Category Archives: Toby’s Posts

Recording The Corrupt Senators’ 1996 Release, Secret Bag Of Goodies

I remember being totally frustrated by the lack of support I was getting in my brother’s bedroom.  I was blasting away on my Jackson guitar, playing it through my Princeton Chorus, I think.  Although I could have been using one of my brothers’ amplifiers…I can’t remember.  I was always using my brothers’ gear.  I had no idea what I wanted to sound like, but I knew that they knew what they wanted to sound like.  So whenever possible, I just used their gear.

It was 1996, the same year as my first live performance ever.  During that initial show, Vic, Bob, and I took the stage at the Wonder Bar in Wonder Lake, WI, to polite cheers from our too-polite parents, and of course a rowdy welcome from Scotty Dennis, who was probably drunk and was being more ironic in his applause than helpful.  He was a hipster before being a hipster was a thing – a deep well of wisdom and humor.   But on this night, he was there to see my brothers’ band, Juvenocracy, which had just released its double-disc opus, 2 of a Kind.  And he was just being an asshole to us.  But I appreciated his efforts, anyway, not knowing what else to do but appreciate it.

So we played through our hour-long set, boring all within earshot with our endless choruses and even endlesser verses.  If I thought harder, I could probably remember some lyrics for you, but what would be the point?  Just think about a movie starring a lawnmower on a dirt path, and you get the idea.  Really boring stuff.  But it was my music, and I thought it was amazing!  Still do, actually.  It takes something special to stand in front of an audience and perform original music.  It’s a feeling you can only get by doing it, and whether or not you have a whole stadium singing along or if you are playing to an empty room, nothing compares.  It’s the height of sadness and credulity, depending on how much of the audience’s attention you are able to commandeer.  For me, the pursuit of musical performance excellence has always been wrought with sadness.  I have had a few bright spots, though.

Like the first time my brother, Noah, performed with The Corrupt Senators.  It was summer 1996 Vic had left the band by then – can’t say I blamed him – but Noah brought a whole new energy to the sound.  It truly was night and day, as Noah was able to open up musical expression in us that didn’t exist before.  And he did it in a way that only Noah can.

Noah is a born leader, as anyone who has stepped into his line of vision can attest.  We would all follow Noah into battle without a moment’s hesitation.  Not because he’s brilliant, but because he’s a natural leader of people.  Maybe you know a natural leader of people, maybe you don’t.  Noah is one.  Scotty Dennis was one as well, for that matter.  But Scotty had a harder life than most of us – a broken home, a drunk dad – that sort of thing is hard to get past.

Noah became our conductor, speeding up our tempo and the pace of our songwriting in the process.  Honestly, it was a breath of fresh air, and Bob and I felt the difference immediately.  Where Vic was deliberate, Noah was surprising.  Where Vic was quiet, Noah was staccato.  They couldn’t have felt more different.  As I took to strumming my Jackson, the sounds it produced with Noah on drums were inherently more beautiful than those that I was able to coax out with Vic at the helm.

I am not a natural leader, though I have always wished to be one.  It’s a sad fact that I am only now able to recognize after decades of failure.  So we went from an aimless band to a band with clear direction from the moment Noah took over on drums.  It’s like we were on a treasure hunt for a year and then someone handed us a map, and we learned we were standing on the treasure – all we had to do was dig.

It was a hot night, that first show with Noah at the helm, in a tent across the street from The Wonder Bar, of all places.  But this show couldn’t have been more different from our dalliance mere months earlier.  To say we stole the show is ridiculous, but we did.  We came out firing, and I’m not sure I’ve played a better show since.  We were on a mission to kill it, and we did.  It was 12:30 a.m. and the tent was full of rowdy drunks by the time we got started.  They went berzerk.  We felt fucking amazing!  It truly was awesome.

I’ve only felt that feeling one other time in my life.  The feeling that everything is hitting on all cylinders and that nothing can possibly go wrong.  I felt that one other time, and over a year later and on a basketball court.  I’ll save that story for a different day, but the feeling is still in me, and even as I write this, I can feel bumps growing and hair standing up on my arms.  It is a feeling that can only be felt by those that take great risks.  And while I am not a great leader of men, I was born with (or maybe developed) an ability to take great risks.  And getting on stage and putting my art out there in the form of music is one of the greatest risks a person in the first world can take.  And I took that risk.  I have taken that risk hundreds of times since.

I don’t remember which songs we played that night.  I do know that for the first and probably only time, my brothers’ band, Juvenocracy, had been upstaged.  It was an occurrence so rare that I truly don’t think it ever happened before or after that night.

