A Conversation with Alex Toth: Buddhist Punk Songs and Meditative Reflection

>> Alex Toth, frontman of the neo-psychedelic dance-pop band Rubblebucket, recently embarked on a new artistic adventure writing experimental punk songs under the moniker Alexander F. Incorporating elements of Buddhist philosophy into his lyrics, Toth explains that the tracking for the project’s first set of demos came to him during an eleven-day meditation retreat in Quebec: “I was in the cafeteria and putting this vegetarian slob on my plate, and out of nowhere it was just like ‘I am sensation! I am sensation! WHOP!’ and that was like, the crystal clearest tracking--everything in my head, and I’m in this sound retreat looking at people in my peripheral vision thinking like… ‘did you guys hear that?’” As he continued the retreat, these ideas of ‘Buddhist-punk songs’ kept coming to him in small fifteen-second fragments. When he returned home, he pieced the DNA of these tracks together and soon collaborated with fellow musicians to add on thrashing guitars and debut the new singles at a number of local house shows. Entering the studio that summer, Alexander F has now released a self-titled full-length record filled with melodic distortion and a captivating amount of manic energy.

Dealing with a difficult battle against alcoholism, Toth explains that visiting the meditation retreats which inspired the start of Alexander F helped him to regain control over his artistic direction, noting that, “When I was active and I was using, I was literally just avoiding looking at my worst fears. And by avoiding them I was avoiding a huge, huge portion of my creativity and of my potential.” Before his retreat in Quebec, Toth felt unable to write punk music for his side-project and dealt with a host of intrusive thoughts which undermined his creative process. While reflecting on the frustration of the experience, Toth states that “As I was writing the songs, thoughts would come along like, ‘You can’t be the singer of a punk band! What do you think you’re doing?’ Or like, some unrelated thing would make me feel bad about myself and I’d be like, ‘You can’t write a song because this person didn’t answer your text!” Taking multiple approaches to remedy the situation, Toth explains that his relief was finally discovered when removing external sensory experiences and stressors. By embarking on an eleven-day sound retreat, Toth was able to dissect these abstract constructs and use these intrusive thoughts to his artistic advantage: “Cutting yourself off from your phone, from speaking, from really any distraction but this practice of mindfulness and breath awareness. It’s called Vipassana; it’s insight meditation so it’s anything that comes up in your psyche and any sense-object becomes an object of practice.” After returning from the retreat, Toth shares that he was again approached with a set of self-defeating thoughts-- but instead of pushing them away, he faced them directly and worked with the negative feedback loop to create Alexander F’s single, “Call Me Pretty.”

Despite marking his addiction as the most significant struggle that he’s had to overcome, Toth takes time to note the invaluable set of lessons that he’s learned on the path to sobriety. As he looks back on the challenges that he's faced, Toth expresses that, “If I don’t check these things out and I don’t work on them, I’m kind of fucked-- and I’m binge-watching TV, and I’m eating pints of ice cream-- and I'll do that sometimes or go down worse paths, but checked? Doing active self-work? It’s almost like those bad things are actually the key towards fueling me to my greatest self.” Hoping to keep Alexander F as an outlet for thoughtful expression and personal growth, Toth has decided to give the project a level of autonomy by refusing to force it down any particular road. By translating the knowledge that he’s gained from his meditative retreats into his aspirations for Alexander F, Toth plans to undertake this artistic endeavor through the guidance of the preeminent Taoist mantra: “Do nothing and everything happens.” << Listen to Alexander F. HERE!

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