My name is Matt Toka.
Music saved me from a dysfunctional life in Youngstown, Ohio. I was raised in a house where physical, substance and mental abuse were the norm. When I was young, my parents fought constantly, so I would slam my bedroom door and play Green Day’s Dookie as loud as I could, singing those songs over and over to myself.
I knew then that music would be my escape.
I started playing guitar when I was 12 and started playing in a couple bands that were pretty popular in the local scene even though I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Ohio. After graduating high school, I started a group called Cherry Monroe and I worked my ass off to get us heard. There wasn’t a place I didn’t pass out our CD — malls, schools, gas stations, you name it — and all the hard work seemed to pay off when we earned a huge following and got signed by Universal Records.
I thought snagging a record deal meant I’d be given bags of money and life would be one big party. I didn’t take my career seriously at all and the band was dropped a year later. My life was spiraling out of control: I lost my full-time gig, my parents got divorced and both my mom and grandfather got locked up in prison. Why would I stay and rot in Youngstown?
I had nothing left to lose so I said fuck it, put my whole life in my shitty Honda Civic and drove out to Los Angeles. Talk about a reality check. I went from performing to thousands of people to playing an acoustic guitar next to weirdos dressed up as Batman and SpongeBobSquarePants on Hollywood Blvd. I may’ve escaped all my family bullshit, but I was still completely depressed by the wrong turns my life had taken.
Inspired by the storytelling of Bob Dylan, Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and, of course, Billie Joe Armstrong, I locked myself in my one-room studio apartment and started writing about all the fucked-up stuff I’d gone through. I wouldn’t shower or go outside for days. I was so angry and frustrated but found out that when I was able to harness my emotions, I was beginning to find myself—— and my voice as a songwriter.
I took shitty temp jobs to keep the lights on, but I was determined to make it with my music. Once I built my confidence back up, I started posting all my songs—both covers and originals—on YouTube. People seemed to really dig it and it wasn’t long until I landed my second record deal. This time, though, I swore not to take a goddamn thing for granted.
When producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance) agreed to produce my first album, I cried like a fucking baby. I just pictured being that little kid in his bedroom, listening to Dookie and dreaming of this moment. I can’t wait to share all the songs on Straight To Hell with my fans. The record is all about how hard life can be but you can’t let the small stuff bring you down. There’s a lot of shit you can’t change, so make an effort to enjoy every minute. You can turn any kind of energy into something positive. If life gives you lemons, make a fucking drink.