They may not be related by blood, but Toast & Jam sure do sound like it.
Though the four-piece band have only been playing together as such for less than two years, they’ve crafted a sound that paints them as having played together their whole lives, and folks are taking notice. Both of their first two singles as a four-piece have achieved impressive streaming numbers, and most recently, they wowed a crowed at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in an opening slot for the equally legendary Vince Gill and Amy Grant.
Their newest single, “She Loves The Hell Out of Me,” looks to pick up right where their last two singles’ successes left off, offering a southern-rocking melody equipped with delightfully gritty vocals, pitch-perfect harmonies and crying fiddle.
We chatted with vocalist and guitarist Jeff Miller about the formation of the band, the success they found in 2022, their Ryman experience, staying busy on the road and more!
Pro Country: The origins of Toast & Jam date back to Jeff and Ben playing as a duo for local gigs. Though there wasn’t an initial intention to start a band, when did it become apparent that you had something special together and when was the decision made to form the band?
Jeff Miller: I think there are two distinct events I can point to. The first is March 23rd, 2020. We were doing a fundraiser for a local shelter that was caring for families in need during Covid. They needed to buy supplies for people, so we quickly put together a live stream. We asked Russ to sit in on the cajon and percussion to add a little different feel (he plays all the drums on our studio releases) to just Ben and me. That night was just awesome; you know when everything clicks, its magic: the music works, the friendship, the entire package happened that night. We knew. The other event began when Russ’s wife, Annie, was talking to another mom at their kids’ school about getting their kids together for a play date. She was talking to Bethany. Bethany’s reply to getting the kids together was, “I have a fiddle lesson on that day.” Annie replied, “Oh you take fiddle lessons, that’s cool.” Bethany replied, “Oh sorry, I meant I give fiddle lessons.” Annie told Russ there’s a fiddle player at the kids’ school. Russ got in touch with Bethany and invited her to sit in on May 3, 2022. We had 2 gigs that day: an afternoon and evening show. Bethany came to the first show, and once again, magic. The link to Bethany’s website, which listed her bio and musical accomplishments, didn’t work, but even though we’d never met her or heard her play, we took a chance. She just showed up and played and none of us have ever looked back. That night on the way home from the gig, we called her and asked if she’d want to come to Nashville and play at the Ryman with us. March 23rd, 2020 and May 3rd, 2022 were the days that it became apparent we were forming a band.
PC: As a duo, you released an EP, How I Love, in 2020, which featured the original title track and covers of “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Free Fallin’.” How much did you enjoy being able to present an original and covers of well-known songs as you were introducing yourselves?
JM: Oh man, it was so cool. I had not been in a professional studio since college. I was so scared and didn’t want to mess up. We recorded all that live, straight through. We had only played these songs live, and trying to track them with the time we had was going to be impossible. We just wanted to capture what we were doing live and just get something out for people to listen to. You gotta start somewhere, and we just went in there and pounded all that out in one session from around 2p.m. to 1a.m. in one day. It was a lot of fun.
PC: Russ joined Toast & Jam in 2020, and was followed by Bethany in 2022. Why did you feel that expanding to a four-piece was the right move, and what kind of musical camaraderie do you feel as a group?
JM: When I first heard Ben play and sing, I said to myself “I want to play music with that dude.” Then with Russ and Bethany; exact same thing. You just feel it; you know it in your guts, you can’t explain it. We like being with each other when we aren’t playing music. We vacation together, our kids love being together, we are a little family and everything works. It’s just so rare in life to have people you enjoy being with all the time. Then add on top of that, we get to play music together. That translates to lyrics, the music, the connectivity with each other on stage and with the crowd. It all goes together. We aren’t forcing anything, just enjoying it all, and the fans can feel it and so can we. It’s special.
PC: You released your first single as a four-piece, “I Could Use a Honkytonk,” in November of last year, which was written by hit songwriter Jimmy Yeary. How did you come across the song and what drew you to record it?
