Same passionate band


February 19-25, 1987

The Toll: still the same passionate band
By Marc Holan

It was at least a year and a half ago that I first heard about The Toll.  The Adults’ Crystal Gray had been praising their energetic stage shows for months, telling me that I had to see them live to fully appreciate their music.  Like so many groups that hone their craft playing out live, The Toll had opened for countless bands throughout Ohio and in their hometown of Columbus.  The fact that Gray, a musician I respected, thought highly of this U2-inspired quartet made me want to investigate further myself.

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from Greg Howard, The Toll’s bass player, who told me about a demo tape they had made with the aid of the Psychedelic Furs’ bassist Tim Butler.  Howard was as excited as one might expect a struggling musician to be if a well-known musician decided to help them with no strings attached.  An interview was arranged in time for The Toll’s gig at the Euclid Tavern this Sunday, Feb. 22, and it was an equally excited Brad Circone, The Toll’s charismatic vocalist-guitarist, who called me late last week.

“What happened,” Circone began, “was that Tim Butler’s wife, Peggy, saw us at CBGB’s.  We were playing a gig with, ironically, The Adults, and she saw us and fell in love with the band.  She gave Tim some of our demo tapes, and they listened to them on the Furs’ tour bus.  All of our music is improvisational, so she sent him various tapes from clubs we played in across the country.”

“Tim’s like the Keith Richards of the Psychedelic Furs,” he continued.  “He doesn’t like too many bands other than the Furs.  But he’s been looking for somebody to produce, and he listened to our tapes and he fell in love with the band.

“We finally met him, ironically again, in Cleveland when the Furs played Blossom last summer.  We ended up huddling in a corner with some elephant beer and talking about how to produce The Toll.  He knew the band was hot live, but he was worried about how to get that thing across in the studio.

“I didn’t hear from him again for quite some time, but finally he called and said, ‘I think I can get some backing, so we can go in and do this thing.”

Butler had persuaded an A&R man for Chrysalis Records to finance the recording of a demo tape, and although the band remains unsigned, Chrysalis was quite pleased with the tape that Butler produced for the band.

In order to get Chrysalis interested in the band, Butler arranged for The Toll to open for The Bolshoi at The Ritz in New York City.  It marked the first time a band without a major label recording contract had ever played at that famed Manhattan showcase club.

“It was great,” Circone recalled.  “We were all nervous ‘cos we had to drive 31 hours straight from Minneapolis to get there in time.  We had to go through the Wisconsin Dells in the middle of a snow storm.”

During their opening set, Butler and his wife came down from the plush V.I.P. lounge at The Ritz to stand in front of the stage.  It was after this show that Butler decided to come to Columbus to produce the band.

“Tim actually moved into our apartment and travelled with the band for over a month,” Circone explained.  “He lived in one of our small rooms in an apartment here on campus at O.S.U.”

Although Butler and his wife were celebrating their first wedding anniversary, they opted to spend Butler’s only time off before the Fur’s Midnight To Midnight World Tour.  Butler decided to record The Toll right in Columbus at a recording studio called The Music Hall.

“Tim and the engineer at Music Hall got along real well,” Circone said.  “And the equipment was just as adequate as any of the New York studios.  Of course, it wasn’t digital like the studios Tim’s used to recording in, but it was adequate.”

Besides Circone, The Toll is comprised of drummer Brett Mayo, bassist Greg Howard and guitarist Rick Silk.  All of the hoopla surrounding the demo tape and Tim Butler’s involvement with them has not changed the group.

“We’re the same intense, passionate band that we’ve always been,” Circone said with pride.  “We’re still drinking the same brand of coffee and still playing the $100 gigs.”