Home Arts & Culture NJ’s Gabby Toledo on Being Freely Herself & Her Debut EP

NJ’s Gabby Toledo on Being Freely Herself & Her Debut EP

by Amaris Pollinger
Gabby Toledo

A young Gabby Toledo growing up in Randolph, NJ gave her first performance before a public audience when she was only seven years old. From that moment on, she was hooked and dreamt of performing at legendary venues like the Apollo Theater and Madison Square Garden. She performed at open mic nights throughout her teens, conjuring up gigs at bars, restaurants, and private events before heading to New York City to attend the New School. Gabby Toledo began singing professionally in 2014, making a name for herself as a background singer and emerging on the New York music scene in 2018. Since then, she has not only achieved those dreams of singing at those aforementioned venues but slew them, making television appearances on “Live! With Kelly and Ryan” and “Good Day New York.” Now, her EP, “Free My Soul” bloomed on April 2, just in time for spring.

A master of crossing genres, Gabby Toledo pulls inspiration from pop, jazz, and country, to name a few. Whether it’s a catchy 1950s love song or a modern 2020s hit, she loves it all. The heavy influences of Adele, Bruno Mars, and Ed Sheeran are evident within her ballads, but Toledo is in a league of her own. There are even elements of funk, and in many ways, she reminds me of Janis Joplin or Nasty Gal originale, Betty Davis (the funk singer, not the starlet.) Outside of music, Toledo looks to nature for a clean, creative slate. “I get really inspired by nature,” says Toledo. “When I am feeling uninspired, all I need to do is go on a hike where I’m able to clear my head and put everything into perspective.”

Gabby Gets Vulnerable & Frees Her Soul

Growing up, Gabby Toledo confesses that she struggled with figuring out who she was and who she was supposed to be; she found it challenging to be vulnerable, to trust others and most of all trust herself. “It’s always been hard for me to share who I am with others,” Toledo confides. “But that’s where music comes in.” “Free My Soul” allowed Toldeo to pick herself apart- finding not only her sound but herself in the process- while navigating the fear of judgment which encouraged her to say how she really felt. 

Originally, Toledo had no intention of releasing any of the songs that are now featured on her debut EP, something that she says attributed to their genuineness. “When I looked through the songs I wrote, I was able to find my sound organically,” explains Toledo. “I wanted this debut to represent who I am as a vocalist.” The tracks “You Don’t Get to Come Back Now” and “I Can’t Take It Back” contain themes of resistance and retaliation that Toledo says she musters only through music. “I don’t think I would be brave enough to say [those things] to someone’s face. But through music, I am able to express myself.” 

Gabby Toledo

Photo courtesy of Gabby Toledo, taken by Stephanie Toledo.

The originality of the songs goes down to the bare bones of their production, where Toledo wanted the raw emotions from the lyrics to be maintained. Referencing a lyric line from “Dear Rosie,” Toledo explains the words mean exactly what she sings: “I’ll hide behind a melody, I’ll hide behind some keys, but it’s time to tell the truth the only way I know how to.” The song is about how Toledo processes how she feels and who she is. “That’s really the deeper meaning behind the EP, [just] being completely honest.”  They say to create for yourself, not the world, and your best work will emerge. Miss Toledo has surely discovered this on her musical journey. “I tried writing songs that I think masses of people would want to hear and I never like them. It feels like I’m trying to be something I’m not and I end up hating the song.” 

“Free My Soul” is Gabby Toledo’s confessional and the song for which the EP is named is Toledo’s open letter to herself, a recognition of how difficult and terrifying life can be. But at the end of it all, Toledo loosens her grip on her many anxieties, simply allowing herself to let go and —well, be herself and release the constraints that she’s placed on herself in order to live a full, happy life. “Free My Soul” was a song that poured out of me when I wrote it,” confesses Toledo. “It was something I didn’t realize I needed to say until I looked up from my piano and it was done.” For Toledo, it was one of those enlightening moments when one feels a shift in your perspective and you can consciously feel yourself growing up. 

Staying True to Herself

Like most tracks on “Free My Soul,” Toledo wanted to encapsulate the humility, vulnerability, and honesty of the song. Though Toledo wrote “Free My Soul” for herself, she believes that for those who feel the pressure to be perfect, to say and do the right thing constantly, its message will resonate universally. Toledo hopes that “Free My Soul” will act as a reminder to be free of restraint, whether from others or yourself. 

Toledo’s aim to remain as authentic and honest as possible is admirable. I ask how she’ll navigate that in a world that pushes us to seek the next attainment, and in a business in which many lose themselves in as their careers soar. Miss Toledo is confident in her ability to maintain who she is. “Instead of keeping a diary, I write songs,” she says. “I hope that as long as I stay true to myself and my experiences, I can maintain authentic and honest music. Thankfully I’ve surrounded myself with friends and family who keep me grounded and make sure I don’t lose myself!”

Gabby Toledo

Photo courtesy of Gabby Toledo, taken by Stephanie Toledo

A Powerhouse Vocalist You Can’t Ignore

“Free My Soul” showcases Toledo’s original style, a clean Amy Winehouse with the spirit of Adele, but stronger. It is beautifully sad, but with lyrics that are deeply rooted while remaining emotionally exposed. Listening to it feels as if Toledo is standing before us, crying out, and she is. “Free My Soul” is a powerful EP, and its star ballad of the same name leaves you feeling that you are the only one in control of your sense of self. With “Free My Soul,” Gabby Toledo has accomplished what she set out to do. 

“You Don’t Get To Come Back Now” and “I Can’t Take it Back” might be some of the words she can’t say to someone’s face, but with that voice, Toledo doesn’t have to. In fact, whether she realizes it or not, she already has. It takes courage to tell someone how you really feel, but it takes a whole lot more to write a song about it. The lyric line: “I wish I could undo every single part of you” packs as much of a punch as you expect it would on its own, but in its entire context, powered by Toledo’s earth-shattering vocals, it’s rattling. 

For reasons unknown to me, “Dear Rosie” is my favorite track on “Free My Soul.” Maybe it’s Toledo’s freshness, the impression of her vulnerability that leaks out of the song, the sound of the disassembling and reassembling of the heart. Regardless, Toledo has succeeded in moving me. There’s a very “better late than never” approach to “Dear Rosie,” and I always appreciate the art of risk.  Foresight is a gift, and no one regrets the things they did so much as the things they didn’t do. I caught myself singing along to Gabby Toledo, which is always a stark A plus. 

So what’s next for the young singer? Well, she’s taking a pause to live in the moment and bask in the excitement of the release of “Free My Soul.” She’s planning on live shows for the summer, but the dates are yet to be released. And of course, fresh tunes. “There’s a handful of songs that almost made it onto ‘Free My Soul.’ I would love to develop those more.”

Gabby Toledo’s voice is an echoing soliloquy of powered-up pop that’s fueled with an emotional intensity unmatched in the modern airspace. They say Miss Toledo is impossible to ignore, and after hearing the heartfelt delivery in the bluesy ballads of “Free My Soul,” I couldn’t agree more. 

Listen, stream, and purchase Gabby Toledo’s new EP, “Free My Soul,” on all streaming platforms! For more information on tunes and live show dates, visit her website or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
Cover photo courtesy of Gabby Toledo, taken by Stephanie Toledo.

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