NOT A TOY represents a new generation of artists and creatives

A photo of NOT A TOY members.
Colorado-based group NOT A TOY is not a band, but a collective of four creatives. Photo courtesy of Fearless Records.

“Now we blowin’ up, you can’t explain this / I remember being fame-less in the basement / Now they always asking ‘how do you do what you do?’ I simply do” sings NOT A TOY in “J Cash.”

NOT A TOY, whose name originates from the warning label on plastic bags, is a Colorado-based collective of four creatives who do not conform to any genre but, instead, do what they feel fulfills their artistic vision. 

On Oct. 28, °1824, a new collegiate marketing, content and experiences team, held a press conference with Branson Hoog, NOT A TOY’s lead vocalist and Benji Spoliansky, the group’s drummer, to discuss the art behind their free-spirited creative group and some of the songs from their self-titled EP released earlier this year.

The conference began with an exclusive viewing of NOT A TOY’s debut single, “J Cash,” which will be released to the public Nov. 18. During the livestream, Hoog was behind a microphone, Spoliansky was behind the drums and their two other members, Jeremy Marmor and TJ Wessel played the guitar and keys. 

With their performance set in their garage filled with paintings, plants, books and instruments, the setting perfectly exemplified the creative do-it-yourself aspect of the four artists. NOT A TOY’s bold performance of “J Cash” also showcased their versatility as they employed diverse sounds into their song including strong vocals, guitar riffs and piano solos, which came full circle to end in a melodic, acoustic-like tone.

“The song is about us being fameless in the basement striving for what every artist or band narcissistically wants, which is to be successful with their music and be famous,” Spoliansky said.

Following the livestream performance, which had the Zoom audience rocking their heads to the beat of the expressive music, Hoog and Spoliansky were directed into a Q&A session with the participants. 

Hoog and Spoliansky began by addressing their unique branding. Spoliansky said NOT A TOY allows for completely free thought of ideas and aims to not put collective members in any box.

“The biggest project with NOT A TOY is that we didn’t want it to feel like one band or one entity’s music taste, we wanted it to feel like a snapshot of this generation’s artistic expression,” Hoog said. “We wanted NOT A TOY to feel more like a movement than a band.”

In light of their recent signing to Fearless Records last May, they also discussed their experience breaking into the music industry during a pandemic. 

According to Spoliansky, the biggest hindrance of a global quarantine was not being able to go on tour to expose more people to their music. However, he also said that NOT A TOY’s use of quarantine time was quite productive, which allowed them to focus on a new sound, social media and merchandise.

“I think that the biggest blessing is being able to stay home and focus on the art and what’s still to come,” Spoliansky said.

The two creatives also talked about the music video for their song “Quit Quitting,” which was filmed while abiding by pandemic restrictions, which limited them to a three-person crew.

“The meaning of the song is about contemplating where you’re at in life, which we were doing very heavily at that point and questioning all the different directions we could go,” Hoog said. “Especially because of this pandemic there’s a lot of uncertainty. The whole video has this energy of a late night drive in your own head, contemplating where you’re at in life, the places you want to go.”

Hoog and Spoliansky later discussed their music influences and processes as an up-and-coming new group of artists. According to Hoog, NOT A TOY was influenced by Warped Tour-genre bands such as Taking Back Sunday, The Used and My Chemical Romance. Hoog also mentioned that they were inspired by diverse artists and creatives, including Kanye West.

“I think in the long run, the biggest influences have actually been the artists that have been the most creative and have tried pushing music as an art form themselves,” Hoog said. “I think one of our biggest consistent ones is Kanye. As a producer, we all love his outside of the box, no rules mentality, and that’s what NOT A TOY has really tried to hone in on.”

As creatives, the four members work with tattoos, art and a clothing line in addition to the band.

“It was easier for us to not just be a band, we were passionate about too many other things,” Hoog said. “It was really hard to keep the other art forms out of the music just because we were passionate about so many things.”

Spoliansky mentioned that often, the band begins their writing process asynchronously. With “J Cash,” for example, the collective initially had the beat and acoustic guitar instrumentation done, then Hoog added vocals on top of that. 

“Us coming together, we’re always figuring it out,” Spoliansky said. “Every song comes together differently.”

Hoog encouraged the next generation of musicians to try to find a way to create something original and push music as an art form. He acknowledged the challenges that new and younger bands might face due to gathering restrictions, but he encouraged them to keep creating something original that hasn’t been done before, which he said is NOT A TOY’s MO.

“I would say to any young musicians out there, keep trying to push this amazing artform that we all are so passionate about and finding how this generation will be represented by music,” Hoog said.