London five-piece Toy have steadily emerged as one of the capital's most prominent outfits at the forefront of the new psychedelia explosion. Formed in Brighton four years ago; singer/guitarist Tom Dougall, guitarist Dominic O'Dair and bass player Maxim Barron having previously played together in Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong before being joined by keyboard player Alejandra Diez and drummer Charlie Salvidge; their subsequent move to London coincided with them signing to revered independent Heavenly.
Having earned several plaudits courtesy of their live shows, the band released two singles ('Clock Chime' & 'Motoring') to a wave of critical acclaim culminating in their self-titled debut long player in the autumn of 2012. Tour supports with the likes of The Horrors and The Vaccines followed, with album number two Join The Dots getting its release in October of last year.
Currently in the middle of their biggest headline tour to date. DiS caught up with keyboard player Alejandra Diez post-soundcheck before their sold out show at Nottingham's Bodega Social.
DiS: How's the tour been so far?
Alejandra Diez: The tour has been great.It's only our fourth date tonight so it feels like we're still warming up, but all the shows so far have been really good. It's nice to have our friends The Proper Ornaments with us as well.
DiS: You're also playing Shepherd's Bush Empire in April, your biggest headline show to date. Was it the band's choice to play that venue?
Alejandra Diez: It's something we've been talking about for a while, playing a big venue like that in London. Now it's eventually going to happen so we're pretty excited to say the least!
DiS: Was it a conscious decision for the band to sign to Heavenly bearing in mind their reputation and track record for nurturing bands over the years? I assume you received offers from other labels at the time?
Alejandra Diez: We didn't, no. Jeff (Barrett) from the label came to see us at the Shacklewell Arms. It was one of our first shows and he came up to us afterwards and asked if we'd be interested in signing to the label. We loved his enthusiasm; he's genuinely into his music same as we are so it wasn't really a hard decision. Whenever we go for a meeting with him we end up going for a beer and listening to records.
DiS: What's interesting about Heavenly is that it feels like they've created a scene with their most recent batch of signings. People like yourselves, Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs, The Wytches and Temples for instance.
Alejandra Diez: I don't know really. We never hung out with Temples or The Wytches before they signed to Heavenly as much as other bands like The Horrors or Telegram. I'd say it's much more than a scene to be honest. It actually feels like a big group of friends who are into similar kinds of stuff if you know what I mean?
DiS: The psych rock scene has also exploded over the past two years. Do you see Toy as having played a prominent part in its rise?
Alejandra Diez: I think it's been good for us to an extent. Mainly because we've got to meet and play with so many other great bands through that scene. At the same time it can be very constraining. We're never going to be the next big things playing the kind of music we play - we don't really care about that - but at the same time we still want as many people as possible to listen to us. And that's probably not going to happen any time soon.
DiS: Your second album Join The Dots came out last October, just over a year after your debut. It's quite rare now for bands to release two albums so quickly after one another. Were there quite a lot of songs lying around from around the time you finished the first record, and is there still quite a lot of unreleased material left over?
Alejandra Diez: We do have lots of songs that didn't make Join The Dots. We had sixteen songs in total and we had to fudge them a little bit to knock it down to eleven for the record. We enjoy writing music, we enjoy playing music. We were in a situation where we had a bunch of songs we were happy with so decided it would be best to release them. That's why Join The Dots came out when it did. It wasn't a case of releasing it within a year of the first album just for the sake of it. Heavenly backed us up and allowed us to do it. They've been very supportive of everything we've done so far.
DiS: Join The Dots definitely feels like a natural progression from the first record with a lot more electronic elements. Parts of it remind me of Stereolab or Broadcast for example.
Alejandra Diez: We all love Stereolab. Although each song came from completely different places. We didn't sit down in a studio and write the whole album. It was all completely scattered between tours and gigs and making promotional videos. Some of the songs also date back over the course of a year, so started out very different to how they turned out on the record. I wouldn't call it an electronic record as such. Some songs maybe, but not all.
DiS: 'Conductor' could almost be a variant on post-rock for the psych generation.
Alejandra Diez: 'Conductor' is very different to the rest of the album, simply because it came from a different place. It's like a combination of different moods. We all ended up adding bits then changing it again until we were finally happy with it.
DiS: Do you all contribute equally to the songwriting process?
Alejandra Diez: We all work on the songs together. The original idea for a new song could come from any of us. Different songs come from different people. Sometimes one of us might bring something to rehearsals, other times we'll just play together and a song might come out of it. There's no set format or structure to how we write.
DiS: A lot of the songs do sound as though they started off as improvisation pieces.
Alejandra Diez: Yeah, several. 'Left Myself Behind' was one.
DiS: Dan Carey has produced both of your albums so far. Was he someone you'd always wanted to work with? Do you see yourselves working with him in the future?
Alejandra Diez: We're all big fans of Dan's work in the past, so he was our number one choice on both records. Will he be on the next record? I don't know...
DiS: Which of the two albums are you most proud of?
Alejandra Diez: I love the first album because it was the record that allowed me to leave my job! But then some of the songs on that second album are my favourites so I guess both.
