Greg Toth’s music lives in bowling alleys, restaurants, bicycle shops and bars. He doesn’t make a spectacle.
He adds to the ambience of a dingy place. And when he wants to surprise his audience, his baritone voice heightens into an unexpected falsetto.
“I have a few songs out there that you don’t really capture in a studio recording,” Toth said.
The 26-year-old Gainesville native’s on-and-off music bouts have taken place onstage and in small settings only intimate crowds are privy to.
From playing with his first crew in 2009 to taking his songs to Los Angeles and France, Toth writes songs of stories out of thin air and plucked along on an acoustic guitar. Sometimes he will write to fit a rhythm. Other times he plugs his music into the lives of faux Floridians, imaginary characters he crafts as the subjects of a concept album.
Eight home-recorded albums in four years came from friends pushing him to get his songs and fingerpicking out of his head and into recordings, he said. His latest, released Aug. 18, sets the one-man act on a postmortem folly for “The Autopsy of Jules Bouvier.”
Toth started playing piano before transitioning to guitar at 14 and jamming with schoolyard pals in punk fashion. In the roulette of rotating Gainesville venues, he landed on places including 1982 Bar and Common Grounds with his then-band, When Pigs Fly, in the early 2010s.
First jamming in bygone venues and charity concerts in a short mohawk, he later preferred solo playing. He could rely on himself to lead the rhythm without a drummer or bass player.
In 2012, Toth brought his music to LA. His unofficial manager, Ethan Goldberg, first heard Toth playing Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” at a talent show while both were attending Occidental College, Goldberg said.
“Greg got up there with cowboy boots on and in a whole getup and I was like, ‘Oh man, what is this about?’” he said.
Ever since, Goldberg has helped Toth book shows and always spreads the word to friends and family about his art.
“His music is not so produced,” he said. “It's just Greg, his vision, his world, his guitar and his voice.”
Rounak Maiti, a member of the defunct ‘80s hardcore-punk imitator they both played for, Benjamin Franklin and his Naughty Interest in Electricity, guided Toth in the recording process.
In 2017, Toth decided it was time to start archiving the chords and concepts he’s had since high school before he forgot them completely.
“He's quite omnivorous, pulling influence from soul, pop, folk, rock and roll, psychedelia,” Maiti said. “There's something very immediate about working with an artist of that nature.”
Maiti played supplemental instruments and helped master Toth’s 2017 record, “In The Likeness of Jules Bouvier.”
Jules Bouvier is a conglomeration of a stage name from Toth’s high school tennis coach and French class. He said he likes its relation to former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and quite simply, he likes the sound of “J,” he said.
Now, the name denotes some of the collections of disjointed stories and soundful words he released as an album. His focus can be on playful rhyming and less narrative such as on “The Helping Cup” from his August 2020 record, “The Autopsy of Jules Bouvier.” Toth follows slant rhythms akin to rap lyrics.
But for other works, he relies on his guitar to birth the lyrics.
“I get a feeling for how it sounds on the guitar and then I just start adding words subconsciously,” Toth said. “In terms of subject matter, sometimes I’ll think up a story I want to tell.”
“Tales from Jefferson Hills and the Surrounding Country” fictionalized the lives and dreams of residents of a made-up town. Toth was living in France at the time and wanted to pursue a concept album that allowed him to create fantasy.
His last album has bluesy influences, such as on “White Convertible,” but his free-range artistic forte is still present, he said. He takes popular chords from artists like Mississippi John Hurt and changes their basic features to create his own musical passage.
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted goals for all recording musicians, Toth is working on his masters program at the University of Wisconsin for professional French. He currently focuses on media and culture and is writing jingles to keep busy, but he hopes to continue writing full-length pieces, he said.
More importantly, he said he misses the live setting where musicians interacted with strangers.
"It’s just the feeling that you get when you’re out there and you know that people are seeing something that they haven’t seen before.”
Listeners can stream and buy Toth’s latest record here.
Contact Manny Rea at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ReaManny.
Manny Rea is a journalism sophomore and the current health reporter for The Alligator. He worked as a copy editor in his freshman year before moving over to the Avenue in summer 2020. He likes to listen to dollar-bin records and read comics, and he is patiently waiting to go back to movies and concerts.