By Stephanie Stevens
Thank you for taking the time to meet us, listen to our stuff, and then take time to make this questionnaire. It was a pleasure meeting you and I look forward to meeting again and hopefully get you stuck by our side as we continue our musical journey….to who the fuck knows. Cheers Steph
Just before Christmas, a tour package came through my area; A KILLER’S CONFESSION and Awake at Last and a band called U R A TOY. The guys in a Killer’s Confession always like to give unsigned, local and indie talent a chance, and on this tour that is what they put into play.
U R A TOY is a band from Ohio, and well from the first look at the tour flyer, I was already intrigued by the band because well, it’s a pretty bad ass name and can be taken in so many ways.
So, the night came and went and the set these musicians put on that night, was pretty solid and professional. It’s hard to get a real feel for the songs, when you’ve never heard of the band before, but with the interaction, energy and drive of the band’s set, the songs intrigued and moved me from the get go. Judging from the looks and cheers from the crowd that night they won over a fairly decent amount of fans, in little ol’ Rhode Island. Fast forward to hearing the actually CD THE DIFFERENCE IS……., it has been playing non-stop in my car since I received it.
The one thing that drew me to this band, was the honest, but yet complex lyrical content throughout the disc. It’s a real, emotional and very versatile disc.
U R A TOY captures a rock essence, a hip-hop flair and metal undertones. You have songs that move you through words, you have head banging moments, and you also get that shake your ass, catchy, driving elements in some. Like I said, the CD is a non-skip track kind of album, and I am so excited to have seen them live, and to have the CD in my possession now.
The guys are currently changing up some members (but still current are: Donovan Black-vocals, Nick Hanefeld-guitar, vocals and Michael Holdren-lead guitar/vocals) since the tour that I saw them on. They are still working on new material, and hoping to get a new CD out to the fans before the end of 2018.
I was able to hop into the mind of vocalist and lyricist Donovan Black; getting a better understanding about the formation of U RA TOY, the meanings behind some of the songs off THE DIFFERENCE IS…, what the band members do other then music, what makes a good song and a whole lot more. Get ready for a pretty honest, humble and information overload chit chat, with this little-known band from Ohio, U R A TOY, who will definitely make a difference in your life on some sort of level.
IN 2013, YOU CAME INTO THE BAND. WHAT WAS THE BAND DOING BACK THEN THAT YOU WERE DRAWN TOO?
I was singing for a band called Weep the Beldam, that I started with a childhood friend. Weep went from basically ’08-’13…. At Xmas break in ’12 the band was growing apart and we split up. New year’s ’13 I met with Ricky Smoot of Illumira (Cousin of Cory Smoot formerly of Gwar) and we hit it off. We agreed that I would replace their current front man. Our musical styles were similar and at the time I remember it seeming like the ONLY move to make. We are technically still “Illumira” to this day…in late 2015 after literally changing the entire lineup it was time to change the name.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE CAPTURED YOUR VISION GOING INTO 2018?
Simply put..No. I’ve learned that to be a band is a TON of give and take. As much as I would LOVE to just make this MY vision, and as much faith as I have in MY vision, I realize that I have to allow the other guys in the band to “get their kicks” as well. With this band it’s effin tough…My number 2 Nick is a pop-punk guy, Lead guitarist Mike is a metalhead and Nirvana Disciple, and I am Hip Hop meets Tool and RATM. (Or so I hear.) My vision is a little fucked, and I’m shoving as much of it down their throats as I can get in there…
DESCRIBE TO PEOPLE WHO MAY BE NEW TO YOUR BAND, WHAT YOU GUYS TRY TO INCORPORATE WHEN MAKING THE MUSIC YOU MAKE?
Connections. I try to hide all kinds of Easter eggs and one-liners in my lyrics so that I can make people smile. When I listen to music, I picture myself as the main character in the song…we all do right? “This song is about me!” …Well that’s us. …I want your head bobbing and I want your ears perked up. I’m not Eminem by a long shot but growing up I would revel in having to replay or rewind a line twenty times in order to hear the whole meaning. Or listening to a song years later and FINALLY understanding the lyric on a new level. …Maybe I’m just trying to be crafty…Nick always says that he is there to “dumb it down” for the rest of the world. He is like my translator. I am Rain Man… hahaha
IN THIS DAY AND AGE, TO ME IT’S IMPORTANT THAT BANDS REALLY FOCUS ON PUTTING A POSITIVE WORD OUT TO THE WORLD. BEING A FRONT MAN AND SONGWRITER, HOW DO YOU VIEW THE SOAP BOX YOU HAVE TO HELP SOMEONE?
