TOLEDO and Wild Pink Are Looking for That Honest Dirt

The friends talk capturing rawness in the recording process, and much more.

Daniel Alvarez and Jordan Dunn-Pilz are the duo behind the Brooklyn-based dream pop band TOLEDO; John Ross is the vocalist and guitarist of the also-Brooklyn-based indie rock band Wild Pink. TOLEDO just announced their debut record How It Ends — out September 23 via Grand Jury Music — so to celebrate, the three friends (and mutual fans) got on the phone to catch up about it. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Jordan Dun-Pilz: How’s tour going?

Daniel Alvarez: Yeah, tell us about the tour.

John Ross: It was awesome. I just got home a week ago. It was absolutely sick. I did it solo — as I think I told you, I’ve never really done that before, and I just loved it. It was really cool to play the tunes differently. And of course, I’ve never been on a bus tour before. 

Daniel: Did you get your own seat on the bus?

John: I got a bunk, yeah.

Jordan: We aspire to that.

John: Yeah, it was amazing. It was a four-piece, and then there was a TM and a sound person., so basically the seven of us just got very chummy.

Jordan: We’re about to go on on tour again. Very excited for that.

Daniel: You’re coming to the show? You’re on the guest list.

John: Oh, yeah, I’ll be there. It’s at Brooklyn Made? 

Daniel: Yeah, it’s going to be dope. There’s a pool.

Jordan: That’s what we’re most excited about.

John: A pool? 

Daniel: There’s a pool, dude. Like a real pool.

Jordan: I wonder if it’s going to get gross like the Le Bain pool or something.

Daniel: [Laughs.] All these artists have been in the pool, like peeing and making the water a little bit of a different color.

Jordan: Nasty.

Daniel: That’s what I hope.

John: It better be disgusting. There’s gotta be a lot of hair in it, at the very least.

Daniel: I hope Jeff Tweedy’s little hairs are in the pool.

Jordan: Still floating around.

Daniel: I’ll be collecting all the little hairs that I find in the pool from different artists that have played at Brooklyn Made.

Jordan: But anyway, we like to play our songs acoustically too. We also don’t play our songs, per se, how they are on the record. We’re talking about playing all of the record like a bluegrass set up and stuff like that. 

John: That’s cool!

Jordan: It keeps it interesting as a musician to be like, What would this song be like if I put it in a completely different instrumentation?

John: Yeah, totally. Do y’all play as a two piece on the road?

Jordan: We did on the last two. I feel like you’re probably the same way — we just care about the songs and the writing, and then it takes on a different life if we’re doing it as a two piece or a three piece, or this weekend we’re playing a show as a four piece.

John: Well, first of all, I love your new record so much.

Daniel: Thanks, buddy. You too, are you kidding me? Your new record is the soundtrack — that’s what I listen to in the car. I take notes and I’m like, OK, this is like TOLEDO, but if it sounded really good.

Jordan: Like if we knew how to use actual distortion. 

John: It’s fucking crazy to me how synergized we are musically.

Daniel: I know, it’s crazy.

John: I felt that way when I heard your, your most recent EP [Jockeys Of Love].

Daniel: I gotta say, for us too — I don’t listen to a lot of music, like at all, because I get a little too excited about it and inspired. So if I listen to a record, I’ll just be like, I’m going to try to copy this. But so many people were hitting us up, being like, “Have you heard of Wild Pink? You sound like Wild Pink.” And we were like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and then I listened and I was like, Oh, it’s actually really, really good. [Laughs.] Because I think too little of TOLEDO, so I was like, If Wild Pink actually sounds like TOLEDO might sound like shit. 

Jordan: I don’t wanna listen to that!

Daniel: But then it didn’t. So then I felt better about TOLEDO by listening to you. So, thank you.

John: That is crazy to hear, because I also don’t listen to music.

Jordan: Oh, interesting. Maybe that’s why we live in an adult contemporary world.

John: Completely. I think that being in this strange vacuum, maybe, that we’re both in… I think you make something that sounds unlike other shit if you’re not listening to a lot of other stuff.

Daniel: Unless you find out — I mean, maybe I shouldn’t reveal this in the interview, but sometimes because we don’t listen to enough shit, I’ll be like, “Oh, this is a great chorus melody,” and then three weeks later, I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s totally another song.”

