By Gigantic Tickets
Posted on Thursday 17th November 2016 at 16:25
TOY have proved to be one of the most exciting British bands to emerge this decade, thrilling all with their incredible output and live performances. Their recorded sound skates the fringes of extreme experimentation invoking the thrill of live performance merged with infectious hooks producing music that draws on art punk, German electronica, garage rock and acid house.
They are about to embark on a November tour to promote their magnificent new album Clear Shot. The record is released through indie institution Heavenly Recordings who were also responsible for their eponymously titled debut album (2012) and second record Join The Dots (2013).
We got a chance to catch up with Brighton born bassist Maxim ‘Panda’ Barron who spoke to us from an East London pub in Spitalfields whilst he enjoyed a mid-afternoon drinking session following a band meeting.
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It has been three years since your last album release. What have you been doing in this time and why have you kept us waiting so long?
The last record, it was December 2013 when Join The Dots came out and we pretty much toured that record solidly for a year and a half – quite an extensive bunch of touring - and also we did the Sexwitch record last year whilst writing this one.
A few things just kind of set us back a little bit. Alejandra (Diez: Keyboard) left the band last year so it was a bit trickier to kind of get together. For various reasons it took longer than we wanted it to.
Once Max (Oscarnold: The Proper Ornaments) had joined the band then it was quite quick and expedient. With him we went to demo the record in October or something and then we did it in December in twelve days. We had like two records worth of stuff as well, basically. We had a big backlog of stuff and it was kind of about sorting through personal issues and just getting some new clear idea of what we wanted to do and the people who wanted to do it.
It seemed like there was a real urgency with your debut album to get it out ASAP and it was followed only a year later by the second album. Did you feel more like you are an established band and now have the luxury of time or did life just get in the way?
Literally, life got in the way because we are talking about the fourth album today. We have already started writing that and we were talking about demoing in January or February. We’ve always wanted to keep that prolific output out there because we are always writing music.
We didn’t ever want to take the luxurious time to make it. We only made that record in twelve days. It was recorded in twelve days (but) was written over a period of about a year and a half.
We’re not going to let life get in way again.
Getting a record done in 12 days is breakneck speed! A lot of bands find the songs evolve over the time as they play them on the road. Had the songs changed much in the time they were written by the time you did get into the studio?
They definitely did evolve over that time. I think we did about two or three demos. We did like home demos and then we went to this place called Far Heath which is like a studio in Northamptonshire which is nice country little place and basically we did proper studio demos and they kind of evolved a little bit there.
The way that we record, we record live. So, whatever goes on in the actual recording session is what they are, what we want them to be then. They kind of evolve again live after and we’re fine with things evolving over time. Essentially when we put something down in the studio its very much what happens in the moment and that’s what we like about our records and when we play together.
Do you ever have a fixed idea of the song that is written in advance or do you always prefer to just see what happens?
It depends. The arrangement of the song is set in stone but what people do within the song is completely up to them and its dependent on which take we use. There are takes where there is really different stuff going on. But if we feel there is something we want to include its usually something we’ve done in the live take as opposed to something that gets over dubbed on later.
New album Clear Shot veers wonderfully from a sterile cold sound, rollercoaster dives into huge blasts of distortion and moments of resplendent bliss. Was there an intention to create a kaleidoscopic album or did the recording take on a life of its own track by track?
We had an idea of the tracks and what we were going to do for it. Insofar as the shifting moods I think that was something that came around naturally through the writing of the record because we kind of write from personal experience and it is kind of reflective, like the album title Clear Shot and also the music is reflective of maybe the ups and downs of what we’ve been through to get to the point of recording it. So yeah, there were darker moments and more brooding parts and then there is bursts of clear lighter moments. We’ve never really set out to set a certain type of mood. Its more what just naturally evolved between everyone. Its reflective of what happened.
So is it still a time of turbulence for TOY then?
No! Not now. I’d say no - far from it, I think. We’ve managed to come out the other side of it and everyone is kind of the opposite now.
As I say it was difficult to get together and people had left the band. There were periods where it was slightly more up in the air but now we have got past that stuff and the album is a reflection of the band altogether and it sounds like a ‘clear shot’.
Where do your ideas for writing come from?
We mainly influence each other. When we play together are influences are what we feed off are coming up with or playing. And that might have been sparked from folk music. We’ve always been big fans of The Byrds or Fairport Convention. Our drummer (Charlie Salvidge) is one of the biggest Beatles fans of all time.
For this record (Clear Shot) during the writing process we were listening to a lot of filmic music, film scores like Taxi Driver by Bernard Herrmann who did all the soundtrack for the Hitchcock movies. A great film composer for film noir and stuff like that. In our darker time when writing it the atmosphere around the band was kind of like a film noir. It had its dark moments and as soon as we heard those sort of slightly weird scores we got really interested in them and in some ways on tracks like Spirits Don’t Lie and Clouds That Cover The Sun there is a little element of that aspect to the sound. Things like Ennio Morricone as well. Colours Running Out, first track off the first album was influenced by him in the chord progression.
I could go on all day. We’re big fans of Big Star and country rock. My Bloody Valentine obviously, amazing band. Suede! Always been a big Suede fan since I was a little kid. There’s a bit of absolutely everything we can find in everything we do.
Talking about the Taxi Driver score, there is a lot of long lingering brass in there that I don’t think you guys have ever done. Would you be tempted to incorporate any brass or woodwind in the future?
Actually, we’ve got a EP coming out on Friday (18/11/2016) and there’s a song called Love Seeker on it where Tom’s actually playing a violin in the middle 8 and I’m playing a clarinet. The EP is all home demo recordings they weren’t done in the studio. We started branching out and we’ve always been interested in string. Arranging strings is one of my favourite things to do. The keyboard that we have, Korg Delta, is like a string machine. When you write keyboard parts, in my mind, its sort of like writing string arrangements for things. Using those real instruments has always really interested us. Using more classical instruments and more electronic instruments to move both ways.
