United by their “love for solid grooves”, Saara Untracht-Oakner (vocals and guitar), Glenn Michael Van Dyke (vocals and guitar) and Chase Noell (drums) make up the electric trio BOYTOY. Taking inspiration from everything from 60s psychedelic rock to 90s grunge through reggae, the group’s 2015 debut album Grackle – riddled with feelings of summer-time freedom and youthful defiance –propelled them to the top of ‘ones-to-watch’ lists worldwide.
Fresh off their second European tour, this Brooklyn band is itching to hit the studio and set their sophomore record to wax. Here we catch up with Saara, Glen and Chase who chat to us about their broad mix of influences and their love for French dance moves.
Thalia Chin: How would you describe BOYTOY in one sentence?
Glenn Michael Van Dyke: A girl band.
Saara Untracht-Oakner: [laughs] Most people would say that. Are you a boy or are you a girl band? A quit playing games with my heart band. Band of Women horses. Real life rock ‘n’ roll.
Chase Noell: Metal Go-Go’s.
Thalia : Which artists/bands first switched you on to music?
Glenn: We are completely and utterly across the board on all counts. One minute its Creedence Clear Water Revival and the next its Spice Girls – thank you for them by the way. The common thread is groove and beat and honesty and style. I could give you a long list but I’d just be naming great bands forever. Recently we haven’t been able to kick the African Psych bug, groups like Ngozi Family and The Psychedlic Aliens. Also there’re some really great Japanese bands from the 60s and 70s: The Mops, Carnabeats, The Bunnys.
Saara: Yea it really changes all the time. I will always love Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, Television, T-Rex. Reggae music has my soul forever – Alton Ellis, Desmond Dekker, Phylis Dillon, Althea and Donna, Barrington Levy –but I have no interest in being in a reggae band. Unless I’m reincarnated as a Caribbean woman, which I hope happens.
Chase: [laughs] You can tell our love for solid grooves is pretty unanimous. We’re all hooked on Zambian rock ‘n’ roll from the 70, Tom-Tom Club, ESG, Francis Bebey… Au Pair.
Thalia: So how did BOYTOY form and come to be what it is now?
Glenn: Saara and I met when we each had separate bands and both of those outfits broke down around the same time. We started playing together, and to be fair the idea was to have a band of all girls, but the person we had in mind for bass had her own thing going on and at the time we didn’t know any good female drummers so it became me, Saara and a dude. First it was Dylan, the drummer from Saara’s previous band, then Matt, and when we met Chase it was perfect timing because we were starting to tour a lot and Matt wasn’t really down with that.
Thalia: Being an all female band, particularly in your genre, do you feel any sort of responsibility in terms of your influence over other young women?
Glenn: Growing up female is just a card you get handed and in a lot of ways it’s super powerful. It’s ridiculous that as a society we’ve created such a divide between genders or any physical difference for that matter. I’ve absolutely felt that as a woman people try to put the bar lower for you, or they assume you know less about certain ‘sciences,’ or life skills. And it’s not just men, some women are guilty of this too. I definitely feel a responsibility to exist in a realm separate from that. In this world it’s not enough to yell and shout about your grievances, there’s just too much noise. I can only hope that by being women in a band and knowing what we stand it’s enough to inspire strength in the women who come next.
Saara: I’ve never done anything solely based on the fact that I’m a girl. I don’t feel that because few girls do it that it is my duty to build bridges, shout for feminism, or raise flags. I’ve done everything I’ve done because I want to. So when people if we are a feminist band, it’s like, no, we didn’t start the project with a sociopolitical message to spread, we just want to play rock ‘n’ roll and make people dance and freak out. But intrinsically, we do believe in equal rights for women and equal treatment, so yeah, I guess we’re feminists. I don’t feel responsible for our influence over young women, but it is cool to think we could inspire little girls to believe that they can do whatever the fuck they want, devoid of gender norms.
Chase: I’m so sick of girl band questions.
Thalia: Coming to the end of your European tour, how do the crowds compare to back home in North America?
Glenn: We’ve been touring for about two years and with every tour it’s always a little bit better. Europe was surprising since the first time we ever came (last fall) there were always people at our show – like at least 15-30 people, which was nuts because sometimes in the states in a new town there will be like four [laughs]. I think it’s a statement on promoters and how more people take it more seriously over here in Europe. In the states you have some amazing people putting on shows but it usually takes one or two tours to figure out who they are.
Saara: Yeah, every time we tour there are more people. It shows that hard work is actually paying off. In Europe the crowds are a lot more diverse in age, older people love to freak out at rock shows in Europe! It’s like they never lost their love of the game from the 1970s. Also, France rules. They dance in France.
Chase: Folks in Europe say really interesting things to us after we perform! I was just talking about this with a friend, about how language barriers create a certain urgent intimacy. When you don’t share a language, you must be very direct. You don’t have any conversational nuances to hide behind. Although, I don’t think Germans ever do much dancing around the subject [laughs]. It’s all very refreshing. And then, of course, the Brits are just naturally so clever – especially in nuance.
Thalia:What has been your favourite part of your tour?
Glenn: Probably when the van broke down and we got a new one!
Saara: Driving through the alps was insane. There are waterfalls everywhere and the lake water is turquoise. It’s very surreal.
Chase: Binic Fest in France was wild. I spent more time crowd surfing than playing the drums.
Thalia: When you guys are not on tour where can we find you?
Glenn: I’ve recently been going back to Florida to build a studio and surf and hang out with my family.
Saara: Mainly in Brooklyn making art and surfing and riding my skateboard around.
Chase: I’ve had so much sensory stimulation from this European tour, I’m bubbling over. I’m really looking forward to locking myself in a room and having a go at alchemy – see how close I can get to touching the other side. And probably bouncing between Saara and Glenn’s house so I can borrow their surfboards and record shit.
“The common thread is groove and beat and honesty and style.”
Thalia: I absolutely love you music videos, Postal in particular looks like you are just having a great time messing about with your friends, can you tell me more about the thought process behind them?
Glenn: Thank you! Postal was super fun to make. It usually starts with a brainstorm of concepts, then we start throwing around specific scenes and we get into the logistics of how to create it. We’re lucky to have some very close friends who know their way around cameras and set design and lighting and direction. For Postal we really wanted to explore that beautifully grotesque line. Blazed started by wanting to make a one shot video, which led to figuring out what kind of story we could tell in under three minutes with one shot. We love videos. I can’t wait to make more.
Thalia: What is next for BOYTOY when the tour ends?
Glenn: A brand new record!
Saraa: Then more tours, it’s an endless cycle.
Chase: Absurd marketing campaigns and hiring a sitar player