Toby Driver a KAYO DOT - temná hudba zajímavěji

Toby Driver and KAYO DOT - I just wanted to make dark music more interesting

There was too much confusion about this interview; but in the end, we - three tall, grim metalheads - cornered the Kayo Dot mastermind Toby Driver and made him answer all of our questions about recent development in Kayo Dot sound, its inspiration and other nerdy topics, while he managed to sneak in a few perhaps more personal details. The length of the interview corresponds to our interest in Kayo Dot.

Kayo Dot

First of all, we would like to address the change in your style that happened between Coyote and Stained Glass, and Gamma Knife and Hubardo. The compositions are simpler, more accessible, the choice of instruments closer to rock standards. What caused the return to metal?
On Gama Knife there were two reasons. One is, I was getting annoyed by seeing a lot of modern black metal have a lot of credibility, in the press I guess. People are saying certain new black metal bands are really good.

You mean Wolves in the Throne Room and that kind of stuff?
I’m not going to say any band, but with modern black metal bands, people were saying they’re really good... I still think the music was good. And with a lot of black metal that I listened to when I was on high school, like let’s say Emperor, Ulver, a few others, the composition was a lot deeper back then. The guitar playing was a lot more intricate, the writing more creative, while modern black metal is more like punk music, but with just tremolo picking, three chords and it’s really boring. So I just wanted to make some or show some examples of how you can use black metal aesthetic to do more creative things. There are a lot of different interesting ways you can go with this aesthetic, and I thought that people weren’t really being all that creative with the black metal sound.
And the other thing was, when we were recording, we had no budget to record at all, so we had to record it cheaply, shittily, and I thought, well, since it’s going to sound like shit anyway, if it’s black metal, than it will really suit the music. I thought it would be dumb to try to make something that would be delicate with shitty recording. With black metal, you can have really shitty shit and it’s still good.

Hubardo sounds a bit like a return to Maudlin of the Well, also in terms of water as a theme...
I don’t know if Maudlin of the Well had water as the theme... ever. 

Maudlin of the Well - Bath

There are some songs titles... [album Bath: The Ferryman, The Girl with a Watering Can; next album Leaving You Body Map: Monstrously Low Tide.]
I think I know what you’re talking about, but it wasn’t really deliberate.

Ok. What stands behind the water theme on Hubardo?
Yeah, it is water-themed. I think if you asked Jason Byron that question, he would be able to answer better because he wrote the lyrics. But I know that the water is a character in the story, and it causes things to happen. In the beginning, the rain happens and it’s the water that brings the meteor to earth, and then the rain again causes that poet to realise the message on the meteor, which is to water the earth, and he realises there is a relationship between the meteor and water and he puts water on it. Then it changes and grows to a river, and the river is another example of water that brings the poet to another place. So it’s a catalyst of sorts, the water is making things happen. And if you asked Byron why that is, he would be able to tell you something about how water is related to certain occult and alchemical things that he is interested in. That’s more of his territory I’m not really as astute in or a student of that as he is. But it has something to do with water as a catalyst.
Anyway, to go back and answer your question about why it sounds simpler, I guess? Hubardo and Coffins on Io are simpler linearly. I wanted to make some music that was more inviting to listen to and not as alienating. So I deliberately wanted to do repetition, which I’ve never really done very much before, so I wanted to investigate whether I could do that and still be interested in the music. Keep the music interesting for myself and for the listener. And yes, Coffins on Io is simpler in this way (He indicates progression over time.) but if you think in this way (He points at the vertical axis.), it’s actually much more complex than our previous stuff. There’s more going on in this dimension.

Because of timbres of sound?
Yeah, the production and the way I got different parts interacting with each other. And I think it’s more complicated in that, and also, the music is much harder to play than before. Coffins on Io is most difficult one to play.