JM: I met Jimmy through a mutual friend, and Jimmy came out to Oregon from Nashville for a speaking engagement. I asked him if he’d be interested in sitting in on a show we were doing while he was in town, and he was gracious enough to come sing a couple of his number one hits. Frankly we were backing him up the whole night [laughs]. We became fast friends and we had him back out a few months later for a bear hunt and just to hang out. We got talking and he shared a bunch of his song catalog with us. He was so gracious and said you guys take whatever you want and go record it. “I Could Use a Honky Tonk” was one of those songs.
PC: “I Could Use a Honkytonk” is quickly approaching 50,000 streams on Spotify alone with thousands more across streaming platforms. What was it like to see those numbers for the first time as a band and tangibly see the support you were receiving?
JM: Blown away, seriously blown away. We set some small goals in 2022 to get into the studio in the fall after the busy summer live show season slowed down. We just wanted to provide ourselves a different outlet other than playing live. The intention was never to try to get a big number of streams. We just wanted to see if we could do something cool in the studio. It’s humbling to watch people engage with these songs. Makes us just wanna run around thanking everyone for listening. We are so thankful to everyone who spends their time and money to listen to what we are doing. We don’t take that lightly, and appreciate everyone.
PC: You released your single “If I Ain’t Here Tomorrow” last December. Can you take us in the room and talk about how the song came together?
JM: Jimmy sent me a text of the demo of this song. He said he’d been working on it and that we would do this one really well. I sent it to everyone to take a listen, and the words grabbed us all. The demo had a lot of electric guitars and drums, and had that new country kind of feel to it, which isn’t really our style. As we started playing it live, we kind of figured out how we would do it. This will sound funny but it’s true, we work most things out live, and based on how it feels and how people react, we keep things and get rid of others. It’s a real special song.
PC: “If I Ain’t Here Tomorrow” is a touching song that offers advice from a father to a son. What has it been like to hear from people who have been touched by the song and relate it to their own lives?
JM: You won’t believe this. We were playing a four-day stretch, on the road away from home, where no one knows us. We saw three couples sitting together during our entire set just fixed on us, eyes glued. After the show, they made their way to the stage and explained how much they enjoyed that song and that listening to the words made them want to call their family member, who was incredibly ill, and make sure he knew they loved him. They told us they loved us and were coming back the next night. After the show they came and found us again, this time in tears. They said that while we were playing this same song the second night, they got a call from the hospital that their loved one had passed away. They came up to thank us and to tell us that there was no way possible that could have been a coincidence, and without it, they would never have gotten to tell their loved one how much they loved him.
PC: “If I Ain’t Here Tomorrow” has skyrocketed over 130,000 listens as of this writing on YouTube with several thousand more across platforms. What has it been like for you to watch the life of the song and see the heights it continues to reach?
JM: Shocked beyond words. Our friend Jimmy has said multiple times about life and friendship and connecting with people, “If I feel, then you feel, then we connect.” I think this song has connected with people. It makes you feel something; makes you think about not wanting things left undone, and how we should live today. As a band, it makes us feel grateful that we get to hear these stories of people calling their families, telling their kids they love them, and making sure loose ends are tied up. More than anything, this song is a reminder to all of us that we have the opportunity now to say and do the things that are needed before we are not here tomorrow.
PC: Your newest single. “She Loves the Hell Out of Me,” falls closer to a southern rocking sound than your previously released songs. Can you take us in the studio and talk about the sonic inspiration behind the song and how much you enjoy presenting that side of your influence?
