TOYAH AND THE HUMANS
Toyah Willcox has been pushing the boundaries of creativity for over 3 decades. Whether it's through music or performance, she has never shied away from following her instincts. Her current creative project with The Humans is about experimenting with storytelling through sound. Toyah tells me “sonically it's like nothing you've ever heard before because we're very bass driven. I absolutely love the bass as an instrument of tonal beauty. With this band I wanted to make sure there
was nothing competing with the frequency but the voice work. So the voice sits upon this very masculine bass.” The juxtaposition of a feminine vocal and dominant percussive instruments gives The Human their unique sound and breaks down musical boundaries.
The origins of Toyah and The Humans began in 2007 with a phone call from the Estonian Embassy asking Toyah's husband and King Crimson guitarist, Robert Fripp to perform on the Presidents Birthday. Unfortunately Fripp was unable to attend, but luckily Toyah was. She proposed that she would go to Estonia with a group of musicians, write the music there and perform it to the President - they accepted. Toyah tells me that “it was a success as a musical event, so we wanted to keep it going.” So The Humans were born: Enter Chris Wong, Toyah's musical director and Bill Rieflin, a drummer with King Crimson and R.E.M who has also worked with industrial metal pioneers Ministry and Nine Inch Nails.
Having all the members coming from experimental backgrounds has meant The Humans can put aside any constraints on their creativity. For those familiar with Toyah's pop career, this band is radically different from the commercialism of pop."This is why I do three different shows. The acoustic set is for theatre goers who want to sit and be told stories and listen to music, The Toyah band is for people that really want to rock out with The Humans we want to take people on a journey."
The journey for their current tour focusses on their third and most “accessible” album, Strange Tales. Their first album We Are The Humans has an amazing fan base, Toyah tells me. Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam has it in his top ten of all time favourite albums and lent the band his recording studio to make Strange Tales. Death Cab For Cutie love their work so much they lend them their recording equipment when they are in Seattle too!
Speaking to Toyah about the style of the band, I mention Royal Blood and their use of percussion to see if I can draw any comparisons for an audience unfamiliar with The Humans. Toyah's response is surprising initially, but the more I think about how intuitive she is when it comes to art, the more I realise she is just ahead of her time. "If I was to go back 7 years when I had this concept (The Humans) and say what I wanted us to be it would be Royal Blood, but we're not as catchy; Royal Blood have a fantastically full arrangement of sound, whereas we have a lot of space in what we do." That space is vitally important to The Humans sound and creative vision, it's certainly a brave and bold concept. In our modern world people are afraid of silence and feel the need to break it with noise because it's unnerving and disturbing, but that's part of what is important in The Humans work. The stripped back songs allows that silence and space within the music to aid the storytelling process. "It allows time for narration and time to digest the images I give” Toyah explains.
On her You Tube channel Toyah refers to the projects style as "classic European Film Noir" with Toyah acting as narrator. Listening to the albums you can imagine that the songs could be used in a film soundtrack because of their cinematic nature, Noise In Your Head, Twisted Soul, Small Town Psychopath are great examples of this. Now, I'm obviously not talking about fully fledged orchestral John Williams scores, but creating mood and atmosphere in a very European way. Those familiar with Trent Reznors score for Gone Girl, or those who have seen films like Run Lola Run, or anything directed by Luc Besson will know where I'm coming from. It's about storytelling and creating atmosphere devoid of big arrangements and embellished Hollywood scores. "We're doing something that is treading on new territory, something which is unsettling and something that demands quite a lot from the audience. " This level of musical subtly requires the audience to really engage with the experience being presented and not just be a passive observer or listener. For those who like their music a little more cerebral I definitely recommend you check out their work.
After this tour Toyah continues her busy working schedule which includes touring for most of the year with the Toyah Band, making films and doing lots of TV. Despite all these creative outlets she is reluctant to pursue too many other projects. “If I start going off on other creative tangents The Humans will never come into their full form.” With talks of a fourth album on the horizon, we can't wait to see what's next in the bands evolution.