Q&A w/ Toby Driver of Kayo Dot
Kayo Dot’s Toby Driver is one astonishing musician, deploying staggering configurations of oddly shaped harmonic lines, vortex like time signatures and a voyage into chamber music, jazz, black metal and other genres that defy explanation. Toby Driver has been the primary song writer for his ever expansive group Kayo Dot and his inclusion into the New York avant-garde scene has brought him musical associates and colleagues who are defining his vision in a larger picture.
Toby Driver has deconstructed the concepts normally associated with heavy metal and has put a more brave, honest and emotionally defining twist in the musical framework that defines that genre. With musical partnership in the ranks of John Zorn’s Tzadik label along with an impressive list of independent labels, Toby Driver is one of the most aggressive and technically proficient composers out today, stretching the limitations of heavy music inside precision based structures that separate into dozens of different modes and genres.
Along with new material for Kayo Dot in the works and many other projects, it’s hard to keep up with this musician at times. There are few other modern composers we value and respect more than Toby. Due to his sheer intensity and unique approach as a writer and musician, we are always looking for the new things he has to offer to the world. It is from this respect for the works of this musician that we are very proud to present to you an exclusive interview with Toby Driver at Sound Colour Vibration.
Toby Driver is currently accepting donations for an incredible looking project of dance and music called Ichneumonidae.
Q&A w/ Toby Driver of Kayo Dot
Conducted by Erik Otis
We wanted to first off say thanks for your time Toby. We are big fans and really love what you have been doing with music for the last decade or so. Your latest release with Kayo Dot, Gamma Knife, is something I am still listening to weekly since I first got it. For our readers out there who may have not heard this record yet, how would you describe the direction of sound you approached for this record in comparison to past Kayo Dot albums and where did the name of the LP stem from?
TB: Thanks much, Erik! Okay, GAMMA KNIFE is, to put it bluntly, my exploration of a black metal sound. At risk of sounding like a total dick, I think most bands who are using a black metal sound these days are extremely lazy in their writing; it’s kind of like the new version of the Neurosis/Isis/Pelican ripoff bands of the mid-2000s… it’s a sound that’s easy to make sound cool, so lots of bands are just writing really basic garbage and slapping a blast beat over it, buzzsaw guitar sounds, and a bunch of reverb and whoa, suddenly everyone thinks it’s amazing. I think there are much more interesting places the black-metal-influenced sound can be taken, so GAMMA KNIFE is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of my ideas for that aesthetic. Let me just say for the record that I have no interest whatsoever in any sort of philosophy or ideology related to that scene, my interest is sonic only and how I can use sound to express how I and I alone am feeling. If I were to compare GAMMA KNIFE to previous Kayo Dot albums, I would say the underlying similarity is its sense of adventurousness and utter disregard for rules. The name of the LP comes from the title track, which is about a ghost who doesn’t want to be a ghost so he tries to kill himself, but he can’t, because he’s a ghost. In real life, a Gamma Knife is, in essence, a sort of invisible blade. So you could think of it like, the ghost’s knife is invisible, or oppositely, in order to actually kill himself he’d need a knife that existed on his plane of higher frequencies, or something along those lines. Etc.
How long did it take for you to prepare Gamma Knife before you took it the stage and later did the overdubs?
TB: For the live songs, and there are only three of them, I worked on them for a couple months in the summer before bringing them to the band to begin rehearsing. There actually is a LOT more material from those writing sessions which I have set aside for later.
Terran and Dan worked on their sax parts at their homes while Keith and I rehearsed the drum parts for a few weeks, and then we combined all four instruments within a few more weeks, then recorded the basics at the concert. After the concert, I worked on overdubs at home for about another month and a half. For the ballads, those songs existed in a different process altogether; the song “Gamma Knife,” for example, took a year from its inception to its completion… and I wasn’t really working on it pen-to-paper the whole time, it was more
like, certain parts of it just needed to sit in my brain and ripen for several months before they started to become a language and make sense together. The song “Lethe” was quite a bit simpler and came together over the course of a month-long tour.
I have been listening to a genltmen’s records by the name of Jeremiah Cymerman. Porter Records sent me his album and it’s one of the items in the bunch that gets played the most. His name has been appearing a lot in your releases. How did you meet Jeremiah and what has his presence brought to your music?
