.The Bribes

Philip Toscano melds melancholy melodies from ‘Louder Sunset’

The Bribes were getting ready to start promoting Louder Sunset, their third album, when the COVID lockdown brought things to a halt. “It was the first album we’d put out since Dust Tapes in 2016. It belly flopped, because we couldn’t perform the songs live,” said Philip Toscano, the band’s lead singer, songwriter and guitarist.

“My personality type is resilient, so I hunkered down and used the time to sharpen my abilities and work on my craft: guitar playing, strengthening my voice, writing new songs and exploring new compositional techniques. My guitar approach changed a bit, moving toward a more acoustic, singer/songwriter style, but the rock’n’roll is still there, stronger than ever. Since I work from home, I was able to keep my day job,” Toscano said.

“The other band members had more difficulties. Our drummer, Anthony Puducay, moved to LA and started doing session work. Jesse Strauss, our bass player, lives in Oakland. He started producing folks at a studio he set up in his garage awhile back. It’s called Paxtone. 

“With things easing up, I’ve been performing live again, doing hybrid sets. I start acoustically, then bring out the electric guitar and morph into a bit of rock. I have an upcoming gig at The Lost Church in North Beach. It will be done as a duo with drummer Cody Rhodes, showcasing this. I’m also taking baby steps to get the band back together. I enjoy the acoustic shows, but I’m ready to start playing with the band, doing the songs on the Louder Sunset album.” 

Louder Sunset is a meditation on mortality, inspired in part by the passing of Toscano’s father. “My dad passed away in 2018. I’d walk around the Sunset district, where I live, alone at night, for months on end. I’d write in my head, then come back and put it to the guitar. I had some personal stuff to work out. I was trying to view the weight of his life—in a light hearted way, keeping the infinite perspective in mind, to help process my feelings. Some of the songs were angrier, because of his passing. 

“Mortality informs my recent writing, cause my mom also passed this past May. They were supportive of my creativity. It feels weird to write songs, knowing they’ll be unable to see what I’m doing, but it reinforced my decision to make music that’s cathartic and informed by the healing process,” Toscano explained.

Reggae guitar rhythms and backing harmonies, that conjure up a forgotten radio hit from the ’50s, drive the memorable chorus of “Sights and Sounds.” It’s a hymn to personal liberation that shows off Toscano’s eclectic guitar approach. Toscano’s twangy guitar brings a hint of a spaghetti western soundtrack to “Wawona,” a song describing the unfolding of his creative process, as he walks through the dark streets of the Sunset district. 

“I hope people can relate to what I write about and feel the spark you get the first time you hear a song you really like. If I can give that to one person, then I’ve done my job,” he said.

Toscano grew up in Oak Lawn, IL, a south side Chicago suburb, in the mid ’80s. “My mom shaped my music tastes,” he recalled. “I listened to her old 45s and the oldies station she liked. She loved Motown and The Beatles. The first time I saw them on screen, I was transfixed.”

He thought Chicago would be the band’s home base, but fate had other plans. “My girlfriend, now my wife, was from San Francisco and wanted to move back home. I came West with her and embraced California and San Francisco. In a few months, I had another band,” he said.

“I grew up loving the sounds of the San Francisco bands from the ’60s. That era brought a breath of sunshine into the music. Every sunset is miraculous, and that opened up something in me, musically. There’s always a trace of melancholy and bittersweet emotion in my music, but since coming here, I’ve lightened up a bit. The songs I’m writing now are happier and jaunty.”

Toscano will bring his stripped-down version of The Bribes to The Lost Church, 988 Columbus Ave., San Francisco on Friday, Dec. 16 at 8:15pm. Tickets at thelostchurch.secure.force.com/ticket. 

‘Louder Sunset’ is available on The Bribes Bandcamp Page: thebribes.bandcamp.com/album/louder-sunset.

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