Seattle-based rock artist and founder of Make Fart Records, Emma Lee Toyoda — also known as Emma Tsuruko — is bringing their eccentric and charming musical performance to Oberlin at 8 p.m. tonight in Fairchild Chapel. Toyoda released their debut album “sewn me anew” in 2016, and performs both solo and with a band, featuring drummer Zeke Bender and bassist Khyre Matthews.
They describe their music as nocturnal “madgrrlrock” or “sadgirlrock.” Pieces include a wide variety of instruments from saxophones to banjos, bringing a unique take to a classic sound.
“I feel like there’s a little bit of classic rock and roll, drums, shredding on the electric guitar, but there’s also … a dreamy carnival aspect [to their music,]” said College senior Lyris Schulman, who was responsible for bringing Toyoda to Oberlin. “[The album is] about 20 minutes of wonderful sounds. It’s cool because part of their music is like noise-sound art … a song will just start with a lot of noise and a saxophone going wild and then the real melodies will begin. [They do] a few different genres, so they’re experimental in that way.”
While Schulman’s initial contact with Toyoda was online, Schulman and her band T-Rextasy later had the opportunity to tour with them. Bandmates of T-Rextasy”took the spring semester off last year to play 100 shows across the U.S. and Canada.
“I was initially drawn into their sound,” Schulman said. “But I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing them perform many times and I feel like they also put on a really good show, which … is rare and also something that isn’t valued [as much] as it ought to be.”
Toyoda is also a role model for the queer, non-binary POC community. In a Facebook response to their video “Fuuuck// Dream,” Toyoda wrote, “I hope that someday a young Asian-American femme stumbles upon it and sees someone who looks like them, in a lead role for once, doing what they love to do. I hope they see that they belong in POC communities and spaces, despite all of the internalized racism and model minority myths learned from a young age. I hope they’re inspired to take up space and make their voice heard, to advocate for themselves and other disenfranchised POC.”
The social aspect of their music is another big attraction for millennials, and is a reason why Toyoda’s performance is expected to resonate particularly well with Oberlin students.
“Your identity is valid no matter what people do or say,” Toyoda wrote in an email to the Review.
“You are important, and you are loved. I see you, I hear you, and I’m here for you. Build up your communities, and be mindful of who you allow into your spaces. You don’t owe anyone anything, and f**k whoever makes you feel otherwise — you don’t need ‘em. Take care of your emotional and physical well-being, whatever that means to you.”
Another aspect of Toyoda’s work is that it is completely self-organized. Running their own label and band, Toyoda does not have a booking agent or manager, but runs the whole show by themself.
“I follow them on Twitter and they have very poignant tweets about Seattle art and the DIY scene,” College sophomore Emma Williams said. “They’re a really passionate individual who’re really upfront about the things they care about, and I really admire that.”
Toyoda’s is a particularly inspiring success story for young, upcoming artists belonging to various minority communities at Oberlin and in the wider U.S.
“I think there are lot of people at Oberlin who are on the verge of deciding between pursuing stuff at Oberlin and pursuing their musical career a little bit and having people who have gone the musical route … [it] can be really inspiring,” Williams said. “I think that just having trans artists on campus and having trans artists who are vocal about being trans artists and caring about trans rights … is really important too.”
Toyoda is acclaimed for their honest and vulnerable performances. Their lyrical style is sassy, witty, and often seeks to draw a laugh from the listener through lines like “we do nothing but joke // about how you do nothing but smoke,” from the song “Forget Me Now.”
“[When] I saw them perform, it was just people who are honest about their feelings and unapologetic for having them,” Williams said. “I think it was really cool to have an artist talk that openly about being nervous, … just to see someone perform who is that human … I think a lot of it is just about being really, unapologetically oneself.”
Since rock concerts generally call for an energetic atmosphere of dance and activity, Fairchild Chapel is an unconventional choice.
“Oberlin should expect lots of yelling, growling, & $hredding,” Toyoda wrote. “Earplugs are highly recommended.”
Emma Lee Toyoda’s music is available on Spotify and Bandcamp.