Interview TOY: ‘Music Has Been In A Bad State’

Martyn Young catches up with frontman Tom Dougall to find out how to deal with the perils of hype.

Despite only forming in 2010, TOY’s rise has been swift, and the five piece band are set to release their self titled debut album this September. There’s much anticipation ahead of the album and rightly so, TOY make wonderfully textured and propulsive guitar music rich with melody and just the right amount of mystery. DIY catches up with singer and guitarist Tom Dougall to find out a bit more about the album’s recording process and how to deal with the perils of hype.

Your self-titled debut album has now been announced for September. Is the time between finishing the album and waiting for it to be released a strange period? As if the pressure is off because there is nothing more that you can do?
Yes, it is nice actually. Obviously, as soon as the record comes out we’re going to be doing loads of touring and stuff. We’re going to do a UK tour followed by a European tour and going to hopefully play America and places like that so this is the time when we have a bit of time off really. We’re going to start writing new batches of material while doing the odd festival so it’s quite a nice, relaxing time.

How would you describe the albums sound and the writing process for the record?
It’s quite varied in a way. There are more melodic, poppier songs on there and then there are a few more longer freaky sounding ones. We tried to keep a balance and have both melodies and freak-outs. There are quite a few long songs in the vein of ‘Left Myself Behind’. There’s also other stuff that people might not expect. There’s quite a lot on there; it’s nearly an hour long.

TOY’s aesthetic seems to be different from many other new guitar bands, with a sound very much based around different sound and textures. Is it important to you to try to stand out and do something that little bit different and challenge your audience?
Yes, completely. I think there have been some decent things coming through in the last year or so but recently music, especially guitar music, has been in a bad state with a lack of originality and individuality between bands. We were always conscious to try to develop our own sound that was very much ours, which I think we have managed to achieve.

Many people first came across TOY after seeing your live show - it’s a really striking live performance - did you try to recapture that sound and feeling in the studio while recording the album?
Yes, it’s exactly like that. We recorded the whole thing live. We recorded and mixed it in 12 days with the whole band live, and overdubbed vocals on top of it. All of the playing is live on every song, none of it is done to a click track or anything like that, it’s just completely live and energetic. Obviously, there are some overdubbed guitars but generally the whole backing track is completely live, and that’s really important to us, it’s important to capture that live sound. You can tell when you listen to it that it’s live, everything is locked in a different way, and it can move along with each other rather than being completely processed.

One of the most interesting aspects of your sound is the electronic influences and synthesiser sounds from keyboardist Alejandra. Are they an intrinsic part of the band’s sound, and how do these sounds develop?
Yes, definitely. I think Alejandra started playing the synthesiser not that long ago really. It’s probably only two years ago that she bought a synthesiser and started practicing on it. She’s always been really interested in early electronic music, those older kinds of synthesiser sounds, she likes to spend a lot of time experimenting with different sounds and seeing how they can work into our songs. She also writes good riffs on synths as well so I think it really comes from her and her fascination with the instrument. It creates a good contrast between guitars that can be quite growling with chugging chords all the while on the other hand you have lots of nice and melodic noises on the synthesiser. It’s definitely been an important part of our sound.

A glance at the album tracklisting shows that you’ve not included your debut single, ‘Left Myself Behind’, on the album. Is there any reason behind leaving it off?
It was our first single and definitely a song that came to be their favourite for lots of people, but it’s eight minutes long so it would take up quite a lot of time on the album. We’ve got a lot of other stuff that we want people to hear so we wanted to leave it off to make space for the other things. We also thought that because it’s pretty long, the album stands up much better without it. All the songs on the album fit together really well so to include ‘Left Myself Behind’ would disturb the balance of it. I think anyone who hears the album would agree that it wouldn’t have made it stronger had it been on there.