It’s the Holy Grail. I always wanted to be popular. To speak out and to be a Rockstar…. but I never REALLY knew why…I get the chance to rally the mourning. Strengthen the weak. Bring voice to the voiceless. People tell me their deepest darkest shit because of what we do. I relate. I meet strangers who make me cry all the time. Life can be fucking HORRIBLE. We are a Rust Belt band. A lot of the people that know us and support us, are the forgotten and the freaky. And they are PROUD of it. Don’t get me wrong…we have fans that pretend to be “normal” too lol…but in a sense I think I’m trying to carry on with the way bands made me feel. My Gods that gave me FIGHT MUSIC when I needed it. Korn, Slipknot, Slim Shady, DMX. …People with real problems who understood the soap box. Sometimes I don’t have shit to say…but I came to preach. Don’t worship your idols…fucking become the heir to the throne, ya know? Ugly doesn’t matter. Smart doesn’t matter. Clever doesn’t matter. Treat people with respect and watch the love pour in.
TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE SONGS AND HOW YOU CREATED YOUR CD, THE DIFFERENCE IS…..
This album started in 2009 with Weep the Beldam… Songs like WHO KNEW and FAUX AMIS were remnants of that era. Songs like A NEW WORLD and GRAPE DRINK came together as Illumira. Basically, every couple years, someone has a life change or decides that they actually HATE touring and it seemed like right when we would get it together…POOF….so these songs are a collection of what could have been. The Difference itself, the song, is about what separated myself from any of the former members. And ANY true band members from the fools that they are always replacing for that matter. MINE as a song was originally the album title…I was feeling very bitter coming into this band. Illumira and the members of that era had a lot of bad blood…like we created a musical Civil War in Toledo; TWICE with that band. First when I took over as the vocalist, and secondly when everyone besides myself and Keef left the band…Illumira was a pretty big deal in Toledo…and I personally earned INFAMY status because of it. THE DIFFERENCE IS… was intended to heal those wounds and pay the proper respects to everyone involved in those songs. I consider it sort of a defiant Middle Finger as a tomb stone.
SEEMS IN YOUR LINEAR NOTES, DIFFERENT BANDS FROM THE PAST OF YOUR BAND MEMBERS WERE NOTED. WHAT IS THAT ABOUT?
I’ve sort of painted this picture as we have moved along. Each of those bands were supposed to make it with me. I have not made it yet and don’t know if I ever will. But people in bands will get this…I said I was going to get there…and goddammit…I’m still trying.
IN ONE SENTENCED FOR EACH BAND MEMBER, TELL ME WHAT THEY BRING TO THE TABLE TO MAKE URATOY COME TO LIFE?
Michael Holdren brings intensity to the stage…and he knows it. Nick brings the nerd-tech to the band with his knowledge of sound and equipment. Nick also brings an “realistic” point of view, which can work to infuriate/stabilize the band…depending. Freemason Keef, brings a level head and straight-up utility skills. Keef was the first drummer of Illumira and stepped in to record drums on “THE DIFFERENCE IS…” He also runs our merch at shows and is my right-hand man on the road. Donovan Black brings the show together. I take care of the media, the imagery, the booking, the merchandise, the management, blah blah blah…but to the outside view…Donovan Black just knows how to talk.
YOU WENT TO FLORIDA TO RECORD THE ALBUM, AND WORK WITH PRODUCER ALEX VINCENT! HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT, WHY DID YOU WANT TO WORK WITH HIM, AND HOW “HANDS ON” IS THE BAND WHEN IT COMES TO STUDIO TIME?
I’ve been terrified of Chucky and the Child’s Play franchise since my older brother would torment me with a My Buddy Doll…so…when a buddy of ours, Mung Parker said he knew Alex and could line it up we just went for it. I think we were one of the first Metal/Rock projects that Alex worked with so it was honestly a really exciting time for all of us. We would hit the studio HARD all day and then sit on the beach or around a BBQ all night. During that time (2 weeks) The Difference, Mine, and Judith Preach were completed and recorded. We flourish when we have something big to do…and at that point in life…this was HUGE. YOU ARE A TOY is VERY hands on…We are control freaks and have been known to micromanage the production process. Bouncing ideas back and forth between Tampa FL and Toledo OH was hell!
If you had to single out one song on the album that you think is a personally fav, which one would it be and why? Also, which one would you single out when it comes to doing it live?
THE DIFFERENCE is fun. Its mean and its catchy. It was EXACTLY what we were going for, when we all got together and created this band. The song WHO KNEW? Is very personal to me. I, like a lot of musicians, lost my mama at a young age and because of that…I am THIS. It was a blessing and a curse. It’s been like 15 years, and when I recorded that song…in the middle of it, I just started talking and what came out came out. I honestly do not listen to the album very often, because when we play live they are WAY more fun…but those 2 are important. A NEW WORLD was meant to be the “hit single” off Illumira’s album and I tend to think that it is one of the more underrated tunes on there.
