Studio adds new colors to Toll

The State News

May 6, 1988

Studio adds new colors to Toll

By Chris Brown

One can only imagine the frustration and suffocation Brad Circone was experiencing in the legendary Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, N.Y.: Wild eyes darting, nostrils flaring, muscles tense.

But try sticking a gorilla from the expansions of the jungle into a tiny glass booth and see what he does. Now, the image is clearer. Now, one can see the problem for the singer and inspirational leader of the Toll – the Columbus, Ohio-based band fresh out of its first recording sessions for Geffen Records.

“It was a trying situation,” Circone said over the phone from his hometown. “Our forte is as a live band.”

That could win the Understatement of the Year Award. For anyone who has seen the band – playing tonight and Saturday at Rick’s American Café, 224 Abbott Road – the big question as they signed the Geffen contract was how they’d produce in the studio. How could an improvisational-based rock band, one that feeds off the enthusiasm of its audiences, be captured in the sterility of the studio?

“Environmentally,” Circone explained, “it was set up very live.”

In other words, it was very important that the rest of the band was in seeing-distance from Circone’s homey plexy-glass, think-tank. Like on stage, Circone said it’s important for him to pick up on the idiosyncratic improvisation of bandmates Rick Silk on guitar, Brett Mayo on drums and Greg Howard on bass. He was able to and despite the occasional frustration, Circone said, all in all, the band grew in the studio.

BUT MORE important than the physical setting, producers Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero had to hold loose reins while trying to capture what Circone calls the “hostile yet sensitive” sound of the Toll.

“The producers were very perceptive to the Toll’s writing,” Circone said, which can all-too-easily be compared to a painting: The backbeat of the band the canvas, Circone’s words and actions, the paint that colors that canvas.

“It was like a game of give and take,” Circone said of his relations with the producers, which often led to massive arguments. “They’re so much farther ahead.”

So the main job of the producers, like usual, was to organize all the different elements, find weaknesses and analytically develop a sound for the band on vinyl.

“In the studio, you can see the depths of your shallowness,” Circone said. “I realize I know only so many guitar melodies and have only so many vocal inflections.”

Thus, Thompson and Barbiero had to calm the band down and replace this surprisingly-complex band’s musical limitations with all the built-up creativity.

“We’re an ejaculatory band,” Circone said, indicating a sort of unpredictable explosiveness. “As a live band, you have all these sources and you use different ones for different shows. (The producers) showed us we could take all these sources and put them on the album.

“We did things we didn’t know we could do,” he continued. “There was this whole new inflex of knowledge.”

THE RESULT of the successful mining of the Toll’s creative deposits is what Circone said could be the most unique debut album of the decade. He’s quick to point out that doesn’t mean good or bad, simply different.

How different? Three of the album’s nine songs – “Toledo,” “Anna 41 Box” and “Living in the Valley of Pain” – run more than 10 minutes long, the latter recorded entirely live in the studio (“It was like a jam session of the early ’70s,” Circone commented). And the entire album, due out in September, runs 59 minutes, 54 seconds – six seconds short of the hour limit.

As an extra, guitarist Mick Ronson, whose worked with the likes of David Bowie and Lou Reed, found enough inspiration in the Toll’s “Let Me Stand in Winter” to make his first recorded appearance in 10 years.

Now, before heading back to New York to put the final touches on the album and go through the rigors of promoting themselves nationally, the band members are hitting all their regular stops to both regain and redefine their live sound.

“We added a lot of different colors (while in the studio),” Circone said. “Now we have to play live to get tighter.”

BUT THE Toll’s schedule only will get more hectic in the months to come, and the band also must get in shape for their physical style of performance. After all, it’s the live style of the band that’s got them where they are. Circone admitted you can’t make the Toll cosmetic, so the continuing live appeal of the band must come from consistency.

“We’re more angry, more passionate,” Circone said. Now, the band must channel those emotions. At this point, they can’t afford, and simply can’t image, any show in which the intensity levels off. “We want to be on every night.”

P.S. – Nothing’s definite, but look for members of the Toll toting acoustic guitars and maybe a snare drum on campus this weekend. As Circone put it, these little impromptu outdoor jams are “a fair way to promote the band.”