Death to the Sun: Toad Eyes on Recording With the Estefans; and Gray Hair at 17

In honor of the upcoming Death to the Sun III music festival at the Snooze Theater, County Grind will profile select acts from the lineup.

Miami's Toad Eyes are a band to be watched. Not that we have any idea where they're going. But that's a big part of the allure.

This high-school-aged trio (Chris Dougnac on drums, Fernando Ramos on guitar, and Alex Coco on bass -- everyone's 17) first caught our attention at one of many raucous performances at Sweat Records (the only venue in town for underaged kids to see local live music).

The group played an attention-grabbing set of squirrelly pop-punk ditties souped up with classic rock riffage and detailed composition that more than hint at formal training. They sounded literally like no one else we could think of, and they had their audience -- the front row of which was none other than a mob of screaming girls -- eating out of the palm of their hands. Plus, their Dougnac sings and drums at the same time, always worth mentioning.

County Grind shot Toad Eyes' multitasking drummer some questions to go behind the scenes with a bona fide high school rock band.

County Grind: Discussing influences can be kind of boring, but you guys have an interesting/bewildering sound. Who would you say Toad Eyes is influenced by and how?

I love Morrissey's vocals and his lyrical approach. The Who for their ability to write songs that tell a story and explain a concept, with a rock 'n' roll flavor (and an experimental, progressive one too). Black Moth Super Rainbow because they're so good with sound manipulation, and just so fucking weird. The Raconteurs for their complex song structures.

Generally speaking, what's your songwriting process like?

When we first started, I was coming up with a frame for the group to play out and interpret. I write on this old Wurlitzer acoustic piano that my grandpa gave to me when I was a baby. I didn't start playing until he died when I was about 10. The lyrics come along with a lot of those frames and ultimately direct new ideas and song structures. It's only with this new EP and the even newer songs that you start to hear us all writing together.

I still sometimes approach them with complete song frames to play around with, but in the end, I enjoy more all three of us writing because it's less on me. Recently, when I bring a frame of a song to the table, it's because I feel very specific about the ideas I'm expressing in the song and the methods in which they should be expressed (beyond the lyrics).

Tell us about the two EPs you've got up on bandcamp.

Fuck You is the demo for Honeybadger and the first time Alex and Fern show up in recordings. Recorded all at my house in my art studio onto Garage Band. "We Are a Concept" is an interesting track because it was written as a response to "I Was a Concept." I wanted to create two different songs that still had the same melody and a similar structure. "I Was a Concept," primarily a guitar-driven song, is the white to the black of "We Are a Concept," a keyboard-driven song that is a lot sadder.

Honeybadger is what I would call our "debut" release. We recorded this at Crescent Moon studios, owned and run by the Estefan family. We were recorded and mixed by the kind guys who work there, Danny and Rene. We're getting these remixed as we speak in Brazil by a friend of ours, most likely for a rerelease. These were recorded live and then overdubbed as opposed to track-by-track recordings of Fuck You. You see "I Was a Concept" and "Tired Lite" again on here but in a completely different context and with a different feeling. "Ant Song" and "Xtianit"y were initially written by me and then arranged by the full band. "Wherehouse" was the first song we wrote collectively. It came out of a jam.

Was it hard to learn how to drum and sing at the same time?

Honestly, no, because I never learned how to do it. I still learn new and better ways of how to pull off that trick every time I play a show. Was it hard? No. Is it hard? Hell yes. I'm always trying different mic placements and different mics, trying to find the perfect combination. I've always attributed my ability to get away with it to the nervous and adrenaline-filled spasms I have while playing a show. I'm almost so overwhelmed by doing both that my body, instead of giving up one action entirely, automatically chooses what aspects of both actions, singing and drumming, to give up so that I can finish a song while doing the two. If normally I would do a fill at a certain point in a song but the vocal part seems more important to me, I'll give up that fill and focus on singing that line, and vice versa. The majority of my stage presence, at that, is a result of my nerves. I have gray hair at 17.

The first time I ever got the idea of singing and drumming was in my first band when I was 15 called the Saurus. We had one three-song EP and played a total of three shows. At one of those three shows, we fucked up on our last song and awkwardly all stopped before it was supposed to be done. To try and save it, the frontman started singing the vocal hook of the chorus. Before I knew, it I grabbed a mic and jumped on top of my drumset and started singing it with him. After I felt we had done enough of that, I hooked the mic back on to the stand, sat down, and started building back up to the big finish.

Death to the Sun III. With 90s Teen, the Band in Heaven, Bulletproof Tiger, Curious Hair, the Dewars, Dino Felipe, Family Treasures, Fourier, the Gun Hoes, Guy Harvey, Holly Hunt, Kenny Millions, Kid Khameleon, Love Handles, Luma Junger, Manny and the Mangos, Matilda Lights, Meat, Möthersky, Palmeto, the President, Rat Bastard, Relaxxx, Ritz Riot, Skeleton Warrior, Slashpine, This Heart Electric, Toad Eyes, Universal Expansion, Unstoppable Death Machines, the Viking Funeral. Saturday, September 24, at Snooze Theatre, 798 Tenth St., Lake Park. No cover. Click here.

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Matt Preira