The man Todd Congelliere is an institution and a powerhouse. When not running Recess Records, or publicly fronting Toys That Kill, Stoned at Heart, or The Underground Railroad To Candyland, rumors abound on the man -- the legend. For example, Punknews.org correspondent Ollie Ottoman heard he was the original singer for Black Flag, that he turned down a multi-million dollar deal to head the new chill-wave division of Columbia Records, and that he maintains a cat sanctuary at his apartment in the sunken city of San Pedro.
So, what a dream for him to be able to converse with the man himself. Of course, he could have asked Congelliere about all these aforementioned rumors, but of course, he's not that kind of guy. And, this is not that kind of interview. Punknews writer (and The Ottomans member) Ollie Ottoman spoke to Todd about Toys That Kill's long awaited new album Fambly 42, which you would do yourself a favor in picking up and a Toys That Kill Live album available for free to download in the coming months from Red Sound Records.
Todd! Good to be able to talk to you. Last time I saw you was at the Underground Railroad to Candyland show at the Middle East in Boston. You guys were touring with the Screaming Females. How was that tour overall?
Definitely one of the best tours I've ever been on. Screamales are top notch touring buddies.
You guys don‚??t really make it to the Northern East Coast very often. Any reason for that?
Well we only make it out to any part of the east coast once a year and sometimes it's hard to get to where you're at. We can't tour as much as we used to but one of our fave places to play is NY and Boston etc. etc. We're not snubbing Madame Marbecause or anything like that. If we had a choice we'd play there every weekend.
You run Recess Records also. What are your daily responsibilities for the label? Like, what‚??s a typical day working at recess like for you? How do you budget your time between being in so many bands and doing the label?
I get up kinda early usually. Anywhere from 5am-ocaasionally 9am. First thing I do is pet whatever furry lil' buddy (either Meower the cat or Fats the dog or both) is on my belly for about 5 minutes. Now if it's Fats the dog, he usually give's me the "I gotta empty my dog butt and I want you to watch" look. That's when I get up and make coffee. I might go out and watch the dog ,while coffee is brewing, but let's face it: That's how you get styes in your eyes. The boys in Toys That Kill all know that watching a dog crap leads to styes. Once coffees ready I start on email: Answer stuff, deal with stuff, roll my eyes, then poop. Then start mailorder. Then organize. For some reason I have to organize something or other every other fucking day! Stuff get's moved in and out so I guess go figure. I get stressed out a lot and I KNOW it's my fault for taking on too many projects but it's just hard to say no to stuff that I love. Releases and starting bands. The band thing doesn't take as much time as people usually think. Right now we are focusing 99% of our time with TTK. Not just cbecause we have a new album out but because we are totally gung ho on it right now. After going slow for a few years and then recording this new album, it gave us a new tank. I really have always loved our chemistry too and that's only gotten better recently. Personally and musically.
You‚??ve talked about how running Recess Records is like basically being in constant debt. Has there ever been a time where you wished you just focused on being in Toys that Kill and had a "normal" job instead of dealing with the economics of running a label?
I always think about that but right at this point I'm not in debt so FUCK NO! I love my job! I'm appreciate it now because I know, one day, I most likely will be shoveling fries down peoples necks for a living.
You‚??re in so many bands: FYP, Toys That Kill, Stoned at Heart, Underground Railroad to Candyland, and you do solo stuff under your name. When you‚??re writing music, do you on purposely write Toys That Kill, or URTC songs, or is it more of a consequential thing where you are always writing songs, and whatever band you happen to be recording for gets those songs from you?
It's a little bit of all of the above. Sometimes there's a song that's on the fence and I'll jam it with Jimmy (drums) and he might clock in about where it belongs. It's nice to have different outlets. In the '90s ,with FYP, I had tons of "solo type" songs that couldn't go anywhere. FYP got obviously more poppy in the later days, making it easier to sneak some of those songs in. But I would guess about 300 songs got lost on a cassette somewhere only because I had no hope for them to go anywhere. So, yea, it's nice to have different outlets.
NOFX had this song on their last album called "Coaster" where they talk about CDs being basically worthless nowadays. As someone who puts out music, are you as shocked by the constant change in format, how CDs are on the downfall, how cassettes are bizarrely on the rise?
