Toys That Kill's Todd Congelliere on Fambly 42 and Skateboarding

San Pedro punkers Toys That Kill have been going strong since 1999, and they released their fourth album, Fambly 42 , earlier this month. The band maintained an impressive clip, releasing an album every few years, but there was a six-year wait this time around. That sort of thing happens when you're swamped with work, school, or other bands.

"If we did a record three years ago, it would have been really bad," says vocalist/guitarist Todd Congelliere. "I know that for a fact. Instead of just rushing everything, we just took our time, and we're really happy with it."

Fambly 42 has a surprisingly clean sound for an album that was recorded in a garage. The recording process works well for the band; Congelliere says people keep asking him who produced the album.

Up on the Sun: You guys released Fambly 42 a few days ago. What was the recording process like?

Todd Congelliere: We did it in my garage studio. We have other bands that we recorded in there, but with Toys That Kill, we always record out in Austin with this recording studio called Sweatbox. It's really awesome, but it's really hard to get everybody to get work off and get out there. It's also a little bit more money than actually going into our garage and doing it. So, it was really different. I was kind of nervous at first because we always got good sound at Sweatbox, but we love the way it came out.

Do you think you'd take the garage approach again?

Definitely, especially after this, since there's been people that have actually been e-mailing me asking for the producer's name for this album, so they can go record with them. I don't really record too many other bands unless they're on my label, so I've just kind of been like, well, I can't. We definitely are going to do that from here on out.

The guy that recorded us at Sweatbox is a guy named Mike Vasquez. He's offered to come out and work on it with us because he was always kind of like the fifth member of the band. I hope we can work with him again -- he's a good guy. But, yeah, it's so easy just to go back in the garage and work on something if we need to.

This is your first record in six years. Is there any reason you waited that long?

It's kind of hard to explain from the beginning. We took a break because one of the guys, Sean [Cole], he wanted to go to culinary school, and another guy in the band, he's a longshoreman, and he got recruited to . . . It's kind of like being a made man. The longshoreman and Goodfellas. Casey [Ferrara] got full-time work, so we couldn't really tour. I pretty much told him we just got a van and we're making payments on it, so I'm going to probably start another band so I can go on tour. That's what I've been doing since 1991. They all said, yeah, that's cool, so I started just this band, and it actually took off pretty fast, and we just did that for awhile.

We didn't really stop doing Toys That Kill. We just kinda put it on the backburner a little bit. I just didn't want to rush anything, I didn't want to be like, 'Oh, we haven't done a record, so we have to do one now.' If we did a record three years ago, it would have been really bad. I know that for a fact. Instead of just rushing everything, we just took our time and we're really happy with it.

How has your experience in Toys That Kill been different than your work with F.Y.P.?

F.Y.P. was pretty much [me handling] everything. I wrote all the songs, and it was always just a rotisserie of people coming in and out. There was never really an original member -- besides our drummer, who's been with us for 10 years. The first two years of the band, we had another drummer, but basically the unit -- the four guys that are in the band now -- have been in the band for 10 years. If one of those guys couldn't make a show, we wouldn't be able to do it, so I think everybody is a good part of the band and can't really be replaced.

F.Y.P. was always so sloppy. It didn't matter who or how bad the drummer is -- let's just go on tour, and he can leave, so let's do it. That's the main thing, and I just like the songs better. They're a lot funner to play.

I first saw you guys years ago at the Clubhouse -- maybe six or seven years ago -- and you guys have come here a bit since. What do you like about playing here?

There's certain people that show up to the shows that are cool and have energy and help make a good show. We'll play the same either way if only 10 people show up. We just have this thing where we just play and play good. We can't punish them for not a lot of people showing up, but when there's enough people -- and this is true in Phoenix -- if they show up, they're part of the band in a weird way in our mind. They make the night fun.

Just because they're so into it?

Yeah, just because the energy and I don't know if it's the heat, but the brains seem kind of melted in a good way. There's something really interesting about them and I don't know, I just like the people there. They seem genuine and they're not hipsters from Silver Lake or anything like that. Usually, we get along with people more that way.

I read in an earlier interview about your background with skateboarding. How did that get you into punk rock?

I ended up building a ramp in my backyard where I was raised, and my dad just helped me and some local skaters build a ramp. We just put a ghetto blaster out there, and people would just come over and skate and bring Black Flag and 7 Seconds. There were all these skate videos back then that were like contest videos. Somebody would go film the contest. The music that they were playing at the contest was basically the soundtrack of a video. A lot of stuff to that this day that has stuck with me, a lot of SST stuff and just early '80s L.A. stuff like 45 Grave and even some goth stuff like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus. There was a lot of good music in those videos, whether it was punk or goth or even some metal. I never got into metal, but there was some good stuff.

Even if it wasn't good, it just got engrained in your brain from watching the video over and over again. No matter what, you have to like this because just watching this video over and over again.

I bet it was cool that a lot of those bands were based in your hometown, so you could see them live easily.

Yeah, that was part of the appeal to it. My parents didn't let me go to shows back then, which I always regretted. But I didn't have a choice in the matter, I think I went to my first show when I was I think I was 14 or 15, but I just remember it being so mind blowing because it was so positive and it wasn't as violent as everyone was saying. I had a different image of it, I thought it was Black Flag, cops were showing up, beating everybody up and then the punks show up and beat them up, which happened before, but it probably happened once out of 100 times.

How has running your own record label made it easier for you as a musician?

Especially in Toys That Kills' case, where usually when you're on another record label, you would have this deadline or you'd get dropped. If anybody acted like us on the other label, they'd just be like, 'Uh, well, we'll just forget about them. We're not putting out their next record if it's going to take six years to come out.' It's nice to not have any pressure and just be dudes playing music. It's not going to be the end of the world if we take forever to do a record. That's the main thing, and to be in control of everything, down to the recording and the artwork to when it comes out. Every single aspect except for, obviously we didn't go in and press the record or print the album covers but every aspect we had control over. It was nice.

You guys are about to go on tour, but aside from that, what are some of your future plans and goals for the band?

Maybe start recording a little bit sooner than six years, because we're really excited over the band again. It's kind of a new start in a weird way, it's almost like a new band. We have a catalog of music and some people that like us, so it's weird. It feels like a new band because everyone's excited for it now. I even wrote some songs last night that were really . . . they have to be Toys that Kill songs. And thinking like we can just record an EP next week if we get the songs down. I never really thought that over the six years that we were kind of inactive. I think we're just going to record some EPs and splits. We have a split with the Future Virgins coming out.

So it's a good time to be Toys that Kill.

Yeah, I think so. I love it right now.

Toys That Kill is scheduled to perform Sunday, June 3 at Meat Market Garment Factory.

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