If you’ve been looking in the right places, Marques Toliver has been bubbling under the radar for the past couple of years. But the chances are, you haven’t come across a man whose talent borders on the ridiculous, who has played with, amongst others TV on the Radio, Grizzly Bear and Bat for Lashes. In fact, the first most of us had heard of him was a performance on Jools Holland towards the back end of last year, where Toliver managed to steal the show armed with only a violin and his bold, slightly bruised, voice.
He’s dashing, with the remarkable ear to journey between straight up pop and the classically edged without being dull or straight forward. Maybe a few years down the line, Marques could be another one of the artists you’ve got to hate just because of the obscene amount of success he’s earned – and judging by our chat with him, that’s exactly what he wants. But for the moment, it’s best to bask in the work of an artist who makes bold statements with his music, as shown with his latest EP, ‘Butterflies Are Not Free’. If you’ve got an inferiority complex, it may be best to stay away. On a sun kissed day, Toliver took time out to discuss his busking roots, through to working with some of the most influential artists in the world and what it’s like to be taking his first steps with his own solo career:
By the sounds of things, you’ve lead a pretty spectacular life so far. You used to be a busker, is that right? How was that for you?
I started busking in Saint Augustine – Saint Augustine is Americas first established city and it’s like a tourist town, so around the time of Uni I was in Saint Augustine visiting friends and just started busking there and honing my skill I guess, and eventually went to New York and continued busking, more extensively than I was in Florida, and that just lead to me being in the UK. It’s the life of an up and coming musician, I spent a lot of the time me paying my dues, but eventually it should be more spectacular I guess
After that, you went into performing with some of the most influential acts around - TV on the Radio being one. How did that come about?
That came about through busking. Honestly, playing in the subways, playing in the parks, playing on the sidewalks and playing outside the vintage stores and trendy places just led to other musicians in the neighbourhood hearing about me, and it snowballing to jam sessions and me just hanging out with musicians that tour – Bat for Lashes, and all those kind of acts just heard about me through the music community itself.
You recorded with Natasha [Bat for Lashes], didn’t you?
I recorded with the TV on the Radio guys on their various projects, but with Natasha I met her through her ex-boyfriend who was living in Brooklyn and had heard me play and had always wanted to introduce me to Natasha, and then a few years later they had split. Natasha remembered me and my music, and eventually I opened for her for a few dates, and then she invited me to the Brit awards so that I could get a more broader understanding of the music industry and see how everything works and see what goes on behind the scenes, so yeah – she’s a good friend of mine.
Of course, you’ve rather taken the centre stage yourself of late. What prompted the move into working on your own music, creating your own sounds?
I think I’ve always been recording and working on my own sounds, it’s just that it’s a lot easier to get a leg up within the music industry by just being a session player and starting out that way, but I’ve always been recording and composing my own music, even when I was in Holly Miranda’s band and Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson’s band also, and when I was working with the TV On the Radio guys and the Grizzly Bear guys, that’s how all of them knew about me – just through the songs that I was singing whilst busking and the songs that I was writing whilst busking, and all that stuff, so it’s not a recent thing that’s happened. I just think that now there’s opportunities - but I’ve been here for a while
And it’s a bit of a silly question, but what do you use as inspiration?
For inspiration, it’s a lot of me doing work as an individual just to keep up with my violin skills by playing box sonatas or just sight reading certain pieces of music that I haven’t seen in a while that just triggers creativity and inspiration, so it’s just classical music all in all, playing classical repertoire and listening to classical repertoire helps with progressions with my own music, and also contemporary Rhythm and Blues artists like Lauren Hill and Marvin Gaye… but it’s a collage of different things, it’s not just one.
You played on Jools Holland last year as well - what’s Jools like off screen?
I don’t know, I don’t think I’m the one to answer, because the whole experience was so quick – everyone shows up for their soundcheck, then everyone does what they need to do to get ready, whether that be look over their cue cards or go over a few notes or practice a certain part of the song. For me, I just stayed in the green room until it was time for me to go on stage. I spoke with him briefly and he congratulated me and said he really enjoyed it, but on set, there’s so much going on that you really don’t have too much time to interact and socialise because it’s live.
And for anyone who didn’t see the performance, what can we expect from your new EP?
The EP is a combination of experience, fictious and real, I guess you’d say. It’s an introduction to who I am as a musician and a time capsule, in a way, of where I am in my life now and going on this magical yet tedious journey within the music industry. It’s a four song Ep with little string interludes between, so it’s roughly seven songs with the interludes. But it’s basically a story that’s being told from beginning to end, and it helps to listen to it from track one all the way to track four.
What’s been your own personal highlight so far?
I have the opportunity to play tonnes of festivals this year. I’m headed down to Australia and I’m jetting off to the Netherlands, and I’m doing a tonne of UK festivals – The Big Chill all the way to Camden Crawl, all the way to Latitude and then Truck festivals and a few new festivals – yeah tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of things, but yeah, more gigs for this year, that’s been the highlight
And what can we expect in the future? Ideally, where would you be in five years time?
Hopefully like doing a recap with you guys, and… erm, I don’t know, have a few nominations under my belt, and a few awards with my name engraved on it – for example, International Brit Award - Male, best new artist at the Grammys and all that stuff, but for right now I’m just going to concentrate on touring and more music. That’s what I hope to be doing in five years time.
Marques Toliver - Deep In My Heart by MarquesToliver