When I first found out about Toby Reif, it was through a staggering 2014 EP that blew me out of the water. I would quickly come to find that we had a handful of mutual friends and shared a similar musical perspective. In December of 2014, Reif quietly joined The Sidekicks- an event I’d only discover after being surprised by Reif’s appearance with them at the Silent Barn in August. What I didn’t know was that the events leading up to Reif becoming a full-fledged member of the band were fraught with a tumultuous uncertainty, even landing him in the hospital at one point. Here, Reif covers all that went into that part of his life and, now that things are on a more stable path, looks towards what might lie ahead. It’s an extraordinary story and a rousing look at personal perseverance, dumb luck, and an amount of sheer will and determination that’s nothing short of inspiring. Read it below and never stop fighting for the things you deserve.
I’m going to cheat a little bit here and make this more of a two-years-in-review. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, the “music scene” always seemed like a far off, unobtainable thing that people who lived in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago got to participate in and people like me watched from afar via YouTube videos and message boards. I had played in small bands in Bellingham, WA for a few years, playing countless local shows to audiences of friends and always dreaming with bandmates about the possibility of touring, but the idea of going anywhere beyond our hometown seemed reserved for people already in those far off places.
January 2014 found me living on the basement floor of a four bedroom house in Seattle with old curtains stapled to the ceiling in place of walls and no furniture beyond a leaky air mattress (I would inflate it every night before going to sleep and wake up on the floor every morning) and a suitcase in place of a dresser. My band — The Palisades — had finally booked our first real tour, a thirty day trip that took us to the east coast and back, and broke up immediately upon returning.
During that month, we played a few good shows, a lot of really bad shows, totaled my parent’s minivan, and lost more money than I’ve had to my name since the tour. The move to Seattle was an attempt to “settle down”. Touring had been a fun little exercise, but at that point it felt like it was time to find one of those real jobs, the kind that provides silly things like a steady schedule, health insurance, and financial stability. As luck would have it, the job hunt went miserably and five months later I was still living in the basement (I did manage to get a good deal on a “scratch-and-dent” Ikea mattress, so I was off the floor).
I held a part-time job hanging posters for a small marketing company and even toured sporadically as a merch-guy/TM. It was around then that a friend of mine named Jason asked if I would be able to host a band from Ohio called The Sidekicks for a week or so while they worked on a new album in Seattle. I tried to play it cool, but I think I did a pretty bad job of hiding my excitement. Awkward Breeds, their third LP, remains one of my all-time favorite records, and the opportunity to be so close to the process of creating a follow up was not something I was going to pass on.
I had hosted a few touring bands over the years and had previously met Steve, lead singer of the Sidekicks, when Saintseneca (which he also plays in) stayed at my house, also arranged by Jason. It didn’t take a huge amount of convincing to get my three roommates, all musicians themselves, to help host the band for that week. Serendipitously, every other house Jason had lined up for the Sidekicks to stay with ended up bailing, leaving the band on our couches and floor for the full five weeks they were in the city. By the time their record was finished and they went back home to Ohio, I considered them all close friends and our four bedroom house felt empty with only four inhabitants.
Through another strange stroke of fortune, a month later my roommates and I were unable to renew the lease on our house. It was around that same time that I was invited to fill in on guitar for a week of shows with another Ohio band called Signals Midwest. I had hosted them on their past two west coast tours and became close friends with them, so it took no convincing at all for me to buy a plane ticket to Cleveland. It didn’t solve the issue of not having a home, but it did manage to put off the need for one by a few weeks.
After the brief trip through the Midwest with them, they extended an invitation for me to come along on a month-long tour with them in Europe a few months later, which I promptly accepted. That whole real-job lifestyle that had brought me to Seattle in the first place was slipping further and further away, and September began with me on a plane to Germany with four friends from Ohio. I was laying on the floor of a cramped apartment in Hamburg, Germany, when I received a message from Matt Climer, drummer of The Sidekicks. Their previous guitarist and vocalist had just quit and they needed someone in Columbus by January to learn three records of material and tour for as much of 2015 as possible.
It only took two days of consideration to agree.
Upon returning to Seattle, I sold most of my belongings and in December I was on a flight to Columbus with a guitar, a suitcase, and a backpack. January 2015 found me living on a couch in Columbus, Ohio as a member of a band I had loved since I was in high school. The beginning of the year was not without it’s hurdles.
On January 10th, less than two weeks before we were due to start six weeks of touring in support of our new record, I collapsed on the floor of my room at 3am.
My roommate drove me to the OSU Medical Center Emergency Room, where six hours later a surgeon chopped my almost-exploded appendix out of my body. It was up in the air whether or not I would be able to go on the tour with the band I had just moved across the country to join. I was released from the hospital the next day, but a week later I was still struggling to hold a guitar.
The band was ready to find a new guitarist for the tour, but I assured them that I would be ready, and on the 23rd, I played my first show with the Sidekicks at a sold-out Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn alongside Cayetana, All Dogs, and Roger Harvey. I kept my guitar against my side for most of the show because it still hurt to have anything resting on my stomach and I was still taking pain meds, but I’ll never forget the feeling of playing some of my favorite songs to an audience I never could have imagined having a year prior.
The night was a blur, and the pace barely slowed for the remainder of the year. In the weeks following that Brooklyn show, we traveled with LVL UP through the Midwest and down the east coast, pursued by a blizzard that would end up chasing us all the way through Texas. When LVL UP finished their leg of the tour, we met up with Cayetana in Nashville and they joined us through the Southwest and up the West Coast.
We returned home from that tour and within two months were headed overseas for a UK tour with Great Cynics. After that, we set out for two weeks on the East Coast with All Dogs, three weeks in Australia supporting The Smith Street Band and Andrew Jackson Jihad, and then returned home to spend two more weeks out with Saintseneca in support of their new record. In what felt like a blink of an eye, that touring-band life that I had wanted for so long and had given up on simply fell into my lap.
January 2016 has found me in a new apartment in Philadelphia, where I’m finally learning how to balance having a life in and out of a band. I just found a steady job that allows for time-off to tour and has even mentioned the possibility of that grown-up touring musician holy grail: health insurance. In six weeks I’m leaving on another five week Sidekicks trip, this time with The World Is A Beautiful Place…, Into It Over It, and Pinegrove, and I am currently finishing up what I hope will become my side project’s first LP.
While I’d like to pretend like I have a firm grasp on my expectations for 2016, the past 24 months have shown me that I have no business pretending to know what will happen next in the next 12. At this risk of sounding exceedingly cheesy, all I can do now is thank the people that have helped me get to where I am now and look forward to whatever happens next.