Interview submitted by guest contributor Howard Gorman. If you would like to write for All-Noise, send your articles and music reviews to [email protected]
Toy Horses – Interview
Toy Horses, an unconventional pairing we haven’t seen since Beck was breakdancing with his backing band on Top of the Pops way back when, have more than reaped the benefits of seeds “accidentally” sown on the net. Since the demo recordings posted by the Welsh step-father/son duo of Tom Williams and Adam D. Franklin caught the attention of many a music mogul, the band barely had room to breath before a leisurely trot turned to full speed gallop. With a stunning, heavily retro tinged debut (produced by Wilco’s Ken Coomer) released last year, I though it was about time we caught up with the two of them as I, for one, am gasping to hear some new material from them.
OK so after I heard a few songs on the internet I was surprised to learn that you were in fact a step-father/step-son collaboration. How did this come about, and why now? Also, do you get on, or do you sometimes have a bit of a Gallagher brothers-esque explosion from time to time?
Adam: We didn’t set out to start a band at all. We just wrote a few songs, put some demos on the internet and watched as they were shared and passed around the world and played on the radio. We were mates and now bandmates – there’s really never been any father-son dynamic between us at all. We mostly tend to get on, but it’s still a band full of the usual bickering, rivalry etc…
I know you were originally called just “Horses” but how did you come to change the name to “Toy Horses”? Obviously a name is important for a band so what kind of image did you want to portray with this name?
A: Well, we were originally, and very briefly, named ‘The Horses Of Parliamint’ but that was quickly shortened to ‘The Horses’. The ‘Toy’ part came after the sudden and accidental radio play we started gaining around the world. It turns out that there are several ‘The Horses’ already in existence and that we weren’t really helping the situation at all!
You clearly have an affinity for groups like the Beatles? What other influences do you share? Also, which influences do you not share at all?
A: There’s really no escaping the Beatles’ influence on our debut album. That aside, we’re generally both very into big, well-written songs, whichever genre they may come from.
I hear most of the demos for the first album were actually recorded on a home computer. How simple, or complex, did you find this?
A: It’s how we’ve always done it so I’m not sure how it compares. We have a small home studio where Tom and I will go in and compose every single part of every new song between us; basslines, drum parts, harmonies etc…
Following this, you loaded some songs onto My Space and the rest was history. Wilco drummer Ken Coomer invited you both over to Nashville to record after hearing your tunes on the internet. Did you believe it when he contacted you at first?
A: We’d had so many unexpected things happen by then that we just accepted it as completely normal! I (Adam) had never been allowed near a recording studio before so being asked if I’d like to record my debut album on Music Row in Nashville was a pretty easy decision.
Talking of Myspace, I have heard you (Tom) say that it’s on its way out. If so, what is the way forward for upcoming bands on the internet?
Tom: Myspace was THE place for bands only a few years ago. In a way that was easier as it was the main hub for all music. Now there are soooo many sites. I think you just need to have an online presence everywhere to give yourself a chance of being heard.
You then went on to be picked up by American DJ Nic Hardcourt who is well-known for launching British artists such as Coldplay and Dido. How have the US taken to your band? I hear they needed the odd geography lesson to differentiate Wales from England…
A: Nic invited us to perform at his showcase at SXSW and then to play a session on his KCRW show in LA. We spent a lot of last year playing festivals and shows over there so our ‘British’ sound does appear to pique their interest. There was one beautifully surreal moment quite early on – we were driving around in Beverly Hills and randomly switched the radio on to hear one of our songs playing. We also nearly crashed into Sly Stallone in his kitcar and saw Nick Faldo out shopping that day…
Ha, yeah. Americans, on the most part, seem to have no idea where or what Wales is and consider England to be the acceptable blanket name for the whole of UK.
Stephen Fry is a big fan, having openly Tweeted you are his favourite new band. What do you think of this? Are you aware of any other celebrity fans?
A: We had no idea he knew anything about us until that first tweet. He’s since gone on to tweet about one of our shows and also premiered our ‘Play What You Want’ music video to 4.5m followers! We’re both massive fans of his – ‘Making History’ is a great book if you get the chance – so it’s not at all one-sided!
