When we last spoke with Toga! Toga! back in September, the indie/dance band from Montevallo was testing the waters of live shows and taking its first steps into the limelight. They wrote and recorded their first batch of songs, played shows at Eclipse Coffee and Books and at the now-defunct Alabama Coach Company, and slowly, but surely, laid the foundation for a consistently growing fan base.
Just a few months later, Toga! Toga! has redefined the term “overnight success,” at least in the local scene. They have recorded almost 30 songs, including fan favorites such as “Rulers of the Universe,” “Myself and Me,” “Your Girlfriend (Likes to Dance)” and “Now or Never.” They have also incorporated covers of MGMT’s “Kids” and (The) Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” As far as live performances are concerned, they have played numerous shows at Eclipse, a two-song set at Kids Got the Disco! (a monthly dance party at the Bottletree Café in Birmingham), and recently opened for DJ Nastique and Gil Mantera’s Party Dream at Bottletree. Finally, their song “1984” has received airplay on Live 100.5 for the last eight weeks, thanks to DJ Coco and his “Sunday Night Social” program.
The band, which consists of University of Montevallo students Jordan Barrios, Evan Mullins, and Ben Aslin, admits that their recent success seems almost too good to be true.
“ I think every time we all sit and think about it, it’s mindblowing how quickly we’ve evolved from a couple of friends just making dance beats on my computer to people wanting us to play shows at their venue. We’ve evolved from that to being played on the radio and we’re very pleased with that,” said Barrios who handles most of the vocal chores for the band and also plays keyboard and guitar.
Their journey started back in August with the members wanting to create something fresh, a band completely different from Barrios and Mullins’s acoustic and singer/songwriter roots. After bringing in Aslin on keyboard and implementing the style of such indie dance pioneers as MGMT and Passion Pit, the band started writing songs and searching for a definitive name for themselves.
Mullins eventually found inspiration from the 1978 college party film, Animal House. The name comes from the infamous pre-party scene where John Belushi yells “Toga!” as his suggestion for the final celebration in the movie. “When people think of togas, they think of the quintessential party at the university; the toga party. And we like to have a lot of fun and we like to party so it fits,” Mullins said.
“I think [the name] also shows the excitement we have,” added Aslin, referencing the all-important exclamation marks of the band’s title.
Though the band still acknowledges its early musical influences, they said that their tastes are constantly changing and evolving. Barrios said he has been listening to bands such as Friendly Fires and Chromeo; he also said that Ghostland Observatory has inspired his stage presence. Mullins’s early influences included “French electronic dance music” and he said he is now listening to 70s’ era dance and funk such as KC and the Sunshine Band and The Beegees. Aslin said he started with MGMT and Justice and has followed Mullins into the world of “funky beats.”
Aside from writing and recording, the band focuses a lot of their time on their energetic live shows, which are often populated by crowds of 30, 40, or even 50 fans. The members make a point to interact with and entertain the crowd every chance they get. “If we get the crowd going, if the crowd is smiling, if the crowd is involved the entire time, then that’s a successful show for me,” Barrios said.
“We have a lot of stage presence and a lot of energy but what really is the deciding factor for a good show depends on the audience. Their participation and the happy vibes that they’re giving off,” Mullins added.
As strange as the “indie dance” craze sounds to some music listeners, the genre is catching fire and Toga! Toga! seems to be leading the way in Montevallo and the surrounding areas. “I feel like that right now, across the world, there’re a lot of terrible things, a lot of decline and when you listen to rap and singer/songwriters you experience some of that decline…Bon Iver for instance is very sad and I think that dance music is happiness,” Mullins said.
The band said that their biggest break came through a chance encounter with the aforementioned DJ Coco. “We all made a cd with our first 8 songs on it. I went to a party with DJ Nastique and she was really thrilled. She listened to it and really liked two songs on it. At the next Kids Got The Disco, which is a monthly dance event that they have at Bottletree, she played two of our songs and I got onstage and sang with the track. DJ Coco, who’s on Live 100.5, was actually the guy next to me doing DJ work as well. Apparently he liked our stuff and he asked us for the tracks and played them. The other day, the station contacted us about getting a new song.”
Though not everything is set in stone, the band has some big things happening for them in the next few months. The band hopes to embark on a southeastern tour with DJ Coco this spring. Mullins said that they will keep fans posted about any new details.
They will also be playing at Bottletree with DJ Coco on December 23 for a free “Christmas with Coco and Friends” show. Their new single “Cutfire” will debut on 100.5 this week’s edition of the “Sunday Night Social,” which is on from 7 to 9.
With the whirlwind of success that has occurred, the band said they are constantly reminded of the fact that they could not do anything without their fans. “We love everyone who supports us and supports our music. We have a lot of fun with our fans. We’ve gotten to know a lot of them. They even play a lot of roles in what we do,” said Mullins.
“If it wasn’t for our friends and fans, we wouldn’t be where we are right now. A lot of them volunteer time to sell our merchandise and help promote us, like burning cds. We don’t mind you burning our cds. That’s a compliment,” Barrios said.
To hear the musical stylings of Toga! Toga! and find out more information about upcoming shows, visit www.myspace.com/togatogafunkyfresh or become a fan on Facebook.