Music isn’t just a plug-and-play affair to Brooklyn indie duo Toledo — it’s a bond deeper than songwriting.
That brotherhood defines the duo’s debut LP, How It Ends (out today on Grand Jury Music), which blends modern indie rock stylings with ‘90s adult contemporary flourishes and the gloomy musings of Elliott Smith.
Toledo sprang from the passion of childhood friends Dan Álvarez de Toledo and Jordan Dunn-Pilz, who grew up busking in the coastal town of Newburyport, Mass., and developed an ironclad relationship through music. “That’s how our hustler mentality started,” Dunn-Pilz said. The late ‘20s duo are still hustling — they also operate a Brooklyn recording studio.
Over cold beers (and one comically large tropical drink) at a Brooklyn tiki bar, the duo spoke to SPIN about the new record, woven with themes that actually aren’t leisurely or all that much fun.
How It Ends goes long on fraught family relationships – between Dunn-Pilz and his father, and between each of the duo’s parents in their own right. Each couple divorced before the two met, an impact felt in the songwriting: “A lot of the ways we talk about those things is through the music,” Dunn-Pilz said.
Take “Flake,” which is as disarming as the best Phoebe Bridgers tracks. Sonically, it’s often light and airy, but takes on generational trauma with the biting lyric “I fucking hate your guts right now.”
“Every song we write is about ourselves,” Toledo said. “A lot of it is about the things that we take from our parents and our family – the things that we absorb and how it affects the way we act.”
The duo play off each other as well in person as they do on the album, often finishing each other’s sentences. The links are everywhere: The album’s lead track, “Soda Can,” even serves as a thank you from Dunn-Pilz to Toledo’s mom for acting as a surrogate parent, another sign of a connection deeper than music.
After meeting, the two played in multiple bands (including an early three-piece Toledo), experimenting with self-described styles ranging from freestyle hip-hop to Jason Mraz-esque guitar to Two Door Cinema Club-inspired indie pop. They juggled college in different states (Dunn-Pliz at Ithaca College, Toledo at the Berklee College of Music) with the theatrical background of Dunn-Pilz, who toured nationally at one point with the musical RENT.
Once they moved to Brooklyn, Toledo took shape in earnest — their 2021 single “Sunday Funday” currently boasts more than 8 million Spotify streams.
How It Ends reflects the group themselves – constantly in motion. “We’re still figuring out the Toledo sound,” Toledo said. “But it’s getting there.”
Fittingly, the LP swerves significantly from demos they initially sent to record labels. The two completed an entire album pre-pandemic before scrapping most of it for a fresh approach, one that took them to upstate New York cabins to record with friends like singer-songwriter Melina Duterte of Jay Som.
Toledo are certainly still plotting what’s next, whether that takes a more pop-oriented approach or flips the act entirely on its head.
“We don’t want to do the same thing again, ever,” Dunn-Pilz said. “It has to keep us interested.”