Mitch Gonzales on Rocky Butte during the Toads' January 2016 photo shoot with Todd Young
Spencer Moe performing with the Toads at the Firkin Tavern, May 2015. Photo by Todd Young
MITCH GONZALES: Mitch played drums and sang with the Toads from August 2015 through October 2016, with one last studio session that November. He can be heard on our first four releases, and sang two of his own songs with the band, the lusty rocker "Play After Midnight" and the country parody "Things I Ain't Got", which never saw release, but can be seen on our YouTube account. His bombastic, charismatic drumming was both powerful and melodic, informed by his other skills as a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Interested in spreading his wings wider than just one very time-consuming band, he left the Toads. Since then he's performed on every rock instrument with a range of Portland bands, including Jackson Boone and the Ocean Ghosts, Matt Dorrien, Barna Howard, Wave Action, and Star Club. In addition to his chameleon-like ability to mesh into anybody's band, Mitch is an accomplished solo artist. In 2010, still just in his early 20's he recorded an excellent pop/rock EP, "Jip Opus", entirely by himself, showcasing his ample skills both as a musician and composer in an old school vein. Although he rarely performs his solo material live, one listen to "Jip Opus" should make it plain why we were so stoked to bring Mitch into the group, and to have had him on the Toad Train as long as we did.
SPENCER MOE: Spencer was our first drummer, playing in the band from April 2015 to August 2015. He adopted a "song-serving" philosophy functioning as the Toads' minimalist motor for its earliest shows, endeavoring to keep the attention focused on the Matts. He never got on much wax during his stint, but he can be seen and heard in our video for "Infinity Poop Cycle". Spencer, a Portland area native and longtime local music fan, gave us newbs a personal education on the scene, cluing us into the music and lore of cornerstone bands like the Domestics, And And And, Boone Howard, and others. His enthusiastic, music review-like descriptions attested that something special was happening here. Spencer proved a devoted band member, driving us around and playing over 20 mostly empty local shows--not necessarily a thrilling prospect with a brand new band of local outsiders with zero connections and not much of a clue how to do anything as a band aside from play. Ultimately, we decided to opt for Mitch's hard-hitting, firey energy over Spencer's cool, workman-like approach, but for helping us get our feet on the ground in the very earliest days of the project, Spencer is eternally commended. He later joined LeRoy Jerome and the Professionals, playing the same Peavy bass he graciously lent Matt D. in the first three months of the Toads, before Matt could afford to buy his own.
The Bottles at Salem's Old Town Hall, Summer 2010. Photos by Robyn Walsh
JOHN MICHAEL BAGLIONE: Matt D. met John in 2004 in their freshman year at UMass Amherst. Through the course of college they became close friends and refined an ongoing musical project with several shifting names, more or less mixing emo-pop with the Beatles and their posterity. Almost no one heard it. In 2010 John, a native of Massachusetts' North Shore, brought Matt K. in from the local open mic scene, and the group changed their name to the Bottles. Dogged from the beginning by their musical grandiosity, 20something egos, and perfectionism, but beloved by a special few in the Salem scene for their three part harmonies, catchy tunes, and youthful energy, the Bottles performed frequently that spring and summer, busking in Harvard Square and playing a handful of gigs in Boston and Salem, and recording a three-song EP. They never had a permanent drummer but received help for a couple gigs from Matt K's longtime friend Joe Valle, who, randomly enough, later shot to stardom with the group Wet. The project began with very professional ambitions, but, for a number of boring reasons, its collective enthusiasm had fizzled by autumn.
Nonetheless, the Bottles matter to the Toads not only because it's how the Matts met, but because the trio's focus on classicist pop songwriting, layered harmonies, and Beatle-esque humor carried over to the Toads. It was also our first serious band--posting fliers, booking gigs, paying for professional photos and quality recordings, practicing religiously and with great detail. However, only one of the songs the Matts contributed to the Bottles has survived in the Toads: "Say You Do". Most of the others, well, just didn't rock hard enough.
Of course this all makes John, the Bottle who stayed in Boston, sort of an odd man out, which is a bit funny since, back then, he was the most compelling performer of the three of us, with a emotional rocket launcher of a voice and a rogueish, verbose lyrical style, and his cathartic sensibility strongly shaped the Bottles' sound on every track, even though he only actually wrote a third of the songs. Though he never performed in a serious musical project again, he continued to write songs, and recently has shifted into fiction. You can check out his writing at his website here.
"Go Another Day", one of John's songs in the Bottles, performed here in a 2008 demo with Matt D. on bass, drums and background vocals, and John on guitars and lead vocals
The River Road Show in the studio, Summer 2012
Matt and Conner performing the original version of "Alien Gene", Summer 2012
CONNER ARTHUR: The legend goes that Matt K was out on his first hitchhiking excursion from Massachusetts in the spring of 2012 and Conner picked him up near his hometown of Concan, TX. Conner was fresh outta high school and happened to be a fantastic singer-songwriter and banjoist, and a bit later, when Matt made it to Portland, OR, he called Conner up and invited him there. And Conner came, and the River Road Show was born. They played on the streets, they lived on the streets, they mixed country, folk, indie pop/rock, and whatever else they damn well pleased, combining their suburban New England and rural Texan sensibilities to surprising but powerful effect--their cover of Pavement's "Summer Babe" alone could possibly have healed the rift between red and blue states for good. Together, so goes the legend, Matt and Conner had an unusual magnetism. Women loved them, strangers offered them gigs and recording time and weed, one guy (who'd later film two videos for the Toads) even made a mini documentary about them with all the zippy punch of an MTV spot. Matt D. was skeptical at first but when they came back to Boston and performed for him in person, he was blown straight away and very nearly went on the road with them, and they're a good chunk of the reason he eventually came to Portland himself. But by December 2012 the fire had gone out, Conner went home, and Matt K, eventually, did too, before he returned to Portland for good in summer 2013. To this day, the duo, whose talent and charm and chemistry are evident in a number of surviving videos on YouTube, have never performed again.
Even in the early days of the Toads in winter and spring 2015, there was still a hope that Conner could be coaxed back to Portland, and form a supergroup, a River Toad Show. Such a dream never came true, but several River Road Show songs have been re-purposed as Toad tracks, including "Infinity Poop Cycle", "Alien Gene", "Justine", "Ain't 18 Nice", "Relax (It's Only Love)", "The Master", and "I Don't Get Hungover (I Get Even)". As a result, Conner is the only non-Toad to have songwriting credit on Toads releases. But hopefully, not just the actual songs but something of the spirit of this wandering pair of slightly wayward American boys, bored with normality and craving some genuine experience, lives on in the spirit of the Toads. We may not operate from the streets, but we will hopefully never be (fully) domesticated.