Six-string samurai

Pub date September 12, 2006
WriterK. Tighe
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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Discovering new metal bands worth their salt these days isn’t just hit-and-miss — it’s mostly miss. In fact, most kids now trying to crack the genre make me want to jump onstage, grab them by their greasy hair, and scream, “Satan is boring!” or “You are not Metallica!” into their prematurely damaged eardrums.
So when a friend slipped me the unmastered studio tracks of Totimoshi’s forthcoming album, Ladron, I was hesitant. After I explained to him that I was still mourning Bass Wolf and simply wasn’t ready for another Japanese rocker in my life, he rolled his eyes and told me to go home and listen to the thing.
Totimoshi, it turns out, is not a Japanese band.
In November 1997, Totimoshi singer-songwriter-guitarist Tony Aguilar had nearly given up hope in finding the right bassist to collaborate with: “I just couldn’t find anyone who wanted to work on the kind of things I was doing.” Meeting budding bassist Meg Castellanos at a warehouse concert in San Francisco changed everything. “I ended up teaching her a few things,” he says. “She got really good in no time and started writing her own stuff.”
And so began Totimoshi — a band that would go on to break the boundaries of multiple genres, build an innovative new framework for independent hard rock, and go through drummers like jelly beans.
Luke Herbst became the band’s seventh drummer in early 2005 and has proven to be the missing link in the Totimoshi sound. “He’s an integral part of the band,” Castellanos says. “He’s gotten a lot of very high praise. Everyone — even our past drummers — are really impressed with him.”
When the trio of Totimoshi walked into San Francisco’s Lucky Cat Studios to record, they came prepared to answer one burning question: what happens when you put one of the hardest-working, heaviest bands in the Bay Area in a studio with Helmet frontperson Page Hamilton and the Melvin’s sound engineer?
Pure fucking genius.
The group met Hamilton after he selected them to open the Helmet reunion tour last year. He was the obvious choice for producer. But working with your idol isn’t all fun and games: Hamilton started cutting things up right away. “He came in and cracked the whip,” Castellanos confesses. “We sat in the studio and went through every part of every song with a fine-tooth comb. It was a bit hellish.”
“It was really hard for me to give up the reins,” Aguilar adds. “But I swallowed all that. It turned out amazing.”
A quick listen to any of Totimoshi’s previous discs shows that they’ve had their chops for a long time. Ladron (meaning thief in Spanish) is due out Oct. 24 on Crucial Blast and marks a new stage in the band’s development. They’ve folded the grimiest parts of early Nirvana into the deepest, darkest depths of Sabbath, producing a wailing, slithering, flopping hodgepodge that’s purely Totimoshi.
In my attempts to pin down a description of Ladron, I keep coming back to an apocalyptic wasteland. Barren desert. Blazing sun. This is likely the result of one too many viewings of Six-String Samurai, but the image in my head is clear: Totimoshi riding a firestorm of worthy, working warrior bands (the Melvins, High on Fire, Neorosis) into the rock kingdom to reclaim the throne. Flicking tabloid pop stars and a domesticated, stuttering Ozzy aside, they loudly announce to their cohorts that metal once again rules. The people rejoice.
Hardly strangers to the road, Totimoshi tour the hardcore way: constantly. In a van. With little money and even less tour support. “What continues to drive us is the message, the music,” Aguilar says. “We care about our art so much we are willing to live in a van for months on end. It’s hard, but it’s what is necessary.” If some indie rock poster kid tried using this logic, this is the part where I’d tell him to crawl his whiny ass down from the cross and get a job. From Aguilar’s mouth, these are the inspired words of a man who lives for his craft. I can feel the passion bleed through when he tells me, “We’re not going to sit here and wait for Mr. Big to come and say, ‘You’re a great band!’ We’d rather get the message out ourselves.”
The group is about to spread that message on a very long tour with the help of Mastodon, the Bronx, Oxbow, and Year Long Disaster. “It has nothing to do with ‘making it,’” Castellanos says. “We just want to be working musicians once and for all. I think with this album the timing is right.” Their newest member apparently agrees. “Luke’s willing to sacrifice for these upcoming tours,” she continues. “I think he already lost his job.” He might not be needing it. SFBG
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