What about the song writing process? Previously it was all done in a bedroom at home. Would you say it was easier to come up with songs at home or in a studio with various other musicians on board?
A: Either Tom or I will arrive with a mostly written song and present it to the other who’ll then fill in the gaps or try and come up with something better. We don’t tend to include anyone else until the final recording sessions in a studio.
Talking of song writing, I hear you are writing some R & B songs for the likes of Jason Derulo, Drake and Sean Kingston. How is that proving for you? How did you get involved in this?
A: This was another thing that just happened out of nowhere. We got an email one morning from a producer in LA and after doing our research and discussing it more we started writting the catchy choruses they required from us! It’s a slightly different writing process from our usual fare as R&B songs tend to be a repetitive ‘4 chord trick’ as opposed to the meandering progressions of Toy Horses.
On listening to your songs, most are upbeat, melodic tunes yet the lyrics tend to tackle darker, tragic themes (such as “Damage Done” or “Loyal to the Cause”). How do you go about putting lyrics to music or is it merely a coincidence that this amalgamation arose?
A: I have an urge to ‘make sand out of the pearls’ and Tom, by default, will write the poppiest sounding melodies. The happy/sad juxtaposition saves it from being sickeningly cheery one way or sullen and gloomy the other – it worked for The Smiths…
You started off as two but to tour you have a few other components in the band. Before introducing the new components to the live circuit, how did you make your songs work with just the two of you on stage? Was it a daunting experience at first?
A: Yeah, there’s 5 of us making a racket on stage now. As a duo, we’d play very stripped down versions on acoustic guitars and pianos (as well as Tom’s famed ukelele). Songs can sometimes come across better in that set-up.
I hear you have also had a bit of a “Beatle-like” story in Germany too. You signed to Kanoon Records. How did the popularity in Germany catch on? How would you compare concerts over there to in the UK?
A: We first played the Reeperbahn festival in Hamburg to a packed, sweaty and incredibly receptive crowd and have loved it there ever since. We’ve also done a few German festivals and a full headline tour taking us across the whole country. Musicians in Germany are treated very well indeed – musicians in the UK are probably less so.
With regards to gaming, the industry has seen a steady surge of music based games with the likes of Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Do you think this is giving a helping hand to the music business?
A: Yes, definitely – there’s a lot of money/royalties hiding in games. I do feel sorry for the unemployed 8-bit gaming composers of old though.
Do either of you enjoy a bit of gaming? If so what kind of games do you play? Have you had and Dad and Son Fifa sessions?
A: I’ve been playing FIFA since I was very young – it’d be cruel to play Tom! He’s pretty handy at Elite though.
If you had the possibility of creating any game, what would it entail?
A: I would like a Holodeck (from Star Trek). Failing that, an augmented reality game appeals.
A few quick shot questions:
A: Lost In Translation – because nothing really happens.
What are you reading at the moment:
A: Save Me The Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald.
What song(s) are you listening to at the moment:
A: Under The Westway by Blur
What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen:
What is the most overly rated group at the moment (anything from the X-Factor not allowed):
A: U2. This has been the case since 1976.
Which rising bands would you like to see more of in the future? Maybe we could interview them here 🙂
A: I like Miike Snow’s new record.
Your debut album has been a great success. What can we expect from Toy Horses in the near future?
A: We’re about to begin work on the follow-up and I can’t wait. The debut album’s put our foot in the door, taken us around the world, picked up some amazing reviews, been awarded Welsh Album Of The Year (and almost grabbed a Mercury Award Nomination), and gained an audience. I hope the next one carries it all on.
I heard in an interview that you had recorded some 30 songs – will you be doing a Green Day Uno, Dos, Tre on us?
A: Nah. There’s lots and lots of new songs cluttering up both of our iPhones. We’ve just got to get in a studio together and sort them out!
Have you had any thoughts about what direction you would like to take with the difficult second album or is that looking too far ahead at the moment?
A: I’d like to go ‘somewhere else’ but I’m not sure just how far away that will be, yet.
We’ll have to wait a little while before any new tracks come our way so, in the meantime, if you haven’t already heard the band, the debut, self-titled album is available to purchase here: Toy Horses