The bass must be insane to play.
It’s not just the bass, it’s everything. It’s funny, because it was like exercise for me. To write music which was a little bit more like pop, I guess. But one thing that I learned in that process is that it’s actually very difficult to do that kind of music well and to perform it well. It’s actually really harder than you’re thinking. Especially if you grow up playing weirder music, pop, that kind of straightforward shit is counterintuitive. There are things about that are more difficult than you’d have expected. And also a lot of music I compose, I have to sing them at the same time. It’s fucking hard. It’s a lot harder than the other shit.


Was there change of audience as a consequence?
Not yet. It’s too new, so I’m not sure.

You said you used to compose music as a through-composed piece as opposed to riff-based one. Is this still the case?
No, last records are more like riff music, yeah.  And there are moments that are through- composed. But in general it’s more about riffs. But it’s a mixture of both.

Do you improvise when you create your music?
No, never.

Kayo Dot

So how did the songs actually start? A riff, a complete idea of a song?
All of them [on Coffins album] except for Spirit Photography, all of them started with me just playing guitar at home, coming up with a part which I then turned it into a song. But Spirit Photography is one of the songs that I was actually dreaming, it came to me at sleep and when I woke up I had to write it down.

Thank you, actually we wanted to ask if you are still composing under the influence of lucid dreaming.
Yes, sometimes it happens. Spirit Photography and another one we are going to do tonight, one that’s not recorded yet started like that. Usually these songs end up being simpler, because when you dream something and an idea comes to you, you have to wake up and write it down really fast, so it can’t be really that complicated, it has to be something that you can remember. So usually those songs are quite simple. The one we will perform tonight is pretty simple, but it all came just from a being asleep, which is pretty cool.

So you hear music in your dreams?
Yeah, but as I said, I can’t really usually remember the really complicated stuff, but I can remember the really simple stuff. It happens maybe once a year.

We already touched upon your uses of genre conventions in music, but this seems to extend to other things as well. The promo photos for Coffins on Io seem stylised in a sort of 80s way, with dark glasses, black clothes...
Another guy said it to me tonight that it looks like when Entombed started liking Depeche Mode a lot. It’s cool that we look like a new wave band but with blastbeats. It’s pretty weird, I guess.

Are the lyrics stylised as well? In Offramp Cycle, there’s a description of a guy driving on a highway with a corpse in his trunk, and it’s basically a conventional image of a certain kind of movies...

It definitely supposed to evoke certain 80’s movies like They Live, or Mad Max, or Blade Runner or certain things like that. Kind of retro-future, or like Knight Rider, just weird. It goes with all the sins and that color scheme, post-apocalypse... It‘s definitely supposed to be a theme, and all the songs on the record are also about the idea of dead world.

What is your attitude to gothic subculture and music? These can be two completely different things...
It’s interesting, because when I was a teenager, I was into goth stuff. I always thought of goth as being really anti-social, something that was for people that were introverted and didn’t want talk to anyone, just be alone. And also, there was a whole subgenre of goth that was like a dance club. So back then when I was on high school, there were bands like Depeche Mode or Sisters of Mery even. These bands had beats you could dance to, and I thought that dancing was antithetical to goth. I just wanted listen to stuff that was just really depressed. Like the band Lycia. You know that band? You guys should check this band out, check this band out man! I’ll spell it out for you.
There was this whole kind of goth music you could not dance to, it was depressing and that’s what I liked better. I thought goth has been this really anti-social thing but now that I have been living in NY, I see goth subculture is popular again, which is funny. So there is this kind of popular goth now. Like CVLT Nation magazine, Chelsea Wolfe and that shit. That stuff is cool, but it’s all very social. And I think that the Flenser Records label also has some goth stuff that is very social. It’s about a community of people. And it’s cool to like that shit. That’s really weird for me, because, especially in NY, you go out and the goth kids are now the cool kids. It wasn’t like that, it NEVER was like that 20 years ago. Goth kids were the NOT cool kids.