I don't really care what the current format is to be honest. My rule of thumb with Recess is to just have all the bases covered, if feasible. Most releases we just do vinyl w/download because certain bands won't sell more than 3 CDs. Recess has always been a vinyl label. I've been ridiculed (seriously) in the past for mainly doing vinyl by other label owners. All the other formats I kind of reluctantly did to keep afloat. At the end of the day, whichever way we can get the music into people's ears. Cassettes were my first format that I collected when I was a kid but only because I didn't have a record player yet. Once I got a turntable I rebought everything on vinyl. Mainly AC/DC-Dirty Deeds, ADAM & THE ANTS-KIngs Of The Wild Frontier, and Eddie Murphy-Comedian-OH! That one sounds soooooo good on vinyl! Cassettes are my least favorite format. I think their purpose is more nostalgic based rather than function. People can say that about vinyl but the superior sound is really hard to deny. Not to mention the artboard that comes with it. It's subjective though. People say they sound warmer but to me they just sound muddier. I'm in the mood for that sometimes. They also don't last worth shit and are very fragile under certain players. Half of mine, that are brand new, sound warped on every player I try them on. I understand why people put them out, even for cheesy gimmick reasons, and why people buy them but it doesn't seem like they'll stick around for good. Regardless, whatever format that stores music that people get into I'm all for it.
Is it a bummer to look at the warehouse and see all those CDs and wonder just how the hell you‚??re going to get rid of them?
No because I predicted that vinyl would make a comeback and it did. That was my one business speculation that made me look ok. Maybe it was falsely justifying what I had been doing but it worked and people finally took me seriously…. Until I started telling them that The Rapture will come via streaming music. I heard that Jesus dude hates cassettes. What's up now Harold Camping?!?!
Some labels seem to put out a limited edition colored vinyl of their new records at a slightly higher price. With Recess, the colored vinyl comes out at the same price. Any reason for that? Is it that essential to have colored vinyl?
Black is a color, you know? I definitely think it's becoming too convoluted but there's a coupla reasons why I still do limited colored vinyl. My main reason is to get people to grab the album as soon as possible. Limited vinyl gets some people's attention faster and then they hear it sooner. I don't know about others but when we finish a record we are excited and impatient for people to hear it. Also, I'm a collector myself. I do love getting the copy that's more limited than the other but lately good ol' thick ass black vinyl is getting me harder than that cheap mixed grey shit. Record Store Day has left a super sour taste in my mouth as well. True, it is teaching punks how to work the stock market fine but I think the root message is getting placed in the backseat. People waiting in line?!?! Just so they can flip the vinyl on ebay?!?! If that's that then I'll stick to downloading thank you. Where black is the color, where none is the number indeed.
There‚??s this absolutely fascinating mini-documentary for Recess Records online. How did that come about?
Mike Plante got in touch via Todd Taylor of Razorcake about doing it. So they came over one day. We ate some eggs and shit and made a video. I hate watching myself on video because I annoy me, but what I saw he did a great job on it. (Check out his stuff here: http://vimeo.com/user4365883)
It‚??s only 20 minutes, but I kind of wished it was a little bit longer. Any chance of a more extended version of the documentary or a formal release anytime soon?
Now, Toys That Kill are back with a new album Fambly 42 . Why call it Fambly 42 and what in God‚??s name took you so long to put out a new album?
We made a truce about only telling people face to face about what it means because it's kind of nasty. But really funny. Like so funny, the internet can't even handle it.
I guess it's been 6 years since our last album but it didn't feel that long. Maybe life just goes by faster nowadays but it felt more like 2 dog years. We never took a break but we surely laid off it for awhile. With us, there's not one solid reason to force anything. No deadlines or nothin'. We started laying off a little because Cole was gonna go to culinary school and Chachi got "made man" status at longshoring. What I did in the past,with FYP, was just find other people who COULD tour if something like that happened. This band's different. It doesn't work without all the parts. So instead I just started other bands to take care of my sweet tooth while TTK was mildly stagnant.
