When the pandemic first hit back in 2020, there was a noted collapse of artistic scenes across the country – no one wanted to get out, concerts were cancelled, and film productions were postponed or outright abandoned. In the middle of this swamp of creative uncertainty, filmmaker Paul Burke and sculptor Steve Shaheen decided to shift their focus back toward songwriting; they had first met while playing in the Boston alt-rock scene of the mid-90s, sharing musical influences and a love for complex and knotty rock and roll. Over the next two years of COVID lockdowns, they collaborated remotely, working out most songs without ever being in the same room. And from these socially distant sessions sprung Toy City, the vehicle through which they channel their love for genre hybridization and lyrical experimentation.
The recording of their forthcoming debut self-titled album (due out May 5) was split between Burke’s basement studio in San Francisco and Shaheen’s Brooklyn home. The duo was aided in their partnership by multi-instrumentalist and sound engineer John Russell, whose tireless work mixing and producing the songs in his home studio allowed the music to evolve and expand beyond simple shared files, finding miraculous nuance and vitality through this musical alliance. All three bring a sense of immediacy and uncertainty to the project, born as it was from years of social and emotional ambiguity and a desire to reconnect with anyone within earshot. Riven by darkly introspective narratives of growing up, personal growth, and identity, as well as a need to invert traditional rhythmic parameters, the album is a world born from a cross-section of their collective inspirations and experiences.
Unexpectedly, the band pays tribute to Oscar Hammerstein with a cover of “Do Re Mi”, one of several iconic tunes littered throughout The Sound of Music. But this isn’t any normal cover – the original is still there, but it’s buried beneath chunky lo-fi guitars and thumping percussion, evincing the ramshackle vibe of some early 90s indie rock wanderer. Despite its obvious alteration, the song still retains the melodic lilt of its predecessor, though it’s been roughed up quite a bit. It’s both familiar and mysterious in its designs, a testament to Burke and Shaheen’s ability to transcend well-known nostalgia to get at the beating heart of the music.
“‘Do Re Mi’ came together in an off the cuff moment,” explains Burke. “The music came first, and Oscar Hammerstein’s words just fit perfectly into a Pavement-style rendition of an old classic. I remember watching The Sound of Music as a child and recognizing something familiar about the character of Maria Rainer (Julie Andrews), who begins the film as an aspiring nun but later falls in love and marries Captain Von Trapp. In fact, my own mother was a Catholic nun, belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart in Los Angeles. Amidst incredible political and personal turmoil, she left the Convent in 1969, and married my father, a Catholic priest. Many of the songs on this record are in some way connected to my family. And that makes ‘Do Re Mi’ a very good place to start.”
Listen to the song below.
Toy City will release their self-titled debut album on May 5. You can follow the band on Facebook and Instagram.