JM: We had been talking a lot about the gritty dirty sound of “How I Love” from our first EP. We liked that it was more what our musical taste buds were craving. Ben played the organs on that song; he’s a monster keys player, by the way. When we went into the studio, we really had not talked too much in detail about what we wanted. We didn’t originally plan on Ben playing the Hammond B3 or me playing the electric guitar. We had never played it live with Bethany taking a full solo over the chorus, and Russ had never played the drums on this song before walking into the studio. We just had fun with it, and that southern rock sound just made its way to the top. I mean, we went into the shop and pulled out the 50s era B3 from under blankets, covered in dust, and fired it up. We threw some mics on the Leslie speaker and Ben laid it down in two takes. So just like everything we do, if it feels right, we do it. Not much of a plan, just doing the next right thing, and it’s all working out. We all just really enjoy that collaborative process of allowing our personalities and creativity to come through into a cohesive end product which none of us could have done on our own, and we needed each other to make it what it was.
PC: You had the opportunity to play at the Ryman Auditorium in December. What did it mean to you to play on such a sacred stage that so many legends have been able to play?
JM: A dream come true; a dream that I didn’t think would ever be possible. It was surreal. I was standing on the stage with Vince Gill and Amy Grant, looking at his pedal board and his guitars, and it dawned on me… “What the heck am I doing up here? Where’s security? They’ve gotta be coming any minute to get me off this stage.” We were just talking, and he was saying, “Just enjoy it guys, it’s a special place. Not many people get to do this, soak it in.” I had watched a lot of interviews of people who had played at the Ryman, and they all talked about the nerves before the show, how they didn’t want to mess up, and all the regular pre-show nerves, amplified by 10,000. They described a calm that happens right before you go on, a sense that everything is going to be okay, and you are going to do awesome. And you know what? It happened. We didn’t play perfect, but we did exactly what was needed to be done that night. A little band of four friends who thought that they had no business being on that stage, playing our songs to a packed house, finished by a standing ovation. You can’t ask for more. I still cry every time I watch it, and still waiting for security to come take me away!
PC: What was it like to see your name on the same bill as such highly respected artists like Vince Gill and Amy Grant and have the opportunity to share the same stage?
JM: I was scared, if I am being honest. I just didn’t want to mess anything up. At the same time, there was a quiet confidence that you just have to have when you are in front of a packed house at the Ryman. A couple days before the show, I walked around the outside of the Ryman just taking it all in. My wife took a picture of the show poster with me standing in front of it. When I look at it now, it’s almost like I was living someone else’s life. I took my wife and kids through the tour the day before, to get a deep dive into the history of that place and to really understand what we were about to go do. I was crying the entire time. I’m so thankful I had that time, otherwise I would not have been able to keep it together on stage. Vince and Amy are incredibly kind and just the most professional musicians we’ve ever been around. As we watched some of their sound check from backstage, we were just in awe of all that they and the band did to prepare. There really aren’t words, which was why we wanted to capture it all on video to rewatch what we missed and try to “feel it” all over again. More than anything, I just want to go back. I mean once you do that, it’s all you ever want to do again. I am not kidding. It’s that cool.
PC: You’ve announced that you will have a Live EP from your Ryman show releasing soon. What information, if any, can you give about that release?
JM: It’s finished, the mastering is being completed, and will be ready to release sometime in March. Along with the release to all the streaming platforms, we will also be releasing a full length video and behind the scenes of that show. Similar to a wedding, a once in a lifetime big day like that goes by so fast that you can’t remember all the little details. We wanted to capture everything: the dressing room and conversations, everything. We had so many family members and friends who came to support us, but there were also so many who couldn’t be there, and we wanted them to be able to experience it with us too.
PC: What are your plans for 2023?
JM: Our plan for 2023 was to try and play more things that filled our musical and personal buckets. That doesn’t always mean bigger shows or larger crowds, but places that mean something to us. With that said, we are opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd in August at the Oregon Jamboree and we have several other larger show opportunities still in the works we can’t mention quite yet. Keep an eye out (wink wink). We also have been working on several more originals which we’ll be playing live, getting them tuned up for more studio time in 2023.
*Toast & Jam’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*
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