like, we want to try to turn people on and see what happens, but often times they’re more fans of the bands headlining and you’re just kind of there (laughs), trying to get their attention. It’s different. It’s a little scarier, because it’s the first time venturing off into that whole world of trying to do your own thing, but it’s what we want to do. Not that we’re not gonna look for support slots in the future, but for now, it’s what we want to start to try to do more and more.
All the time you’ve put in supporting other bands puts you in a better position to do that, I’d think.
The band’s been around for 14 years (laughs). It’s time to try at least to do that and see what happens. We definitely have enough music, that’s for sure, but you know. It’s a lot of the old stuff that we don’t play anymore that we need to get down. We were thinking of re-recording, actually, some of the old stuff.
Doing a whole album over, or just a comp of material?
A lot of the stuff — for example, like Monoli, the second record that we did – it’s completely out of print. John [Geldbach] from This Dark Reign just completely took it out. He actually told the guy at the distributor to throw them in the trash because I asked for a statement on sales. Dude, I don’t know what that guy’s problem is. He freaked out on me for simply wanting a statement, and told me I wasn’t entitled to a statement as per the contract, and told the distributor guy to throw them in the trash. Of course, I went over to Cobraside [Distribution], which is right around the corner from my house, and the guy was super-nice. He was like, “Dude, I wouldn’t throw them in the trash.” He gave me whatever he had left of Monoli, and the worst part about that is I wrote that album right after my father died. Almost every single song – not every single song, but most of the songs – are about losing my dad and the whole idea of death and going to a dark place. It was a really, really personal record, and to have that guy want them to go in the trash was like throwing my father’s memory in the trash to me. So I want to re-record it and re-put it out with a bunch of other older songs, and just sell them at our merch table. I think that’s more the way to go these days, is to have your own small run of records at the merch table that people can buy, rather than having shit in stores. It doesn’t seem like stuff is selling in stores as much anymore.
Shitty situation to have with that record. That was my introduction to the band.
The fortunate thing is he doesn’t own the work. He doesn’t own any of the soul and the spirit that went into it. He’ll never, ever own that. He’ll never be able to throw that in the trash. The guy can just fuckin’ eat a huge pile of dicks as far as I’m concerned.
Are you more comfortable at this point on the road than in the studio?
No. They’re different things. I like being in the studio, especially (laughs) recently. We didn’t have any money, and Toshi was coming to our rehearsal studio to record us with this little mobile unit. So we were basically – our rehearsal studio’s like our house, our second house, and we’re really comfortable there. It was really simple to record. It’s a good, cheap way to do it. We’re gonna do that from now on. As far as the road is concerned, I tour with Totimoshi, and I also tour manage Neurosis, Sleep and Shrinebuilder, and then I also tech for the Melvins, so I’ve been on the road… Basically since November, I’ve been on the road. I’ve been home maybe a month since November of last year. I’m on the road all the time. Both are incredibly comfortable to me. They’re just kind of what I do, personally. We were in the earthquakes. Did you hear about the earthquakes?
There was the Christchurch one in January. I was with the Melvins when all that stuff happened. Pretty crazy. That makes touring a little weird (laughs). Natural catastrophes.
What did you guys end up doing? I remember reading everyone was okay.
Basically everyone was fine. I think Dale [Crover] hurt his pinky, but other than that, everyone was cool. Basically run for a safe place, or what you think is a safe place.
Did you stand in the doorway?
(Laughs) I did. I didn’t know where else to go. Just like, “Uh, I’ll stand right here.” Kind of funny.
So if you’ve been on the road since November, when were the songs for Avenger written?
I think when we moved to Los Angeles, about a year and a half ago, two years ago, we had one song. I think I had “Rose” written already. I also had “The Line” written, which is now called “The Fool.” It was originally called “The Line.” The rest of it was written, when I would get home from a Melvins tour, I would write. I wrote “Avenger” around the same time. “Waning Divine” I just wrote right before we recorded the last small batch of songs. They were just basically recorded on breaks, being home from tour. “Calling all Curs” I actually wrote in a hotel room on a Melvins tour. I take a itty bitty guitar to practice with. I wrote that in a hotel room, showed it to Dave Curran, the Unsane guy. He tour manages the Melvins, and I showed it to him, like, “Check this out!” It was just written on the road, basically. Most of it.
