Psychedelic music hasn’t been this popular since its heyday in the ‘60s. Australia started the comeback when Tame Impala burst into the spotlight with their debut album ‘Innerspeaker’, paving the way for a flurry of acts channeling their inner flower power and unleashing it in all sorts of obscure and, occasionally, earth-shattering ways. Psych fests in Liverpool and Austin respectively have both flourished this year, and deluxe reissues of CAN’s material have reignited the love for krautrock across the globe.
TOY are taking full advantage. A powerhouse packing members of flash in the pan indie rockers Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong, the band’s 2009 split has allowed Tom Dougall to lead the way in forming a new guise; a band more representative of his ever-growing love of the genre. “I got into psych when I was quite young,” Dougall, 25, explains. “I think we all did. When you’re teenagers and you’re just getting into your Beatles and your Stones, it’s kind of a natural progression. You’re probably going to end up listening to the first Pink Floyd album, and it just goes from there. Suddenly you’re listening to CAN.’
The band’s debut self-titled album was met with critical acclaim when it first appeared back in September 2012. What was unusual about this record was just how well received it was by the general public: not since aforementioned Aussie Kevin Parker sprung so suddenly to stardom has a modern psychedelic act become so popular, so quickly. One key ingredient to the record’s success could well have been producer Dan Carey, whose work with acts like Bloc Party and Mystery Jets allowed for a more pop-influenced side to shine through TOY’s ‘60s indulgences.
“We knew him even before we started the band,” Dougall says of their relationship. “We actually did some of the first Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong records with him. I remember this one instrumental B-side that we did and I was really impressed with Dan’s production on that. He really gets us, he really knows us well. I think we’re quite different to the other bands he’s produced, but I think that just goes to show that he’s very versatile. He likes poppy stuff, but he also really appreciates noisy music. We’re a slight anomaly, but it’s only credit to him as a producer.”
So how did a band that was producing fairly standard indie rock become so wrapped up in the world of sprawling riffs and off-kilter musicianship? Well, Dougall admits that he was just as much into The Strokes at the time, and that his work with Joe Lean et al was more of a light-hearted project, if anything. “When that wave of bands came about, that was quite fun,” he recalls, on the indie stalwarts of the early noughties. “The Jing Jang Jong was an attempt to do something like that. They were mainly Joe’s ideas though… it was his band - we were just looking at the fun side. It was around that time actually that we started getting into the music we’re into now, and it was then that we had this realisation that we weren’t enjoying being in that band. We weren’t representing ourselves fully.”
When you compare a TOY track to a Joe Lean single, it’s unbelievably obvious where the creative differences lay. Here are a band that, while keen on having fun, are torn between continuing playing for a laugh or committing to switching things up in a way that they’re more comfortable with. “That wasn’t our band – this is,” proclaims Dougall. TOY are better creatively, he explains, because they generally agree on most things and there’s a greater sense of togetherness. “Before, there were a lot of disagreements and a lot of different ideas on what we liked!”
Peel apart even TOY’s biggest sprawler though, and you’ll more than likely uncover a sugar-coated melody underneath. This is where they really come into their own: no matter how rough or rugged the riff, there’s a nagging pop sensibility that makes their music irresistibly enjoyable. Accessibility however, isn’t something the band has ever been conscious of. “We’ve always thought we could do whatever we liked,” Dougall clarifies.
“That’s the kind of attitude we’ve had from the beginning. We like writing pop music, and we like melodic music, but we also like noisy music as well. Pretty sounds and pretty melodies… we always want to keep some of that in, one way or another. It’s not about being accessible to us, it’s about making something that sounds beautiful or eerie or, you know, strange. I think we just really like strong melodies - my favourite music is melodic in one way or another.”
Take their latest single ‘Join The Dots’ for example. The first track to be unveiled from their forthcoming second record of the same name, it’s another huge, momentous piece of psychedelia that to the casual listener could prove daunting with a running time of eight minutes. Yet as soon as it starts crackling into life, the eeriness of it instantly entices.
“There’s a guitar part on [‘Join The Dots’] that I completely improvised,” an excited Dougall remarks. Improvisation is a huge part of the process in writing a TOY track, and it’s something that the frontman thinks of extremely fondly. He recalls recording the track ‘Dead And Gone’ from their first record, during which members of the band would come in to the recording unplanned or they’d find their certain parts going off track. “We found our ways having to improvise our way to the end of that song,” Dougall laughs. “It’s fun to keep the spontaneity, though.”
On the other hand ‘Joe Lean wasn’t our band - this is.’, there’s a strong post-punk, Factory Records-esque vibe that seeps through on a lot of TOY material, especially on the second album. Dougall says that while comparisons to acts from the ‘60s is welcomed, he hears more from the former era. “We’ve always been a big fan of post-punk,” he clarifies. “The guitar parts on our tracks are more inspired by that most of the time than guitar parts from the ‘60s or whatever. So yeah, we really like Keith Levene’s guitar playing and lots of other bands from that kind of era.”
Hearing the subtle – yet noticeable – differences in sound on the new material, producer Carey allowed the band to indulge. “He’s always completely dedicated to what we’re doing,” Dougall reveals. “He’s always hopping around trying to set up new effects, and sorting out new amps and synth sounds. He’s always switched on – I’ve never seen him lose concentration, which is amazing when you’re working than intensely.’
It’s endearingly obvious that Dougall’s extremely proud of his band’s output this second time round. Does he look back on his band’s debut with the same admiration? He recalls just being glad it was all over with. “When we went in to record the first one, we had the songs but we knew we had to do it in such a short amount of time,” he says. “We didn’t know how it was going to end up. I think when we got out of it, we were really pleased and relieved - we thought we’d done the songs justice. I think we’re all really fond of that record, it has good memories when I listen to it at least.”
The progression from ‘TOY’ to ‘Join The Dots’ may be subtle on the surface, but Dougall assures that they’ve learnt a great deal since going back into the studio. “Technical aspects especially,” he says. “We learnt a lot about recording and effects, like how to shape layers of sound. I think we’ll always keep the same ideals of doing whatever we want. I guess we all don’t lead particularly normal lifestyles, and that might influence the sound we’re trying to make.”
TOY’s new album ‘Join The Dots’ will be released on 9th December via Heavenly Recordings.
Taken from the new, free DIY Weekly, available to read online or to download on iPad now.