It was underground?
Not only it was underground, everyone laughed at goths. And now, now people want to be goth! It’s just fucking weird. But anyway, that’s just interesting to me. I think I would benefit a lot if goth was cool and people wanted to listen to this shit. Because we have been making music like this for a long time, over a decade, 15 years, whatever, and no one’s ever thought it was cool. And if it suddenly became cool, that would be good for us. But my band is still seen as on the outskirts of that, because we have some elements of jazz shit, and it’s not simply 100% depressing stuff. It’s still got some prog to it, and prog is still not cool, man. Goth might be cool but prog is not cool.

Kayo Dot

About the jazz... Do you know dark jazz like Bohren and Der Club of Gore, Kilimanjaro/Mount Fuji?
Yeah, yeah, it’s cool.

I thought that on Coffins, Spirit Photography and Mortality of Doves are, not exactly a response, but in a way similar to that.
Yeah, I like those bands. So I can see that.

Is there any influence from literary gothic or from any literature? Your music sounds as if it could be connected to surrealism, magic realism, sci-fi...
Yeah, I think that would be a question for Jason Byron. In terms of the imagery of the music, no, I don’t really take that much influence from literature, but I know he does. He communicates through words, so words are really meaningful for him. That’s his deepest connection, but my deepest connection is through music, through sound and things that are not words. I like to express myself non-verbally.

Is Byron still in the band as a regular member?
He does not perform with us, he only writes lyrics. He has been writing lyrics for me for almost 20 years. He is just my collaborator. Sometimes there are a couple Kayo Dot albums that he did not write lyrics for, but he usually does all of them and he did also for Maudlin of the Well. He did the first one, the second album - Byron also. I did lyrics for one song on the second album. And I did lyrics on Blue Lambency Downward, and then this woman, Yuko Sueta did Coyote lyrics. Then on Gamma Knife I did half of them and Byron did half of them. And then Tim Byrnes, our trumpet player, did one song. Then on Hubardo Byron did the lyrics, Stained Glass - Byron, Coffins on Io - Byron. So he is always there.

Were Coffins influenced by your work in Vaura?
Vaura influenced Coffins on Io, yeah, definitely. Because playing in Vaura, I became more accepting of pop song structure. Yeah, the answer is yes.

You did some weird stuff with leading instruments in the past [Coyote was written for alto sax, trumpet and bass]. What is actually the leading instrument on Coffins? Which instrument was it composed for?
I would say vocals. It’s mostly like a voice thing. Because those songs ended up the way they are because I was just studying other singers. Singers that I thought were really great, from the 80’s probably.  I did a lot of karaoke with my band. We’d go to karaoke, we’d do songs by Peter Gabriel, Type O Negative, Danzig, Steely Dan, Phil Collins, stuff like that, and you learn a lot from those singers, the way they write melodies, Billy Joel’s very influential. So I wanted to try write some melodies that I haven’t written before, for voice, that is.

How much did the other members contribute to Coffins, in terms of composing?
Nothing. I mean Dan… On Spirit Photography there is a sax solo. Everything else I wrote. And the way drums usually work is no one can write the drum part better than a drummer, so I usually sent Keith the idea of what I wanted and worked through with him, and he came up with how the drums will finally be. I wrote 75 % of drums and he wrote 25 %. Everything else is just me.

Do the other guys have their own projects?
Yeah. Not Dan, but the other guys do. Keith is in a few other bands, right now he is not playing drums, he plays bass, he is a really good bass player as well. Ron has a solo project, it‘s like Stephen O’Malley meets singer-song writer. O’Malley’s guitar but with vocals. Keith’s bands are closer to technical prog.

Kayo Dot

I noticed you will do a series of concerts at The Stone [John Zorn’s club]. That included some Tartar Lamb sets. Will you do some other Tartar Lamb music in the future?
We did a Tartal Lamb III concert in November, just to workshop some new ideas. And it turned out that the ideas I came up with for Tartar Lamb III, I want to use for something else. So I backed off. I’m saving the ideas for something else. So there probably won’t be another Tartar Lamb for a while.

