It’s About Time for Toast, Becoming the Role Model They Never Had
Written by Meg Young
Photographed by Kelsey Wagner
I meet up with Claud Mintz, a.k.a. Toast, on a drizzly, gray morning in Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan's East Village. Their clothes are simple: a white t-shirt and jeans, with a thick three-piece chain starring a medallion in the center hanging from their neck. Looking through their silver wire-framed semi circle glasses, they greet me with a wave and before we can begin talking, rain starts to pour and we simultaneously grab our little black umbrellas from our backpacks and walk through the park to a nearby coffee shop. Nearly a foot shorter than I am, Claud carries themself with a charmingly awkward assurance. The first thing I ask them is, “What were you doing a year ago today?”
They think for a second, wondering out loud if they can recall what they were up to. “I don’t remember exactly…” they speculate, “Actually, I do—I was working at a toy store in my hometown, which is, like, forty-five minutes outside Chicago, and I would just show up to this toy store stoned every day... and I got promoted!”
I laugh, imagining the blossoming musician sitting alone in an empty toy store in a little town. So much can change in a year. They go on to explain how they started producing music with their friend and now partner-in-Toast, Josh Mehling, at Syracuse University during their freshman fall. During their second semester they met Max Wortman of Terrible Records. “[He] swept us up and has been mentoring us ever since.” Now, they’re in New York for the summer, performing and expanding their music with Claud as the band’s lead and Josh as the producer.
Claud explains how the city has opened up unprecedented opportunities for them, telling me how, “…living in a college town or just living in a small town, like Syracuse or like the town I lived in outside of Chicago, felt kind of limiting. I definitely wasn’t feeling like I was meeting as many people as I would have liked to.” They’re in a place in their career where development and growth are at the forefront. In fact, Claud will be temporarily parting ways with Josh, as they won’t be returning to Syracuse for the fall so they can focus on their music. They explain how, in their experience with college this past year, “…it took me a while to feel comfortable cutting my [previously long] hair which is something I’ve been wanting to do forever and the fact that I didn’t even feel comfortable doing that… How would I feel comfortable growing as an artist?” Today, Claud’s hair is a tight brown pixie cut with little blond highlights streaking the front. It fits their personality, put together and unique by default. “Right now,” they tell me, “I just feel like I want to play as many shows as I can, meet as many artists and surround myself with other people.” They speak like a true New York newcomer, infinitely excited by the communities they are yet to meet, as well as the ones they’re already a part of.
As a member of Generation Z, I begin to talk with Claud about the internet and how being raised in a digitized way may have influenced their music. But before I can finish my question, they state curtly: “I wasn't raised by the internet… [my friends] are all so internet-cultured and clearly grew up on the internet, but I must have missed something because I feel like I just found the internet, like, a year ago.” I laugh, only half-believing them, but they’re here to prove their point. “I don’t know any Vines, I don’t really understand meme culture… I don’t know who anyone is… ever. I definitely was living in my own weird cloud-bubble for, like, my entire [adolescence].”
So, what was Claud doing instead? “I was grinding, I think. Right now, I feel like I’m comfortable with myself as a musician... but through high school and middle school I had very few friends. I didn’t go out, I spent the majority of my time working on guitar and voice. And that’s paid off a lot. So, maybe I don’t know many memes, but now I know how to play guitar, so there’s that.”
This past year, it’s not hard to see how it paid off. Not only was Toast picked up by a label within its initial year, but they also recently opened for the band’s close friend Claire, known more commonly as the recently blown-up pop-star Clairo (whom they met at Syracuse). Claud recounts warming up the crowd for two nights in New York at some pretty big venues, “Josh and I almost cried before going out… It was scary, but it was fun.”
So, what do they want out of the coming year? “I want to go on tour, I want to release more music. I want to collaborate and work with a lot of different artists.” They’re well on their way toward a bigger career—in fact, they’re already developing somewhat of a devoted fan base. “After I opened for Claire, I was selling merch and I just had a bunch of young, fifteen-year-old girls who were like, ‘Oh my god, how are you real?!’ They were probably just figuring out their sexualities, or they were gay but couldn’t find artists who also were.” Claud tells me Toast gets a lot of DM’s on Instagram, which, truthfully, they don’t really mind. They actually enjoy responding, “People are really sweet, and it’s hard not to answer when somebody’s like, ‘Are we gonna get married one day?’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, are we?’”
I ask Claud if they want their queerness to shine through in their music, and they recount how one college student who once interviewed them, “labeled it as ‘queer music’ for ‘gay audiences,’ and I was like, that’s not cool. Obviously my music isn’t straight music because that would be weird and unnatural, but when a straight person makes music it isn’t labeled as ‘straight music.’” They explain that they would love for their fanbase to be majority LGBTQ+, because of the value of that community and the extra level of relatability they can offer their audience, but, in the end, “love is universal and most people can relate to the feelings of relationships and love, and like, fun melodies, I don’t know.” They laugh.
On the other hand, Claud is already preparing to become something of a role model for LGBTQ+ youth, noting that they hope to become someone others can look up to. “I have a small platform, but it’s bigger than most, and I feel really fortunate because I think as a queer person I have a lot to say, and there’s a lot of people who need to hear it.” And on the difficulty of existing on a fan-supported pedestal? “It’s definitely a lot of pressure, but it’s necessary.”
And the pressure will surely come—Toast’s music is the kind to reach a big audience. I see it as a sort of sonic poetry, where the meaning of the music strives to be neither linear nor monolithic. The EP is an abstract outline of feelings, which, thematically, “…reflects a certain time in my life. There’s a theme to me and Josh, but I don’t think it would be, like, noticeable to anyone else. To Josh and I, all the songs make sense,” says Claud, “But that’s all in our heads.” The collection of five songs invites listeners to make sense of them in their own way. When I ask Claud what they want people to take away from it, they tell me, simply, “it depends on the listener… I don’t know, I just hope it’s something that fits into people’s everyday lives.”
The first time I listened to Toast’s EP, it felt immediately nostalgic. In “Scarlett”, an upbeat love melody, Claud intones, “We did everything together, now we’ll never.” Later, in “Giving In,” they sing, “I have dreams you’re falling in the lake we swore we’d meet at again,” and you can nearly feel the sugarcoated taste of memories on your tongue. But when I ask Claud if they do this intentionally, they sigh a little. “No, I mean, I’ve been told that my music feels nostalgic since I was fourteen, and I’m nineteen now. People have been telling me that since I literally started writing songs. So there’s, like, nothing I can do about [the nostalgia], but I also really appreciate when people tell me [they feel it].”
The last song I listened to, “Sleep Song,” is a sweet melody that reminds you of falling apart and coming back together. It is no exception to the homelike dreamscape of the rest of the EP, but its vulnerability stands out. It reminds me of why I enjoy Claud and Josh’s creation so much. Toast has a way of dissecting you and piecing you back as a whole. And, somehow, when you’re all stitched up, you end up left with more than you started with.