The bassist's weary countenance is hard-earned. As a former member of Guided by Voices, the Dayton indie-pop cult favorite, Tobias toured six to eight months out of the year, playing marathon three-hour sets four or five nights a week. The GBV catalog is among the most extensive in music, and Tobias was responsible for knowing hundreds of songs, all of them written by enigmatic frontman Robert Pollard.
"That got brutal after a while," Tobias says between swigs. "Performing someone else's songs, no matter how good they are -- and they are very, very good. But my mindset isn't to serve someone else's songs all the time. I like being in more of a collaborative situation, as opposed to being someone's backup. Music became a job, and I never envisioned it ever being that way. I really enjoyed my time in Guided by Voices, but towards the end, I didn't care for it too much. I just got tired."
So last September, after four years of active duty, Tobias walked away from Pollard's band. He planned to take an extended hiatus from music, after watching life on the road lead to the crumbling of his marriage. It was time to get things back in order.
That didn't last long. In between tours with Guided by Voices, Tobias had recorded a wealth of his own songs, mostly sparse, acoustic-oriented numbers about longing. He gave them to his younger brother, Todd, who added ambiance in the form of swirls of effects. Though the material was never intended for release, the CD-Rs shared with friends led to an offer to put out an album on Viva, the label of Cleveland's superb indie rockers Viva Caramel. Almost as quickly as he had sworn off music, he was back with a new project, Bloom.
"I didn't plan on playing this soon," says Tobias, also a veteran of a number of seminal Cleveland bands, including Cobra Verde, Gem, and Prisonshake. "I really wanted to take a lot of time off. But I was approached to release the record, so I was like, 'Well, a certain amount of business does have to get done.' I found that I've rediscovered my enjoyment in playing, because I had lost that."
Tobias's newfound happiness isn't all that palpable on Clouds Forming Crowns, Bloom's mercurial debut, which is due out next Tuesday.
"It's a very sad record," he says. "I don't want to sound pretentious, but it's a document of what was going on at the time, just being away from home for so long, in a failed marriage, and trying to live a normal life in the midst of this very abnormal life I was living. I just hope it's not self-pitying."
Far from it, the disc is a biting affair that's sure to rank among the best releases from these parts in 2004. Tobias's voice is equal parts nicotine and heartache; he sings plaintively, over restless guitars and shape-shifting rhythms. The songs span from rangy rockers ("Cruel Is the Time") to ghostly ballads ("Sick & Free"), on which Tobias's voice is enveloped in his brother's spectral electronics.
Last month, Tobias assembled a live band consisting of Scott Pickering -- who's played drums in every band Tobias has been in, except Guided by Voices -- and Viva Caramel members Brian Strazek on guitar, Brian Noga on bass, and Matt Charboneau on keys. Bloom's debut Saturday at the Grog Shop will include a handful of new songs, as well as more muscular versions of the sometimes spartan tunes on Clouds.
"Live, it's going to be very loud and just all-out," Tobias says. "I've been very surprised and very excited about how the songs have taken life in a live setting, as opposed to on record. It's a bunch of people that I feel very, very comfortable with, and they're very good musicians. I feel lucky. And it's fun," he grins. "It's fun again."