Juvenocracy was among the greatest bands ever.  I am not joking, and I am not exaggerating.  If you ask people who were there to witness the band in its prime – the foursome of Nate, Jefe, Brad, and Noah – it was something to behold.  When I say, “great”,  I mean that they captured the imagination of a large group of people.  Not so large a group as the Beatles or The Stones, but the impact was similar.  They gave us hope where we had felt none before.  And not only for me.  But a whole generation of musicians who grew up after Juvenocracy grew up thinking that musical pursuits were possible and fruitful.  Prior to Juvenocracy, the kids in our little town thought of music as something geeks did.  But here were some cool people in a band fronted by the most popular guy in town, Noah, and they were killing it!  It truly opened eyes and opened doors.

And they were really fucking good.  I was in a Guitar Center with Nate and Jefe one time, and they were jamming some stuff on two acoustic guitars in the store.  A fucking crowd was developing around them!  I have never seen anything like it since!  A fucking crowd of shoppers in Guitar Center was gathering to see who the fuck was making this amazing music over in the guitar section.  And my recollection is that it truly was unique and beautiful, though today I have no idea what Juvenocracy song they were performing or if it was even a finished song or maybe just something they made up on the spot.  But that was Juvenocracy – they were at their peak, really the peak of their profession – and nothing could stop them.

But here I was with Vic and Bob on stage, not having the first idea about what to say into the mic, or even knowing the lyrics to my own damn songs (I didn’t actually start writing lyrics until If Howard Roark Could Dance – a story for a different time).  I mumbled and tried not to sing in my natural, high-pitch register, because I was afraid it would sound too much like a girl singing.  So instead, I sang an octave down.  I sang our long, boring, droning songs an octave down and sounded ridiculous.  But nobody was listening, except for my mom and dad.  And maybe Bob’s mom and sister, though I’m pretty sure they were chatty a bit more than any musician would like an audience member to be.

At one point, not knowing what to say and being scared of what would happen if I didn’t say anything, I threatened the audience (yes, literally threatened the audience), saying something like, “I dare anyone to come on stage without getting his ass kicked.”  I think what I was trying to communicate was, “Please join us on stage for some shenanigans”, but it came out as a threat.  But that is part of the risk in giving a microphone to someone who doesn’t know how to wield it.  The sad thing is that to this day I remain ashamed of that passing comment and remember it as if it was yesterday.  In fact, I remember my dad saying, “What?!?!” in a confusing tone as the words passed my lips.  I remain horrified of the video of that night.  A night I was hoping would be a triumph was a disaster.  But that is the way with risks.  The first time is always a disaster and it gets incrementally-better from there (of course with lots of bumps along the way).  The great improv artist, Jill Bernard, told me once that the great improv artists are not consistently great.  Rather the variability between above average nights and good nights gets less-and-less. And the horrible nights get less-and-less.  And so it is with music performing.  As we learn our craft, both in stage performance and in instrument performance, the horrible nights become less-and-less, and we are consistently better.  But we cannot be great every night, although it’s possible to appear to untrained eyes & ears to have endless great nights when the scale of the performance is great (see Paul McCartney or even Brittney Spears for that matter).

For the rest of us, it’s toil for toil’s sake.  But the toil is what makes the victories even sweeter.



“Just keep plugging.”  That’s what I keep telling myself.

It was a grind on Saturday, but I am so pumped about what I am working on.

In the past, I have posted everything as I have recorded it.  This time I am taking inspiration from Charlie Van Stee‘s and LETRON‘s respective forthcoming albums in that I am keeping a tight lid on things.  I did share a recording with my bass player and collaborator, but no response…go figure.  Haha!

It was neat to hear LETRON’s Heels recently.  I had no idea what she was working on all the last year, but I knew she was working.  It was awesome to be surprised by the inventiveness of the recording in its polished format.

The Grind of Writing and Recording

Writing and recording music is one of those things, like reading an academic article or raising a child, that provides very few tangible benefits in the moment.  But the outcomes can be wonderful and romantic.

So it is that I have been writing all day, grinding out notes and lyrics and melodies and chords in the hopes that by dinnertime I will have something to record.  I do.

I am trying some things I have never tried before.  Wish me luck as I dive deep into it this evening.

Randy Napoleon Secret Show Today!

For the last week or so, I have been planning a secret show starring nationally-reknowned jazz guitarist, Randy Napoleon.  The invitations have already gone out, however I know that some of the invitations disappeared into the internets.  If you are reading this and would like to attend, call me on my cell, and I will send you an invitation.

Miladic Video Directed by Fifi 3PO

I just watched the new Miladic video.  Wow!