There‚??s a song on Fambly 42 called Stye. The guitar in the intro of the song is something I don‚??t think I‚??ve ever heard in a Toys That Kill song before, but it reminds me of the stuff you‚??re doing in your other bands now. Do you think your songwriting style has matured at all?
That song was originally a URTC song so I don't know. I'd never use the word "mature" with anything I do, but if you listen to the first FYP 7", which I recorded when I was 16, than yeah that riff on Stye is Wilford Fucking Brimley!
I‚??ve told you before that I think the key to enjoying your lyrics is to imagine that they‚??re written from the perspective of a cat. Are there any songs in the Toys That Kill catalog that you look back on and wish they never saw the light of day?
Cats are probably the only critter that can understand the lyrics. I'm gonna go ahead and say that. Ok?
Fambly 42 is coming out on cassette of all formats. What‚??s up with that?
Our friend, Aaron Kovacs, put that out on his label Lauren Records. Like I said, We want to cover all the bases because people do listen to music on cassettes again. Plus we love Kovacs and he did a great job on it. He made us buttons and patches….like mama would if she had a punk label.
There will also be a Toys That Kill Live album on the way and it's going to be released online for free. I‚??ve spoken to a lot of bands who love the idea of doing projects that are as accessible as possible to fans. How do you feel towards the free exchange of music? And is there really such a thing as a, "death of the music industry" going on? Because, from a punk rock perspective, it doesn‚??t seem to me like much has really changed.
I've had debates on this. Even with people who are in bands on my label. But for bands like mine the prospect of more people hearing what you worked on is very exciting! I can write a 3,500 page report on this and how it can possibly affect the future of music but I'll keep on point. We are very proud of our new record. If someone, let's say he's the king shit of fuck mountain of the recording business, came up to us and said, "Look, boys, you have two choices: 1) 300,000 people will hear this and not pay for it OR 2) 3,000 people will hear this and they WILL pay for it. Choose my lil' boys, choose". Well we'd go with door #1. It sucks that there's this huge lack of support to bands/labels from people getting free music but I think opening people's eyes to that should be the main focus. As opposed to EVERYTHING else they have tried.
,br> It's absurd to even say this, but I never longed for mainstream success, or even made something that warranted that thought, but to say we wouldn't want a lot of people to hear our new album would be total bullshit. And if making money is the main focus, then why wouldn't 300,000 freeloaders be somewhat tempted to go see your show and buy a shirt?! If they sit around their room all day eating Cheetos, stealing music, than they are gonna do that anyways. I don't want their shitty Cheeto fingers coming to our shows anyways!
Now on to some more lighthearted questions:
What are some bands you‚??re always wanted to do a project with for Recess Records but probably wouldn‚??t happen in a million years?
That's a very HEAVY hearted question.
What can you tell us about the Sunken City?
It's the place we usually take out of town folks when they've never been to San Pedro and they also like destruction. It's where a block in Pedro fell into the Pacific ocean. It looks like some big motherfucker picked up the street and chucked it off a cliff. What a dick, huh?
Best TV show out right now?
Best band out right now that no one has probably heard of?
Toss up between: Arcade Lips, Flaming Fire, or Liberty Hair.
You used to be a pro skater or do you still consider yourself one?
No, I don't.
There‚??s another skater out there who‚??s also been in many bands and runs his own label. You know who I‚??m talking about?
Yeah: Brett Gurewitz: He runs a label called Epitaph and he invented the Compressed Kick Drum Flip on 16Ft halfpipes.
Have you ever stood back and contemplated that you and him have had very similar lives?
Are you technically punker for having skated in Istanbul?
I publicly love my parents so I was disqualified on being "punker" a long time ago.
Fambly 42 is sure to be one of my favorite albums out this year. What are some of your favorite records that are out this year so far? You can‚??t say Summer Vacation‚??s Condition, even though it technically came out very late last year.
The Treasure Fleet's Cocamotion! For sure on that one. Isaac and the gang did a huge solid on that one. It's early so far but Screaming Females made a great record. I dig the new Spirtualized record too. Even though this is not out yet, The Audacity's new album rules! God Equals Genocide's new album is great too. Good year so far.
That‚??s it, Todd! Any last words?