Who the fuck is Donovan Black? That’s what the lead singer’s shirt read the first time that I saw a band out of Toledo called Illumira. I thought that was strange, but it didn’t take me long to figure out who he was as they opened up for Nonpoint at Frankie’s Inner City in Toledo; which by the way, was without a doubt, the hottest show temperature wise I have ever attended.
Donovan Black was the individual performing behind the mic’ for Illumira and he was doing one helluva a job as was the rest of the band. He also did nearly the entire show after ripping his shorts from front to back, in true diehard rocker fashion.
I found Illumira’s sound to be crisp and slightly unique. Black’s vocal work was amazing as were the screaming vocals of one Michael Holdren. Holdren is the current lead guitarist but he was handling the bass on this particular evening. Nick Hanefield (another current member) was on lead guitar while Freemason Keef was on the drums.
Illumira has steadily tweaked their lineup since that steamy July night in 2015 and their sound has elevated in correspondence as well. Perhaps the biggest difference in the band is a name change to You Are A Toy (URATOY) and they are now a five-piece ensemble instead of four.
I recently had the opportunity to get with Black and discuss what is currently going on with the band and what their fans can expect in the future.
DB: Illumira was formed in 2009 by two friends of mine, Ricky Smoot (younger cousin of the late Corey Smoot of Gwar) and Drew Hineline. At that time I was performing with my band Weep the Beldam, which also formed in the same year. Illumira and Weep did a ton of shows together and we became good friends. In December of 2012 both of us ran into the typical problems that local bands run into (band member disagreements, stagnation, frustration, etc.). I met with Ricky and we came up with an idea to join forces. Illumira released their singer at the time and essentially handed me creative control of the band. We rewrote and rearranged songs from both bands and began to promote Illumira as a touring band.
By 2015, I along with then drummer Freemason Keef was the only remaining “original” members of Illumira. Both Smoot and Hineline had agreed when I came onboard that the band “Illumira” would be a brand and would remain owned and operated by the members that chose to keep it working. But each had respectively departed the band due to the inability to tour. So that left the ownership of the brand to me. After long talks and consideration with the new and former members of Illumira we decided to retire the band name leaving all members the rights to perform songs we created together.
You Are A Toy (URATOY) was born. The name to me came through a combination of reasons. First, I wanted something with multiple meanings that could be left open to interpretation. With Illumira, it was my idea to flirt with the idea that the band was “Illuminati Affiliated”. We in fact were not but all the pieces were there to create the illusion so we let people read into whatever they wanted…the idea worked well…except for one key thing. No one seemed to be able to spell the name and no one seemed to be able to read it back off the paper. There is nothing more frustrating to a band than having their named misspoken or misspelled. Lesson Learned…Keep It Simple Stupid!!
You Are A Toy is easy to say and spell, it is able to be written as URATOY which makes it even simple to get across. The actual meaning of the phrase “You Are A Toy” to me comes from my fascination with animation and in essence Pixar Animation Studios. In the movie Toy Story, the main character Buzz Lightyear struggles with his identity and the hopelessness of being a toy. The other main character voiced by Tom Hanks (Woody) screams at him. “You Are A Toy! You Are A Child’s Play Thing!” I was watching the movie one night with my daughter Madeline and my jaw dropped. “That’s it! That’s the band name!”
To look at the world as if everyone around me were a toy just blew my mind. We as people are creatures of habit. We do what we must to complete our day-to-day tasks, sometimes almost blindly, just because we are used to it I’ve also had a complex with religion for most of my life. I lost my mother to cancer when I was 13 and afterwards felt as though I raised myself. I had help from family members who were luckily there for me but through process. I lost my faith in God and specifically religion. I decided that, “Maybe there is a God and a grand scheme, so I’m not going to talk shit about anyone or their religion…but I’m not going to wait for a God to make breaks for me. I’m not going to ask for help. I’m going to make mistakes and learn it all the hard way” And now that I’ve matured more I still follow that basic theory. I believe that we all have power within us to make changes that need to be made. The final important piece of the name for me is that when in a logo for URATOY…TOY can be inverted so that it reads GOD. Our logo is painted upside down on top of each “ego riser” onstage so that we stand on our boxes we can look down and read “URAGOD”. Some people may take offense to that but no matter your faith or beliefs it’s important to me that we as a band take responsibility for our lives and our careers.
TRBC: Your lineup has changed since the night at Frankie’s. Has the lineup been solidified or are you still looking to find the right fit?
DB: It has been a struggle to keep talented people both devoted and excited about being in a band. It’s not for everyone. You have to learn to love the hardships. I believe that the current lineup consists of the “Right Guys”. Everyone is humble and a genius in their own right. Everyone cares about each other. I understand that nothing is permanent and things can change in a heartbeat. The strongest band I’ve ever played with currently backs me onstage.
Chris Bellavia on drums, Nick Hanefield on guitar, Mike Holdren on lead guitar, John F. Toxik on bass and myself riding their coat-tails.
TRBC: Can you enlighten our readers on what one should expect to see from a live You Are A Toy performance?
DB: As a music fan there is nothing I love more than a killer live show. I think that a paying fan deserves a unique performance; different than the time they saw you before. It drives me nuts on tour to hear a band use the same jokes and the same stories universally on every audience. It’s just lame. It’s not always our fault because touring can numb the brain and everything becomes a routine. Sometimes the same words just spew out. That’s not You Are A Toy! Each night is a different experience, different people, a different atmosphere and a different show. I love to interact with the crowd. That old school hip-hop mentality of getting the crowd to do their “job”. The crowd is more of a force than the band…the band just directs and initiates the energy. These people should come to our show ready to be a part of the action. The time onstage goes by in such a blur that all we can do is leave all of ourselves out there. And we do. We truly go hard in the paint.
