By Alexa Solis
Two musicians walk into a bar… No, it’s not the start of a joke. It’s the story of the indie Americana outfit Tin Toy Cars, a project helmed by Peter Fand. A little more than a year ago Fand and Aaron Guidry sat down for a drink at a bar in downtown Las Vegas.
As Guidry recalls, he looked to his friend and joked about playing a gig there. How silly it would be — two highly accomplished professional musicians with Cirque du Soleil playing in a dive bar. But about a month later they did play that gig, and what started as joke became a reality.
Today the band is comprised of five members. Fand (vocals, mandolin, octave mandolin) previously owned a recording studio in New York City where he worked with various international bands, and split his time studying the traditional ethnic group music of Mali and Guinea. He then began working on Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana” when it was a touring show, and moved with it when it came to Las Vegas. Guidry (drums) met Fand while working at “Zarkana” but he also writes marching band music for universities and high schools. Violinist Martin St-Pierre, originally from Montreal, Canada, came to Las Vegas to work at Cirque’s “Mystere,” but got his start writing music under the composer Christopher Young for movies like “The Grudge.” Andrew Chute, guitar and banjo, recently relocated to Las Vegas to play in a country band, but found himself playing with Tin Toy Cars as well. Rounding out the group of talented musicians is Brian Burns, a graphic designer by trade, but skilled mandolin and bass player as well. Burns met Fand at a Southern Nevada Bluegrass Music Society meeting.
With a core group of musicians to work with, Fand looked for ways to incorporate old and new. Taking the stark, harsh beauty of the desert and contrasting it with the lush, over-the-top Las Vegas strip, Tin Toy Cars has found a way to meld their skill with the spirit of the desert that surrounds them.
“It’s got this element of old-time sensibility to it, it really came from tooling around in the desert and coming upon old, rusted-out, bullet hole ridden cars that somehow seemed reflective of another age,” Fand said. “This band is kind of like that, it’s an older sensibility applied to a new context. So these little, old cars rusting out in the desert in the middle of a place like Las Vegas, with the contrast of the strip and the desert somehow, [Tin Toy Cars] seemed appropriate.”
When filming a music video for the track “Do Everything You Can Before You’re Dead,” the band took the Las Vegas mentality to heart. According to Chute, the video embodied the overly ambitious, over-the-top nature of the city. Fand himself was lowered into a grave for the video, an experience that he could only describe as surreal and reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.”
With all of its glitz and glamour, Las Vegas is not always thought of as a bastion of creativity. As Fand prepared to move to Las Vegas from New York to work at Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana,” he recalled friends warning him that there was no real music scene there.
“Actually, Aaron kind of broke that all open,” Fand said. “He’s kind of like the mayor of the Las Vegas underground. Through our relationship with Aaron, he exposed this whole other part of Las Vegas where this whole sort of thriving, burgeoning little creative scene that’s happening here, and we’ve found ourselves in that.”
Within Las Vegas’s music scene, violinist Martin St-Pierre sees the expansion of the town as a whole. St-Pierre feels that the people of Las Vegas are craving a stronger scene, and with that the town itself is showing room for growth.
“The thing with Las Vegas is like, it’s a young city sort of thing, and it’s still finding its way, and trying to establish [itself]” St-Pierre said.
Though the band members are all highly trained and accomplished musicians, only Fand and Burns, a fellow mandolin player though he plays bass in this particular project, consider themselves directly inspired by bluegrass music. A bit of an oddity for a band that bases much of its sound around a mandolin and bluegrass inspired instrumentation, but it adds to what makes the band so unique.
The band’s debut EP “Falling, Rust & Bones,” Jan. 18, is built around their high level of musicality. According to Burns, the complexity of the music challenges the listener as well as the musicians themselves.
“I think it makes it richer,” Burns said. “A lot of pop music today is just oversimplified. It catches you right away, but you’re tired of it within a week. I think this stuff, the more you listen to it, the more you hear, the more you really find it.”
As the men sat around Guidry’s ’50s inspired living room tucked away in downtown Las Vegas, they laughed and poked fun at each other. Reminiscing on the process while looking toward the future, Chute couldn’t help but revel in the product that they had created.
“It’s amazing, I mean it sounds like it came from Sunset Sound or Firehouse Studio in LA.” Chute said.
“They got nothing on us,” Fand said.
As Chute looked over to Fand, the men laughed, but there was a sense of accomplishment that filled their faces.
“Nothing,” Burns said. “We’ve got way more microphones than they do.”
More information about Tin Toy Cars can be found on their website tintoycars.net, Facebook page and soundcloud.
Alexa Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thealexasolis.