Photo by Lily Creightmore


By Alice Butterlin

Toy formed in Brighton in 2010, rising from the ashes of Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong, helmed by three of the band’s members in the early 2000s. Fascinated by ‘60s psychedelic rock and ‘90s shoegaze, they craft retro jams suited to the present day. This year marks the release of their fourth album Happy in the Hollow, which sees them venture into an atmospheric style with layers of lush synths and driving Motorik rhythms. Dedicated to their own brand of authenticity, the group’s five members produced their album for the first time, without the assistance of a producer, lending it a note of imperfection and the raw sound of vintage recording methods.

What mood were you in before you started working on your latest album Happy in the Hollow?

Tom: We were in a good mood. We toured the third album quite extensively. When that stopped we thought it was the best time to start from scratch. We wanted to do something completely different, completely new. Max and I used to live in a house in Newcastle and we started making demos over there. It was definitely my favorite record to make.

Max: It was super enjoyable!

Tom: We took our time and didn’t feel pressurized. We experimented a lot more than we have before, taking the songs in different directions.

Is it the first time you worked in your own home studio?

Tom: We did use that before, but I think for this album we had a better set-up.

Max: We did the record ourselves for the first time. Before, we would make demos and then go to the studio. This time we managed to do it with the things that we had around us.

Tom: We didn’t record it in a studio somewhere, we recorded it in our houses.

In the past, have you ever been disappointed with the mixing of an album?

Max: It’s not that, it’s just that at times we weren’t sure if we could make something happen because it had to be validated by the producer.

Tom: We mixed it the first time and then we went to mix it again at our friend Dan Carey’s studio. We were there for months. (laughs) We had access to all Dan’s amazing instruments and machines. We were really particular about every little detail and managed to get it exactly right. That’s a difficult thing to do when you’re working with a producer. It always comes out slightly differently than how you envisioned it.

Producers always have a certain influence on the album’s sound.

Tom: Yes, which could be a good thing. But I don’t think we really need that at this point. We’re all very collaborative and between the five of us, we can make it sound how we want it to. If we don’t know how to do something, we just need to find out on our own. Luckily we all agree on what we want. We all have the same taste.

There’s no drama in the band?

Tom: No, it’s always really harmonious. We’re lucky.

Max: It’s lucky but it’s also how it should be. No one needs drama, we’re just having fun.

Tom: I think we all care too much about the band to fall out. We all want it to be as good as it could possibly be. None of us are going to be disrespectful towards the other members. Panda, Dom and I went to school together so we’ve known each other since we were kids. We’re more like brothers really. We’ve always played in bands together. Our relationship has always been based on music so we all developed our ideas together.

Do you remember your first ever band?

Tom: With Dom and Panda? We did a sort of indie band in 2007 which wasn’t very good at all: Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong. That was quite short lived. But that was the first proper band I did with those guys. When I was younger I played in very small bands, with some interesting people in Brighton.

What memories do you have from your days in Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong?

Tom: It’s been such a long time ago now. I don’t even know what was going though my mind back then. You become a different person once you grow older. I had always wanted to play guitar so at the time, that band seemed like an interesting project. Even if the music wasn’t that good, it led to the band I’m in right now.

With the Jing Jang Jong, you toured with the Babyshambles, the Kaiser Chiefs and more. Looking back on it, what memories do you have of that London indie rock scene?

Tom: It seems like a different era. It makes me feel old. (laughs) Everyone was dressed so differently then; you might as well go back to the 70s. I think by the time I was in that band, I had stopped listening to that kind of music actually. I was starting to listen to older records, being curious about more bizarre sounds. It was probably one of the reasons why the Jing Jang Jong didn’t really work. That’s not what I wanted to be doing.

Max: It’s good that that kind of music is gone because it wasn’t that good.

It had quite a chauvinistic aspect.

Max: Yes, it was awful.

Tom: But also, it sounds very dated now. I don’t think people are going to go back to that music in years to come.

That London indie rock scene actually inspired many French bands that we called the “baby rockers”.

Tom: Oh yes, I’ve heard about that.

We even have parties devoted to that specific music era. One is called “Fuck Forever” in reference to the Babyshambles song. So people still want to dance to Kasabian, Franz Ferdinand and the Libertines.

Tom: They do that in London as well actually. It’s called something like “Music from 2005”. Why the fuck? (laughs) It’s very popular but it’s lame. It’s horrible nostalgia. A nostalgia of something that’s not even any good whatsoever.

Max: Absolutely.

Tom: I find all that really embarrassing. You have to realize that everything you used to hear in your youth and have become attached to is just not that good. I remember growing up when all the Britpop bands were on the radio. I still have fond memories of Suede and Blur. They’re actually really good bands but I have a nostalgic attachment to it.

Max: I don’t really have that kind of nostalgia. I lived in India and all that didn’t really exist. I was stuck somewhere far away from good music. I had a weird upbringing where nothing was really going on. I was travelling all the time. The only thing I can say is that grunge and Nirvana had a big impact on me. I still love those records. There are also some heavy Brazilian bands that I still listen to.