It was directed by the master of fancy names, Fifi 3PO, who also directed Run. Run! Run!!! RUN!!! RUNNNN!!!!

What inspires you?

An energy flows from my upper stomach and into my eyes and exits through my armhairs when I listen to “Every New Day” by Five Iron Frenzy.

Five Iron Frenzy is a now-defunct Christian ska band from the 1990’s.  They were among the biggest bands on the Christian touring circuit for a while in the mid-1990’s, at the height of the short-lived pop-ska scene (remember Squirrel Nut Zippers?).  They were also one of the best bands of that decade.

They had 2 1/2 good albums followed by a bunch of crap, which is as good as we can hope for most of the time.

“Every New Day” is something of a rock-infused ballad.  It is up-beat and heart-felt at the same time.  It is genuine and caring.

While the lyrics were written in deference to the Big Man in the Clouds, I think a lot about Lisa when I hear it today.  It is about how someone can make someone else feel like every day is fresh, beautiful, and exciting.

One time back in 2001, I was waiting in line at a Dairy Queen with a former girlfriend.  We were fighting about something that was probably not worth fighting over when I saw a mentally challenged girl a few spots up order a chocolate fudge ice-cream sundae.  When I saw how happy the girl order became when the sundae hit her hands, I immediately lost all reason to argue.

Here I was with someone that I cared about, enjoying a summer day at a DQ, waiting for ice cream, and fighting about something dumb.  The fickleness of human interactions was visible, and I became instantly ashamed.

The girl with the sundae was beautiful, and we were raining on her parade….or maybe she was shining a ray of sunshine on ours.

There are people among us who are rays of light.  There are those of us that suck up sunlight, and there are those that radiate it.

There are great and wonderful things happening in this world all around us all the time. Sometimes it helps to be reminded of that.

1% of the Time

Lisa has a hard time at my shows.  Last night we had a talk about this.

The songs I sing are not well-rounded pictures of situations.  They are photographs of moments in time blown out to 2-5 minutes.  None of my songs give people a well-rounded concept about anything.  They are emotional and reactive and beautiful snapshots.

Unfortunately, when I sing about a snapshot in time that I experienced with another person many years ago, it is easy for people to get the idea that those snapshots represent the whole of relationships.  This is not the case.

When I sing about people who hold or have formerly held prominent roles in my life, it does not do justice to the complexity of those relationships.

Since Lisa and I rarely talk about past relationships, those 2-5 minute songs are all she has to work from.  It makes sense that she might increase the magnifying glass and turn them into her reality of those relationships, filling in all gaps with the contents of my songs.  But the fact is most of my relationships are scarily ordinary.  I regularly experience and have experienced moments of brilliance with friends, current and past.  But for the most part, nothing exceptional happens 99% of the time.

My music is the audio representation of 1% of my exceptional waking hours.

So, while 1% of the time I spent with former girlfriends and friends was exceptional, 99% of it was pretty unexceptional.

I would argue that 2-5% of my time with Lisa is exceptional, which is pretty exciting stuff for me!  The fact that I have only a handful of songs that reference Lisa and our experiences together is merely a factor of time and my lack of recent musical production.  Rest assured, they are coming.

I have songs in the works about cats, marriage, love, and family that Lisa has played a significant role in crafting.  Unfortunately, until they are finalized, my band will continue playing songs from past albums.  I love them and will probably always love them, but it is time to move on.

Over the past year or so, you have probably noticed that my band has been focusing on our more abstract songs and less on songs that call out former girlfriends directly.  This is a result of me attempting to bring Lisa into the fold.  I would do more if I could, but we are working from relatively finite resources here – 2 LPs + a number of odds and ends.  We are also continually rounding out our collection of songs that we cover, the expansion of which is partially owing to my desire to bring Lisa closer to the Cryns #3 community.

I will continue to talk with Lisa about things I can do to make my music more accessible to her.  I desperately want her to sing along with the rest of you, even though she is shy about singing out loud.  I know she’s got a beautiful singing voice buried underneath that shyness.


I have always wondered what it would be like to have investors – folks who believe in me and my music so much that they would front me money for my next project.  Basically, a record label.

What if I had people demanding that I get in the studio to record, demanding that I make a music video.  And what if I was on the hook financially for those outcomes?

Would it produce better, quicker results?

I think so.

There is a newish thing happening on the indie music scene.  It is called “crowd-funding” or “fan-funding”.

The idea is that I get a bunch of friends and fans and family to invest money in my next project.  In return they get something based on the amount they give – i.e. a cd, a hug, a drawing, a song named after them, a party, etc.  It is like quid pro quo, except there is an element of awesomeness to it.

