Saara and Glenn from BOYTOY gassing up. Photo by Will Warasila
BOYTOY‘s music makes me feel like summertime. Like smoking weed by a river. They’ve been described as alt-pop-shoegaze, but they definitely have garage and punk elements, a skateboarding-barefoot-to-the-beach vibe. Here, I talked with Saara Untracht Oakner (vocals and guitar) and Glenn Van Dyke (guitar and vocals) of the Brooklyn-based band about haters in middle school, their songwriting process, the surfing influence, thoughts on feminism, and more.
Matt L Roar: Can you tell me a little bit about what the band has been up to? Are you living in California now? Do you have any new stuff coming out?
Saara Untracht Oakner: Glenn and I went out to LA for the winter to play some shows and write and demo for a new record. We were working with Lena from La Luz in her little loft/studio space and she was playing bass with us for some shows.
MLR: Do you guys all surf or is it just you? Do you think shredding waves influences your approach to shredding music?
SUO: Glenn and I both surf. She grew up surfing in Jacksonville, FL and I grew up surfing Lido and Long Beach on Long Island, NY. We also say the ultimate day is surfing and then playing a show. Tacos in between the two don’t hurt either.
Glenn Van Dyke: I think surfing provides a certain amount of mellow and excitement that might carry over to some other parts of our lives.
MLR: Can you describe some of your influences? Describe your sound for people who don’t know you…
SUO: We listen to a lot of everything, from 60s garage pop nuggets to Lou Reed, Rolling Stones, CCR, Sabbath, the Kinks, to Jesus And Mary Chain, Nirvana, Brian Jonestown Massacre, My Bloody Valentine. Glenn and I have always been into punk growing up skateboarding like the Ramones and Operation Ivy, Rancid and the misfits. I love reggae music and soul but I’m not really trying to make reggae music. Desmond Dekker, Althea and Donna, Alton Ellis. I could go on forever.
GVD: Same — including but not limited to Kylie Minogue, Biggie Smalls, Eminem, The Spice Girls — okay I have to stop….
MLR: I was watching one of your videos where you guys talked about coming together to practice for one day and then cranking out five songs on a recording the next. Can you talk about the process for writing BOYTOY songs and if that’s changed or what the ideas behind this approach is?
SUO: Glenn and I usually write the skeleton structure of songs on our own and bring them to each other and flush them out. Other songs start as a jam between the two of us. We’re writing these new ones we are demoing now kind of as we go building on the recordings which is fun. Usually we write them and play them live and practice them until they’re ready to record. It’s been fun going in with just the skeleton and layering them in recordings, not sure where they’re going to end up.
GVD: We definitely write songs quickly, I think we’re both pretty good at not overthinking or falling into the abyss where a song never gets done. We know when it’s there and then we move on to the next.
MLR: Can you talk a little bit about how you came to the band name?
SUO: I’m always brainstorming band names. I came up with the name BOYTOY before the band even existed. My old band had just broken up and I knew I wanted to start a new project. Glenn’s band (our bands used to tour together) was also just breaking up. I checked Google and bandcamp and MySpace and Facebook and all the other outlets and couldn’t find another BOYTOY or at least an active one. So I secured the gmail, bandcamp, and handles before the band even existed.
MLR: Who are some of your favorite female musicians?
SUO: We just saw Thelma and The Sleaze for the first time at SXSW. They’re a 3 piece from Nashville and they fucking SHRED. They’re all super rad people too. Screaming Females has a front woman. She rips on guitar too. I’ve always loved all the strong women in the late 90s rap game: Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, Eve, Lil Kim.
GVD: THE SPICE GIRLS, Heart, Joan Jett.
MLR: When I approached you to do this interview, you mentioned that you don’t identify as a “girl band” or feminist musicians. Can you talk a little bit about that?
SUO: Just because we are women who play music doesn’t make us feminists, or a girl band. We’re a rock and roll band. You wouldn’t call a band of men a “boy band.” Yeah, I believe women should and can do everything men can do, but I don’t believe in separating the two or excluding one group from the other. Both Dylan and Matt (our drummers on the last two records) are guys. How does that make us a girl band? We’re not trying to make any statements by playing. It’s just what we do.
GVD: I’m definitely a feminist but I didn’t learn how to play instruments to stick it to the world because I’m a woman. It’s important to recognize that all over the world women are still not treated equally whether it’s a question of salary or respect or any other ungodly means of discrimination that exists due to physical disparity between the genders. I think it’s important to understand that you can achieve whatever you want to regardless of the parts you were born with. it’s fantastic to continue to see strong women emerge culturally and I think it’s important to keep showing girls AND boys of the next generation that it shouldn’t matter how you look on any level, that person sitting next you is your fellow human and you should respect that. I don’t think either of us want to have to talk about what it’s like to be a woman and actively pursuing goals all the time, I’d rather talk about what kind of gear I like.
MLR: Ooh! What kind of gear do you like?
GVD: Haha! So broad! We could be here forever. Right now my new favorite toy is a fuzz pedal my friend David Harrington built, he sent it to me for Christmas. It’s called The Bloody Finger. It’s has two controls — volume and tone — and works great for filling out some low end and adding texture. As we speak I’m having a guitar built by Johnny Rushmore so I’m really psyched on that too!
MLR: Any words of inspiration for the young musical shredders of the future?