Jordan: I feel like you’ve probably dealt with that too. Everyone does it. It’s just weird subconscious stuff that goes on.

John: Absolutely. I’m working on a new song now that’s just ripping off Marcy Playground and Modest Mouse — because I’ve listened to that stuff for, like, 20 years.

Jordan: Right, exactly. Those deep, deep influences.

John: Yeah, it’s in the DNA.

Daniel: Yeah, exactly. It’s so weird for me because our a lot of our influences, I don’t even know where they come from anymore. Before Jockeys or before this album, we kind of were like, “We don’t know what our sound is. We could go in any direction: We could be a lot more rock & roll, we could be a lot more folky, we could be more lo-fi…” And I think we kind of have gotten a handle on it, so now it’s weird to talk about influences because it’s hard to hear them. When I think about our influences, I still think about, like, Indigo Girls for me. And I say that all the time, but it’s true. 

Jordan: Daniel and I have like a thing too, being a duo, where there’s no world where Daniel and I are exactly the same taste-wise, so we have to find ways to meet in the middle. And that’s how this album ended up being like Guster meets Duster. There’s this side of TOLEDO that’s very singer-songwriter purist, and then there’s the more Nirvana side, too. 

Daniel: It’s nice that you have all that in one person and we have to split it up between two.

John: No, I’m envious that there are two of you doing the heavy lifting of the writing. Because I find myself feeling like Wild Pink doesn’t really feel so much like a band as much as a songwriting project. It would be nice to have something pulling me out of easy, go-to routes in songwriting.

Jordan: Whatever gets you there. I mean, the end product sounds great. 

Daniel: Yeah. The good thing about TOLEDO is, if Jordan were to write a whole song himself or I would write a whole song myself, there’s no world where that would be the final product.

Jordan: We always do quality control on each other. 

Daniel: There’s no world where one of us doesn’t hop in and be like, “Let’s change this.” But on the record, almost all of it is literally just songs that we were like, “We’re going to start them together and finish them together.”

John: That’s awesome.

Daniel: It was less of like, “Oh, Jordan’s coming with this song that he has a whole structure for.”

Jordan: On Jockeys and our EP we put out before, Hotstuff, there was still maybe ego and stuff that you have to smooth over. Some songs would have just Daniel singing or just Jordan singing, and now we’ve kind of nestled into being like, “No, we’re both singing the whole thing.”

Daniel: Yeah, we’re doubling each other. Four vocals at the same time — too many, if you ask me.

John: One thing that I’ve noticed, and I think maybe the reason why we get compared with each other, is we love those major keys.

Jordan: I know. And not a lot of indie bands like major keys.

Daniel: That’s true!

Jordan: We actually only do songs in major keys.

John: I’m all about the bright sunny, almost bubblegum…

Jordan: I have a question for you: Do you have a chord that you feel like is the Wild Pink cord? Because there’s a chord that every time I play it on guitar, I’m like, Ha ha, TOLEDO.

John: Dude, I do. [John gets up to get his guitar.] For starters, I only ever play in DADGAD.

Daniel: Really? We don’t do DADGAD. My new thing is like this weird tuning… It’s standard, except the B and the E at the end, the high B and E, are both down a whole step.

John: OK, cool. So just drop that E and then we’re in business. 

Daniel: Yeah. 

John: Alright, here’s the chord: that is like, to me, it’s just like the fucking. So in DADGAD, plant the D chord, but then just putting my finger on the fourth fret D string and hit it all open.

Daniel: That’s a classic! That three and four tension, you know?

Jordan: We just always do the thing where we play an F, but up here, so it’s 10. 

John: You know what? I think that they both have suspension in them. 

Daniel: Mine is, whenever we do drop D, we usually just do standard with a classic drop D. That, to me, is the TOLEDO chord. Or, [plays a chord.] We’re not a minor band, but when we use a minor chord, it’s got to be a minor 9 with tension in it.

John: Sounds like TOLEDO. 

Daniel: Well, that’s great. Now I know yours — we could just steal it, and then you steal ours. 

John: So, did you do this new record at home?

Jordan: Kind of. I mean, there’s nothing in a studio.

Daniel: There’s one song that the drums are in a studio. 

John: You didn’t record that in Brooklyn?

