Last couple years, I have been taking that dive into percussive fingerstyle…wanted to learn more techniques…virtuoso playing has always intrigued me…
Alex Toast Transcript
songs, la crosse, fingerstyle, play, influences, dylan, music, brill, guitar, progressive, local, recording, open mic, people, sounds, musicians, focus, songwriting, writing, tapi
Amy Gabay 00:01
La Crosse Local is proud to be a sponsor of the La Crosse Winter Roots Festival brought to you by Ultra Federal Credit Union. We invite you to celebrate music, cuisine, artists, makers, brewers and distillers in the new La Crosse Center Riverside ballroom. Musical entertainment includes Dan Sebranek, Three Grimm, Tugg, the Remainders, Greg Hall and the Wrecking Ball and the Tripping Billies, the nation’s most renowned Dave Matthews tribute band. La Crosse Winter Roots Festival is presented by the La Crosse Center, La Crosse Local, and with special thanks to the Remainders. Find out more information and how to get tickets at lacrosselocal.com. We sat down with guitarist and songwriter Alex Toast. We chatted about influences, his process for songwriting and recording, and we touched on the recently released Focus, a percussive fingerstyle music video filmed by Dylan Overhouse Productions. You can find more conversations, food reviews, live music and depend on our website lacrosselocal.com. I’m Amy.
Brent Hanifl 01:10
Amy Gabay 01:11
And this is La Crosse Local.
Alex Toast 01:30
My name is Alex Traister. I’m also known as Toast. I was born here in the La Crosse area and grew up in the little area of Reno, Minnesota just down the way from La Crosse. And music has always been a part of my life. My dad’s played in jam bands and stuff since I was a kid. I joined the La Crosse Boy Choir when I was nine years old. And I’ve been involved in choirs and stuff throughout that way. My dad owned a stained glass shop where there was always like, fancy music playing in the background. So musics just kind of always been there.
Brent Hanifl 02:04
Well, recently, you know, I just got turned on to your music from you just released a new video for the song Focused. You kind of have it in there called progressive fingerstyle for the song recorded by Dylan Overhouse. Listening to some of your other work, you know, you go from quirky to some just really serious guitar driven songs. Where does some of your influences come from?
Alex Toast 02:27
Well, I guess over the last couple of years, I’ve been taking that dive into progressive fingerstyle stuff. And I’ve been into Andy McKee for a long time and my dad used to play like Michael Hedges and whatnot in his shop. So I guess last couple years though, I’ve really focused on that more and wanted to learn more techniques in that. So lately, my influences have been people like Alexander Misko, Daniel Champagne, Marsan, like I said, Andy McKee. But if we look a little bit further back, the kooky side of myself, I’ve always been like a performer, stage actor type of character. So I was heavily influenced by Ben Folds growing up, and he’s always been kind of a weird kooky, like, all right kind of dude. So there’s a little bit of that in there as well. See, I was also into, like, Minus the Bear a lot back then. Chris Thile was a huge influence on me, virtuoso style playing has always intrigued me. And something about Thile’s songwriting has always been just a little bit different than standard, it seems like I mean, sure everyone’s got some songs where it’s like chorus, verse, chorus, verse, whatever, but I kind of like the whole, what’s the word for it, uh progressive? There we go.
Brent Hanifl 03:46
One thing that I’ve just kind of made me revisit is I recently interviewed Willie Porter, who, you know, has some of that kind of unique sound as well. And then I brought up Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges.
Alex Toast 03:58
Brent Hanifl 03:59
Well, I never really thought about, you know, I always thought of him leading with the guitar. And then I realized that both of them saying, I’m talking about Michael Hedges and Leo Kottke, which kind of you know, reminds me of kind of the work you’re doing it’s a different sort of lyrics, it’s a different sort of way that they present their vocals. But I always just always forget that they also sang.
Alex Toast 04:18
Right, it’s nice when there’s a lot going on, you can kind of mean you can listen to it a lot of different times and hear different things because there’s so much going on. I love that and I’m honored that you would think of such when you hear my music. That’s really cool. Thank you.
