Improv rock is route to the top

The State News

Monday, February 2, 1987

Improv rock is band’s route to the top

By Chris Brown – State News Entertainment Writer

Brad Circone has no trouble thinking up words – words like “hallucinogenic” and “spontaneous” when describing his band’s music.

And “beauty,” or a form of the word, is often interjected into a conversation, something he does with as much “passion” as singing his lyrics.

No trouble thinking up words here, but that’s because it’s what he does every night as lead singer, guitarist and spokesperson for the Toll, an improvisational rock group from Columbus, Ohio. The group performs at Rick’s American Café, 224 Abott Road, tonight and Tuesday.

With Psychedelic Furs bassist Tim Butler at the controls at their latest recording sessions, things are starting to move for the young and unpredictable quartet.

“EXCEPT FOR the choruses, the lyrics are made up every night,” said Circone with his tour-ravaged voice. “You can see one show Monday night and see a completely different show Tuesday.”

But that’s what it’s all about. The Toll’s music is based on this spontaneity, mixed in with a great deal of “passion and intensity.” And this is what so attracted Butler to the Toll.

Butler’s wife had seen the band at CBGB’s in New York. She gave him tapes of the band’s live performance to listen to while on the road with the Furs.

Butler was so impressed with the quartet that he got them a booking at the Ritz, making the Toll the first band to play the hotspot without first signing with a major record label. Butler wasn’t let down by the show.

“(BUTLER) CAME right up to the front,” said Circone of the Ritz show. “He could have stayed in his VIP booth, but he came right up to the stage. That was cool.”

THE WEEKS spent in the recording studio were long and tedious, but productive. Since then, the two have become best of friends, always calling each other from the road and keeping in touch since, as Circone puts it, they “respect the f— out of each other.”

Now Circone and the rest of the band – bassist Greg Howard, drummer Brett Mayo, and guitarist Rick Silk – have got their hands full. They’re back on the road and in full force, and they’re even being looked at by Chrysalis Records, the company that financed the Butler sessions.

But nothing’s been signed so nothing’s certain, and Circone thinks it’s important that people, especially the band members, keep that in mind.

“We want everyone to know everything’s still in limbo,” Circone said.

“My job is to keep singing,” Circone said. “The band lives on the fringe. I, myself, am addicted to the edge.”

What’s important is that the band keeps in touch with reality, which is something they seem to be doing better than their fans.

“All the sudden we’re great because Tim produced us,” Circone said of the instant publicity, which takes away from the band’s actual contribution to the fame. And Butler, being the good producer, helps them remember where it all came from.

“I USED to thank him for helping us,” said Circone of Butler, “and he’d say, ‘Don’t thank me, you wrote the f—— songs.’”

Circone strained for an estimate, “Tim saved the group five years of maturity.” By the tone of his voice, it was a conservative estimate.

“We’ve been together two and a half years,” Circone said. “It usually takes about seven to break through.”

Although it may be premature to say the Toll has completely broken through, they certainly have made some cracks. And through each crack comes the rock ‘n’ roll seepage.

“IT’S BEAUTIFUL,” Circone said of all the attention, but he admits, “It’s hard to tell the parasites from the friends in all the limelight.”

So the Toll sticks to the improvisational format that got the group