Daniel: We did, like, cabin shit. We went upstate.

Jordan: We had our own gear and we would take it upstate. And then we took stuff to our hometown of Newburyport, Massachusetts, and we sat in a church to record all the vocals and stuff.

Daniel: Yeah. We did one initial week, or nine days, where we did songwriting and demoing songs with just drums and guitar, and then we ended up using most of those demo tracks, I think, actually. They’re super noisy — I remember the grounding was really bad.

Jordan: My favorite songs are the ones that are we used the demo drums for.

Daniel: Like “Climber” and “Fixing Up the Back Room.” 

Jordan: “Boxcutter” was on those shitty drums.

Daniel: Oh, yeah, that was fun — we did that first cabin trip, and then we did another one where Melina [Duterte], aka Jay Som, came and helped us out for a couple of days by just adding little Casio synths and stuff. But we went to this Airbnb that had drums already, because they had a music room, and they had an awful first act drum kit. There was a piano too, which was great. 

Jordan: We used the piano, we used the drum kits. 

Daniel: They had weird little bongos, tambourines. They had everything. And it was all pretty bad.

Jordan: But it fit our vibe. It matters way more that you have a cool bongo part or something than it does the sound of the bongo.

Daniel: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I would love a world — and there probably will be a world with the next album, where we have the cool part and it sounds like amazing. But part of me is like, is going to take away the magic? Because I want people with TOLEDO to listen to it and feel like, “Oh, I could do that.”

John: That is very cool. With the last record, A Billion Little Lights, it was pretty polished up, and frankly, it’s difficult to listen to. It’s missing some of that honest dirt, you know?

Daniel: I mean, that album is great, though.

Jordan: But the new album does feel like it’s got dirt, but in the prettiest way.

John: Yeah. I think that something handmade and raw is what’s up.

Jordan: When Daniel and I started to really take our songwriting seriously — because we have been playing together for a very long time, but we used to do covers and stuff — the artists that were big at the time were Grizzly Bear, Feist, Bon Iver. So for some reason, their recording techniques, we just kind of clung to that and still look to those examples.

Daniel: Whenever I think of, I want it to sound like this, I don’t think of new records anymore — unless it’s Dijon’s record or something, because that sounds amazing, because it’s weird. But every recording that we’ve ever done since “Crane Song” is all inspired by Feist’s recording with Chilly Gonzales at La Frette, that huge house in France.

Jordan: And just the romanticized idea that those bands had of being like, “We’re going to go to this place and the space is a part of the record,” is something that I think we even somewhat managed to do on Jockeys. It’s just that the space was Daniel’s attic.

Daniel: And it sounded bad, the space sounded bad. But that was part of the record. And the same thing with this one — it was a literal church in our hometown that my mom’s friend was on the board of, so we got to rent it for super cheap. It was really cool to be able to do vocals there, because we were talking about how vocals are a really hard thing for us to do. We always tried doing different vocal sounds and it kind of never landed, but this time it was cool to have a place that has a natural ambience to it. So it sounds good, even if I sang the wrong note.

John: It’s very, very cool. It feels very organic. This is your debut record?

Daniel: Yeah.

John: That’s absurd, man. That’s crazy.

Jordan: Yeah, our next goal is to stop shitting on ourselves when we talk about the music. But maybe album two or three.

Daniel: I won’t stop shitting on ourselves until I listen to it and I think, Wow, this is this is so sick.

Jordan: The hope is that that never happens. Because it would be like, OK, I’m done doing music now, I made the record that I’ve always dreamed of making.

Daniel: I have pride around doing these recordings and the work that we put behind it. But I’m always listening and like, I can’t wait to do this again, but try to do a better job.

(Photo Credit: right, Mitchell Wojcik)

Dan Álvarez de Toledo and Jordan Dunn-Pilz have a special bond. Growing up in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the two were fast and unshakable friends through sleepovers, school choir practices, and discovering formative bands, to the point that now, as roommates in Brooklyn, they finish each other’s sentences. This shared history and obvious love for each other are tangible in their songwriting project TOLEDO, named after the Spanish town and Álvarez’s familial namesake. Their music, which is full of seamless harmonies throughout, skirts the softer edges of indie rock and the darker fringes of pop with each song imbuing a heaping dose of vulnerability and emotional openness.