As you'd expect of a band that met through a theatre course and formed in a pub, the Toot Toot Toots are entertaining in a way that's not exactly stone-faced. At the same time, their robust and rustic country-folk-rock has come a long way from those humble origins. The Melbourne band's debut album Outlaws is a concept record telling the story of Eli Rayne, a man brought to the Australia of yore by gold fever. Produced by Spooky Records label head Loki Lockwood (Graveyard Train, Spencer P. Jones), it balances dark themes with the kind of levity that can only be achieved through handclaps and doo wop harmonies.
Below, guitarist/singer Danny Eucalyptus (hint: not his real name) mulls over The Toot Toot Toots' unlikely growth from a one-off gimmick to a hard-working band with real legs.
Doug Wallen: I read that Outlaws is a "spaghetti western rock opera." That seems quite ambitious for a first album.
Danny Eucalyptus: I guess so. A bunch of the guys in the band met through uni doing a theatre course, so I guess musicals come quite naturally to us. Our last record [was] a concept record too.
DW: Was that the Curse the Crow EP?
DE: Yeah, that's a single narrative over five songs. This is a single narrative over 12 songs. So it was kind of an extension of that. Well, it's a completely different story, but I guess we had a bit of practice with that one. [laughs] We enjoy fleshing out the characters and telling a good story, so we thought we'd try to stretch it out over a whole LP and do a western.
DW: The spaghetti western thing allows for mariachi elements, but there are also doo wop harmonies and apparently gospel and country influence.
DE: Out of the five members, all five of us write the songs. I don't know if we consciously try to cram all of that into one record. It just happens when you have a different person come to a different rehearsal with their individual influences. Hopefully there's consistency there.
DW: Did Curse the Crow also look back on Aussie history a bit?
DE: Well, there's nothing historically accurate about either record. They’re both entirely fictional. Outlaws is set in a town called Gomorrah Fields, but there's not actually a town called that. It's the same with Curse the Crow, although that's not based around any specific time or event. It's just about a family going through traumatic times. [We've] been influenced by stuff like Deadwood and Ennio Morricone. Probably 70% of the influences from the album are from America.
DW: You have a strong reputation for your live show. Are there things about the band's early shows where
you maybe look back now and shudder?
DE: We started off as a joke. It was all gimmicks and theatrics and no substance really. Our music has gotten a lot better over time. We've always loved theatrics and playing live. As I said, we've got a few theatre students in the band so that’s something that comes naturally. But none of us are trained musicians, so I think the songwriting and the performance of the songs has gotten much, much better over the last three years. When we listen back to what we sounded like, I think then we shudder. But the high energy and theatrics in the show have been there from the start. So we’ve probably got it the opposite way around [compared to] a lot of bands: they learn how to play music and how to perform in front of people after that. We were completely comfortable playing in front of people but didn’t know how to play as well as most of the other bands around town.
DW: Is having a musical alias part of that initial joke element?
DE: Well, I'm the only person in the way who uses an alias. The main reason is that I'm a teacher and I don't want my students to stumble upon my band and give them ammunition in the classroom. [But] it's not a joke record at all. The narrative is quite serious. But there is a bit of a black comedy element to it.
DW: Is there a story behind the name of the band?
DE: Not really. We were in a pub and a mate asked our bass player Steve if we could play a show supporting [another band] in two weeks’ time. Steve wasn’t in a band, but the first three people he saw happened to be us and we all said yeah. The intention was to just play one show for the hell of it and never do it again. But we had a lot of fun so we just kept doing it after that. We just had to come up with a name. That’s the first thing someone came up with and it stuck.
DW: You must have been well received, too, to want to keep at it.
DE: I think initially we sounded pretty bad. But it was pretty raucous and crazy, so it was just a really good night. We didn’t plan on doing it again, but Buried Horses asked us to play with them again. So we started practising a bit more and putting some effort into the songs we wrote. And it kept going really well for us. We’d all played in bands before. With the Toots initially, we wanted to be in a band that didn’t dwell over things too much. After our second gig, we actually booked in an EP launch before we’d even recorded it. We recorded the EP in my bedroom and released it a month later. We thought: “We just want to get things done in this band. We’ve played in bands for years and never released anything: let’s see what we can do in just a short amount of time.” That’s how it started off. It’s completely changed since then; this album has taken us about a year to complete. Now it’s a major priority in all of the band members’ lives. It started off as just something a bit silly and flippant that we were having a lot of fun with.
TOOT TOOT TOOTS TOUR
Apr 19, The Junkyard, Maitland NSW
Apr 20, The Vanguard, Sydney
Apr 21, Great Northern, Newcastle
Apr 22, The Phoenix, Canberra
May 04, Hi Fi Bar & Ballroom, Melbourne Vic
May 12, The Brisbane Hotel, Hobart
WORDS: Doug Wallen
Outlaws is out now on Spooky.