Toka, a native of Youngstown, OH, has generated a huge buzz and national following after performing all this past summer at Vans Warped Tour. He has been touring in support of his self-titled EP, which is available now via Warner Bros. Records. WEBSITE: www.MattToka.com
AMFM: How was your show in Corpus Christi?
The people are really awesome, I did Warped Tour this past summer and I remember Texas standing out. The people from Texas, the kids and the adults, are very enthusiastic about music and they are receptive about discovering new music as well. Texas has always been great for me, the people are really a lot of fun to play for.
AMFM: You sound a little like the Beastie Boys, did they have any influence? Have you heard that comparison before?
Yeah I have, I grew up a huge Beastie Boys fan and they definitely had an influence. I like their bratty attitude and their feel-good party lifestyle. The early Beastie Boys shit was more of my kick.
AMFM: I’d like to hear more of your story of how you got signed to your second record deal. How did you get signed to your second record deal? What was the process there?
I literally had no money and no plan and I just wanted to get out of Youngstown so I figured I’d rather be homeless in California from 9 to 5 than Youngstown. And I figured that was falling apart too, just a really bad environment. So I felt that I needed to get out and start fresh. So I moved to LA and started playing on street corners, it was really really brutal for a solid two years. The first six months were really really exciting, y’know California is beautiful and feels amazing. The reality of this is God awful. So i was kind of hustling and I was on Myspace a lot, when that was still relevant, and I would network through there. And a long story short, I did a Youtube cover of Asher Roth “I Love College” and I got discovered by Scooter Braun literally six hours after posting it. He messaged me on Myspace and told me that his manager wanted to speak to me. At this point I had no money and I couldn’t even buy Starbucks and I was thinking about going back to school. I did the Youtube cover and literally my whole life changed within a week.
AMFM: What happened?
I wrote a song called “666” in the morning shortly after I signed my record deal. Rob Cavallo, who is my idol, heard about me and wanted to meet me. I remember driving to his house and I was real excited and it all felt really surreal. I had been given a second chance with career by being discovered. I was not being productive with my career before and to be able to have the chance to make record and to get out there, and I didn’t think that anything else could top that feeling, but then meeting Walker Valer was. It’s crazy for something to come into a full circle like that I remember being a kid in front of the mirror singing Greenday songs, and then I was in a room with the guy who discovered them. It was absolutely surreal – I can’t put it into words.
AMFM: Lets talk more about our dysfunctional family and how it influenced your music.
Growing up and watching my family, music was my escape. Before wanting to be an artist or understanding why I wanted to be an artist, I think that for me once I saw the music it became my escape. Once I was able to learn how to write and express myself, it became a therapeutic release. My family was very difficult, very harmful. Music was always there in my life no matter what was going on. Music to me is very very rewarding and fulfilling.
AMFM: What do you hope to do with your music in the future?
There are two messages because my music already has a sense of humour, it has a lot of my personality in it. So my music is just me being me. It’s me expressing myself and that is my message to be yourself and to express yourself. I came from a dysfunctional family and I’m very fortunate to be able to do what I love and I didn’t let my upbringing define me or use as a crutch, I was able to break out of that, and Im very thankful for it. I think there is a very positive message in that. I think the biggest thing is that I put on music to feel good, and what I want people to get out of my music is to have a good time and enjoy life. That’s what its all about.
Music saved me from a dysfunctional life in Youngstown, Ohio. I was raised in a house where physical, substance and mental abuse were the norm. When I was young, my parents fought constantly, so I would slam my bedroom door and play Green Day’s Dookie as loud as I could, singing those songs over and over to myself.
I knew then that music would be my escape.
I started playing guitar when I was 12 and started playing in a couple bands that were pretty popular in the local scene even though I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Ohio. After graduating high school, I started a group called Cherry Monroe and I worked my ass off to get us heard. There wasn’t a place I didn’t pass out our CD — malls, schools, gas stations, you name it — and all the hard work seemed to pay off when we earned a huge following and got signed by Universal Records.
I thought snagging a record deal meant I’d be given bags of money and life would be one big party. I didn’t take my career seriously at all and the band was dropped a year later. My life was spiraling out of control: I lost my full-time gig, my parents got divorced and both my mom and grandfather got locked up in prison. Why would I stay and rot in Youngstown?
I had nothing left to lose so I said fuck it, put my whole life in my shitty Honda Civic and drove out to Los Angeles. Talk about a reality check. I went from performing to thousands of people to playing an acoustic guitar next to weirdos dressed up as Batman and SpongeBob SquarePants on Hollywood Blvd. I may’ve escaped all my family bullshit, but I was still completely depressed by the wrong turns my life had taken.
Inspired by the storytelling of Bob Dylan, Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and, of course, Billie Joe Armstrong, I locked myself in my one-room studio apartment and started writing about all the fucked-up stuff I’d gone through. I wouldn’t shower or go outside for days. I was so angry and frustrated but found out that when I was able to harness my emotions, I was beginning to find myself—— and my voice as a songwriter.
I took shitty temp jobs to keep the lights on, but I was determined to make it with my music. Once I built my confidence back up, I started posting all my songs—both covers and originals—on YouTube. People seemed to really dig it and it wasn’t long until I landed my second record deal. This time, though, I swore not to take a goddamn thing for granted.
When producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance) agreed to produce my first album, I cried like a fucking baby. I just pictured being that little kid in his bedroom, listening to Dookie and dreaming of this moment. I can’t wait to share all the songs onStraight To Hell with my fans. The record is all about how hard life can be but you can’t let the small stuff bring you down. There’s a lot of shit you can’t change, so make an effort to enjoy every minute. You can turn any kind of energy into something positive. If life gives you lemons, make a fucking drink.