What a shame. I loved Polyimage of Know Exits.
Well, maybe there will. I’m definitely doing more stuff with Jeremiah [Cymerman]. We have a new improv band, BloodMist. A record is coming next summer.

By the way, how much of Tartar Lamb, of Polyimage of Known Exits is improvised?
It’s not improvised, it’s composed. I think Jeremiah’s clarinet parts are improvised. He is an improvising musician, not a composer. He would consider improvisation to be his voice. So even though these are compositions, I think the things he added started as improvisations. He was improvising on top of the composition, and then, when we came to the studio, he added the improvisations. He processes them with computer and everything, and they become material through which to compose. So I would say his source material was probably improvised, but then it became sculptured into the final piece.

I find this combination of improv/composition fascinating. David Sylvian does this on his more recent albums. Did you ever consider working like this, taking an improvisation and then shaping it?
I didn’t know that about Sylvian. We are doing this with BloodMist. But Jeremiah is the producer of that. I’ll go meet up with him and we’ll listen to our tracks, offer our suggestions, but he is ultimately the producer. In my music, it would be cool to do that, but I just don’t have the time, I am so busy with other shit. But if someone gave me 500 $ to go to studio and just said “do some improve, take it home and edit it, you can take up a month to do it”. Yeah, that would be cool if I had time.

How much are you actually influenced by the bands mixing rock with classical music like Univers Zero, Art Zoyd etc.?
I’m not a huge fan of that stuff, but only because I haven’t listen to it very much. But recently when people have shown me that music, I tend to like it, I like Univers Zero, I think, I like Magma, but there’s stuff I listened to more, some 15 years ago, Glenn Branca, I’m pretty familiar with that stuff. In general, I like the sound and think this music can be really good, but it can also be not good. But this is not really a major influence of mine. It’s more like when I hear it now, I feel I can relate to it, and I say, oh yeah ok, these people were doing this a long time ago, it really it gives me some perspective on what I’m doing. Like, Ok, If I thought an idea I had was special at all I just look back 40 years and mine is not very special. But no, it’s not really an influence. My influences are just metal and...

Some more conventional progressive rock?
I would say so. Well, not even progressive rock. I never really was that big of a fan of progressive rock. I was always just a fan of dark music and just because I am interested in music and because I have a musical education, I wanted to make it more interesting. My path is more like a fan of dark music that got bored with it and I wanted to make it more interesting. I never really came at it from a progressive angle. Whatever I hear that stuff, it is all pretty new to me.

How did you get to play Secret Chiefs  3? Are you in any way influenced by Trey Spruance?
I guess I got asked to play with them, because I Kayo Dot once opened for them on tour. And Trey Spruance needed a bass player for the tour and said, you will be here anyway, why don’t you play? And I did and I guess I did well. So they just asked me to keep playing with them. I liked this one Mr. Bungle record, California, when I was in college, but other than that I wasn’t really much influenced by Trey. I became more influenced by him recently, since I’ve been playing with him. Because when I have to play his music, I learn about all the things are kind of hidden, all these clever, forward-thinking ideas you might not really notice if you’re just a listener of the music. Trey’s music has influenced me a lot in the past 3 years, but before that, not really.

So we can hear it on Hubardo?
For sure! There’s stuff on Hubardo and Coffins on Io that I learned from playing with Trey. I also learned from playing some of Zorn’s music with Trey because with SC3 we were doing Zorn’s Masada stuff. And there are rhythmic ideas in Masada that Trey uses that I now use. But that’s how music works. You just learn from playing other shit.

Kayo Dot

You’re still listed on Facebook as a member of Asva. Do you still collaborate with G. Stuart Dahlquist?
Well, Asva does not really exist anymore. He ended this project and now his project is Dama/Libra - I think that’s his focus now. Dama/Libra is really good, I’m glad it exists because I feel Dama/Libra is a better realisation of what Stuart was trying to do with Asva. He finally figured out what he wanted to do. Well, not on the first Asva record, that one is totally different, but then on the other two Asva records it feels like Stuart is trying to figure something out and then he finally figures it out and that’s the first Dama/Libra record.

