Members / Instruments Mike Tolan (Guitar, singing, production)
Recently featuring- Sommer Tolan- Vocals; Jacob Trombetta- Lapsteel, Telecaster; Keith Freund- Piano, Sax, Cello, Clarinet, Synth; John Kolodij- Guitar, Organ, Synth, Loops, Piano
Years Active 2003-present
Latest Release new nightmares released February 21, 2021
Favorite Local Artist
Akron- The Last Resort bands: GS Schray, Aqueduct Ensemble, Lemon Quartet
Cleveland- Imaginary Softwoods, Brian Straw
Current Album on repeat Joni Mitchell – Hejira
Favorite Venue to perform Schuba’s in Chicago. Any friend’s living room.
How is everyone holding up during this time?
Every day I’m getting weirder but I feel like I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a job throughout this time. I work for EarthQuaker Devices, where not only do I have a job I like, but also I’ve been able to be active in dealing with the frequent challenges that the Pandemic has delivered. It has been a very hard and stressful year, but it has also given me some purpose and a reason to keep it together. I also have a 6-year-old, who is just starting school amidst all of this. My wife and I are working as hard as we can to make this experience positive for him, to make sure that he can still experience joy and still believe in the good of people, even if we can’t.
Tell us about how this project got started?
Talons’ started in 2002-3 as an experimental recording project, where I worked to build folk songs without following any of the traditional structures of arrangement, themes, lyrics, etc. I was also really into very quiet recordings, with quiet singing and playing, where rooms sounds were almost as loud as the music and the sounds of the outside world played a part in portraying the feeling of the songs. Lyrically, it became a sort of therapeutic exercise, where I would work out my emotions about relationships and events by writing these songs and playing them over and over to myself. It can be very painful material, which has always made playing shows a complicated exercise. I was coming at the whole thing from a post-rock background, attempting to see folk-music through that lens of deconstruction. If I had to cite any direct influences, I’d say Brian Straw, who inspired me to try to play fingerstyle guitar (among many other things) and Carissa’s Wierd, who were the quietest band that I had ever seen at a “real” venue at the time.
Are you working on anything new / specific at the moment?
I am in an instrumental band called Greening with Jake and Jay from Six Parts Seven and Scotty Moses from Annabel. We’ve been playing together for about 3 years and we had just begun recording our first album when everything fell apart in March. I am still working on ideas for this project and I’m really looking forward to playing with those dudes again when it is safe to do so.
How do you balance music with jobs, partners, children, etc.?
Music is central to my life, though actively playing in bands is largely in my past. Working at EarthQuaker has been a great way to stay engaged and active in the music community while also having stable income and consistent time with my family. I’m grateful for that and many of my co-workers at EQD were members of the music scene that I grew up in, though we all are having kids and stuff now. I don’t have any real aspirations to tour at this point in my life but I will continue to write and record music forever. Music has always been critical to my emotional survival. It is how I process things, meditate and generally calm down. Since I decided that I didn’t need/want to pursue music as a career, it has become consistently more positive and fulfilling. I realized that I can still be an active musician and have a day-job, and that this is better for me because I can separate art from income in my life, which allows me to make music completely on my own terms. I don’t pretend like this is the path that is right for everyone, but it is for me, perhaps because I have such a spiritual connection to music and I rely on it so much for my mental health. I make music everyday for at least an hour after I put my son to bed. Sometimes I’m working on a record obsessively during that time over 6 months. Other times, I’m staring at my synthesizer listening to one slowly pulsing sine wave.
Six Parts Seven, Trouble Books, Tusco Terror
Were you anywhere before Cleveland or Akron?
I’ve bounced around a bit and my wife and I lived in Chicago for a while before our son was born. We are happy to be back here though, where there is more space and we are closer to our families. I’m also really excited to be playing music with some of my old friends again. This is not to say anything against the music scene in Chicago, which I found to be amazingly positive, open and accessible. I was floored by how kind and supportive all of the artists that I met and played with in Chicago were (particularly Erik and Quin from In Tall Buildings/Nomo/Wild Belle, and Michael and Matt, who ran Positive Beat). It is such an amazing city because there are so many working musicians that also just love to play and will play every night in some context. Tortoise is one of my favorite bands and it was so inspiring to be able to see Dan Bitney or John Herndon or Jeff Parker playing at the Whistler or some small bar in Wicker Park on a Tuesday, just doing it because that is what they do.
Anyone you’ve collaborated with recently?
I was really excited to work with John Kolodij (High Aura’d) on my last record. I am a big fan of his records and he is a hugely kind and encouraging collaborator. I have worked with Jacob Trombetta and Keith Freund on many projects for the past 15 years and it is so great to have that sort of established collaborative relationship with them. I feel like we know each other well enough that we understand each other’s “vision” but we can also insert our own creative ideas, which can really elevate the songs.
