“Daniel and I haven’t worked with a producer or been in a studio yet,” says Jordan Dunn-Pilz. “We’re just doing all the stuff ourselves.”
It’s a stunning admission from one-half of the duo Toledo. Stunning if only because the end result — their sumptuous new album, How It Ends — is as richly polished, deeply felt, and utterly gorgeous as an album gets. Not that Dunn-Pilz and his bandmate Daniel Alvarez are amateurs. Anything but.
“We’ve been doing the music thing together since 2018,” says Dunn-Pilz. “And because we’ve been doing it ourselves for so long, we figured out how to do that.
“Our day job now, when we’re not doing Toledo tours or recording ourselves, is to produce other people’s music.” (Recent projects include Vern Matz and Wild Pink, both bands that, unsurprisingly, share the same melancholic, transcendental DNA of Toledo’s.)
Dunn-Pilz, 28, and Alvarez, 27, first met in middle school in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on the outskirts of Boston.
“I think seventh or eighth grade,” recalls Dunn-Pilz during a recent Zoom call. “We were both playing music, and learning our instruments in our separate lives. And we were introduced through a friend who was like, ‘Hey, you play guitar, and this guy Daniel plays piano. I think we should all jam together sometime.’
“Our different interests made themselves very clear when, on the first day we jammed, Daniel was like, ‘Do you know “Love Song?” We can play “Love Song.” And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I know “Love Song.” And he started playing Sara Bareilles’s ‘Love Song,’ and I started playing The Cure’s ‘Love Song.’
“Weirdly, I feel like that’s kind of been our musical relationship ever since,” Dunn-Pilz continues. “That’s why you get a little bit of the pop side to the writing, but also the more moody elements, as well.”
The friends went to different colleges — Alvarez to Berkeley to focus on music, and Dunn-Pilz to Ithaca College to major in acting (he understudied the role of Mark in the 20th Anniversary Tour of Rent, but that’s a whole different story). The band Toledo — named for the vibrant city in Spain, a nod to Alvarez’s family roots — emerged after the two met up during a winter break and wrote and recorded “Crane Song,” ultimately their first release. It remains one of their most popular songs on streaming services.
Deceptively simple and humble in its first two minutes, “Crane Song” is a musical trojan horse, with a wry, unexpected surprise midway through. It’s a bold initial attempt, and its fluid and guileless tonal shifts would define Toledo’s style on later songs like the entrancing “Dog Has Its Day” and the epic “Sunday Funday.”
“We had so much fun doing ‘Crane,’ that when we both moved to New York, we chose to focus just on Toledo,” says Dunn-Pilz. “So that’s what we’ve been doing since.”
The band released its first EP, Hot Stuff, in 2019, and then came the COVID shutdown, so nothing again till Jockeys of Love in 2021.
Their first fully-formed effort, How It Ends, was released in the fall of 2022. A poignant, heartfelt, endlessly listenable album, How It Ends blends elements of wistful indie folk and catchy pop with the dreamy, trance-like swirls of groups like Ocean Color Scene and Beach House. Songs like the melodically captivating “Climber” and “L-Train,” or the rhapsodic “Leopard Skin” are highlights of an impressive long-form debut that fails to stumble even once.
“When Daniel and I record, it’s always just the two of us,” says Dunn-Pilz. “So we’re playing the drums and the bass and all the guitars and all the other instruments.”
That changes when the band tours, as they are briefly throughout March, with stops planned for Washington, D.C., Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. “We have friends who are hopping on the bass and drums, so it’ll be four people.”
Dunn-Pilz says he and Alvarez relish the live experience.
“Dan and I get to focus just on our guitar parts and on singing and connecting emotionally with fans because we don’t have to worry about, you know, the drums and the bass,” he laughs.
“We try to make our live show fun, but the songs are sometimes somber or mellow, so having a full band helps us make the night a fun night.
“Someone said to me the other day about the New York scene — and it was just an offhand comment for them, but it meant a lot to me — they were like, ‘I don’t like seeing shows in New York. I think they’re not fun — except Toledo shows.’ And I was like, ‘That’s so that’s so nice.’ It was cool to hear that validated from someone who had no obligation to say that to me.”
Looking to the future, Dunn-Pilz says, “Daniel is better as the optimist of the two of us…. But maybe we will play a stadium someday.
“We opened for a band called The Backseat Lovers recently, and we were playing in front of 2,500 people. And that was a huge change for us. I think the most we had done before that was four hundred. And so I guess it goes to show that anything’s possible.
“We just want to keep having fun writing music and constantly want to push ourselves,” he concludes. “I think our dream would be touring, releasing albums, and to keep producing other bands — as well as have a proper studio one day.”
Toledo appears Friday, March 17, at Songbyrd Music House, 540 Penn Street NE. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $19.32. Another Michael opens. Visit www.songbyrddc.com.
The “How It Ends Unrated Tour” continues with stops in Columbus (March 18), Chicago (March 19), Pittsburgh (March 20), Philadelphia (March 21), Brooklyn (March 23), and Los Angeles (March 29). For more information and tickets, visit www.thebandtoledo.com/shows.
Follow Toledo on Twitter at @toledo_band.
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