We also love pop music, not so far as chart pop but good pop music. We like things with good hooks and great guitar lines and memorable melodies but we also like the more experimental side of modern music and classical as well. We’re always trying to evolve in each area.
How do you reconcile the experimental artistic urge with wanting to keep it within the confides of contemporary pop music?
That’s one thing I’ve always liked about out band; we’ve always managed to keep on a line between the more experimental noisier side of our sound mixed in with the catchier more pop and melodic sound as well. I think we’ve always stepped that line between them all quite well.
With this record (Clear Shot) in particular, it’s definitely a more immediate record but its still got really heavy moments. When we start writing the next one its going to be more extremely leftfield but also with the things that make our records memorable. Catchy pop hooks are always good. I think we’ll just go that line but we always want to push things.
TOY emerged from previous group Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong. What happened to end the previous band and how did TOY come about?
Me, Tom (Dougall: Singer/Guitarist) and Dom (O’Dair: Guitarist) went to school together and began playing together around the age of 11 or 12. We started listening records and playing guitar together from a really early age. So we’ve always played together and it was always our aim to be our own band.
Joe came around probably when I was still 17 and we’d just moved to London and we got signed to the label Vertigo – I think. It was quite a quick time, it was only two years that we were really in that band. We made a record and due to the label and bullshit it took a long time to get out because of delays. And by the time it came around for that record to come out we had already moved on anyway. So we were done with that side of it and we knew we wanted to do our own thing. It took us about a year just thinking about what we wanted to do and started writing songs for our own band.
It was a natural transition for us really because we always wanted to do that and do it exactly how we wanted to do it anyway. It was a funny time, but we always had plans to do this (band).
And where did the name originate from?
It originally started out when we were at a friend’s house having a party and he had this Victorian toy box in his room and it said the word ‘TOY’ on it and we were looking for a band name at the time and we were just there and it immediately jumped out at us. It had this Victorian writing and logo we used for the first record came out was taken from that toy box. We took a photo of it.
But then, we thought the connotations of the name really suited the way that we make music. It can be looked at a way of experimenting with editing and also the idea of toying with people’s minds and emotions.
Its said that The Horrors helped you guys get your foot in the door. What is your relationship with them?
We’ve been friends from around the end of that period of time. We’ve known them for about eight years and they are our best friends. Rhys (Webb: Bassist) is my best friend. Joe (Spurgeon: Drummer) is my best friend. We’ve just been hanging out for years and years. When our first single was coming out and we were writing our record and we were best friends anyway so they just invited us on the road to do a tour and that is where it started. It was our first ever tour as a band, before that we’d only done a couple of London gigs. They got us out there and got people noticing us as they have always been quite supportive friends of ours.
Any idea what The Horrors are up to since the release of Luminous?
They writing a new record now at the moment. They’re writing it with Paul Epworth (Primal Scream, Bloc Party, Coldplay) who like a great producer and it should be a really great record. Should be out next year.
Heavenly have a fantastic track record of discovering fantastic young talent and taking the time to nature it. How have you found your experiences with the label?
They’ve been fantastic. We were looking for people with their exact ethos of nurturing people and loving the music first and foremost and understanding what we want to do. They never get in the way of what we want to do. They’re firm believers in what we want to do and that’s how a record label should be.
We’re all good friends. Jeff’s (Jeff Barrett: Label Founder) got a great ear. He feels things for music when he’s really into something and that’s how a label should be, I think. I think its rare in these times for figures in the music industry to have that kind of approach.
There seems to be a return of the big sounding guitar band with psyche and shoegaze enjoying somewhat of a resurgence. Where has this come from and do you think you have helped cause this?
Like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine? In the modern age every genre or every movement gets its turn and resurges. All those people get to a certain age and they’re suddenly their records are dug up by a different generation of people and interest is re-sparked and then those bands try and do another album or whatever.
Whether it’s a post rock record or a brit pop record, we’re a band that like loads of different kinds of music. The wall of sound that we like to create is from our shared knowledge of absolutely everything and that’s what good bands do. They have quite a wide taste between them and they pool all those influences and those tastes back into what they do. We get kinda of labelled as so many different genres. We were krautrock, we were shoegaze, we were psychedelic or this and this and this. Don’t you just think we incorporate a wide range of stuff?
I always find there is maybe a resurgence in popularity for those kind of bands but I don’t think we’re responsible for it.
I spoke to a few friends to find out if they had any insider knowledge about you guys and it turns out you’ve got a bit of a rep for impressive pre-sound check drinking. What is your record time for polishing off a bottle of jaeger before hitting the stage?
About 10 minutes. That must have probably been at our Jaeger phase. We’re getting our rider together for this tour and it doesn’t include Jager because in our time off spent in between this record and the last one to earn a bit of extra cash I’ve been doing some bar work, Charlie our drummer did as well. Through that we’ve actually become good cocktail makers so we’re actually for now on to good cocktails. But we can polish off anything in a record amount of time. There is not a single guy who doesn’t really need a drink by about 1pm!
Any other pre-gig or on the road rituals?
Not things that we can really talk about…
And now that the year is drawing to a close, what can we expect from TOY in 2017?
We were just talking about this today actually, in our meeting. I think that we’ll be doing a lot of festivals next year and we’ll be touring around. I don’t know when we’ll be doing an English tour again but we will be next year at some point. So if people want to catch us they better come next week! We’ll be writing, touring and recording all of next year with the hope of getting a record out as soon as possible.
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