TB: I met Jeremiah through The Stone in NYC. He’s one of my closest friends now, although we don’t really collaborate musically all that much. We tend to help each other out more in terms of community and function, like for example I’ve done a bunch of artwork for his releases, and he helped us record the live concert for GAMMA KNIFE. He definitely is much more rooted in improvisation than I am, and when it comes to composition and making records, each of our processes are really hermetic… so, when you have two composers like that, collaborations don’t make much sense, although we were able to have an awesomely successful one (Tartar Lamb II) and it would be amazing to do another one very soon. We were actually discussing recently doing an improvised album together this summer. I would say that Jeremiah’s presence in my life has affected my music in an extremely healthy way, by way of his friendship, encouragement and belief in what I do. I would like to believe I offer the same to him. He’s family, ya know?
Definitely. You have been touring for many years now, what have been some of your most memorable places to perform and where would you like to perform in which you have not been able to?
TB: That’s so tough to answer… I enjoy being on tour so much, and can have an amazing time at even the places that anyone else might consider shitty or unremarkable. Since I’ve been touring with Secret Chiefs 3, there have been some pretty unbelievable experiences, like playing on islands in the Mediterranean and stuff like that. I still dream that Kayo Dot will have our own shows in places like that some day. Right now the place I most want to perform is Japan… I’ve never been there and have heard so many incredible things about it.
You have been playing various different instruments for many years along with composing for them. Are there any new instruments that have come into your life that you are thinking about presenting in your music?
TB: Hmmm… good question. I don’t know if there’s really any instrument that’s all that new in my life, however, I am definitely trying to work outside of rock ensembles more. A big part of that is also writing for all these amazing instruments but in a live performance setting. I’ve used tons of different instruments on recordings as overdubs, but perhaps my next challenge is writing what some people would refer to as “concert music,” especially including full orchestral percussion, pipe organs, choirs, things of that scale – live!
Do you conceptualize pieces before they are written or is fine tuning and adjusting a constant process until the recording takes place?
TB: Equal parts both!
What have been your biggest challenges as a musician?
TB: The biggest challenges of course are not even musical. They’re these boring administrative things, such as getting support for our music from venues or labels or whatever. The whole financial end is a nightmare of course. I’ve ruined myself in that department all because of music. And, in the shadow of all that, perhaps my biggest challenge of all time has been the issue of identity and where my music fits in. The answer of course is that it just doesn’t fit in – which is a great thing artistically, but in terms of career… what a mess!
You were on a release put out by Important Records last year, Asva’s “Presence of Abscences”. When did you join the band and is there anything about the future of the group that you could share with us?
TB: I’ve been recording things with ASVA on and off since 2007. I don’t really know anything about the future of ASVA – it’s really Stuart’s thing and I’m just available for him to use me when he has the need! We’ve been discussing doing a few shows this summer, but one issue now with the current ASVA stuff is that “Presences…” used so many real organs that now the music can’t be played in a rock club on keyboards or anything like that… they’d need to book churches, etc., so, an extra hurdle!
What projects and releases do you have coming out in the near and distant future?
The thing I’m working on right now is actually a big milestone piece for me. It’s a 40-minute piece called “Ichneumonidae” and is a collaboration with Butoh dancer and choreographer Michelle Morinaga. It’s a big step for me because it’s my first time writing music with an intrinsic visual element and also marks this kind of deliberate focus on moving towards “concert music” as I mentioned above. We’re fund-raising for it right now and I would enormously appreciate if you could publish this link to the kickstarter.com page in conjunction with this interview!
I know sometimes when I say things such as “I’m deliberately moving towards concert music”, fans of my more metallic ventures get bummed out and think I’m saying that I’m leaving guitar or rock or metal behind… well, I assure you that’s NOT what I’m saying. In fact, like I also mentioned above, I have a lot more material leftover from the initial GAMMA KNIFE writing sessions, so I would definitely like to do a professional studio album of Kayo Dot music in the style of GAMMA KNIFE.
Some other music on the horizon: I have a collection of singer-songwriter type stuff that I’ve been performing solo recently on keyboard and vocals, which I would also love to make into an album. And finally, I have a hugely ambitious project in mind, which is a full-color, hardcover art book of new oil paintings by me, each one a synaesthetic exploration of a different sonic effect (reverb, chorus, compression, etc) and a vinyl LP containing a new song for each painting/effect composed specifically as an exploration of that one effect. All with text written in a poetic children’s book style describing what each effect sounds like. Of course, all of those potential projects just bring up more seemingly insurmountable funding
issues, etc. Perhaps yet another kickstarter or three are on the horizon?
