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DIY Duo: Toast Machine are self-rising.

Poppin' Fresh

Local fans warm up to Toast Machine

By Greg Cahill

When everything is firing on all cylinders onstage, it's the difference between trying to surf and actually being up on the board and having the wave carry you along," says 24-year-old bassist Gio Benedetti who, with drummer Brandon Warner, comprises the local jazz-inflected, punk-funk, bass-and-drum fusion duo known as Toast Machine. "I've gone surfing just a handful of times, so all I know for the most part is the struggle--you're paddling and you're exhausted and you're fighting everything--but there comes that moment when you stand up and it's like, wow!

"When Brandon and I are able to lock in and create that enormous pocket onstage, it's pretty amazing. Playing that music in concert is the most enjoyable thing I do. It brings out an energy in me that is the only time I can find it."

Sonoma County band Toast Machine are part of a small but vibrant movement in modern rock that includes such bass-and-drum duos as the Lightning Bolts from Sacramento and the Rhode Island-based Hella--bands helping to turn rock on its collective ear. "I'm just excited to see people mixing it up with all these different instrumentations while staying in that heavier rock genre," says Benedetti during an interview from his Cotati home. "Strangely enough, I even had an orthodontist hook me up with a tape he had from high school that had a totally kick-ass bass-and-drum duo named Watts Gnu that just ripped it up."

Benedetti, a senior at Sonoma State University's jazz studies program, and the 26-year-old Warner, a Sonoma resident and technician who spends his days at Industrial Light and Magic's special effects department (he worked on The Hulk and Pirates of the Caribbean), didn't start out with the intention of creating a smoking standalone rhythm section. In 1993 the two musicians began playing together with a St. Vincent de Paul High School rock band. "We've been together so long that I feel like we're married," Benedetti says with a laugh.

The duo emerged innocently enough as a way to pass the time while waiting for the other band members to show up at rehearsals.

"It wasn't like we were trying to create a duo--this began as very informal jamming," says Benedetti, whose style has developed into a powerful blend of deep groove-laden thumb-slapping action and melodic bass lines.

It clicked. Three years later, Toast Machine popped up for the first time. Initially, Benedetti was hesitant to take the act onstage, so Toast Machine eased into its status as a full-fledged band by performing casually in the lobby at the Phoenix Theatre. "Because of the style, I figured people would think I was just trying to rip off [Primus bassist] Les Claypool," he says. "I didn't want people to think I was some lame poseur, but it ended up being really cool."

The comparisons to Claypool are inevitable, but Benedetti cites the late jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius as his main influence. "I used to play his stuff at practice, and the Jaco thing really got me thinking melodically," he says. "But we really wanted to rock out and make as big a sound as we could, so a lot of our early stuff has a Tool-like guitar rhythm sound."

In true DIY spirit, Benedetti and Warner have started their own Brother Maynard label, a name coming not as an homage to Tool singer Maynard James Keenan, but from the character in Monty Python's Holy Grail who leads a small prayer before someone blasts a rabbit with the Holy Hand Grenade. A couple of weeks ago, Benedetti and Warner reissued Toast Machine's self-produced eight-track debut CD, The E.P., and they are soliciting other bands for the label.

More recently, the duo have launched a grassroots campaign to get the word out, enlisting an enthusiastic fan base that includes Norwegian web surfers. "The fans have been so supportive," Benedetti says. "We're hoping that if we can keep that momentum going then we should be able to do really cool things without having to go to L.A. and audition for the labels and stuff.

"We want to be able to play for more people and do it on our own."


Toast Machine perform at a CD release party on Friday, June 18, at the Phoenix Theatre, 201 Washington Blvd., Petaluma. Grubb 'n' Dubb, You Me and Iowa (featuring Benedetti's brother) and Shakedown also appear. 8pm. $8. 707.762.3565.


Spin Du Jour

Secret Machines, 'Now Here Is Nowhere' (Reprise)

There's nothing original about Secret Machines, but this Dallas-based alterna-pop trio have their fingers firmly planted on the Cuisinart of rock 'n' roll. The band's debut album is a potent purée of '70s Kraut rock, '80s British psychedelia and '90s dream pop, with liberal splashes of Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev and early Led Zep. Think of it as a modern-rock version of a fortified power shake.

--G.C.

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From the June 9-15, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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