Written by Holly Kirkpatrick
Photographed by Bridget Schaefer
For the fully stylized version of this article with additional illustrations, pick up a free physical copy of No Boundaries issue 5 anywhere in Buffalo or Rochester or review it here on issuu.
I walked into Electric Avenue, the dive bar on Ellicott Street, a little after 3pm on a Friday. Though the work week was still technically in effect, all the bar seats were occupied. I was waiting to photograph John Toohill – aka “Science Man,” who would be performing at the bar later that night. I started chatting with bar folks and found myself forgetting why I was ever there. After finally meeting John, it made sense why he chose Electric Avenue as the venue for the LP release show of Science Man. It was a space for anyone to be who they are – no frills and no pretension. So sure… why not let Science Man blow up a watermelon inside the bar.
After spending a few minutes with John, his energy and passion for performing was clear. Aside from being in several Buffalo-based bands including the Hotlights, JOHNS, Alpaha Hopper and Night Slaves, plus an infamous performer at Torn Space Theatre,
Science Man is his new solo project that delivers a mix of hardcore and punk. As he got ready for his show, we chatted about music, beer and science.
Who is Science Man?
“I’m not entirely sure. It’s like a dog chasing his tail. Stupid but wonderfully entertaining to watch. I think if I truly knew what he is then I probably wouldn’t want to do it anymore and what kind of fun would that be for everyone else? Maybe Science Man is just me experimenting with myself? I dare not ask too much more. Might see behind the curtain. Ruin the ride.”
How did you come up with the idea?
It just started falling into place naturally. I didn’t exactly dream up the whole thing then start executing the ideas. I was on tour, and started toying around in the back of the van during long drives with a drum machine. I just started building song ideas up on my laptop’s recording software. The music for the Science Man demo and part of the LP was recorded in an actual moving vehicle. I’d track vocals in people’s basements, attics, or living rooms before or after shows. I’d mix it whenever we had down time.
At first, I assumed it would be a project I’d eventually enlist real, live, breathing musicians to play on with me. But I didn’t do that – I liked how it sounded as is.
I liked it being a band that I could do completely by myself. It represents someone being totally unreasonable. It can’t possibly end well. It was perfect. It snowballed then next thing I knew I found myself buying black rubber gloves and trying not to blow myself up on stage.
Why did you choose Electric Avenue for your LP release?
“I love Electric and I’m so happy with how they keep that place. It’s good to see new bars/restaurants pop up and succeed in that neighborhood but even better to see certain things stay the same. I think not having live music in there all the time is important to keeping its vibe, but I am always super happy when they occasionally let me throw events there. I’m not sure exactly how it came about. I’ve played at Mohawk Place countless times over the past 15 years or so, and had beers at Electric almost as many. I think I just ask and if there isn’t too much happening around that date they sometimes say yes.”
You recently toured as Science Man, and it’s just you. How do you play musician, roadie, tour manager, and promoter all at once?
“It’s horrible. Don’t do it. Be the lead singer of a regular band and spend the whole time smoking cigs and looking at your phone. Way, way easier!
Of course I’m mostly joking. It is a lot to do solo but I enjoy it… so, I think it’s what you call a labor of love? And luckily I always seem to have help. Most of the shows on tour are booked by friends who have years of experience doing this stuff. As for a roadie, you’d be surprised how often people see me lugging gear outta the van alone and jump at the chance to help. I recently had my friends Tommy and Gary from Salem, MA (the Science Boys!) hop in the van mid tour for around a week and help me out. I would be dead without ‘em – they just came for the hell of it. It was amazing. Stuff like this just happens if you leave yourself open to it. New and old friends want to get in the mix. Yeah, it’s work but it’s also the only thing worth working on because it’s actually incredibly fun if you do it right. And as for tour manager – you just mean deciding which Taco Bell to stop at, right?”
Your Science Man shows may be just you on stage, but you have a few visual effects up your sleeve. How important is it to you that the audience experiences something more than just good music at your shows?
“Honestly, I just wanted to distract you from the fact it’s only me up there. I’m already giving it my all as the “front man” or whatever. With all the flashing lights and shit, I was hoping for that 15-20 mins you’d forget there isn’t a full band up there with me. I go to great lengths to make it sound like a full band with the gear I set up – the last thing I want is to be the person just plugging their iPhone into the PA system and hitting play. Then there is the “experiment” portion, if I choose to do it in a show, that’s kind of the cherry on top. It’s not necessary at all but why not? Friendly’s is going outta’ business and people need a treat sometimes.”
Is WNY a good place to be a musician?
Hell yeah. Buffalo is the best place to live if you remember to leave a lot.
It’s got a lot of problems, sure, but if you are trying to tour and travel all the time it’s the best home base ever. You can hit so many great cities so quickly. You could do countless little weekend trips and keep your day job. You can come back. Regroup. Make money. Head out again. Repeat. I doubt I’ll ever stop at this point. Shout out to The Black Sheep for still letting me bartend there in-between tours. Love you guys.”
What’s Science Man’s spirit animal?
Maybe a hippo? They are usually portrayed as this big, cute, fun creature but they are really nasty, unpredictable bastards.