Toyface Q&A

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1. How did you get your initial start in music?

James:

  • My mum wanted me and my 4 other siblings all to learn the piano as our grandfather played a lot. My eldest brother and I were the only two that kept it up, I initially hated the lessons, but grew to love the instrument when I got to my teenage years, as I discovered jazz and blues and the culture and history of these genres. Around this time me and my schoolmates became really into music and jammed together whenever we got the chance. I created a 7 piece ska band when I was 16, and that band got me and my band mates known in the Bristol music scene. It enabled me to get to know musicians from all over the city, and develop my reputation as a Bristol piano player.  

Tamsyn:

  • I’m more a writer that can sing, than a singer who writes. I studied creative writing at Bath spa University and it was during that time that I started to have the urge to sing. I had very little singing experience prior to that, and until the age of about 18 or 19 didn’t think I could really sing. It wasn’t until then that I actually just started even singing to myself and realising that actually maybe it sounded alright. I wanted to try out for a band that I was terrified and also a bit depressed. I replied to an ad about a local band needing a vocalist or frontwoman and then just never followed it through. Then I randomly ended up moving in to a house with two slightly older, established Bristol musicians. They encouraged me and I also had a few singing lessons to start getting some guidance and to get comfortable with singing in front of other people. then not long after that I hitched a ride back from Secret Garden Party in a big truck that ended up breaking down for 28 hours in a layby. James was one of the other people in this kind of ragtag crew of randoms and we ended up meeting up again and writing. He has an incredibly sharp ear and had tge ability to lay chords under these sometimes really weird melodies that I was just making up of the top of my head. I was ecstatic. I remember just jumping up and down in his parents living room whilst he played the piano and we made this ridiculous a cappella I’d written about kissing a mushroom into a proper song. We’ve been doing that pretty much ever since for the last seven years. I never quite found voice that I felt comfortable with whilst writing poetry or fiction, but with songs it just happened much more naturally. As someone who came to making music as an adult I always try to encourage people to try new creative stuff out, regardless of what age they are.

 2. What would be your ultimate aim in the industry?

James:

  • My main aim is to earn a decent living from solely writing and performing my own music, and to achieve this by getting as many people as possible to hear what i’m writing. Fame can be exciting but it doesn’t interest me. What really interests me is writing and performing my own music, and if I can use the music industry to achieve this for the rest of my career i’ll be very happy.

Tamsyn:

  • I feel exactly the same as James. It’s not a case of being unambitious, it’s just a case of not believing the idea that being immensely successful necessarily brings you ultimate happiness. It would be lovely to play on bigger stages, and to be asked to do so, rather than chasing gigs and struggling financially. Having a booking agent; some people to work with us who can deal with the business side of things so we can just focus on being creative and making loads of music would be great, and to be able to make enough money to pay the rent and live a comfortable life. That said, it would be great to be successful enough to tour abroad and to meet or collaborate with artists I admire. That would be a treat!

3. How long have you been writing your own music?


Tamsyn:

  • I do have a friend who says I used to make up songs when we were kids and get her to perform them in my grandparents living room to our families, but I don’t really remember this, so I’ll just say the last seven or eight years.

James:

  • I started improvising and writing my own piano pieces when I began playing, so since I was 8 years old.

 4. Who are your top three influences and why?


Tamsyn:

  • Spoken word is my first influence. A bit broad I know, but it would be hard to name all the different artists. Basically, if you’re into lyrics, it’s so worth checking out the wealth of spoken word artists out there as well. Bristol has plenty, and in the summer if you go to Boomtown Fair or Shambala Festival, there’s a tent called the Wandering Word and it’s just filled with these exceptional writers (and plenty of great musicians too), whose words just make your head and heart go ping! Wordplay is what really does it for me; just the very simple thing of exploring an idea or feeling, and pulling images out of words; and the way that you can use the devices of rhyme and metaphor to just tickle people or really push their buttons, is just so thrilling. The density and complexity of hip-hop lyricism also really fits in here too.
  • I always feel like when I talk about what inspires me vocally that I should talk about some of the great past icons, but actually I learned to sing whilst listening to a number of different pretty mainstream contemporary singer songwriters, so that is my second influence. Artists like Laura Marling, Florence and the Machine, Peggy Sue helped show me really basic stuff, like the fact that I was actually singing in a really American accent without even realising it. For ages I was also really just fascinated with the timbre of their voices; Florence especially, who has this kind of cold quality to her vocal tone. And with Laura Marling, I just remember being struck by these tiny little nuances; like the way that she pronounced the letter T in the word ‘shouter’ on her song ‘Shine’. It’s these unique little textural subtleties that make the voice so satisfying an instrument to listen to and play with.
  • My third influences are pop and dance music. I’m a sucker for a hook basically, to the point that sometimes people are shocked at how lowbrow by taste is. I think on some levels pop music’s going in a good direction – I love artists like Taylor Swift and Lorde. They’re clever and intelligent and stylish and their music is catchy as fuck. People have often told me that they’ve had melodies of mine stuck in their heads all day, which feels like a good thing. I guess if you love a good hook then maybe you’re going to be able to pull them out of the ether fairly easily too!?

James:

  • Nina Simone – because she performed only what she wanted to perform, and said everything she wanted to say, despite the huge amount of resistance she received and how hard it was for her to make a living from music at the start of her career, after growing up in the deep American south and coming from a very large impoverished black family. She spoke to the whole nation and they listened because what she was saying was real, and extremely important for the country at that time. 
  • John Lennon – I don’t particularly like John Lennon as a person, but he is so incredibly prolific that it is impossible for me not to call him one of my biggest influences. He shaped popular music as we know it today. His music was simultaneously counter-cultural and at the peak of the mainstream, so that it became revolutionary, to the point where historians look at music ‘before and after The Beatles’.
  • Ludwig Van Beethoven – I’ve learnt Beethoven since I can remember. I’ve become obsessed with his piano sonatas, and its hard not to when you are learning them, as they are so harmonically and expressively rich. Beethoven is the big stepping stone into the Romantic era, where emotion was really connected with music. Pain, anguish, suffering, triumph, joy, power are all expressed in Beethoven’s music, and in such incredible ways.

 5. Is there anything you would like people to know about your current release?


James:

  • It’s quite eclectic, and there is an amazing amount of truth in it through Tamsyn’s lyrics. It tells a story of her life in the past 6 years which is quite a remarkable thing.

Tamsyn:

  • Yeah, I guess just that it is honest and lyrical and hopefully takes the listener on a journey in terms of its musical diversity and emotional content.

6. Where are you based and what’s your local scene like? Any favourite venues?


James:

  • We’re based in Bristol, and are completely spoiled for choice with the amount of good live music around here. There is an incredible jazz scene, rock and alternative scene, folk scene, not to mention the ridiculously broad and influential electronic music scene. I love the Old Duke for never selling out and sticking to their guns for decades through showcasing only local Bristol jazz.

Tamsyn:

  • Yeah, as James says, Bristol is full to bursting with music. I’ve always kind of dotted around different scenes in terms of the kind of gigs/nights I attend and don’t play as many gigs as he does with all the bands he’s in, so it’s hard for me to pinpoint any scene in particular and describe it. There’s so much great bass heavy electronic music here and great acoustic stuff too, but I’ve actually been trying to make more of an effort to catch more touring acts recently though, as there’s so much local stuff going on that you can get totally wrapped up in only watching that and end up missing all the national and international acts passing through. The Trinity Centre is pretty good – I saw Tune Yards there a while ago and CW Stoneking is playing there soon too.

7. Who else can you recommend from your local scene for people to have a listen to?

Tamsyn:

  • Candy Darling are great. Scuzzy, heavy, pop music with good lyrics, and really droney, colliding drums and guitars. Highly recommended.

James:

  • Zun Zun Egui, they have created something that is hard to compare anything else to, its quite far out which is why I like it. 

8. Give our readers a round up of where they can find you online and hear more of your music.

 James:

  • go to our website www.toyfacemusic.com for more information about us and where were next playing. 
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