Brent Hanifl 04:31
Yeah, just the way it goes. You know, it’s for some reason, I automatically assume that if you play guitar, like the way you play, you don’t automatically sing with it. But you know, it’s something that’s it’s been kind of interesting to look through and check out
Alex Toast 04:43
Something that I’ve been really enjoying over these last couple years of learning this fingerstyle techniques, has been looking at some of my older songs and trying to incorporate some of the new techniques that I’ve learned and infusing them into the old songs, keeping them a little bit spicier on my end, things like adding a little progressive boom, check up with the chords that I already was playing. So that’s where some of my like singing comes from with that is just it’s older songs that already had the words and stuff in them that have just kind of been slightly reinterpreted-ish.
Brent Hanifl 05:14
you kind of reference there, kind of, you know, circling back on these songs. What is your process for songwriting? You know how does that work?
Alex Toast 05:22
I channel it, man. No, it’s the recent EP that just came out, Focus Question Resolve, that one was written pretty much one riff at a time, the very first opening riff of the song Focus was the first part that came out to me and I was in a unique tuning in my guitar. And I know it’s not like tons of work. But if you’re in a non standard tuning, going back to standard tuning is like, sounds like a lot of work. Maybe it’s not, but it’s, you know, I didn’t want to. So I told myself, if I get out of this weird tuning, I’m not going to keep writing this song. So I’m going to stay focused on it and not let myself play anything other than writing this one song for a while till it’s done. So I wrote the song focus in a week and a half, one riff at a time the first riff I would play like on repeat, just play it over and over, get into kind of like a maybe a trance like state, and be open to like, when I’m ready to just kind of like, noodle out of it, just kind of, like, guess and stumble out of it. And sometimes, nice things came out. And so one piece at a time it formed and when Focus was done, it was like three, three and a half minutes. So I was like, yeah, that’s, that’s pretty good. And then COVID happened. And and I kind of like a lot of musicians hit the brakes on going and performing. And I was pretty active in the open mic scene in Portland at the time. And so like, not having those couple of few open mics a week to go out and perform, it kind of just stopped motivation. It’s kind of what kept me progressing, creating new things was like, oh, yeah, going out and hanging out with my friends at open mic, I got to show him what I’ve been working on type of thing. So without that, it kind of pause for a few months. But when the summer of 2020 came, I started to come around in my mind and want to play the guitar a little more again. So I took the last chord of Focus that I had already written before. And I started with that. And I was like, you know, I’m going to, I’m going to figure something out and kind of come up with a new groove or whatever. So it was kind of a different tempo and whatever. So it made for a good little break of songs, but it ultimately starts with the end of Focus. So the whole Focus Question Resolve is like a non stop 10 minute flow. I love I’m so stoked Brill Blue Raider at Super Secret Studios in Portland did a really good job helping me like, figure that out, take what was in my head and put it out there.
Brent Hanifl 08:10
So speaking of that, you know, being a solo artist, is the recording process was that pretty quick? Or is it something that you take your time with?
Alex Toast 08:17
Well, it depends on if you count all the practice beforehand as part of the recording process. So you know, getting prepared for recording is a beast in and of itself. And if you’ve never done it before, I mean, you have to go in and play to a click track. So if you’re not ready to play to a steady tempo, which surprising how many musicians don’t do that, that’s part of a recording that’s kind of more or less a given or you don’t have to do it that way. But the pro recordings are generally to click tracks, so that being prepared to just lay it out. And of course, in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to play everything perfectly. So it was I prepared for a long time in practiced all my stuff to click tracks, had a vision of how I wanted it laid out, and went in and tackled it. I set up a time with Brill at Super Secret, it was supposed to be a four hour session, but it turned into an eight hour session. So just an eight hour recording session, dumping out those three songs. And then I sang vocals like separately in the studio, but if I perform it, I do them both at once. So did that separate I had my crystal grid laid out in there and good vibes right and everything too. So it wasn’t like a super rushed process when I was in there, but it was I’m all about that vibe and feeling comfortable in expression of self. So that really happened that time this this time. It feels really good.
Brent Hanifl 09:34
So you know, like we’ve kind of touched on and how I kind of found out about you, you recently released official music video for Focus. You did it with Dylan Overhouse Productions, you know, a local guy doing film and photography and stuff like that. How did the project come about? What was the concept for the idea?