Tom, when you were in Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong you got signed to Vertigo, a subsidiary of Universal Music. Having had that experience, was it important to be on an independent label with Toy?

Tom: Oh yes, definitely. I think we would have felt like that even if we hadn’t had that previous experience. Being in a major is crazy. Everything is being dictated by all of these squares that don’t know anything about music or art. They’re not really cultured people unfortunately. Why should they, of all people, decide the future of a band? That’s why the music coming out of the major labels is crap. It was really important for us to be allowed to do what we want and have creative freedom. There’s no point in doing it otherwise.

Jim Reid from the Jesus and Mary Chain recently said that his biggest regret was not signing to Rough Trade instead of Blanco Y Negro.

Tom: They would have been perfect for Rough Trade.

Max: I actually know Douglas, the bassist, and he said the same thing. It was a very bad idea for them to be so young and signed to a very big label. That’s what fucked everything for them. They got given a lot of money which led to a lot of drugs.

And while the Jesus and Mary Chain were putting out music, their label hated it.

Tom: That’s horrible.

Max: Douglas calls it a mafia. All the men controlling everything and using older people just to make money. We want to be as far away as possible from all this. You can learn from things from the past. Whether it be rock stars who took too many drugs or bands who got sucked in by a major. You don’t have to repeat history.

I want to hear about your production process. Today, in mainstream music everything is very compressed, it makes it impossible to distinguish any instrument in the mix. What do you think about this search for the most artificial music possible?

Max: Our music is completely raw. When you write a song, you usually demo it before you actually record it. I think the demos have more charm than the finished version. Because we were writing and adding things on the spot when we were recording, we managed to maintain the charm.

Tom: We used sounds directly from the demos that we liked.

Max: Some songs were recorded for the very first time and left as they were.

Tom: We don’t want to make easy-listening songs. With so many modern records now, it’s very flat and that’s what people want to hear I guess. I don’t know why. You can have that music on, have a conversation, and forget there’s sound in the background.

Max: That’s why not working with a producer whose job is to make it accessible, means that we can leave our “mistakes”.

Tom: Professional sound engineers wouldn’t let you do that. It would make them go crazy.

Max: All these wrong things give more character to the music.

Today, fewer and fewer people buy physical albums so it’s nice to give them some added authenticity and texture.

Max: Generally, things that are very well produced are the most successful but that doesn’t mean you can’t do the complete opposite. A lot of records we like have been done like that, like Faust. They probably made their albums in a barn somewhere in Germany.

I think one of the reasons of this flattening of the sound, is that people are listening to music from their computer or phone speakers and the only thing that sounds good through those devices is totally compressed music. Listening to 70s rock through computer speakers is just painful.

Max: Yes, that’s true. Sometimes I listen to a Beatles record on my computer and it sounds really weak compared to some new hit.

Technology is starting to have its own negative imprint on music itself.

Max: But to be honest, we’re not purists. We listen to music on Spotify, we put our phones in a glass to amplify the speakers… Whatever, it’s no big deal. If you don’t want to listen to a vinyl that’s fine.

Tom: Spotify is amazing; it’s a great way to find hidden gems.

Max: For investigating it’s perfect. Vinyl is a pain in the ass, you have to flip it every twenty minutes. (laughs) I still think the sound is better on vinyl but it’s not as convenient.

Are you still attached to the materiality of music?

Tom: Oh yes, of course. It’s really important to us to have it on physical release, it makes it special. We put so much love and care into our albums, it would be horrible to think it was just a file on a computer.

Max: I would hate that.

Tom: It would feel like we hadn’t done anything.

Two of your songs got remixed by Cosey Fanni Tutti and Sonic Boom. How did that come about?

Tom: We just asked them and they agreed! It came out really well. We’re obviously big fans of both of these people. Cosey Fanni Tutti’s version was very different. She did a lot of really interesting stuff with it. She’s made the song even more dark. It’s like a bad trip. (laughs) We’d love to work with her in the future. If we were to collaborate with anyone it would be her.

Max: She has a new record coming soon and it’s amazing. It’s quite similar to the remix she did for us.

Were you big fans of Throbbing Gristle?

Tom: Yes of course.

Max: I’m personally more a fan of Psychic TV. More than the music, I love the way they were living their lives, thinking about stuff and trying to be free of a lot of stigmas. That’s the right attitude. But they come from the 60s, it was the mentality at the time. I like the way they approached life.

Tom: They were born out of that late 60s art scene.

Max: They kept going further and further, doing very different things all the time. They evolved, without sticking to a particular music aesthetic.

Tom: They just did whatever they wanted and they did it all by themselves. This comes back to the importance of having control over your own work.

Today, a lot of artists tend to over-conceptualize their music, and behind the storytelling, you often realize there is nothing there.

Tom: A lot of times it’s just about making money. People come up with these ideas in boardrooms. They know what they’re doing, they studied marketing. Usually, there’s nothing sincere about it.

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