In addition to getting fabulous prizes, investors have a real impact on my production.

What do you think?


Music to Swear By Preview #8 – Mason Jennings' "Nothing"

Head on over to Music to Swear By to listen to this weeks’ podcast featuring Ryan, John, and me.  Over the course of the podcast we talk about our experiences playing in this band.  I learned a lot about Ryan and John – things they never told me about life, love, the universe.

Like yesterday, I will be unable to post this beautifully-haunting rendition of Mason Jennings’ “Nothing” on account of the stupid laws of this fair land we call, “home”.

Thankfully, YouTube has a deal with the big music publishing companies that allows me to post videos of Mason Jennings’ “Nothing”.  Here is one such recording from May 2008.  Email me if you want to hear the new recording.

Music to Swear By Preview #7 – "I Bombed Korea"

Unfortunately, arcane publishing rules that plague our creative community make publishing this recording a legal liability.  So, if you really want to hear me play Cake’s “I Bombed Korea”, you will have to email me.  Sorry about that.  Stupid Congress.  Stupid media conglomerates (Disney, I’m looking at you…).

BUUUUT, you can listen to me play the song on YouTube (recorded in January 2009).

Music to Swear By Preview #6 – "Let's get funky!"

This song, as you know, is about a song.  The title of both songs is, “Let’s get funky!”.

A few days ago, I stumbled across an old recording of the original song from 1997.  While it has lost the rich horns and Bob’s voice that accompanied the original recording, I am pleased to say that today’s recording has lost none of the luster that made the original a success.

This song and more will be featured in next Wednesday’s Music to Swear By podcast.

Music to Swear By Preview #5 – "Monster"

“Monster” is mostly written by my sister, Liana, who is the most beautiful, charismatic, and wonderful human being on the planet.  Listen to my band play it in Music to Swear By host, Tony’s, basement.

And tune in to the Music to Swear By podcast featuring Cryns #3 next Wednesday!

Music to Swear By Preview #4 – "Run. Run! Run!!! RUN!!! RUNNNNN!!!!!"

RunnNNnnNNN!!!  Here is a solo rendition of our hit music video’s soundtrack, as recorded for the Music to Swear By podcast.

Check out the podcast next Wednesday!  In fact, check out other Music to Swear By podcasts right now!  It truly is an entertaining listen!

Music to Swear By Preview #3 – "Tonight was a wonderful night!"

Check out this fabulous rendition of Cryns #3’s “Tonight was a wonderful night!”, performed by Cryns #3 on the Music to Swear By podcast!

The full podcast will air next Wednesday.

Music to Swear By Preview #2 – Duluth

In this recording from our session at the Music to Swear By podcast, the band plays, “Duluth”.  Enjoy!

The full podcast will air next Wednesday.

Music to Swear By Preview #1 – "Kirsten Dunst"

I recently travelled to Shoreview, MN to record an episode of the Music to Swear By podcast with with co-hosts, Tony, Paul, and Dave.  The guys were gentlemanly and smart despite their penchant for the F-word (or maybe because of it).

Over the next 8 days, I will be releasing a series of 8 recordings Tony made during the podcast both with the band and solo after the band left.

This first song is one of my favorites to play live.  It is called, “Kirsten Dunst”.

Our episode of the podcast will air on Wednesday next week with a preview scheduled to be posted this Friday.

Going Pro

Today I spent a couple of hours hanging with Charlie Van Stee in my apartment.  Together, we listened to the demo tracks from his forthcoming release, “Tigers will eat you!”  (You can listen to most/all of the tracks on Charlie’s Facebook page.)  It is his most heartfelt effort to date, imho.

Charlie wants to make a career out of music.  He is sincere about it, and I believe he has a good chance to do it.  This week, I have talked with two other musicians with dreams of doing just that (Ariel Apricio from Brooklyn and Keith Axline from San Francisco).  Both of them have found it tough going.

I believe that anyone with a bit of talent and a ton of determination and hard work can make a living playing music.  What people don’t always realize is that, like anything else, if you want to make money at music, you have to devote 40 hours a week to it and run it like a business.  This includes networking, honing your craft, and developing a reputation as a professional.

Below is my checklist for things to do to become and maintain your status as a professional working musician.  This list is reflective of my web biz more than it is of my music biz, but I think the same rules apply to both.


  • Attend local shows 5 nights a week
  • While you are at shows, meet the bands.  Meet the promoters.  Meet the bartenders.  Meet the bar owners.  Engage them all in conversation and hand them all your business card.  Follow up the next day with an email or phone call expressing (sincerely) how nice it was to meet them.
  • Maintain regular contact with aforementioned industry folks.  Ask them for gigs, leads, networking opportunities as appropriate.
  • Maintain an email list and add new email addresses to it at every show
  • Develop an online social networking strategy.  Get active on online social networking websites that make sense to you (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, etc.).  Spend reasonable amounts of time on these and be focused.