Who have been your biggest mentors in the evolution of who you have become musically?
I think in order for someone to be a mentor, they have to be on an obviously higher level than you and they have to deliberately steward you in some way. I think there are three people in my life who have done this for me, #1 Randall Dunn, #2 Trey Spruance, and #3 John Zorn. Then there are dozens of other people, who are more like on the same level of experience as me, who have taught me plenty of amazing things as well. Too many people there to name.
What type of artists, bands or composers have been dominating the sounds you listen to lately?
TB: Bet you’re going to laugh at this one. I think what we’ve been spinning at home mostly falls into the world of coldwave and witch house. I think. If I understand those terms correctly. Heheheh….
Haha, I don’t even want to imagine what that means…If you had to describe what you want to achieve in the next ten years with your creative passions, how would that conversation shape out?
TB: Ten years is a long time! Well, I know that in the next ONE year, I’d like to accomplish all the projects I mentioned above, and of course there is also still the simple dream of getting Kayo Dot to play the amazing types of places I have been with Secret Chiefs 3. TEN years though? Crap…. well, all I really want is to be able to write, record, and perform all the music I’m compelled to, in all the styles that interest me, in beautiful places around the world, without feeling like I’m always fighting everyone for it. Yeah, maybe that’s the main goal. To no longer feel like it’s a fight.
I think a lot of people can identify with that a lot, I know I do. The influence of music is always a fairly traceable path. What are some of the biggest non musical influences that stand out the most when contemplating that part of who you are?
TB: I’m not sure if people really know that much about that side of me, which is probably good. I definitely don’t want to be a 100% public person by any means. Animals and nature are an enormous influence on me, so much so that I have these alternate career dreams once the music thing stabilizes, haha! Film is a huge, intense influence as well. There are other things also, which are just too personal to ever want to talk about in an interview. Then, in terms of people, aside from the obvious answer being my parents and family, I might say that Mia (Matsumiya) was one of the biggest influences on who I became in my 20s – how I changed from the person I was in my school years to the person I was in my 20s, when my personality probably solidified and carries over into my 30s today.
Thank you for your time Toby, means a lot and we hope you have a great weekend whenever you do get to these questions, cheers!
TB: Thanks for the thoughtful interview and for your support, it means a lot to me as well!!
PLEASE DONATE TO TOBY’S LATEST KICKSTARTER FUND FOR ONE OF HIS MOST ADVENTUROUS PROJECTS TO DATE
Toby Driver and Michelle Morinaga
Ichneumonidae is a new collaborative music and Butoh dance piece by Toby Driver and Michelle Morinaga, featuring the virtuosic violin work of Timba Harris. Named after a horrifying family of parasitic wasps, Ichneumonidae explores the astounding psyche of parasites, touching on dualities of survival and self-destruction, the perilous tensions of coexistence, and the subtle horrors of the colonized body.
Originally performed as a violin/guitar duet between Driver and Harris, with dance and percussive elements performed by Morinaga, (see above video) we want to expand the music to suit a larger ensemble, namely, two violins, vibraphone/orchestral percussion, guitar, synth, and heavily processed vocals. This is Toby Driver’s first foray into writing music specifically to accompany dance. Our plan is to record the music in a professional studio with the large ensemble and create a dance film in a separate studio using the audio recording.
Sound Colour Vibration
Music | Art | Film | Technology | Science | Gear | CultureSound Colour Vibration covers a wide variety of genres past and present and will continue to bridge the many cultures of music, film and art. SCV is a vehicle to present these three mediums of art as one collective window that shows the creative evolution of the human race in modern times. We cover timeless art, film and music, not just what's in or what record sales dictate. Our site includes interviews, album and film reviews, online art gallery, streaming music podcast series and much more. We are also known as SACVS (Sound and Colour Vibration Society). Learn more about the different areas that represent Sound Colour Vibration HERE Read an exclusive interview with Sound Colour Vibration's Erik Otis for Conversations with Bianca by clicking on the link below Conversations with Bianca "With the power of soul, anything is possible" - Jimi Hendrix
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Porter Records was born in 2005 out of a love for crate digging in the basements of record shops. Porter’s founder, Luke Mosling, has a talent for finding the obscure, beautiful and strange recordings that may have previously gone unheard by a larger audience. This talent started the reissue portion of the Porter Records catalog.
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