Toilet Rats
New Music

Toilet Rats IV: Tommy Ratz on cheap recording, dumpster diving, recycling electronic junk, and finding new sounds on old gear

4 mins read

Toilet Rats is a monolithic enterprise, singularly envisioned, executed, and upheld by the enigmatic figure of Tommy Ratz. Reportedly ensconced in a modest subterranean abode located beneath Minneapolis, MN, Mr. Ratz presides over a veritable menagerie of synthesizers, guitars, and discarded fast food packaging.

Deprived of the typical information sources available to modern society within the sewer domain, Ratz has developed an unconventional approach to gathering knowledge. He scours the refuse for antiquated VHS tapes, audio cassettes, and discarded literature, which serve as the foundation for his perception of reality and outlook on the world. Consequently, he maintains an enduring suspicion of long-extinct national threats and a woefully outdated grasp of current trends and societal norms. His cognitive process, akin to aimlessly flicking through daytime television programming circa 1983, would doubtless result in a faux pas during a royal banquet. Relying on abandoned cassette tapes to satiate his musical appetite, Toilet Rats‘ auditory output bears the distinct influence of a hybrid of synth pop, thrash metal, and spaghetti western scores.

The truth behind the moniker “Tommy Ratz” is that it serves as an alias for none other than Thomas Rehbein, a musician who has lent his talents to various Minneapolis-based groups including Naive Sense, Farewell Continental, Robosapien, and Small Towns Burn A Little Slower, among others. In addition to his prolific performances, Rehbein has also established himself as a skilled producer, having worked on recordings for esteemed artists such as Justin Courtney Pierre (of Motion City Soundtrack), Party House, and Zaq Baker, to mention a few.

Toilet Rats by Dena Denny
Toilet Rats by Dena Denny

Toilet Rats IV marks his new release and as the name suggests, it’s a little grimey, energetic, tenacious, and oddly entertaining.

Tommy Ratz (aka Thomas Rehbein) combines a variety of musical influences ranging from Jawbreaker, DEVO, Nine Inch Nails, Jawbox, Depeche Mode, Ennio Morricone, Lard, Run DMC, Ramones, Powerplant, and other random stuff with lyrics primarily inspired by vintage horror and sci-fi movies to create a succinct rock album that, though well produced, never takes itself too seriously. It’s as if Ratz (aka Rehbein) took a time machine and made a mixtape from 1987 combining his favorite sounds and VHS rentals from that era. “Carol Kane” references fright flick When A Stranger Calls, “Walk The Earth” recalls zombies, shopping malls, and helicopters, “Larva” is a nod to Al Jourgenson’s dancey thrash side projects, and “Oskar and Eli” recalls a coming of age vampire story.

Toilet Rats IV was performed, recorded and mixed by Tommy R in his basement. Kris Johnson (Jayhawks, Two Harbors) mastered it. The album artwork was created by Tommy.

In his creative endeavors, Tommy Ratz places significant emphasis on the development of his own unique equipment, including the construction of various custom pedals and related gear, which is sure to delight enthusiasts of technical equipment. In light of the financial and social limitations he has faced in recent years, he has dedicated himself to the acquisition of a diverse skill set, mastering the art of self-recording, mixing, and video editing. His thirst for knowledge is not hindered by age, as he consistently seeks to expand his skill set and lend a helping hand to fellow musicians.

Toilet Rats by Dena Denny
Toilet Rats by Dena Denny

“So, like a lot of other people, when the world shut down a while back, I had to fend off boredom and dread somehow.” – says Tommy.

“It’s always bothered me how wasteful people can be, so I started making more of my own gear from stuff people threw out. It seems like there’s always someone tossing an old ’60s organ in the alley, from which I salvage transistors, wires, capacitors, and resistors.”

“To do this, one only needs a few tools and a basic soldering iron. Also, make sure you have a fan going and an open window. Those fumes get gnarly!”

He has shared his expertise and passion for music by offering online instructional classes and live streams, during which he has guided students through the process of constructing a rudimentary fuzz pedal. These sessions proved to be an enjoyable and engaging experience, with a number of participants creating their own recordings utilizing the equipment they had assembled. In addition, he went the extra mile to preserve the knowledge and share it with a wider audience by recording a detailed walkthrough of the process, which he later posted on YouTube for all to benefit from.

“Once you get the hang of it, you can build a bunch of different things. A good source for guidance is this place” – says Tommy.

“It’s pretty awesome having a bunch of different fuzzes, distortions, and overdrives that I built mostly from junk people threw out.” – he continues.

“In fact, the vast majority of guitar sounds on the new record come from recycled-parts dirtboxes. This is a great skill to acquire because you can repair your own breaking gear and save a lot of money, help your friends out, and be a mentor by passing the skills onto others.”

“Also, you can mess with and modify circuits to your own liking, producing tones that are unique to your projects.”

“Also, for a lot of synth patches, instead of relying on expensive software and vintage synths, a lot of my sounds come from running an old Casio through different pedals. I know this is nothing new, but it gives the user a lot of options to shape a sound instead of just hitting a preset. I do have some software synths and a couple vintage units, too, but the point is they’re not mandatory to make a cool record.”

Give the album a listen and determine for yourself whether or not you like the sounds and the tones. “If you do, you can certainly do it, also!” – says Tommy.

“If you have a friend who is good at mixing, maybe you can barter a couple homemade fuzz boxes for some mixes!” – he concludes.

Toilet Rats IV is available on all major streaming platforms and Bandcamp in March 3, 2023. Cassettes will be available from Steadfast Records.

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