DiS: You're a qualified A&E nurse. Is that something you'd consider going back to at a later date?
Alejandra Diez: Hopefully not! I'm still on the books of an agency so I do hospital work every now and then. I was actually working last week before we came out on tour. Although I think that was only the second time in about eight months.
DiS: Had you been in bands before Toy?
Alejandra Diez: No, never. I played guitar when I was younger but that's about it.
DiS: What made you join the band?
Alejandra Diez: Three of the guys had been in a previous band, The Jing Jang Jong, and they were looking for people to join another band. So it just seemed like the perfect moment to start doing something. We'd all been talking about it for quite a while, and when Charlie (Salvidge, drums) moved up from Gloucester it was the last piece of the jigsaw. He was looking for a band and we were looking for a drummer, so it happened quite quickly after that.
DiS: With record sales being so inconsistent, do you think it's important for bands to play live and tour as much as possible nowadays?
Alejandra Diez: Definitely. It's the only way we can survive. Our record sales don't even pay for the records themselves, so it's a matter of playing as much as possible to hopefully try and recoup enough money to pay for recording costs.
DiS: Do you resent Spotify? It's like a double-edged sword in many ways in that while making an artist's music easily accessible, it doesn't really encourage casual listeners to go out and purchase a new release either.
Alejandra Diez: We don't really make any money out of Spotify. Even people like Lady GaGa will struggle to make any money from Spotify. I don't personally resent Spotify as such, although I guess if you asked every member of the band some would have stronger opinions on it than others. Even though it is counter-productive for us in terms of sales, it's still great in terms of gaining potential listeners. It has to be a great thing that so much music is available now. People can listen to whatever they want whenever they want.
DiS: I do miss the days of waiting for an album to be released, then buying it, seeing the artwork and hearing it for the first time. Nowadays it's possible to hear an album online months before its intended release date.
Alejandra Diez: You can still do that now but I get what you mean. Because music is so easily obtainable most people don't wait for that any more. But if you are an unknown artist with no record label or means of getting your music across to a wider audience it's ideal. Just putting your songs out there in the hope somebody might discover then like them...
DiS: I guess that's how I first discovered Toy, when 'Clock Chime' first appeared on You Tube.
Alejandra Diez: That's what we did. Put that on the internet and fortunately for us, people liked it.
DiS: Are there any songs which formed part of the band's early live set you're reluctant to play again?
Alejandra Diez: No. We actually make a big point of trying to play a different set each night. Songs come in and out of the set on a regular basis. We always try to balance it evenly between both albums. Even some of the songs we do play most nights sometimes end up being left out if we're doing a twenty-five minute support slot or festival show. When we rehearse we do so with the intention of playing them all live.
DiS: Do you prefer playing live or in the studio? Having seen you live several times it seems a lot more intense and organic than on record.
Alejandra Diez: It is really difficult to capture what we do live in the studio. In a way it's good to be able to show both sides. It is a completely different philosophy playing live live to making an album. When we're recording it's about capturing every minute detail whereas playing live we can just do whatever suits us on the night. I like both, although I guess we do have more fun playing in front of a live audience.
DiS: How did you manage to replicate 'Kopter' for the first album? Live it can take on a whole new personality of its own, so to condense it into just under ten minutes must have been fairly difficult. How many takes did you use to record it?
Alejandra Diez: We actually used the second take for 'Kopter'. We didn't know when we were going to stop playing. I think it was after about ten minutes when Charlie stopped, and we thought let's edit it later. But we never did!
DiS: The reviews for Toy's records and live shows have generally been positive from the outset. Do you pay much attention to what people are writing about the band?
Alejandra Diez: No, we'd never let anything like that get in the way of what we do. We definitely keep an eye on what people are saying about us. It's difficult not to with the internet. When we read nice things it's great but when we see bad reviews it's inevitable to be a little apprehensive. Personally, the only time I consciously check the press is when we release a record, but even then, an album review is only one person's opinion. For example we've had two reviews in the same magazine. One was amazing and the other was shit. Two different people giving completely opposing viewpoints. It happens I guess.
DiS: What are your plans for the rest of the year? Will you be playing many festivals this summer?
Alejandra Diez: I have no absolutely no idea what our plans are. I don't even know where we're playing tomorrow! This tour is the longest one we've done so far. We're playing forty-five shows in fifty days. It's gonna be really intense but we love doing this, so I know we'll enjoy it.
DiS: What about the third record? Will there be any new material released this year?
Alejandra Diez: I don't know. We don't put any pressure on ourselves. It's not about setting timescales so we have to write songs and record an album by a certain date. We have a few demos and ideas to work with but we haven't really thought about when that might happen.
DiS: Will there be any new songs in the set on this tour?
Alejandra Diez: No, nothing that hasn't already been released.
DiS: Finally, are there any new bands you'd recommend DiS and its readers check out?
Alejandra Diez: My favourite new band are definitely The Proper Ornaments. All their songs are so beautifully crafted. I've watched them every night on tour so far and they're amazing. I could never get sick and tired of seeing them.
More information on future Toy releases and live shows can be found on the band's official website.