MY FAVORITE OFF THE ALBUM HAS TO BE MINE. ANY FUNNY STORIES OF THE MAKING OF THAT SONG? OR IMPORTANT FACTORS ABOUT IT YOU WANT TO LET PEOPLE KNOW THAT THEY MIGHT NOT KNOW?
I was PISSED at former members of the band. As much as anyone contributed to ALL of these songs. It’s kind of different to be the only common link in all of them. So, we have to assume that either I’m a giant dick-head with an EGO who can’t seem to keep the drama out of the band…. or we have to admit that sometimes we just don’t work hard enough…and when we give in to doubt…we have to own our failures. …. This song is me being a smart-ass. I feel humble in life. I’m thankful for the help I’ve received…. but I’m also thankful for myself never giving in. All the good and the bad…pain and success…It’s all MINE. …Plus that song reminds me of Rocky and makes me want to hit the gym…let’s be honest.
I RECENTLY SAW YOU GUYS ON TOUR WITH A KILLER’S CONFESSION. YOU GUYS ARE NOT NEW TO TOURING, BUT HOW DID THIS TOUR VARY FROM OTHERS YOU HAVE DONE, AND WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOMENT OF THE TOUR?
This tour was the most REAL we have ever felt. I’m personally a big fan of Waylon and what he has done. I respect his attitude. He treats people fairly. The whole band came through with EVERYTHING they said they would. My favorite parts of the tour were all the behind the scenes dish and information that comes with working with Waylon Revis. Each day was like school. Whether he was waking me up for dinner or coaching me through stage presence…I don’t even think those guys knew we came out to learn like we did. This past tour with AKC was a game changer. It made it REAL.
YOU GUYS SEEM TO HAVE A VERY VARIED AMOUNT OF MERCH, WHICH IS VERY COOL, DO YOU GUYS FEEL THAT IS MORE IMPORTANT FOR A BAND TO HAVE, AND IS THERE ANYTHING NEW COMING OUT ANYTIME SOON FOR THE FANS?
Merch = Food = Gas = Survival. Seems simple right? I have a business mind and background and I believe that it’s vital to sell something to almost every person at the show. I believe I can find something you like in your price range. I don’t want to have corny shit on the table, but if our merch table isn’t the coolest looking one in the building; I’m a little bummed out.
For 2018 we have some badass MMM (Midwest Metal Mafia) Team Hoodies out now. True Funfact…via Thom Hazaert of EMP Label Group…The Only two bands that are members of the MMM are: YOU ARE A TOY, and Megadeth….yes that Megadeth. www.merchlive.com/youareatoy
We also have some custom Donovan Black bandanas coming this year…updated style since I gave all of mine away this past tour lol. Candles, incense have been options on my mind. Nick is a lifter so we need to get to Gym Merch or water bottles for his peeps…among other journalists I know..
HAVE YOU WORKED ON ANY NEW MUSIC AS OF LATE, AND IF SO HOW HAVE YOU GUYS GROWN FROM THE DIFFERENCE IS…….
New music is coming. We have been working on new songs for the past few months and are hitting rehearsals extremely hard. The goal is to be in the studio this summer recording the next album. I feel like with the 3 songs written specifically for that album, (MINE, DIFFERENCE, JUDITH PREACH) we have a good start towards a musical direction. We have a new song, called THE TEMPLE, that I’m stoked about. We are going mean. That’s all I can say. These new songs are pissed.
YOU DID A VIDEO FOR YOUR SONG, “THE DIFFERENCE,” WHICH SHOWS YOUR PERSONALITIES AND THE PASSION YOU HAVE FOR THE STAGE. WHEN DID YOU RELEASE THAT? DO YOU GUYS DO A LOT OF DIY FOR THE BAND, AND HOW DO YOU LIKE BEING IN CHARGE OF YOUR FUTURE, WITHOUT INTERFERENCE FROM CORPORATE BS?
It’s ALL DIY for us. We hire help when we can’t figure something out…but these days no one is handing out giant record deals like 15 years ago. It just rarely happens. We would LOVE just a little more help from corporate in the terms of some help getting exposure. But we have figured out that unless you have an extra $50K…it’s just not in the cards….Music as a corporation is fucking garbage these days. Pay to play on the radio. I’m not knocking every artist out there. They ate their shit and paid their dues, make no mistake…but most of that shit has no place on the radio let alone the Grammys. The cool thing is…It’s ALL Ours…. the bad news is…. there isn’t much there yet. …Being your own boss is the shit! until payday ☹
STAGE WEAR WISE, WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TO WEAR AND ADVICE FOR BANDS TO BE COMFY ONSTAGE?
