Jeffrey Chase Friedman recognizes that his new five-piece probably hit the scene with an unusual amount of anticipation for a brand-new band. Buzz has been building for Uncle Toasty for nearly a year now. References to the psyche-punk outfit began snaking their way into print in this paper months before the band had even played its first show, a sold-out rager at MASS in November.
Five short months later, they’re celebrating the vinyl release of their self-titled four-song EP via San Antonio imprint Saustex Records on Friday, and it’s one of the more hyped releases in town in years. To help commemorate the milestone, the band is hosting a massive indoor/outdoor show at Lola’s Saloon and Trailer Park with the very top tier of locals, including The Cush, Royal Sons, and the Go-Go-Rillas, to name just a few.
A large part of Uncle Toasty’s buzz obviously stems from the fact that frontman Friedman and Toasty’s two other guitarists, Sammy Kidd and Joe Tacke, have been playing together for several years in one of Fort Worth’s more popular bands, the garage-punk outfit Mean Motor Scooter. When members of a well-known band branch out to explore other interests, it can certainly serve as a bit of a lift, but it isn’t just the connection to his other band that’s responsible for the smoky haze of Uncle Toasty being steadily pumped into the ether of the local music scene. Friedman has demonstrated a dogged marketing capability, a skill that certainly helped facilitate the EP being scooped up by Saustex.
“I think Mean Motor Scooter did help with a leg up,” Friedman acknowledged, but he bristled at potentially being seen as just an MMS side project.
“It was kind of mentioned that way in the press at first, and I really didn’t say anything about it at the time, but it definitely didn’t feel good,” he said. “You have to constantly remind people [about a show]. Show them the event. Send them the link. Do it again.”
It probably doesn’t help the “side project” impression with Kidd and Tacke in the band, and that is likely further reinforced by the fact that the odd Mean Motor Scooter member out in Toasty, keyboardist Rebekah Elizabeth, actually played bass on the record, but Friedman is adamant at drawing a distinction.
“It’s an entirely different animal,” he said. “It’s totally different. Different tuning, different energy, different volume level. It’s not the same thing at all.”
In this respect, he’s right. With the four songs on the new EP, while infused with the same raw punk energy MMS is known for, Friedman’s songwriting bends Uncle Toasty’s aesthetic to heavier grounds than Kidd’s signature bratty sing-song. Toasty is a strong brew of early-’90s grunge rock a la Skin Yard French-pressed through a porous Butthole Surfers filter. Loud, fast, unapologetic — there’s a looseness and a heavy sense of humor that Friedman says is essential.
“It’s rough around the edges,” he said. “It’s supposed to be. It’s not meant to be nice and clean. I don’t want to write about anything political or divisive. Other people have that covered. I just want to write about weird shit that interests me, like man-eating crocodiles and aliens over Phoenix.”
Friedman said the idea for Uncle Toasty came to him as he lay in a hospital bed suffering from pneumothorax, a serious condition in which air is trapped in the chest around or outside the lungs often caused by trauma or pulmonary disease. Three days in the ER can certainly force one to ponder their own mortality.
“I was laying there thinking about how we’re just in this meat shell,” he said, “thinking about how we never have the time in life we think we do. I challenged myself to see if I could create something from the beginning and bring it all the way to fruition.”
The experience in the hospital inspired the song “Pneumothorax,” which appears on the EP.
Though he’d written a few songs and tried to front punk bands in the past, an experience he described as “terrible, and I won’t get into why,” Uncle Toasty would be the first project that Friedman, usually a drummer, would try to sing and play guitar in.
After recruiting his main writing partner Mike Surdel to play drums, he sought to fill out the lineup. There were a few false starts before he settled on just incorporating the people he knew and trusted musically anyway.
The members of MMS “had expressed interest and thought that they would like to do it, and I thought, ‘Oh, well. Why the fuck not? Ty Segall does it,’ ” he deadpanned.
Bassist Dustin Schneider (Plastikon, Eye Was Once Eaten) rounds out the current lineup.
When pressed if the constant association with his other band perhaps caused any sense of pressure for him with Uncle Toasty, a sort of “high standard” he feels he must live up to, he is dismissive.
“I don’t really get a sense of pressure,” he said. “Anticipation, certainly. It was actually kind of exhilarating seeing that all these people are very interested. I think we’ve matched that intensity.”
So far, the reception to the band seems to bear that out. Fans might have been interested in the project for its familiar association, but Uncle Toasty is earning adoration in its own right. It’s a new path that Friedman said he hopes to follow as it continues to separate the new project from the older one.
“I can’t wait to put out the next thing,” he said of an upcoming full-length. “Those songs will be way heavier, way more intense.”