When I met with band todayokay at Dolores Park Café, it was hard at first to picture the laid-back bunch producing the enormous sounds on display on their EP, All This Weaponry. Even the band's seemingly benign name doesn't quite fit with the affrontive album title. But as its members each chimed in to describe their musical backgrounds and interests, it became apparent that their sound is a powerful aggregation of individual contributions: a fine-tuned mixture of neo-soul, folk, and indie-acoustic that does not recycle genres but craftily borrows their elements. They are aware of how they've been influenced by other musicians, and have respect for their Bay Area predecessors. But with five-part vocal harmonies and a fusion of styles, todayokay has expanded on their influences.
Beers in hand, four of the band's six members -- siblings Matt (guitar & vocals) and Emily McLean (vocals and bass), Emily Devan (cello), and Will Boast (percussion) -- spoke to All Shook Down about the group's dynamic sound, high school band names, Sexual Chocolate, and hypothetical movie plots for which their EP could be a soundtrack. They're playing tonight at Bottom of the Hill with Peggy Sue and headliner Pepper Rabbit.
Can you explain the title of your EP, All This Weaponry?
Matt: It comes from our song, "Guillotine," which is about nostalgia and how it ties into all aspects of our lives. It's inspired by a line in Mulan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being ("In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.").
Are there any life experiences that inspire your sound?
Matt: I don't tend to have a lot of heartbreaks and love issues. So I [often] write about family.
Have you ever cried listening to your own music?
Matt: I've never cried listening to myself. I almost cried to a Wilco song though: "At Least That's What You Said" from their album A Ghost is Born. There are very few words. The guitar does all the talking.
For someone who hasn't seen you perform and isn't familiar with your music, what can they expect from your show?
Will: What I think people will get out of the show is how much everyone contributes to the sound. Five out of six of the band members sing harmonies.
Which bands have influenced you?
Matt: I really like Fleetwood Mac. I haven't tried to sound like them, but I think it comes into play from having listened to them. And I was really into Bon Iver's album For Emma, Forever Ago when I wrote "Shirtsleeves."
Will: We have a lot of love for nonmainstream hip-hop like Atmosphere and the band Why?. We like groups that combine soul or hip-hop with indie rock, but not in a mash-up, genre-hopping way like in the 90's. The experiment of combining genres has grown up a little bit. I don't know what our small role in that would be--but it's exciting to know that you can bring all the music you grew up with into a single band.
Emily M.: A lot of the band members have their own side-projects that embody their main interests. The violinist has a project that's very electronic, silly, and fun. The other guitarist is in a band with a bluesy, grungy type of sound. And I have a project that's soul and R&B. When [we come together as] todayokay, they all come out.
If you guys could play with other musicians, who would you choose?
Matt: For me it would be the local band, The Dodos.
Emily D. If you are reading this, this is a plug. [Laughs]
Emily M. : I would probably want to open up for Sade now that she's back in it. She's a genre of her own.
Emily D.: This cellist, Jorane, who I saw in concert. She played with two bows in one hand.
How long have you been playing music?
Will: I started playing music in grade school, but I was playing tuba.
Emily M.: You played in what band in highschool? [Laughs--as if she knows the answer]
Will: It was called Sexual Chocolate.
Emily: And what was your nickname?
Will: I was "White Chocolate." Actually the first song, "Ht Sandwich," is named after another band in highschool I played with called Honkey Tonk Sandwich.
If your EP was a movie soundtrack, what would the movie be about?
Will: Star Wars 7. I bought Adidas Star Wars shoes today, guys. Or it'd be about a vampire, and a highschool girl.
Emily: It's definitely not a romantic comedy. It's more a drama.
Will: About a brother and sister who argue too much. [Laughs]
Your band is unsigned. Are you planning to get signed for your next album?
Matt: There are definitely local record labels that we like a lot. Some of the most attractive ones do a single album contract. I feel like that would be ideal for us.
Is there anything else you want readers to know before your concert tonight?
Emily D.: That Emily (M.) usually trips at the end of it. [Laughs]
Matt: We're all really excited about the other two bands we're playing with.
Will: They've also expanded folk music in interesting directions.
Matt: And Bottom of the Hill is one of my favorite venues.
Bonus: Members of todayokay offered music recommendations for ASD readers: Little Dragon, The Morning Benders, M. Ward, EfterKlang (they're Danish!), Califone, and St. Vincent.
Follow us @SFAllShookDown