Have you done it that way in the past?
Yeah. Milagrosa was completely written on the road. I take a little tape recorder, and I record ideas, and I’ll re-listen to the ideas, and I’ll go over and over them again, and slowly trim them into more songs, and then by the time I show Meg and Chris, they’re almost songs, and then they turn into songs with those two added. They put in their two cents and it gets finished. Usually by the time I present them, the idea’s almost done. It makes it a little easier. And then after that, it’s whatever we add in the studio and whatever we think is gonna work here and there, and you know. It’s a process, definitely. It’s cool, bro. I like writing on the road. Especially when, say, if I’m tech’ing for the Melvins – I was thinking about this the other night. Tech’ing for the Melvins or tour managing for Neurosis, it’s almost like – it’s a normal job – but it’s almost like understudy. I get to watch two of probably the most amazing bands in the last 20 years. The most groundbreaking, seminal bands. I get to watch those guys every single night, and I feel almost like I’m an understudy with those guys when I’m watching them on stage. Watching how they approach music, how they approach what they do on stage. How they work as a band, how they tour. Everything about those guys just amazes me. Especially those two bands specifically are incredible. They’re machines. It’s great to see. I think that adds to our artistic edge. Seeing the way that they work. Fucking awesome. Mastodon too was pretty fuckin’ amazing. We did a tour together in January. Those guys are pretty great.
You’ve toured with them for years at this point.
We have. We’ve done one major tour, and then we used to do shows with them back before they were as huge as they are now. [Mastodon guitarist/vocalist] Troy [Sanders] would set us up with shows in Atlanta and stuff. All those guys are so nice. They’re super, super-great people. We instantly became friends with them, and we’ve stayed friends with them. It’s great. Music, to me, is all about unity and it’s such a small world. We all see each other all the time. We’re out on the road, or occasionally we’ll see each other, and it’s like a big family. I really love it.
Was Page Hamilton involved with Avenger at all?
He did some pre-production stuff for four songs. He did “Avenger,” “The Fool,” “Rose” and “Leeds,” which was the very, very first recording that we did, at a studio in L.A. He came for pre-production, and then he was busy doing the Helmet record, so he just didn’t have any time, and we didn’t have any money to pay him, and I felt really bad about not being able to pay Page. He’s definitely worth what he gets paid for. Because he got so busy, me and Toshi just took over, and I didn’t really have time to be waiting, unfortunately, so me and Toshi took over the reins, and Toshi ended up producing it, and I’m super, super-happy with how it came out. It’s really cool, because I was go to Toshi’s house, and we would just sit in his room – he’s got a studio in his little room – and we would just sit there and bounce ideas off each other and try them. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t work, and it was just continuous idea-throwing. It was really great. The first time I’ve really gotten to do that – just be patient and take my time. And Toshi’s such a great guy, so easy to work with, easy to communicate. I never feel intimidated by anything. It’s a mellow atmosphere, so it makes it easy to work. So Page was involved with a few of the songs.
What came out of those idea exchanges with Toshi?
It was mostly adding counterpoint. Vocal ideas. Adding harmonies to the main melody of the vocal. Harmony, and maybe adding a keyboard part here or a guitar part there. Tambourine. A lot of the parts, the weird – some of it Toshi came up with completely on his own and I was just really floored, like, “Oh yeah man, I love that shit. It’s really cool.” It’s just adding stuff, adding texture, basically, to the original recording. The base recording is, you go in there and you record a track exactly how it is live and raw. Adding texture on top of that is basically what the whole production part of it was with me and Toshi. It wasn’t changing any parts of the songs at all. The basic structures of the songs are exactly how they were written. It was just adding stuff on top.
I wanted to ask you about the melodic growth of the band. It seems like the last couple albums especially have been more melodically focused. This one is too, but it also brings in that guitar crunch. It doesn’t feel like a step backwards because it’s still very melodic, but it’s almost like the guitars have stepped up too. Was that something you specifically wanted to do?
