Toby Driver is a man who has been involved with some of the most intriguing music of the new millennium. Best known for leading maudlin of the Well, and- more recently- Kayo Dot, Driver’s music has ran the course from progressive rock to extreme metal, to a gradual descent into the realms of compositional avant-rock. Catching him on tour playing bass for Secret Chiefs 3, I had a few words with him concerning influences, style, and the state of music today.
Conor: So, how did you get hooked up with Secret Chiefs 3 as bassist?
Toby: I started playing with them in 2009 and I’ve been doing these tours since.
Conor: Was there any process of you joining as a live musician?
Toby: Well, we <Toby and Trey> had known each other for a while back since we did a co-headline tour with myself in Kayo Dot. They ended up needing a bass player, so it went pretty naturally from there.
Conor: For the sake of those who may not have heard Kayo Dot or maudlin of the Well before, or even those who aren’t up to date with what you have been doing lately, how would you describe your sound, or musical approach?
Toby: I guess you could call it ‘composed rock’, with a dark aesthetic. And, there’s alot of instruments. I guess you could call it ‘avant-goth!’ *Laughs* With a little bit of metal and stuff, I don’t know!
Conor: As a fan of your work over the past couple of years, I’ve been noticing a development in your work, even as far back as maudlin of the Well, from heavy- even metal- phases to something more mellowed out, but at the same time, the music’s getting darker. Usually, alot of the time when bands get heavier, they get darker or more ‘evil’, and with your work, this dichotomy has been inverted. I’m wondering; is this a conscious decision to reinvent, or shirk these conventions that so many bands adhere to?
Toby: It’s sort of what you said. The reason why it’s darker now is that when I was a teenager writing the maudlin of the Well stuff, I hadn’t really lived a real life, so all the stuff I’m writing about now is real life experience based stuff. So, that’s resulted in a darker sound in my music. I mean, adolescence can suck for anybody, it’s still if you’re writing that kind of thing instead of something a little more complex. In terms of the sound, the whole time with Kayo Dot, I’ve been trying to express a dark aesthetic through rock except figure out without having to use the conventions or ‘tricks’ that everybody knows already works. There’s alot of rules in music that you can follow and end up with a result that everybody agrees on is the ‘one to go for’, but I’m trying to avoid that.
Conor: I know maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot share many of the same members; did you consciously change the band name in order to distance the darker sound of Kayo Dot from the more childlike style of maudlin of the Well?
Toby: The main reason why we changed the name is because- yeah- the approach changed, going from a sort of prog rock to a more composition oriented thing, and other reasons was because we were having problems with our label, so we wanted to start fresh, starting with another label, starting with another theme, and it was just a big turning point for everyone’s life. maudlin of the Well was just the sort of thing that me and my friends started in high school. We got to this point- I think I was 24 or 25 when we switched to Kayo Dot- and we ended up saying ‘we had a good run with maudlin of the Well. We did a good thing with it, it’s done, and now it’s time to move on and do something new.’ Something, more advanced…
Conor: …and more sinister?
Toby: Not necessarily sinister, just ‘advanced’.
Conor: What’s your process for composing? It’s been said that you do ‘astral projection’ in order to come up with musical ideas.
Toby: *Laughs* That was just when I was a teenager! I’m more rooted in the real world nowadays, although I do tend to get locked in a trancelike state when I am writing.
Conor: On that note before concerning change; once you’re done this part of your life, does that mean you might start another band? Stage Three: The Full Maturation, or something?
Toby: I dunno! I have alot of different bands, and I don’t think there’s going to be any sort of band. I have a band here, a band there, and there’s always something going on, and they generally sound quite different from one another. It’s pretty clear what ‘name’ will go with what, I guess.
Conor: In terms of ‘Part The Second’, maudlin of the Well has been dead for quite a few years, and now that you’re working with Kayo Dot, why did you choose to have a maudlin of the Well album all of a sudden <in 2009>?
