Written by Jess Alaimo
With a name you can’t exactly forget, you’ve most likely heard of Toothgrinder. Finding success locally in Asbury Park and surrounding areas since 2010, Toothgrinder soon found national success with their debut album “Nocturnal Masquerade.” The band has been steadily touring the United States for the last two years. This Saturday, May 20th, they are coming back home. They will hit the stage at House Of Independents at 8pm, in one of Asbury Park’s most highly-anticipated shows of the year. The show will kick off the band’s just-announced tour.
Branded by many as a Progressive-metal band, Toothgrinder has proved time and time again that they will not be pigeon-holed into a genre. I sat down with Wills Weller, Toothgrinder’s drummer, and he assured me that the band has even more tricks up their sleeve.
You might recognize Weller from the variety of press Toothgrinder has garnered in the last few years, but he might be most recognizable from a cameo he made in the HBO series Vinyl. I sat down with Wills to discuss what the studio process has been like, the upcoming Asbury Park show, and more.
This upcoming Saturday at House of Independents is Toothgrinder’s first home show in three years. What took you so long to come back to Asbury Park?
It wasn’t planned. So basically every tour we’ve been on, some of them have had radius clauses from the start and the finish, you know? And we usually play New York City, Philadelphia. So it kind of ended up like, well, Asbury’s right in the middle. Like, all right, we’ll just play New York, we’ll just play Philly, we won’t mess with home. Because when you play at home, you want to make it special.
From the last time we played at home to this time, we’ve written new songs. You can see a progression in the band. If I played last year, you’d be playing the same songs and you’d be seeing the same thing. Like it doesn’t give you time to progress in a way. And it just so happened it took a little longer to play at home, but I think it’s great, you know? Because this time we’re going to offer them something a little different, which what makes it exciting. It makes people want to be like, “Aw dude, I gotta go see them!”
So you have been spending the last month in the studio making a new record.
Tell me a little bit about the process and how is it different from your first record?
So basically we did it a little different. The way we approached it in songwriting and actually recording it. The last time we went in was our first full length record we ever did so – gosh — you’re nervous, you’re excited, you have all these emotions, you know? It’s like going to the first day of school, going to the first day of work. You don’t ever know what to expect. It could go either way.
Last time we went in with songs done, prepared. We were like married to them. We loved them. And then we went into the studio and got with Taylor Larson, who was the guy who helps produce it and record it and engineer it. And he had these other ideas that came to his mind. He was like, “Oh, well, this would be cool if we did this…” And we’re just like, “Oh my god, these songs are changing.” But you forget that no one’s ever heard these songs except you up until that point, you know? So it’s okay. Other people react differently to things. And it kind of opened our mind to that. So we did the first record and were like “Oh, okay, that was a big learning experience.”
So, the second time we went in, we went in with song ideas. Instead of like, “This is how the song goes. It’s three minutes and 45 seconds and this does that.” Nope. We threw that all out the window and were instead like, “Wow, this part is really great. This riff idea is awesome. It really makes me feel good. Let’s hone in on that.” And we went in and then we sat down with Taylor. We kind hashed out how maybe the rest of the songs should go as a band, you know? Because usually when we’re home, we’re writing, me and the guitar player, just the guitar player, just Justin’s writing lyrics, you know. But we were all together in the studio.
We went into the studio for a month, as you said, last month, and every instrument was ready to go at all times. The drums were set up every day. We left them up the entire time recording, which is usually kind of different. Usually you go in, you bust out drums in the beginning, you do bass, you do guitar, you do vocals and you’re done. But this time we sat down, we really dug into everything. And like I said, so the drums were up, so there could be an idea that could happen one week and the next week that thing could change around a little bit. And it’s like “Cool, I’m going to jump in there and track some new drums.” Because that part’s kind of changed and for the better.
And it was a really exciting way to do things. And it’s kind of how we do things at home. I don’t just do a drum part and someone writes a guitar riff and then they put vocals and it’s like “All right, sweet, that’s a song.” No, we do a guitar part. It grows on you, you listen to it, you know? It’s like a painter staring at a painting and a week later, he’s like “Oh my god, I should put shadows here.” And then – BOOM — and it makes it totally crazy! I do that with drums, you know? I could imagine another musician does it with their instrument the same way.
