TOY on "Happy in the Hollow" - Child's Play | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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TOY on “Happy in the Hollow”

Child's Play

May 15, 2019 TOY
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It’s been an eventful year and a half for TOY. Having reached the end of their three albums deal with Heavenly Recordings in 2017, they eventually parted ways at the back end of that year. Nevertheless, their reputation as one of the most colorful and inventive bands on the London circuit preceded them, and it wasn’t long before new suitors in the shape of Tough Love Records came on board. Already armed with a batch of new songs, the five-piece set about putting together arguably their most diverse yet collectively representative batch of recordings to date, culminating in fourth LP, Happy in the Hollow.

Comprised of 11 songs that traverse an array of genres including post-punk, Krautrock, folk, and avant-garde electronica, Happy in the Hollow is the sound of a band on a voyage of discovery and seemingly overjoyed at their findings.

“The album came together over a long period of time really,” explains singer, songwriter, and guitarist Tom Dougall. “When we finished touring our last album [2016’s Clear Shot] we immediately started writing for the next one. So we recorded some demos at the house in New Cross where me and Max [Barron, bass] live. The rest of the guys would come over and start building tracks up. Then we took them to record in the studio we’d built up in Max’s new place. After that, Dan Carey very kindly let us use his Studio B in South London to mix the record and that’s how the process evolved from start to finish.”

Interestingly, some of the songs featured in the band’s live set long before Happy in the Hollow had come anywhere near fruition.

“Both ‘Sequence One’ and ‘You Made Me Forget Myself’ go back several years,” admits Dougall. “They definitely changed over time. As did most of the songs on the record. We added things here and subtracted things there. We experimented a lot with different constructions and sounds. Quite a lot of the tracks ended up sounding very different to how they’d started. We spent such a long time agonizing over this record, especially those songs that went through so many different versions. That’s why it’s a much more detailed record than any of its predecessors. It’s more how we’ve always imagined ourselves sounding.”

It also marks the first record where TOY (whose line-up is rounded out by Dominic O’Dair, Charlie Salvidge, and Max Oscarnold) have been responsible for the entire production process, as well as writing and recording. It’s something Dougall isn’t just immeasurably proud of, but actually sees himself doing more of in the future with not just TOY but other bands too.

“It was something we properly learned on this album, so we’re keen for it to continue in the future,” he says. “We know exactly how we want our music to sound and we knew exactly when the time was to stop. We pushed it as far as we wanted without having to deal with anyone else. Now that we’ve proved to ourselves we can do that there’s no reason why we’d want to involve another party again. There’s no reason why we wouldn’t work this way again.”

From a songwriting point of view, it was a very productive time for the band. Several of those demos didn’t make it onto the record but that doesn’t mean they won’t be revisited in the future.

“We actually have a track called ‘Happy in the Hollow’ that we were initially going to put on the album,” Dougall reveals. “However, it’s too good to just become an outtake so I’m sure we’ll get around to putting it out somewhere along the line. There are lots of other bits too. Some unfinished ideas that we’ll continue to try and get right and hopefully release in the future, as well as writing brand new stuff.”

Having been with Heavenly Recordings right from the beginning of the band in 2010, their name has been synonymous with that roster, as well as being at the forefront of the UK psychedelic rock revival in the early part of the decade. So having moved to pastures new with Tough Love, does this feel like the next chapter in the TOY story?

“One of the reasons we signed with Tough Love was because they gave us complete creative freedom, which we really had on this record,” explains Dougall. “Our time at Heavenly came to a mutual conclusion between us and the label, and we wanted to try something new. Also, they’d built up such a big roster of bands, which was great, but at this stage after three albums we wanted to be on a label where we were the main priority. So it was the right time for all parties that we moved on. It’s always good to shake things up every once in a while, and I think we needed that to happen. Once Stephen [Pietrzykowski] from [Tough Love] started talking to us we knew they were right for the band. He’s got such an incredible knowledge of music and understands what we’re doing. He gets the references in our songs and seems very enthusiastic about our music. He’s young and got a lot of energy, so it seemed a bit of a no brainer really to work with him.”

Nevertheless, the band’s longevity shouldn’t be dismissed and having released four albums in the space of a decade, they’ve outlived many of their peers and contemporaries who started around the same time. Dougall puts it down to the band being open to continuously develop and change.

“Whether that’s subconsciously or otherwise, we’ve always tried to go against the grain,” he says. “We’ve never paid much attention to what other bands around us sound like. Even those we’re matched with logistically or by a particular scene. We always want to be different and the only way we can do that is by making music for ourselves.”

Which is why album number five is already in their sights.

“We’ve already put down some demos and some of the ideas have started taking shape,” reveals Dougall confidently. “It’s already sounding completely different. I don’t think it will bear any resemblance to anything we’ve done before. It’s always been our ethos to keep challenging ourselves. Try and make the next record better than the last one.”

Not that TOY’s career has always been plain sailing, as Dougall is only too quick to point out.

“There’s lots of little things where you realize we could have done them better,” he admits. “Especially on the managerial side of our band. But as far as the music’s concerned and how we’ve gone about making it, none of us have any regrets. We just want to carry on doing it for as long as possible.”

At the time of our interview, the band had an upcoming tour that was taking in mainland Europe for what might be the last time for the foreseeable future if the UK government maintains its stance on exiting the European Union.

“For bands like us it’s going to be a complete nightmare,” opines Dougall. “I’m worried about the nation as a whole to be honest. No one really knows what’s going to happen. It’s a complete mess that’s going to have quite a detrimental impact on a lot of people.”

[Note: A shorter version of this article originally appeared in Issue 65 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online and is an extended version of the article, twice as long as the original.]

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