5-1-Tunes: TOMA

By Sam Limerick There’s a new four-letter word in the Austin music scene.

TOMA is the word, and the band is on a mission to be heard. But what’s in a name? It’s ambiguous, leaving much to the imagination. TOMA could be Austin’s newest death metal group or a stage name for an acoustic songwriter. “It’s an androgynous name,” TOMA’s singer/guitarist Willy Jay says.

The group actually specializes in a blend of psychedelic rock and soul, with a healthy dose of pop thrown into the mix. Although the band bears resemblance to psych-rock artists like Tame Impala, TOMA intends to blaze its own trail within the genre.

Toma performs for the first time at 21st Street Co-op. (Photo obtained via Toma FB, by Marianna Tovars)

TOMA consists of three members from local pop-rockers Hereticks (who are now on a System of a Down-esque, pseudo-hiatus while they pursue other projects), as well as prolific wildcard drummer Jake Hiebert, a Plan II major at UT who balances his membership in TOMA and two other bands on top of schoolwork and an internship at Transmission. The creation of the band stemmed from the members’individual needs to try something new. They are now hard at work solidifying their sound.

At their inaugural performance at the 21st Street Co-op on Sept. 20, the band performed a rollicking cover of “A Day in the Life,” by original psych-pop masters — The Beatles. The choice to cover such a sprawling, multi-layered composition that wraps multiple tunes into one engrossing narrative foretells of a future focused on inventive songwriting and earning access to the hearts and minds of music lovers everywhere. Above all, the band just wants to have fun. “We definitely want it [TOMA] to be high energy, get people dancing,” bassist Wesley Maffly-Kipp says.

If 21st Street Co-op was any indication, they’re off to a great start. The band displayed an infectious camaraderie and magnetic stage presence that inspired more than a few outbreaks of frenetic dancing (which your dear writer may have participated in). The band also reflected this energy in their onstage interactions.

“Willy’s got the moves,” vocalist/keyboardist Waldo Wittenmeyer says.

“And he’s the cutest!” Hiebert chimes in.

From left to right: Wes Mafley-Kipp (bass), Waldo Wittenmeyer (keyboard/vocals), Willy Jay (Guitar/Vocals), Jake Hiebert (drums)

Despite Jay’s role as singer/guitarist and dance move provider, the band insists they are an equal-opportunity artistic platform, with all members sharing songwriting duties. “This is a group effort. The spotlight is on all of us,” Jay says. “And it’s the initial stage of the band, where everyone has these songs they’ve been writing.” Hiebert adds.

As both friends and bandmates, the group radiates an honest, full-bodied chemistry. Right now, the goal is to take individual ideas and transform them into creations that all four members can stand (or dance) behind. They’ve been furiously writing new music to prepare for their next show on Oct. 28 at Mohawk. “It is a necessity we have these songs, but I feel like that hasn’t been holding us back in terms of creativity or good songwriting,” Hiebert says.

The band has been recording all of their output on their phones, which have been useful tools to look back at some of the melodies and chords brought up in practice and build upon them between meetings. “Our first album is actually all iPhone recordings!” Wittenmeyer jokes. “Honestly, though, we could actually put an album together right now,” Hiebert adds with a chuckle.

The quartet plans to enter the studio soon and transform these primitive rough cuts into a professionally recorded debut EP or album. They also hope to obtain a residency at a local venue in order to hone their craft and develop a substantial fanbase. TOMA also plans to play a big show at Free Week in January. With more opportunities for exposure in the coming months, TOMA is poised to become the new four-letter word in Austin.

You can catch the band live at their second show on Oct. 28 at the Mohawk and keep up with them on Facebook.