So we took that approach of being at home writing very casual, and applied it to the studio. And it came out great. The songs are fun. The songs are really awesome to listen to, you know? It doesn’t feel like a part to a part to a part. Everything seems to, in my eyes and ears, have a little more of a meaning, you know? It’s great. And I like it. It was a cool way of doing it.
That’s awesome, yeah. It sounds very natural.
Yes, exactly. It was very on-the-spot. That’s a perfect way to describe it. Geez, it took me ten minutes and you said it better in like one word. Way to go.
Your answer was great.
But yeah, it was. It was super natural. We didn’t have time to overthink things and to beat them to death. It was just like “Cool, that came out great. That’s it, we’re keeping it.” You know? So yeah, it was fun.
So are there any other surprises on the record? I think I saw pictures of you playing banjo and guitar.
Some things we wanted to do on our first record that we thought might be a little too much? People would be like “Whoa, did you really? Gonna go and do that right off the bat?” We thought, okay, we put out the first record. And this one, we thought, maybe let’s take a couple chances and let’s do some things that we’ve always wanted to do.
Technically we’re called a progressive metal band. That’s what I hear people call us all the time. Do I think that? I mean, I have no idea. I just think we’re a band. I don’t even think we’re any specific genre. But I feel like a progressive metal band is supposed to be surprising, is supposed to kind of push boundaries in one way or the other. And so we look at each other like “Hell, might as well live up to the name. We’ll really do it.” So there’s definitely a couple surprises on there. It’s cool. I like it.
So the album artwork on Nocturnal Masquerade was pretty crazy. Is that something your fans have to look forward to on the next album? Have you thought about that yet?
It’s an interesting thing and I don’t know if it’ll stay true but we’ve kind of used that character — called Jubilee, that’s its name. Almost like Eddie with Iron Maiden. We call that thing, that crazy animal, Jubilee. And if you look at Jubilee from a previous record called Vibration/Colour/Frequency, that’s something we just did on our own before we were signed or anything.
There’s like a first version and then when you go to Nocturnal Masquerade, it kind of matures. Its horns change, the hair gets longer, almost like the band. The band is maturing and the band is growing and the band is constantly changing and learning and all of that, adapting to things. So we kind of kept this character as a symbol of the band but it’s also changing record by record, just like the band is, you know? And some people don’t notice, or even care for that matter, but it’s kind of a fun thing, you know? And it’s recognizable. You see that and hopefully you think Toothgrinder.
You know, when I see a triangle, it’s like “Oh, that looks like the Pink Floyd record.” And it’s literally just a triangle, you know? But it’s a nice common brand like Starbucks or something like that.
Yeah, it definitely stands out.
Everyone has a band logo, you know, their name with a font that’s cool, but to have another symbol, I think is also really cool. Because when I think of the New York Yankees, or Starbucks, you think of their logo, instead of their font. The first thing that comes to mind is their logo. So it’s like oh, that’s a cool thing to hit. That’s more like we’re talking about branding now but you know what I mean? It’s cool to really have that thought. It’s all relevant to being in a band. All that stuff. But yeah, I think you can definitely expect it to morph into another thing.
So other than in Asbury Park, what is your favorite city to play music in?
That’s a really good question. Now it’s interesting. There’s two answers to that. There’s a selfish answer, and then there’s a realistic answer for the band. I guess I’ll answer for the band first. We do very well, obviously, in the Northeast area. Plus, for some reason, we’ve played in Los Angeles a couple times, and even a little south, and they’re kind of on our vibe, you know? They’re a beach town and we kind of are on the same level. So you end up going over very well in places that are kind of like where you’re from. And we tend as a band to do very well there and it’s really fun to play. We’ve actually had friends from here, obviously, move out there, like I’m sure you’ve heard that a million times, but it’s cool to see people who you’re used to seeing in Belmar in Los Angeles or something, you know?