TRBC: Does the band have any plans for any upcoming tours or CD release?
DB: We are going to be doing some touring in the spring and summer with our friends in the RazorWire Halo out of Kansas City MO. We generally tour each year with our friends from Los Angeles in the band Spence so I’m sure we will be doing that again this summer. Those dates are not finalized yet but our friends should look forward to seeing us on tour very soon!
Our debut album “The Difference Is…” has been one hell of a long project. We perfectionists and we chose to work with perfectionists recording Alex Vincent Productions (AVP) in Clearwater. Alex gained childhood stardom as the character Andy Barclay in the cult horror classics Child’s Play and Child’s Play 2 (another reason the quote from Toy Story struck me when naming the band. We met him through our friend Mung Parker and hatched a deal to take URATOY to Clearwater to record. Alex actually thought so much of our Engineer Mung that after two weeks of recording he hired him as a partner on the spot. Mung has been in Florida for the past year working with us on completing our album and working on other projects for AVP.
TRBC: You’ve opened for several national act, is there one band you’ve enjoyed opening for more than the others?
DB: I’ve been so fortunate to play with so many bands at this point that I have many favorites. In 2013 Illumira played with Sevendust and I was able to hang out with vocalist Lajon Witherspoon after the show. He was one of the guys I idolized before I was in a band so that was humbling. He took a picture with my wife and her baby bump that would become my son Donovan.
I learned my stage presence approach from Taproot. Stephen Richards told me at a show that the ‘Stage ends wherever you decide it ends’. With reckless abandon he would venture into the mosh pit or hurl himself off of speakers, balconies, whatever. That’s what I want to be onstage…Fucking nuts!
TRBC: What are some of your favorite places that you’ve had the opportunity to perform at?
DB: There are so many historic places that I haven’t yet played that I feel like a douche answering this one. First of all there is no place like home. Shout out to Frankie’s Inner City in Toledo. Our hometown fans are incredible.
We’ve played pizza parlors, dive bars, palaces and warehouses. You name it we’ve done it. We always have great shows in Indiana. Specifically, Smith’s Downtown in Mishawaka just outside South Bend. The crowds are crazy an they really understand our product.
The Shelter in the Dirty D is amazing all around. e played there in 2014 as Illumira. The Tree of Joliet, Illinois is a gigantic beautiful room with the most amazing dressing rooms we’ve partied in thus far. I think the room capacity is well over 1k…we played to about 25 people. They were dope!!
The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn was our first band trip to New York. Former quitarist Rob Longoria stumbled into so many bars and shady establishments that I can’t count. We were the famous band from Ohio! I remember we had a group of people that we had convinced to come back and party on the tour bus with us when the bar closed around dawn…only problem was we didn’t have a tour bus so we led these people around blocks of the city pretending we were lost and couldn’t remember where it was parked until they got pissed and called a cab.
TRBC: Being a veteran band on the local scene, do you have any advice for newer bands that are just starting out?
DB: First, do your research. Read about bands and their struggles. Educate yourselves about what it takes to be in a band. Financially, mentally, physically. If you know you want to do it, you need to be willing to give up basically everything else to make it happen. It might never happen. You might never make it. Are you OK with? You need to be. Enjoy the ride because it is way more important that the destination to a true musician.
MEET EVERYONE!!! Can’t say it enough. Networking starts out small but given my time in music, now a decade for me, the amount of people that I have met and advanced my career directly because of that is astounding. In 2012 I weaseled my way into a job with the largest concert promoter in Toledo, Innovation Concerts because I was willing to do work that other people simply weren’t. I learned all I could in my four years working concerts. I busted my ass and became a janitor, then a bar manager, then a bar general manager and eventually earned the position that was essentially Vice-President. I booked my own band on the best shows, on the best slots, gained the best contacts, learned to book tours and learned to deal with bands. All because I literally had worked harder than EVERYONE (in my opinion) in my scene to put myself into that position. The President of the company, Broc Curry, really gave me my first moderately big break and I’ll owe him forever. What if I hadn’t bothered to introduce myself? MEET EVERYONE.
TRBC: Finally, what are the goals and aspirations of URATOY?
DB: We want to be a household name, just like everyone else. We don’t necessarily need the big tour bus and the sports car that we all thought came with the territory when we were 12 and decided to be rocker stars, but we do need to make a living playing music. All the members in the band currently hold normal jobs when we are home and we don’t have delusions that will change anytime soon. We work hard to make money to fund the band currently. Goal number one is to get URATOY to the point where it can stand completely on its own. We are close to that point. Closer than I ever thought we would get.
So far we have done everything without help from any sort of label or agency or anything like that. From branding, to writing, to merchandising, to recording, to booking and so on. It’s been like boot camp but the advantage of being DIY is the knowledge gained in exchange for the extra work. We didn’t know shit when we first started. Now I feel that we are ready for the next level.
We are ready to shop our album to some labels now. We don’t need a record deal to solidify our egos or an agent to brag to ur friends, but we are ready to make some friends that can help us get our product into the correct hands. We believe in what we are doing. We believe that we were meant to do it. Collectively the whole band just wants to make music and play shows. It feels so damn good being under the lights in front of all the faces. We just want that. Don’t get us wrong thought, we will definitely take that sports car and those beautiful women and illicit substances….I mean y’all don’t need them that is.
Whatever the mantra URATOY wants to wear, it would be worth your while to get out and see for yourself what kind of a live show that they put on. Then you can find out ‘Who The Fuck Donovan Black’?” is.
Until next time this is Big L saying ‘keep those horns up and rock on’!! \m/ \m/