California dreaming

From Costa Mesa (California), comes the alternative-shoegaze band Total Drag.

Inspired by bands such as Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine or The Smiths, Toni and Oscar started back in 2015, but it wasn’t until 2019 when their first EP “Redhead” was released.

Now that they’ve gained experience and dived into the music scene, they’re preparing their next album that will be out soon. With a new member on board, Joseph, they are adding vocals to the project expecting to have a new path to follow now that they conquered their instrumental sound.

We spoke to Tony about influences and how a band emerges in times of social media.

Would you like to introduce yourself and make a brief presentation of Total Drag?

Hi, I’m Tony and I play drums for Total Drag. We’re a shoegaze/dream pop trio from Orange County, California. We like sad movies and melancholy 90’s songs.  

We did some research on the Internet, but we couldn’t find much about you. Is it something made up intentionally in a way of maintaining anonymity in this world full of pretentious celebrities?

We really don’t have any desire to be famous at all. That doesn’t drive any of our motivation behind the music. But to be 100% honest with you, we suck at social media. It’s an excellent tool for new bands but it’s so time consuming… So we’re working on that. This is a pretty new project for us, so we’re learning as we go.

How did Total Drag come up?

I was in another band with our guitarist Oscar that broke up around 2013, and after that he and I just never stopped jamming. We both became really obsessed with Slowdive and shoegaze around that time and things just kinda slowly blossomed from there. Which is funny because we never decided to play that type of music. It just came out. We always knew we wanted to play 90’s inspired stuff, but the shoegaze/dream-pop aspect was never a conscious decision.      

As you said, your inspiration comes from bands such as Slowdive and we can even say that has a poetic reminiscence to The Velvet Underground music, among others. Which other bands and artist influenced you the most? 

Well yes, as I said before, we love Slowdive so much. I remember the first time I listened to “Souvlaki”, it was late on a Friday night, “Alison” came on and it hit me like a ton of bricks – I blew off all my plans and just lay down in my bedroom in the dark and listened to the entire album like three times in a row. It just spoke to me in a way I’ve never experienced with music before, and I was completely hooked. It was melancholy and haunting, but expansive and soaring and huge sounding all at the same time. We’ve basically spent the last couple of years trying to capture that same feeling in our own music. My Bloody Valentine is a huge influence too, obviously.  “Sometimes” is probably the best song I’ve ever heard, ever.    

I know Oscar grew up listening to a lot of The Smiths and Johnny Marr, so if you listen closely you will hear a lot of Johnny’s guitar playing in our music. There’s a lot of Smashing Pumpkins, Interpol, and 90’s alt rock in our sound too. And Radiohead is my favorite band ever so a lot of those influences will sneak in from time to time too. And admittedly, none of us actually listen to The Velvet Underground.  Like, at all.  So I guess, we have some homework to do!

I’m sure you will enjoy them! And which contemporary bands are the most interesting to you right now?

There are so many fantastic bands out there right now that we love. Some of our favorite bands and biggest influences are DIIV, Wild Nothing, Beach House, Bored Nothing, Washed Out, Gardens and Villa… Right now, we really love MorMor, who’s a new artist out of Toronto. We’re also listening to a lot of Hatchie at the moment, I think she’s just brilliant. I totally have a bit of a crush on her. There are also great bands like Drab Majesty, The Marias, Tanukichan… There are so many musicians making amazing music right now. We’d kill to be mentioned in the same breath as any of those bands.

Choosing to play without vocals is an intelligent choice but risky at the same time because it doesn’t give you a lot of exposure and attention from the “general” public. Does this decision make a direct impact on you as a band?

Well, we’re actually working with a singer now! We brought Joseph into the fold a few months ago, and we’re super psyched about what he brings to the music. He’s a huge part of our upcoming EP, “Hunny”, which will drop over the summer.

Initially we chose to play without vocals out of necessity because we didn’t know anyone who sang. However, looking back, instrumental was the right choice for our first EP. We wrote it to feel complete without vocals, and adding singing after the fact would make the songs feel disingenuous, I think. Our upcoming stuff, on the other hand, was written in tandem with the vocals, so it’ll be heavily lyric-based.  It gives our music another dimension that just wasn’t possible with our previous EP, and we’re super psyched for fans to connect with us on that deeper level.

Would you like to go on tour with your next album? Which is your dream venue?

We’d absolutely love to go on tour, although there are no plans at the moment given the pandemic. Right now we’re super focused on releasing “Hunny”, and writing new music. We’re really itching to put new material out and provide some positivism during this hard time.

As far as a dream venue goes, that’s tough to say. We like smaller places. One of our goals is to headline the Observatory, which is here in Santa Ana, California. It’s the best sounding venue I’ve ever been to. I have some amazing memories there and I’d love for that to be our first headlining show. Other than that, the Fonda Theater in LA is one of our favorites, the Greek Theater in Berkeley is beautiful, and it would be a dream come true to play anywhere in Europe. We admittedly don’t know many venues out there, so we’ll gladly take suggestions!

If you get the chance, I would recommend my favourite venue: Razzmatazz in Barcelona. Or Le Transbordeur in Lyon it’s pretty sick too! What would your life be like without music? 

Miserable. Just miserable. It’s really my purpose for living at the moment.

Finally, we always like to ask three (not so simple) questions in our interviews:

A song you can’t stop listening to at the moment?

There are two. The first is “Stay With Me” by Hatchie. It’s the perfect sad pop song. The second is actually a kind of a guilty pleasure, it’s “Somebody Else” by The 1975. A lot of people will probably roll their eyes when they read that, but yeah, I don’t care, it’s an unbelievable song.  It hits me the same way every single time. I have really specific feelings and memories tied to it, so yeah.  

A wish for the upcoming future?

Honestly, we’re just happy to play for a room full of people who feel the same way about music that we do. The rest we’ll tackle as it comes. It’s so hard to live in the moment nowadays and that’s something we really want to strive for.

Say a few words to your band mates.

Guys, you’re brilliant writers and ridiculous musicians, and people are going to shit their pants when they hear what you’ve come up with!


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Words Adriana Barreno