Alex Toast 09:49
Well, Dylan’s been a friend of mine for a long time and obviously I’ve been watching him progress over the years and become more and more involved in the community doing really awesome photography and video work just being involved in the community that way. So I knew he was doing his thing there. And I knew I had this EP I was really proud of and these fingerstyle techniques that I’ve been learning and the song folk Focus really is a great, just a showcase of. I actually picked it out, I after I was done writing Focus, there were four different fingerstyle techniques that I couldn’t do before I started writing that song that I can like, look back at and be like, oh, yeah, I can do those now. So I wanted to kind of show those the abilities that I’d picked up, off, I guess you could say, I just wanted to show it off. And so I still in a few would help me do that. I’ve been a fan of Candy Rhett Records for a long time. They’ve got a YouTube channel that’s really big. And it’s pretty much all fancy guitar like that. So I have this dream on the inside to eventually get a video on their channel. So I thought about maybe wanting to submit this one to those people. But I held back this time, maybe maybe next time just didn’t have the courage for whatever reason, so.
Brent Hanifl 11:00
Throw it out there, who cares, you know?
Alex Toast 11:01
Yeah, I hit up Dylan though. And he I knew I wanted to do it on the spillway by where I grew up. And he said, heck, yeah, should we do it at sunrise? That sounds cool. It’s like, oh, man, I work until three in the morning. This is gonna be tough. And I initially said no. But then I thought about it for a day and was like, actually, you know it? No, I’ll stay up, that sounds fun. Let’s do it. And we did it. It was a beautiful sunrise. It was hella cold, but it’s okay. It was worth it for sure.
Brent Hanifl 11:31
Sounds like you’ve kind of, the early sort of incidence of COVID happening and kind of relocating to La Crosse Area gave, you know, kind of this refreshed look at your music and what you’re doing what’s what’s next for you? What are you excited for, you know, the next year or two?
Alex Toast 11:46
Well, on the creation front I’m looking at doing a couple different cover songs. I’ve been in contact with Brett Huus from Sound Strations Studios in town. He’s like a longtime family friend grew up right down the road from him, good friends with his son. So he’s offered to help record some of that stuff. So I’m currently practice, in practice to click track mode on four different kind of progressive fingerstyle covers. And then I also have another cannabis educational song that I wrote quite some time ago that I just haven’t recorded yet called Schedule One about how cannabis is still technically a schedule one narcotic according to the federal government, so need to get that out into the world before they actually like D schedule or reschedule it because that might not be that far away, actually. Sweet. Oh, yeah. And then I also have long term sights of trying to pull some Punch Brothers, Chris Thise style stuff, and maybe try to do some weird Tapi. I have a few original songs that are kind of Tapi that I haven’t done anything with. But I want to collaborate with some other musicians in the Bluegrass instrumentation vein and maybe make something weird and Tapi with bluegrass instruments. We’ll see.
Brent Hanifl 13:00
Nice, nice. So you know I’m just kind of checking out your website, got everything from videos to link to merch you know, to potentially a calendar of events so hopefully that fills up. So where can people find out more? Where should they go? Where’s the best spot for people from your website to social media or you can name all?
Alex Toast 13:17
The website is a good base? You can find all the other websites from that website. If you try hard enough, I think hopefully, I need to update it. But alextoast.com. Pretty basic, pretty easy. Otherwise, I’m on Facebook and Instagram its Alex Toast or Alex Toast Man, pretty reachable in that way. Or YouTube. I’ve got a YouTube channel and I’m trying to populate that a little bit more over time. So that it’s youtube.com/alextoastmusic. Oh, or if you want to buy an actual physical copy of the CD that I just or the EP that I just made. You can do that off of my Bandcamp right now firstname.lastname@example.org and actually just got some stickers in this weekend too. I was kind of not going to tell anyone about it. Just kind of slip them in with the CDs if people bought them but no one’s really buying them. So I’m just gonna say I got stickers too and they’re really cool.
Amy Gabay 14:10
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook at La Crosse Local. Find out more about us at lacrosselocal.com and you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local Podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it.
About La Crosse Local
La Crosse Local is an arts, food, and entertainment podcast and publication for La Crosse County and its surrounding communities.
Find us in your favorite podcast app.