You worked with producer Dan Carey on the album who recorded Hot Chip and Chairlift this year. What did he bring to the album?
I think he treats every band that he works with differently. He’s a very intelligent and sensitive person, and I think he realises that to get the best out of everyone you can’t just have a set of rules that you apply to everyone. With us he realised that when it gets interesting with our music is when we have that live sound. When he saw us live and saw that there were moments that were really working, he wanted to capture those moments. He set up loads of lasers around the studio as well as smoke machines, which created a psychedelic atmosphere in the room. There were all these lasers going off everywhere so it kind of looked like you were in some kind of intergalactic state in space. I think that really helped with the music. He also just has a really good ear, he has incredible equipment, and he knows how to use it perfectly get the right sound. It was just really fun working with him and he understood exactly what we want.

Three of the band were previously in Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong. How did that experience effect TOY as a band, particularly when it came to recording your album? Did the previous studio experience help?
When we were in Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong seems like such a long time ago now, and it kind of was, as it was back in 2008. We’re still pretty young now but we were really young then. I can’t really remember that much about it at all! It’s just a big blur. I think now we are definitely a lot more at home in the studio and we know a lot more about how to get the right sounds. We have a clear idea now about what we think is good. When you are a bit younger and a bit more naïve, you are a bit unsure about what sounds you want and how to get them. It’s definitely a lot easier now.

After your experience in Joe Lean… as a much hyped new band that ended up fizzling out rather quickly, did it worry you when TOY were frequently mentioned in the annual round up of preview lists etc at the start of the year?
It definitely crossed our minds but we all know that it is different this time. This time it’s based on things like live performances that have received good reviews in places like broadsheet newspapers which we never would have got in the Jing Jang Jong. It’s been a broad range of praise from different places not just NME, a whole range of publications and magazines. It’s also been based on the two singles that we have released. Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong were being hyped up before anything had really been done. There was only one two and a half minute single and not very many good live reviews that I can remember. It was weird that that was hyped up in such a really strange way where everyone was talking about something that they didn’t really know anything about. I think people who’ve been talking about us now have a clearer idea of what TOY actually is so it is very different. It doesn’t seem to be as scary, we’re glad people are excited about it.

How has signing to Heavenly Records helped in grounding everything and keeping the hype down on a level while allowing you freedom to do your own thing?
It’s really important to sign to an independent label like Heavenly rather than a major, not that any majors are interested anyway, but even if they were we wouldn’t have wanted to do that as we know what that’s about and it’s not particularly pleasant and never turns out right. All we want is to make as many records as we can and try to release one album a year plus singles and EPs etc. We want a label that can help us, rather than get in the way and tell us no. We want a label that will let us do what we want really and that’s what Heavenly are going to do or what it looks like they will do. That’s really good for us. They’re a really good bunch. Jeff Barrett, the head of Heavenly, is one of the few people we have met that works in the music industry and seems more like someone who would’ve been in one of the bands rather than just some suit.

Do you see the debut album as something of a stepping-stone for the future, a snapshot of where you are at this time before progressing onto even greater levels?
The album represents TOY up to this point. I think we’ve picked all the songs that we wanted from the songs we have written over the year. Some of the other songs are really new, a couple of them were just finished in the studio. There were also some songs that we recorded in different ways that didn’t make the album which I guess we’ll use for B-sides. We’re going to concentrate on getting a new batch of songs, which will be really exciting. We have a few ideas and it will be fun seeing how they develop and if they develop into something different from what we’ve already done.

What are you most proud of about the forthcoming debut album then?
All of it really. We definitely feel proud about all the songs on there, I don’t think there’s a single moment on there where you cringe or feel that you could’ve done that better. It just flows really well. I think we all feel the same, kind of relieved really and slightly surprised that we managed to get it as good as it is because you never really know when you go in how it will turn out, and you always think that something might go wrong or it might not turn out as well as it should.

Finally, as with any band, this summer you are performing at a number of festivals. Is there any festival show that you are especially looking forward to?
I think the one we are looking forward to most is Summersonic in Japan in August. We’re going to Tokyo for a few days and I think that will be a highlight. It’s all of our favourite places in the world to go out of everywhere that we have been.

TOY’s self-titled debut will be released on 10th September via Heavenly Recordings. The band will perform at Kendall Calling on 27th - 29th July.

Tags: TOY, Features

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