Look the part…your drummer might insist that nobody cares and that it’s ok to stand out like Eddie Vedder…it’s not. Look like a team…teams wear uniforms or jerseys…look similar…look the part. Personally, I like to rock a bright red bandana on my face so that people notice me stalking around the venue. I’m a big guy, 6’2” 200…so looking imposing and not acting imposing is how I sell myself, as the “Savior” each night. Watch videos of yourself…critique that shit. Practice your moves in a mirror. I sing into more hair brushes than microphones.
IN YOUR MIND WHAT MAKES A GOOD SONG?
Usually a One Liner that makes it personal. Followed by something to bob my head to. It should feel like a train. All good songs are linked to a memory. It reminds us of some place or some time that was “just so.”
IF YOU COULD SINGLE OUT ONE SONG (ANOTHER ARTIST) FROM YOUR PAST THAT YOU INSPIRED TO, BECAUSE YOU THOUGHT IT WAS A WELL WRITTEN SONG, WHAT WAS IT AND DO YOU FEEL THE SAME NOW WHEN YOU HEAR IT?
Tool has an EP called Opiate. On it there is a song called Hush…that was the start of my outlook on people as an artist, full circle; A Perfect Circle has a song called Pet. …Those songs make me feel like a god. Like I can direct the opera and conduct the chorus. Like it’s ok to whisper..” I’m better than you because you are a fuck.” To this day.
OTHER THEN MUSIC WHAT DO YOUR BAND MEMBERS LOVE TO DO?
Nick is ALWAYS out somewhere at a show or a concert or a party or something. ALWAYS. Mike loves Hockey. He will also fuck you up on some Xbox…doesn’t matter the game. I love chilling with my kids and my wifey, I love aquariums and fish (The sea in general) and building some model cars. I’m a nerd.
LASTLY, THE BAND NAME CAUGHT MY ATTENTION WHEN I SAW IT ON THE FLYER, THE NIGHT I SAW YOU. WHO CAME UP WITH THE NAME? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU GUYS, AND WHAT DO YOU WANT FANS TO TAKE AWAY FROM THE NAME AND THE BAND’S VISION?
Band names are tough. The previous two bands I was in we would get pronounced wrongly, or misspelled. I wanted something that would be easier to remember…With txt and emoji culture the ability to use URATOY as well as YOU ARE A TOY hit me right away. …It’s so fun when people ask the band name because when you look them in the eyes and say it….they ALWAYS feel insulted for a split second…It makes us friends when they get the joke….Some people take the name sexually, which is fine, some people see the play off of the popular Pixar Movie with Buzz and Woody…which is fine….Its open to interpretation…but for the TRUE fans. The people that really see the hidden “Easter eggs” and subliminal meanings…our conspiracy theorists if you will….The logo of URATOY can be flipped upside down so that the second half reads: URA GOD….thats my DaVinci touch. Our stage boxes tell us URAGOD when we stand on them…I want people to feel like that. Nothing against your religion or faith…but spend less time asking for change and spend more time making it…I’m nothing special…but I certainly can convince myself otherwise…So can you…If you don’t get it…then…YOU ARE A TOY haha
IF URATOY ENDED TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT YOUR VIRTUAL TOMBSTONE TO SAY ON IT?
ANYTHING YOU WANT TO LET FANS OR PEOPLE GETTING TO KNOW YOU THROUGH THIS INTERVIEW KNOW?
We need people to believe in us or we will go nowhere fast. Please check us out.
We are on Spotify, Google Music, iTunes, Youtube,
we have merch available as well as our album “THE DIFFERENCE IS…” online at www.merchlive.com/youareatoy
“come play with me” the this or that game!!
JELLO OR PUDDING?
Jello preferably blue flavor, doesn’t matter with jello, right? It’s JELL-O! lol
EAT IN OR DINE OUT?
I love take out lol…I hate getting bad service at a restaurant. I used to be a server and I felt I did a good job. I get pissy, when my soda is empty, so it’s best to keep me confined to Yelp for bitching.
CAKE OR PIE?
Mmmm, cherry pie
WRESTLING OR MIXED MARTIAL ARTS?
Watching WWF and WCW…wrestling. I always wanted to be Roddy Piper and talk shit on the MIC. MMA is fun to watch though…hats off to those crazy asses.
TROPICAL VACATION OR ARTIC VACATION?
Keep it tropical baby.
CALL OR TEXT?
I believe the band would collectively agree on SEXT
VAN DRIVING OR VAN SLEEPING?
I’m the night shift driver, sleep is tough to come by during the day with a van full of dudes.
SHORTS OR PANTS?
As little clothing as possible is always a win. Got to wear them black slacks onstage these days but right after them shits are turning to Nike mesh shorts
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