No, I think that’s just something that happens naturally. Early on, we were heavy and I was screaming way too much because I was – I think I was too much of a chickenshit. A lot of the Oakland scene was grindcore, and really angry and heavy, and I was too much of a chickenshit to actually stand up and be myself. I’m more into the Beach Boys than I’m into some grindcore crap. I’ve never been from that whole perspective. I really, really, really love melody. I like songs. I like structure. That’s just me allowing myself, and growing to just be more naturally who I really am, rather than basing it on some scene that we’re kind of around. I think I’m less of a chickenshit now, is basically what it is. (Laughs) I hope that makes sense.
Absolutely. But at the same time, Totimoshi’s never really been part of one specific scene or sound. You were never metal, never really stoner rock, never really noise. Always in between.
Yeah. We certainly were never really accepted into any of those Oakland dark metal whatever scenes. We’ve always been kind of on the outside of a bunch of different genres, and it’s probably because of that, because we’re not really one specific genre. To me, it would be incredibly boring to be something like that. I don’t want to be part of a scene anyways. I’d rather just be a musician. Whatever comes out comes out. It’s natural. It’s all related to your experiences in life. It’s all such a personal thing. Not every single person is going to have the exact same experiences in life, so it’s better to just do it that way. Be who you are. I do think we’re unique though, honestly. I’m reminded of it usually when we play shows (laughs). We’re always the sore thumb that sticks out. We don’t sound like a lot of the bands that we play with.
What was behind bringing Dale, Brent and Scott onto the album?
Firstly and most importantly, they’re our friends. The whole Brent thing was because, when I toured with Mastodon in January, he had this little acoustic guitar. And he would come into our dressing room all the time and we would sit there, me and him, and we would just kind of jam. I just liked the way the two styles blended together. I thought it was really cool. So I asked him because, for one, I love him as a person, and because I love his guitar playing. To me, he’s one of the best guitar players around, period. Ever. Scott is also a friend. I love his singing. His voice is amazing. He just happened to be in town when I was over at Toshi’s house recording. I called him up and asked him if he wanted to sing on some stuff, so I went over and picked him up and that worked our perfectly. And Dale. Dale lives like five minutes from my house. So we were over there hanging out, I asked him if he wanted to do something. It was me, Toshi and Dale just hanging out, drinking, so we ended up doing it right here. Dale ended up using a headphone jack. Like a regular headphoner? Toshi plugged a quarter-inch from the headphone into a little recorder, and actually recorded Dale using a headphone as a microphone. (Laughs) It was great. It was really, really cool. It was kind of spontaneous. The only one it was planned was the Brent thing. I’d planned to ask him for a long time, so that ended up happening. We sent the files to Bill Kelliher, and Bill recorded Brent and then sent it back. It was perfect. It’s awesome. And Brent’s solo on “Waning Divine” is insane. Just amazing.
That track has so much going on with it. It’s a great way to cap the record.
It’s the last song that was written for the record. I really like it. I really dig the direction it’s going.
Along those lines, is that something you’d want to build on for future writing? Do you have a direction in mind for the band, or is it like you said before, what comes out?
I have an idea of what I want the next one to be like. I have actually two ideas. One is, I have a ton of acoustic songs. They’re not acoustic like singer-songwriter acoustic. They’re acoustic like Zeppelin II, with drums and bass and guitar. I have a bunch of those songs already written, and then the other one, I want to see if I can find a keyboard player to play parts and make it a little more ethereal. But that’s a direction that I haven’t really written for yet, but that I see we could progress to. Ethereal in a Pink Floyd kind of way. Like Meddle or later Pink Floyd, around the time of Live at Pompeii, or something like that. That kind of stuff. Love that era of Pink Floyd. I love every era, but that, artistically, is what I’m looking at. I’ll see if it happens (laughs).
In the meantime, do you know what you’re doing after this tour?
No plans right now. We’re trying to get a European tour together in November. We’re not sure if it’s going to come to fruition or not. It depends on the promoters, if they’re going to offer anything. If that doesn’t happen, we’re going to try to do a tour in the States before the end of the year again. Maybe look for some support slots and see what happens.
Tags: At a Loss, California, Los Angeles, Totimoshi