The iPod generation represents a new version of the world. This generation knows that the world is small, that the lines between right and wrong are often blurred and that their interests cannot fit in a single box or category. As music evolves at a breakneck pace, one band has shown it has what it takes to connect to the savvy iPod generation on every level: TOCA
Fueled by six main members and a genre-bending sound that spans rap, jazz, punk, reggae, pop and rock -- sometimes all in the same song -- TOCA’s self-titled debut album marks a seismic shift in the way music is be conceived, composed, executed and enjoyed. Named after the Mayan meaning of “TOCA
” (“from many energies comes one rhythm”), it makes sense that each member of the sextet was integral in creating the magical music that comprises the Los Angeles-based group’s album.
“This album really has a piece of everybody in the band,” says songwriter and vocalist Danny “Xololanxinxo” Rodriguez, who also goes by Xinxo (pronounced “sinko”). “There wasn’t one particular person who made it all happen. It was all of us.”
Joining Xinxo in TOCA are Ceschi Ramos (the band’s musical mastermind), David Ramos (drummer, vocalist), Tommy Valencia (vocalist, multi-instrumentalist), Danny Levin (horns) and Max Heath (piano). “The niche of the band is that we constantly switch up genres and styles from song to song,” Valencia explains. “We kind of just do what we want. It’s an anything goes type of mentality.”
You only need one listen to any of TOCA to understand what Valencia is talking about. Lead single “Liar” boasts hypnotic synth riffs, sadistic lyrics, soothing singing and a lush wall of sound. “It’s the fusion of the hip-hop mentality over an 80s synth-pop beat,” Xinxo reveals. “We’re taking the flow of dance to tell a story rhythmically. It’s the tale of a girl that is playing her guy and is caught, with the boastfulness of a hip-hop artist.”
The group continues its magical musical tour on “Joyfool Misery,” a psychedelic exploration of how society looks at its citizens. The music bounds from playful organs and comforting vocals to rugged guitars and angst-filled vocals. The song’s music and lyrics mirror people’s many sides, especially the ones we sometimes are unwilling to acknowledge. “Within the happiness that everyone pretends to have, we’re all really sad,” Xinxo says. “So, the song starts off like, ‘Wow, everything’s great,’ but then it goes into a thrash metal section.”
A similarly remarkable lyrical and musical transition takes places on “Nice Try.” A vibrant jazz-based musical and vocal intro leads into a roots reggae passage that was inspired by a potentially volatile situation Xinxo experienced while traveling.
“It was all based on a joke,” Xinxo explains. “I was on the East Coast for the first time and this random dude picked a fight with me. But, we couldn’t get the fight started because we couldn’t understand what each other was saying enough to fight. I couldn’t tell if he was disrespecting me or trying to converse. At the end of it, we both just smiled and walked away. As I was walking away, I screamed to him, ‘You can’t bring me down, no matter what you do.’ I kept singing it over and over. I thought it would make a good song, so I wrote it down.”
A specific style of rap inspired “Hearts And Gold,” which features guest vocalists Busdriver, Pigeon John and Ellay Khule. “The brothers Ceschi and David wanted to pay homage to the LA underground chopping rap style,” Xinxo says. “That’s where they came from and it gave me the opportunity to sit down with them and see what they wanted to do with it. The chopping style came from scat jazz and so we incorporated it in our way into ‘Hearts And Gold.’”
The group’s eclectic sound and styles is a result of the sum of its group member’s diverse backgrounds. Xinxo earned his stripes as a member of the highly regarded Goodlife/ProjectBlow’d LA rap scene, while the Ramos brothers, who formed the independent rock outfit Anonymous Inc., are Connecticut-raised sons of professor parents from prestigious universities.
LA and Bay Area rap vet Valencia is a musical vagabond and Levin works with indie rock stalwarts Rilo Kiley, Built to Spill and Jenny Watson. Max, TOCA’s youngest member at 21, is proficient at jazz, rock and reggae, among other styles. The crew lived together and recorded in Xinxo’s home, resulting in TOCA, as well as a tight musical bond.
“TOCA is us writing together,” says Ceschi, “coming up with ideas together, living together and spending so much time together that we’ve become family.”
Now, with the revolutionary TOCA ready for release, the group hopes to help bring the focus of the music industry back to artistic creativity and expression.
“Like many artists in our own little kingdom, we all think we’re going to change music,” Xinxo says. “It’s our way of raising the bar on both sides of what is out there in rock and hip-hop. There was an era there when it was all about the talent. We want to push things in a direction where talent actually has a chance to change the bar.”
And TOCA is a quantum leap in that direction.