The Toughcats took part in the Portland Music Foundation’s CMJ showcase at Sullivan Hall on October 20th. After their extremely impressive set, I sat down with the band’s banjo player, Colin Gulley, to talk a little about the band, their influences, and playing the PMF showcase.
How did The Toughcats form?
We got together about seven years ago. We all live on a small island off the coast of Maine, and there was a benefit show that I was putting on and we needed another band for it, it’s kind of the short story of it. And we were all doing different stuff involved in it, so we put together a group in the last, like, 15 minutes before the show, learned a couple songs, really simple songs, played them together and went well, so we just kind of kept doing it from there. Yeah, we didn’t really sort of come out of any scene, or we weren’t trying to make any sort of band at this time. It just kind of happened organically, so…yeah.
Who are some of your influences?
You know we’ve got so many influences from all around the world. I wouldn’t know where to start. We like rock ‘n’ roll, we like reggae music, we like bluegrass music, we like a lot of indie-rock music. Let’s see… we all just recently got tickets for Gillian Welch and David Rawlings who are coming to Portland soon, which we’re really excited about… and also for Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings from right here in the Brooklyn area, who we love. So, we’re kind of all over the map.
Any specific band that’s shaped your sound?
No, I don’t think so. You know, we weren’t trying to start a band and we kind of have…with a resonator guitar, and a banjo, and a drum set, it’s just a weird combination, so we weren’t really trying to sound like anything. I mean Joe, the guitar player, kind of originally came with a bunch of songs and we just kind of tried to learn a way to play them with those three instruments, so… that’s about that.
My PR contact Amber, who is sitting across the couch, asks a question of Colin:
How have you guys decided who sings what songs? I think it’s so cool that you switch lead vocals for each song…
That’s a good question. I’m not sure. Joe sings a lot of the songs he writes, Jake (drums) sings some of those. Jake gets interested in a lot of random covers, like Kim Carnes songs and stuff. So we’ll do things like that… and he’s really, he’s played in a lot of different cover bands and stuff. He’s incredible at singing a lot of other people’s music. I don’t know, it just kind of happens. And those guys… I don’t do too much singing, I do some harmony singing, but I mostly let those guys take charge.
I thought it was amazing how you were playing the banjo with a violin bow…
Yeah, you know, it’s a weird sound. I tried to play the violin once upon a time, and I was really bad at that, so I started playing the banjo with the bow instead and it worked out. It was a pretty unique sound.
Do your cheeks hurt (from playing them during the final song)?
No. I’ve built up big callouses on my cheeks, so…
You guys were obviously hand chosen to play this gig…
Yeah, we applied. The Portland Music Foundation put out a call to Maine artists, or Portland artists… we’re kind of not really from Portland, but we snuck in. [whispers] Shhh… don’t tell them… and we applied and we got accepted, so we’re really happy to come down and get to play with a lot of other great bands that we really like.
What was the application process like?
It was pretty much… we just kind of sent an email, and it also involved sending our press kit along. So, they were basing it based off of kind of what you’re doing, how well you’re promoting your band already, the fact that you’re trying to get out there and do stuff. They brought in a lot of factors like that to decide who to pick.
Is this the first time you played in New York?
No. We’ve played in New York quite a lot. We played in Brooklyn quite a bit, we’ve played in Manhattan a few times as well. We’ve probably been playing in the city for 6 years or something like that… off and on. I mean, we maybe play once or twice a year. We’ve probably done a dozen, fifteen shows, something like that.
Anything else people need to know about the band?
Come see us.
The Toughcats currently have two albums, Pinata, and Run to the Mill, both available now. Click here to read a review of the Portland Music Foundation’s CMJ showcase.