“People can tell if you’re not having a good time,” he says.
On stage, he is a magnetic force. He’s wearing a goofy, but typical, “Give me some of your tots!” Napoleon Dynamite T-shirt under his sharp black blazer. You’re a little skeptical, but, still, you can’t look away. His voice changes, it’s deeper, more commanding. His hands themselves become performers – visually enacting the lyrics of the song. He has fun with it, dancing a little and teasing the audience. His confidence, borderline cockiness, comes through with a sense of conviction. He confirms that no one can tell him this is a stupid idea because he’ll never accept it. Slowly, a wave passes over the audience, their facial expressions change, as they begin to understand, ridiculous or not, this is funny.
And then, in an act of selflessness, gratitude even, he hands over the spotlight to Emmett Van Slyke. His current producer, also known as Mix Master Mash in this potato world enhances the performance by ripping out an impressive three-minute solo on his electric guitar.
ToTs and Mix Master Mash are the ultimate potato music-making duo. But potato music is only one aspect of their everyday lives. ToTs works full-time, helps with Kitty Hoynes’ marketing and promotions, organizes an annual charity event for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and continues to design – for himself and for friends and clients. Van Slyke plays at least 15 different instruments (he is specially trained in Spanish classical guitar), substitutes for several bands, teaches, composes film scores, conducts a community choir and runs Black Lagoon Studios out of the first level of his home.
These are two busy men. But it doesn’t faze them. In fact, they wouldn’t want it any other way. They’re 10 years apart but they’ve quickly formed a strong connection on the foundation of a shared passion for music creation. They met at the Red House in 2008 while Van Slyke was preparing for his live theater performance, which ToTs helped co-produce. A few weeks later, in a weird twist of fate, the two held an impromptu performance at a Halloween-themed benefit concert while the scheduled band experienced technical difficulties. Van Slyke pulled out his keyboard and laptop, ToTs grabbed the mic, and what was initially a two-song performance to keep the crowd entertained turned into a 45-minute set. ToTs remembers it being a significant moment. It was settled from a silent mutual understanding that they would continue to work together from then on. “I found the right musical relationship,” ToTs says.
Their schedules make it difficult to set aside time for the studio but when they do the time is always productive. “We come up with songs instantly,” ToTs says. The environment they create for themselves is similar to that of two teenage boys jamming in a band. It’s playful and laidback, ToTs says. And it works because they know what they’re doing. “We have complete mutual respect for each other,” Van Slyke says. “I don’t tell him how to do what he does, and he doesn’t tell me how to do what I do.” One time, Van Slyke secretly recorded ToTs while he was experimenting with different beats, sounds, lyrics and melodies out loud. From the combination of all these elements, the song “Tater-Haters” was born. This natural process of recording became the unwritten template to the way they approach each song. “(ToTs) is brilliant and freaking hysterical,” he says. “And he has the most respect for art than anyone I’ve ever met.
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