Grammy-nominated band Shiny Toy Guns, known for hybrid electronic-rock hits such as “Le Disko,” which was featured in commercials for ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” last season, performed at Ultra Music Festival in late March. Last November, their second album Season of Poison was released. On Friday, STG begins the I Wanna Rock Tour with All-American Rejects.
Jeremy Dawson, founder, bassist and keyboardist of Shiny Toy Guns, chatted with The Miami Hurricane about how the band left Middle America, why the guys won’t accept video games and what’s the deal with the band name.
The Miami Hurricane: How did you get from Oklahoma to L.A. and make it happen?
Jeremy: We [Chad Petree and I] were born and raised there and then we sort of did the cliché music thing when we woke up one day and realized we were still in Oklahoma. So we took one of our cars and got a U-Haul and a couple of thousand dollars and just drove to L.A. blindly like it was nothing. We lived on people’s coaches and in people’s closets and began to write music. As the club scene began to deteriorate – we’d always been song writers and in rock bands – we were just really feeling that kind of music at the time and we realized everything was getting progressive and minimal, which is really boring, actually. So we went back and sort of thought about everything that we’ve ever done – rock, punk, psychedelic rock and singer-songwritery stuff. Now two or three years of dancing music and we sort of smashed all of that together. We wanted to have a male and female singer and mix rock and electronic into one, semi-new sound and that was how Shiny Toy Guns was born.
The Miami Hurricane: What were some of the influences that drove you to have a career in music?
Jeremy: It’s all we really knew growing up because there’s really nothing to do in Oklahoma. Because rent is so cheap there, we were able to get out of high school and just sort of sit around with keyboards and guitars and play music all day. We were just hell-bent on learning how to write music and we wrote hundreds and hundreds of these terrible songs. We would take one of our songs and take a Pink Floyd song and then compare the two and cry. These people are mortal and they’re no different than we were, so there’s got to be a way to get to a level that is similar or comparable to what they’re doing. A good song isn’t good because it’s sonically good. It’s good because it’s well-written and we just kept pushing and pushing until we began to get good at what we did. Once you really believe in something and you’re passionate about it and you do it over and over, it becomes part of you and that was the cool thing because we had the time to grow artistically and to fabricate music into the tissue of who we were as people.
The Miami Hurricane: You guys took advantage of new techonology: Myspace, Twitter. How important has this been in getting music out to people?
Jeremy: It’s as important as the whole basis of being an artist. Back when we began virally, which was as soon as the Internet was able to handle something like that, it was something that I really spearheaded with all our music because I could see clearly down the road. And change is not always bad, but change is very dynamic and very painful. We embraced it and then made it a part of our group. Virally, it’s something that you can do on a level that is global in 0’s and 1’s. We can talk to our fans in Bolivia as much as we can talk to our friends two blocks down the street. It’s been the basis for what’s started and built Shiny Toy Guns and we’re directly connected and communicable with people.
The Miami Hurricane: Your songs have been used for several TV shows. Do you guys have misgivings about it?
Jeremy: Not anymore. We didn’t have a lash back because it’s so much more of an open forum now. People know who we are and our integrity. We recently did a song for Lincoln Mercury and we’re proud of doing that and we’re going to put it onto our website. Ten-15 years ago you would get made fun of. People generally understand now by seeing, talking and visiting the band, reflecting the things the band has done and knowing with the way the industry is with the illegal downloading and the economy, these things are no longer like ‘oh, you sold out.’ It’s more like, ‘wow, we’re really excited that you’re on this TV show because you’re my band and that’s really cool.’
The Miami Hurricane: A few of the songs were on two video games. Do you get those games for free?
Jeremy: We never did. We have a no video game rule. Some of us won’t touch video games because we will become addicted immediately. Carah [Faye Charnow] kicked ass at it. We have so much writing crap to do and they look so fun, but we just wouldn’t do it.
The Miami Hurricane: You guys are touring with All-American Rejects. How did you team up for a tour?
Jeremy: We’ve known them for years. First and foremost, they’re from Oklahoma. A couple of the guys used to come to the club we would run back in Oklahoma City and these guys are great songwriters, hilarious people and they’re doing some huge things radio-wise right now. It’s a big pop record. For Shiny Toy Guns, it’s a cool opportunity to fly with them and get to know a lot of their people. There are a lot of people who have heard of All-American Rejects from the radio who have never dug a little deeper and discovered a lot of music that we’re included with. People go to the show and they like the song and then they go to iTunes and buy one of our songs and find other bands like us and it can totally change their perception on music.
The Miami Hurricane: How was Ultra? The experience, Miami as a city.
Jeremy: Miami as a city is just amazing and I’m not just talking about South Beach. Chad and I have been going to the Winter Music Conference – it’s our 10th year now. It’s a big part of our lives because we’re half-robot; we’re not just a rock band. It’s been really cool to go to Austin and do the rock ‘n’ roll scene at SXSW and then immediately take a plane to the other side of the world of music and be in the dance world. It’s always been a cool chameleon-like experience.
The Miami Hurricane: If you want to talk about your second album…
Jeremy: We toured from 2002-2007 all in the same record and grueling, back-breaking work. Seventeen nations, buses, planes, boats; we played everywhere. We had record deals in multiple countries. It’s a dream for an artist, but what nobody knows is that not just the physical labor part of it, but the mental and psychological pressure of all that on four young people, especially a very young girl who had never been in the industry before. It began to take its toll on the relationships within the band. When we got through with that four-year tour, there were many things amongst us we didn’t mean. A lot of families do that. The reconcilability of where we were mentality was just a really tough deal. Chad and I really believed that the band wasn’t going to make it to the next record so we made a decision to move on with someone much more eager and ready to record with the band.
The Miami Hurricane: Is there a difference with the new female vocalist?
Jeremy: Sisely [Treasure] is obviously a different person. A lot of dark, normal, things that happen to people really impacted the sound of the band. We were really having a hard time focusing on something that was making us extremely happy. That’s what music’s for. To reflect what you’re feeling at the moment when you’re feeling it. And Season of Poison sort of brings that darker side of what we were going through into a record. Now, in 2009, there’s a new vision and a new idea and it’s very reflective of where we started that is beginning to blossom. We’re actually going to do something really crazy and put a whole new album out on top of Season of Poison.
The Miami Hurricane: Why “Shiny Toy Guns?”
Jeremy: The band name came when we didn’t have a band name. We had a song called “Shiny Toy Guns” and it was eventually re-titled when it came to us. It was an analogous song about these child and teenage robots that were given weapons to play with that they thought were toys and lives were destroyed and families were torn apart and it was very analogous of war or military operations. Not that we’re anti-anything. It was just a song. Finally, we decided to call the band ‘Shiny Toy Guns’ – weapons that appear to be toys, but they’re able and capable of hurting people.