“The Toughcats, a trio from midcoast Maine, play a unique brand of rock n’ roll. Their songs are slow waltzes, banjo-pickers and steel guitar rockers. (They’ve also got some bits of bluegrass, pieces of old flannel, a shred of tobacco or two, and a healthy wallop of moonshine.)”
-Jason Mann, MovieMaker Magazine
Joe Nelson sings, plays his National guitar and a ukulele, and is mostly trustworthy. Colin Gulley plays the banjo, the mandolin, and does most of the driving. Jake Greenlaw is the drummer; his kit includes a suitcase and a rumpled piece of copper. He sings sweet harmonies and breaks fourteen brushes per show. The Toughcats hail from the island of North Haven, 12 miles off the coast of Maine, (population 350).
Piñata, the Toughcats’ first official album, was recorded in Waterman’s Community Center on the island in January, 2006. The band recorded and mixed the album and posted a few tracks on their Myspace page. Kramer (renowned producer and former Butthole Surfer) heard the tracks, liked them, and offered to master the album. It was completed in July 2006, and the band has been selling them (from a suitcase, of course) ever since.
Most recently, the Toughcats have been booking shows in the Northeast in preparation for a winter tour. They have been featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered, and also performed in a special live performance of Deerhoof’s Milk Man in North Haven, which was attended by the band itself and garnered international attention from Pitchfork, Billboard, and music lovers alike. (And, apparently, fans of 3rd grade ballet.)
The Toughcats play a mean live show. They take the stage and reel off a blistering string of short tunes that leave you breathless. Then they launch into a slow, sweet one, like “Thunderbird” that gives you just a second to catch your breath.
Before you know it, that slow, sweet song gets quicker and hotter, and they’re back to their breakneck pace again. Jake Greenlaw’s feverish drumming and palpable energy draw justified comparisons to Animal. Joe Nelson, along with his driving rhythm guitar and effortless leads, has a voice that’s equal parts Tom Waits and Beck. And Colin Gulley is equally clever on banjo or mandolin, polishing it all to a bluegrassy sheen.
But you have to see it.