Experience working with a label?
I’ve had relationships with a number of labels over the years and I have the greatest respect for everyone who puts their time and energy into running a label. It is a largely thankless job, performed by very few people and fueled almost entirely by their energy and enthusiasm. I was fortunate to work with David and Suicide Squeeze when I was in Six Parts Seven and they were so supportive and encouraging to their bands; giving us resources and total creative control without demands. I am hugely grateful to everyone else who has helped support my music, especially Keith Freund, who runs Bark & Hiss and, along with being one of my closest friends, has always encouraged me to make records. My experiences with Helio (Own), Michael (Positive Beat), Yuichiro (Powershovel), Sean (I-Absentee), Jeremy (Experimedia), Henry (MIE), Brett (Broken Circles) and Fej (Imperial Emporium) have all been so positive. I don’t think that anyone can understate the importance and value of these few hard-working individuals to the world of independent music.
Craziest memory from touring?
Once Six Parts Seven played in Albuquerque and stayed in Santa Fe. Our hosts led us up into the mountains after the show and we hiked through the darkness to some natural hot springs on the side of a mountain. It was totally dark and the stars were so bright. Basically all of my favorite tour memories have nothing to do with actually playing music, ha ha.
What does Cleveland or Akron have to offer aspiring musicians?
In normal times, Cleveland and Akron are ideal places for artists. They are cheap so it is easy to find a good space to live and make music/art. But also, they are vibrant small cities, with nice venues, good food/art culture and tons of creative people, who have decided to stay here or return here for similar reasons. There is some friendly competition but overall it is an area that supports artists and musicians. It is also a beautiful area geographically and a very central location for regional touring.
What has your recording experience been like?
I’ve been recording at home since I was in high school. I had a Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder, which I used for years, bouncing 30 or more tracks into a huge mess of sound. Once I went to the beach and had this cool idea that I should fill the pockets of my jacket with sand so that I would remember the beach every time I put my hands in my pockets. Well, I got home and immediately accidentally dumped the sand directly into the cassette tray of the 4-track and though it was wonderfully warbly from then on, it was not as useful. I bought a used iBook and a recording interface around 2003 and that really changed everything for me. I love home recording and the flexibility that it allows. I love editing. Recording is my favorite part of the musical process so I want to be able to take as much time as I need to make a record. It would be financially impossible to do this in a “real” studio and I do sometimes feel the limitations of my small and extremely outdated home setup (currently running Reaper on a 2009 macbook pro with an original Apogee Duet interface) but I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
What are the ingredients to a thriving music/art scene?
I think that diversity of sound and general enthusiasm are vital, along with a good record store and a venue that cares about promoting the area and local artists. I feel like I got very lucky in the time that I ended up in the Kent/Akron music scene. In high school, my friends Nathan and Ben (from Tusco Terror) introduced me to Donut Friends, which was an amazing label that Jamie Stillman (Party of Helicopters/Relaxer) ran before he started EarthQuaker Devices. The bands surrounding that label (including Six Parts Seven, which I would later join) were a huge inspiration for me to move to Kent. The music scene in Kent was great but I was more of a fan than a participant. It really got exciting for me when I moved to Akron around 2004. I lived at a house called Diamond Shiners where Nathan booked bands from all over the country, a lot of noise and experimental music from Kites and USA is a Monster to like Nat Baldwin, Thanksgiving, or some of the first Emeralds shows. But along with these touring acts, all of the local bands would play and there could be 4 bands that sounded completely different on the same show. I love that. The whole Akron scene was very diverse. It wasn’t a bunch of indie rock bands competing for one sound or audience. There was competition but just to be good or interesting in a unique way. And there was a lot of support between all of these bands and we were doing it for each-other. We were all working hard and had aspirations for some level of success but it was also fun and satisfying to just play a good set in a basement down the street for your friends. This is what Talons’ came out of along with Trouble Books and a lot of great local bands like Beast, Low in the Sky, Goodbye Ohio, Genetically Yours, and bigger bands like Houseguest, Beaten Awake, and Drummer.
But along with a nice community of musicians, we have Square Records, in Akron’s Highland Square. Dave would host our bands for the “album releases” of our CDr’s and he would let us sell our little handmade things there. Just having an outlet for physical recordings and a positive place to talk about and discover music was/is so important. Along with that, The Lime Spider and now Musica are Akron venues run by people who really care about music and make an effort not only to support local acts but to bring in touring bands that would normally skip Akron or Cleveland. Having some connection to the national music scene, either by opening a show or by just being in the crowd is so essential to inspire and drive local bands, especially as they get started.
What’s the next move?
I wish I knew