Honing your craft

  • Warm up for 1 hour every day
  • Practice for 2 hours every day solo
  • Practice twice a week with your band (if applicable)
  • Listen to music and music-business podcasts (Check out the CDBaby Podcast)
  • Develop a regular schedule for songwriting (This is the only way you will get better and quicker at your art!)
  • Write. Write. Write.  Blog about your experiences.  Write music.  Write poetry.  Think about things that happen to you, and write about them.
  • Become a leader in your local music community.  There are all sorts of local music organizations in Minneapolis (and probably every big city).  Get involved!

Developing a reputation as a professional

  • Show up to gigs early/on time
  • Be courteous and professional
  • Dress appropriately
  • Get contracts signed well in advance of gigs (if applicable)
  • Hire someone (or get a volunteer) to watch the door so that you don’t get ripped off
  • Sell cds and merchandise at your shows
  • Treat everybody with respect (they are your customers!)

The bottom line is that unless you get SUPER lucky (like Owl City), it will take hard work to make it as a professional musician.  Being a career musician requires starting your own business.  Time spent up front will pay dividends later.  Most of your good gigs will come from friends-of-friends.  You will get paid more the longer you are in the biz.

Now get to it!  🙂

Music to Swear By

If you haven’t checked out Music to Swear By‘s podcast series, you are missing out.  It is a perfect mix of smart humor, satire, music, and fart jokes.  Seriously.

Last night, John, Ryan, and I had the pleasure of recording a soon-to-be-released “Music to Swear By” episode in the fancy basement recording studio of ringleader, Tony FU’s, house.

The vulgarities were flowing out of my mouth.  I don’t know what happened.  It’s like I forgot how Catholic I was for a 40-minute span and spewed enough sin to make God raise an eyebrow.  The storm that I drove through on the way home could only be my doing.

35W was flooded.  Noah’s Ark even floated by (haha!).  Upon arrival at home, I said 142 Hail Maries and went to bed.

I do want to say, Catholic jokes aside, that the hosts, Tony, Paul, and Dave, were most cordial and represent a sect of down-to-earth, brilliant formerly-city-folk that can only be found on Brigadoon Drive in Shoreview, MN.  I’m not even sure Brigadoon drive exists when I turn my back.  It’s the end of the rainbow.  A pot of gold.  That’s how special it is.  Its inhabitants are mystical and funny and have a podcast that you need to listen to at the gym.  Seriously.  Check ’em out!

Music To Swear By Recording Tonight!

Local podcaster, extra-ordinairre, Tony Fu, has invited John, Ryan, and me over for a recording of his “Music to Swear By” podcast.  I am pumped!

Tony likes music with swear words on it.  He heard us play one night and liked our verbs.

More to come as I have it!

Ain't Life Grand? Well…mostly.

All is lost.  Liana told me that she is giving up music.  Turns out that the hard work of making a career of the music biz wasn’t for her.  But she is in Hollywood and has dreams so big that they don’t fit in this universe, so I forgive her.

I, on the other hand, have manageable dreams.  The kind that I can taste, if only I was willing to put in the work to reach them.

But I know that my dreams of rock stardom will not be satisfying.  Even if I became the most famous musician in Minneapolis history, I would still go home to my 4 cats and my lovely girlfriend and lead an utterly amazing and downright normal life off the stage.

Life is grand.  But it can’t keep up with those fleeting moments of triumph on the stage.

The greatest moment of my life was hitting a jump shot at the first-half buzzer in a varsity high school basketball game against Stillman Valley.  I lost control of my emotions and jumped so high in the air that I might as well have hit my head on the gym ceiling.  It wasn’t a big shot in the grand scheme of things, but I was in the midst of the greatest game of my career.  The crowd was pumping along with the cells in my body, which for reason unknown to me, had conspired to give me a temporary shooting hand that the comes around once in a lifetime.

Sometimes being on stage is something like that.  But it doesn’t quite make it there.  At best, it is a tamed-down version of that jump shot.

I can relate to drug addicts who are continually seeking the next fix.  I don’t do drugs – never have – but I do seek out that next fix.  I call it art sometimes.  And sometimes I call it performance.  It is a mix of the two.  I am in search of the perfect mix of performance, art, energy, and crowd.  I am on constant watch for it all coming together.  For all my cells to decide to do something special for a brief moment in time.  To push me to that promised land once again.