By Eric Timmons
Toaster Ghost’s song Atomic Nerves seems perfectly crafted for this particularly anxious moment as lines like “I’m scared but it doesn’t care” drift over distorted guitars before they’re interrupted by the poppy, insistent refrain, “Fine, we’ll be just fine.”
In fact, there’s a satisfying strangeness threaded through the clutch of songs Toaster Ghost has released, infused with sci-fi references, that slots perfectly into the COVID-sized hole in my brain.
Perhaps, as Hunter S. Thompson famously noted, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. Or as drummer, Corey Minor put it, “Weird is definitely a way to describe what we’re going for.”
The band formed when guitarists Jeff Sherin and Christian Sveen started talking music in the shipping room at Dave’s Guitars, where they both work, and hit it off. They initially launched a group called Candles Light Themselves.
Minor was working in Coalition Drum Shop, next to Dave’s, and bass player Jerry Miller frequented both businesses. Sveen and Sherin pulled the group together, and they started jamming in an upstairs room at Dave’s about a year and a half ago.
Sherin, known for his sizzling guitar playing, is a veteran of the La Crosse music scene, having played in bands that also seemed to strive for titular oddness, like Evil Snowcone and Dream 13.
“Usually the first word to pop out of his head if he hears something he likes is ‘weird’,” Minor says of Sherin.
At first, the group felt around for common influences to form a foundation for their own sound, Miller said, and found it in groups like The Flaming Lips, Television, Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., and in David Bowie.
“It kind of informed where we started in terms of a sound, an aesthetic, but we wanted to do something new,” Miller said, during a recent interview with the group.
The name Toaster Ghost emerged from an exhaustive process of throwing words together to find something that fit, and hints at two of the bands favorite things: breakfast food, and the supernatural. The name also inspired some of the band’s unique stagecraft, which at a pre-COVID show at The Root Note, featured an actual smoking toaster on stage, producing crispy waffles that were flung into the crowd between songs.
Sveen is the group’s main lyricist, although he professes to not actually enjoying putting words on paper.
“The lyrics are my least favorite and it’s always the last thing I work on,” he said. “I always try to come up with a melody first, and the lyrics sort of follow. To me, it’s just words that sound good coming out of my mouth phonetically and then by the time I’m done i think, oh I could write a sentence out of this. Once it gets rolling it all sort of comes from my love for sci-fi movies and I don’t know, existential dread, I guess.”
Pretty early on, it was evident the group had something, which is evident in their melodic, textured, output.
“Coming up with these weird layers and these parts that might seem strange but oddly fitting, was just second nature to us,” is how Sveen described it.
Now, the group is on the verge of releasing a full-length album, titled Electric Breakfast, which will feature 13 tracks and will be available digitally June 12 on bandcamp and other streaming platforms. A physical release is expected in the near future, depending on the trajectory of the pandemic.
On the subject of breakfast, Toaster Ghost’s individual tastes are pleasingly diverse, and a subject they’re more than happy to chew on.
Minor, for example, was ecstatic about the Japanese soufflé style pancakes he recently made.
“I had to whip egg whites,” he said. “But if I can waste half a day making a meal, I will do that.”
For Sveen, a perfect breakfast would be a sandwich made with two Pillsbury Toaster Strudels, with bacon and whipped cream between them. Miller recently discovered through a viral social media video what he described as a grilled omelet sandwich. For Sherin, a perfect breakfast consists of an onion bagel, almost burnt, with creamy peanut butter.
“It’s better than a girl scout cookie,” he claims.
The band don’t know when they’ll play together next. Sherin described a recent nightmare laced with COVID paranoia he had of playing in a bar. A member of the audience approached him in the dream, got in his face and whispered a request for an old country song in his ear. And then coughed all over him.
But, nightmares aside, the group is anxious to get back on the stage, and back to normal, or what passes for normal for a band called Toaster Ghost.
“It’s a special thing to get a room full of people together and you share that time together,” Miller said. “It’s in our cultural DNA to be social like that and to come together for those moments. At the same time, I think we have to have self-control, and not turn a blind eye to the dangers. As much as we miss it, we’ve got to be patient.”
Let’s hope the day Toaster Ghost gets back on stage somewhere local comes soon. In the meantime, make sure to pick up Electric Breakfast, their first album, which promises to be a sweet and savory delight, on June 12.
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