Formed in Oakland in the late ‘90s and since relocated to Los Angeles, heavy rocking trio Totimoshi have been chipping away a niche for themselves all throughout their career. Their songs are among some of the most distinctive in all of the American underground, and founding guitarist/vocalist Tony Aguilar and bassist/vocalist Meg Castellanos have perhaps never so richly presented their songwriting as they do on Totimoshi’s latest album, Avenger.
Avenger marks, among other things, Totimoshi’s departure from Volcom Entertainment to At A Loss Recordings. Produced by Toshi Kasai, it’s also the band’s second album with all-pro drummer Chris Fugitt, who has meshed fluidly with Castellanos and Aguilar, both on the record and on stage. Totimoshi’s most recent U.S. tour was among the first that’s found them headlining. Runs over the years have found Totimoshi on the road with the formidable likes of The Melvins, Helmet and Mastodon, but as Aguilar explains in the interview below, it was time for the band to strike out on their own.
And having seen their show as they rolled through Brooklyn’s Saint Vitus Bar last month, I can only agree. Totimoshi have come into their own, both sound-wise and in terms of stage presence, and as Avenger finds them blending heavy guitar crunch with intricate melodies, they’ve hit a stride that a discography of five prior albums have been driving toward.
Is it different playing to your crowd, headlining a tour as opposed to supporting someone else on a tour?
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.
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. 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.
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 heavy guitar sound. 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.
Along those lines, 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.
Avenger is available now on At A Loss Recordings. More info at totimoshi.com.
JJ Koczan almost forgot to add his slug to this column. Aren’t we all glad he remembered? email@example.com.