Toby Oler

After releasing a bluegrass cassette, an oddball hip-hop influenced storytelling album, and a more straightforward, yet still wonderfully odd collaboration with Michael James Tapscott, Oakland’s Toby Oler takes another left turn with the instrumental banjo-driven Thank You Bird Snider. If there’s one theme tying Oler’s projects together, it’s his banjo. “Bird Snider” is actually a real person that built Oler’s banjo himself. Oler explains:

I first met Bird Snider when I was playing a gig with a bluegrass band at the Porthole Inn out by Lake Lemon in southern Indiana off of highway 45. 20 minutes before our set, I over-tightened the head of my banjo and it tore straight down the middle, rendering it unplayable, and we were fucked for the gig. By the way, if you go to the Porthole, try the catfish and tell Travers I sent you. Well, Merrie Sloan was in the opening band and she said her brother-in-law had a banjo just up the road and she would call him. That’s how it went. She called him, he came down the road and he brought his banjo. When Bird opened the case it was love at first sight. Neck of Brazilian purple heartwood that had been carved down smooth with a piece of glass. Thin handmade leather strap perfectly doubled over on itself. It was beautiful. The notes came out of this thing hard and fast. And it turned out he had built it. I had to have one. And mine turned out so good that the last time I saw Bird, he tried to buy it back from me. It’s not for sale.

Thank You Bird Snider was recorded with Emery Barter at New, Improved Studio in Oakland, with Barter, Evelyn Davis, Lydia Martin, Matthew Lundquist, and Pat Spurgeon joining Oler in the band. The band is wonderful, and Oler’s banjo style on the album isn’t quite like anything you’ve likely heard from a banjo – don’t let any preconceived notions of what banjo music should sound like before you dive in. Oler tells me he’s planning on forming a live version of the band that will perform new material that is “less melody driven, more tessellated overlapping patterns, stuff that’s like weaving a rug if that makes sense.” Can’t wait.