The band seems to do very well in those kinds of markets. But personally my favorite place to play: I really love San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. They’re fairly close to each other but it’s just so cool. Everyone’s so nice. I love the towns, the area, the weather, my gosh. It’s beautiful. That’s just like my one and two. But yeah. And it definitely is different, because the band might not do as well or it just might, whatever. So there’s definitely what’s good for the band and “Man, where do I want to hang out?”
As far as in Asbury Park, of course other than House of Independents, because you have a show Saturday at 8pm, what is your favorite venue inside Asbury Park?
Man, I really loved the Asbury Lanes, I really did. I loved when it just opened and the stage was really little and you were like right in the middle of the lanes, like on top of the lanes. That was like when you think about bands in a cartoon or a movie, they’re like “Yeah, we’re playing the bowling alley.” Like you really played the bowling alley! And then it changed and it got nice, like a real venue, and that was still amazing. But I think the Lanes was probably my favorite. Just one of the coolest venues. It was just so interesting to play there. It seemed like every time you played, you always had such a wonderful time. How could you not? You’re at a bowling alley. It’s so cool.
Yeah, that place really was magical. It’s crazy.
Wills: It was. I mean, jeez, it was just always fun, always fun.
So do you have anything you want to say to your local fans in Asbury Park before you have your show on Saturday?
I’m just so excited to be able to play at home for friends and family, because I feel like the band has gained a little bit of ground in the past couple years. And to not have played at home, it’s exciting to get to come back and just be like “Here we are. Same band but we’ve just done a couple things.” And we’re just like a well-oiled machine at this point. We’ve been playing so much, touring so much, in the studio. It’s just really fun.
We’re having band practice today. We ran through the set last night and you forget how much muscle memory kicks in. And we’ve been writing a new record so we haven’t been playing these songs as much obviously. And we went to play them last night and it was just like boom. I’m looking at the guys like “I don’t even know what I’m doing but I’m doing it!” It just goes right back to you just teach yourself that. It’s so funny how it’s ingrained. I’m just so excited to get to play because I don’t know, I feel like we just – we’re in a really good rhythm. And it’ll be fun to play for everyone on a high note like that.
Be sure to check out Toothgrinder this Saturday at House Of Independents in Asbury Park. There is nothing quite like a homecoming show. The band has just announced their upcoming tour TODAY, so be sure to check out the dates here:
Between The Buried And Me, The Contortionist, Toothgrinder and Polyphia will tour this fall on the “Colors 10 year anniversary tour” Tickets on sale Friday at 10am.
Sept. 21 Theatre of Living Arts – Philadelphia, PA
Sept. 22 Baltimore Sound Stage – Baltimore, MD
Sept. 23 The Gramercy Theatre – New York, NY
Sept. 24 Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
Sept. 26 Mr. Small’s Theatre – Pittsburgh, PA
Sept. 27 The Agora Theatre – Cleveland, OH
Sept. 28 Crofoot Ballroom – Pontiac, MI
Sept. 29 Opera House – Toronto, ON
Sept. 30 Bottom Lounge – Chicago, IL
Oct. 2 Granada Theater – Lawrence, KS
Oct. 3 Summit Music Hall – Denver, CO
Oct. 4 The Complex – Salt Lake City, UT
Oct. 6 The Catalyst – Santa Cruz, CA
Oct. 7 El Rey – Los Angeles, CA
Oct. 8 Glasshouse – Pomona, CA
Oct. 9 SOMA – San Diego, CA
Oct. 10 Crescent Ballroom – Phoenix, AZ
Oct. 12 Trees – Dallas, TX
Oct. 14 House of Blues – New Orleans, LA
Oct. 15 Vinyl Music Hall – Pensacola, FL
Oct. 17 Culture Room – Ft Lauderdale, FL
Oct. 18 State Theatre – St Petersburg, FL
Oct. 19 The Plaza Live – Orlando, FL
Oct. 20 The Masquerade (Heaven) – Atlanta, GA
Oct. 21 Neighborhood Theater – Charlotte, NC
While the band is recording their upcoming album, their debut album Nocturnal Masquerade is available on Itunes, Spotify, and Amazon now. Make sure you blast it. If your neighbors complain, just remind them it is Progressive.