Toby: Well, those songs were all written back during the Maudlin period, as far back as ’97. They’re fairly old; between 97′ and ’99. On the free download site of the album actually, you can see when the songs were written. Some of them are like; ’1997 to 2005′, and that’s simply the time between the song being a simple idea and becoming a finished work. I messed with the songs for a little while. The only reason, really, why we did another maudlin of the Well was because the fans wanted it, and they funded it.
Conor: I guess finance is a big issue with this sort of music. I mean, you’re certainly not dining with the Kardashians and I haven’t seen any Kayo Dot McDonalds toys so far, so there definitely must be some strain in terms of making ends meet financially and getting these albums out.
Toby: I don’t know if you read about ‘Gamma Knife’, but we didn’t have any funding for that one, we had to do it all ourselves!
Conor: Yeah, mixing the album in your bedroom!
Toby: I would do more stuff, if there was just a ‘way’ to do it. But, yeah, there’s not really a way to do it.
Conor: Going into ‘Gamma Knife’, I listened to it the night it was released and on one hand, I was incredibly impressed, but I was also feeling like it wasn’t a ‘full’ Kayo Dot album, like it didn’t ‘complete’, I guess… Almost like it was an EP, or the ‘first part’ to a larger concept. Not only that, but there’s been a big shift stylistically. Most of the reviews thus far have been titled something like ‘bringing back the growls’, so the gear towards a heavier sound definitely hasn’t gone unnoticed. What instigated the change?
Toby: I mean, it was short because it was digital-only; there was no actual media involved, so it doesn’t even matter how long it is. The whole point of media is that it can only hold a certain amount of music, so when you don’t have media, then you have no limitation; you’re free! Why should it even matter how long it is, right? It shouldn’t matter at all! Anyways, as for the metal thing, there are so many bands out there that are doing the same conventional ‘black metal’ aesthetic, and I think it’s been getting really lame…
Conor: Well, there’s some great black metal coming out lately too! Deathspell Omega!
Toby: Oh, I love them; they’re great! But, for most of it, it seems lazy, people think they can get away with lazy songwriting and the same old tremolo picking and blastbeat, doing some sort of minor chord progression. I mean, it’s basically just punk music with the ‘black’ aesthetic. When they do that though, it basically guarantees them fans, because fans of black metal can hear it and think ‘hey, this is black metal. I like black metal. I like this!’ but they’re not picking up the fact that it’s really nothing new. However, I really like the aesthetic, and yeah, what bands like Deathspell Omega are doing is great. I really liked Emperor and their earlier stuff. I thought that sound, the developing, ‘lead guitar’ oriented sound was really good for black metal. Bands like that really show what black metal can do as a style. I mean, there’s plenty of shit black metal in Brooklyn…
Conor: *Laughs* All hails the haptic void!
Toby: I don’t wanna say anyone by name, but there’s alot. You can just start a band, and have it be black metal and within your first show, people will like you. So many bands are the same.
Conor: Well, that’s a pandemic for most genres. Even prog, which is now ironically looking mostly back on the 70′s for its inspiration.
Toby: For sure.
Conor: What sort of stuff have you been listening to? What might you recommend to fans of metal or prog?
Toby: Hm, what’s on my iPod lately… Well, yeah I’ve been listening to alot of Deathspell Omega. Their new album was really great. I like alot of stuff, but I unfortunately can’t remember the names to alot of it! *Laughs*
Conor: Well, we’re both mutual fans of the one and only King Diamond!
Toby: Heh, yeah! To be honest, I haven’t listened to him much in quite a long time. I listened to him so much when I was younger, but I guess I ended up trying to track down new stuff.
Conor: I won’t try to keep you from dinner, so just one last question; what advice would you give to a composer or musician just starting out, especially in this more left-of-centre sound, where there’s not much support from your average high school girl?
Toby: I think that you need to be aware of all the other music that’s going on, so you don’t end up being brushed off as unoriginal. You need to be able to see yourself as a unique artist somehow, as hard as that might be sometimes. At the same time though, don’t just aim for originality. There’s people who will try so hard to be original that their music ends up becoming a big retarded blob of crap that’s impossible to listen to. Then there are other bands who think they’re doing something new, but they’re not aware of what’s really out there; that or they’re not willing to admit what’s out there. Both of those things are bad!