He actually wrote that he will do something new for Asva. I suppose he is always working on his own and sends out the samples of that? Did you actually meet for the record?
Asva of that record I did never played live, it was just for that record. He lives in Seattle, 3000 miles away from me. Yeah, I hanged out over there with him, but if he’s going to have a band, he‘s going put it together in Seattle. I mean maybe we will do something, I like working with him. We have recorded some stuff that never got released also, so maybe...

He’s a bit of a perfectionist, right?
Yeahhh, I guess he is, but I wouldn’t really characterize him that way. He is so many more things than just perfectionist. He’s interested in music and excited about discovering things about music.

Are there any new collaborations coming?
Let’s see. There’s BloodMist I told you about. At The Stone this summer I’m going to do some chamber music with Timba Harris from Secret Chieefs 3 and I’m going to do a thing with a British artist named Nick Hudson. Also I’m writing a viola duet for studio viola players in NY. What else I’m doing... And that’s it as far as colaborative stuff goes.

This is a sort of a personal obsession of mine - do you know Charlie Looker of Extra Life? I mean, a collaboration of you two would be a dream come true.
Yes, of course I know him. Yeah, that would be amazing. I’m not so sure if I can offer anything to his music because I think his music is perfect the way it is. I don’t really know how I would add to that. But I see Charlie often. So maybe someday. I feel like he is so powerful of a force by himself that I don’t think he needs me.

What can we expect from the new Kayo Dot material?
I’m working on it now. It’s going to be definitely pretty complicated; complex music but also easy to listen to. It’s hard to say.

So you’re moving in this goth direction?
It’s definitely going to be avant-garde goth. Yeah. (He laughs.)

Will you play any new songs today?
We’re going to play a couple of new things tonight. But I don’t think they’re going to be on the record that I’m the working on. The record I’m working on now is really different. The stuff we’re going to play tonight I might put on a solo record maybe. Or we may release it as a Kayo Dot single, but not as an album. We’re going to play ballads, I’m working on a whole bunch of those. I probably have a whole record or two of ballads. But then the Kayo Dot record is going to be more like crazy music. Probably no ballads. It might be cool to release two records at once, one crazy and the second with ballads. That would be my ideal situation. But usually it’s too expensive to do this. 


Are there any plans to re-release Gamma Knife and Hubardo and other sold-out records?
Probably not Gamma Knife, but Hubardo yes. Flenser I think is going to do it. There were only 500 copies of Hubardo, so it sold out within a month I guess. Older albums like Dowsing Anemone… I could repress anytime if I had the money. But I don’t. Blue Lambency… there are still some copies that Hydra Head has, and Coyote is out of print. The thing is, with Blue Lambency, Coyote and Stained Glass that Hydra Head has the rights to do those and they won‘t give me the rights to repress them and they don’t repress them themselves because they don’t make money out of us. So like a typical label, they just sit on the records and do nothing with them. Gamma Knife, we could repress it but it wasn’t a big seller, so we would probably just lose money. Hubardo, yeah, I will do it again because people want that one. But Dowsing Anemone, like I said, the label that has the rights to it said that we could repress it if we want, but I just can’t afford it. Which is a shame, because we don’t have back-up for this tour, because Hydra Had actually has a stock of our old CDs, but they have it somewhere in the warehouse and they won’t send them to us, because we lost a lot of money for the label, so we technically own them money. So they won’t send us any CDs. There is nothing we can go about it. Which is stupid because they’re not selling them, so it’s like, if you’re not selling them, just send them to me and I will sell them.

I didn’t really know about that. I mean Hydra Head is an indie label, one wouldn’t expect this kind of problems.
They don’t really run the label very well. I think they probably did in one point but it run out of control. I think Aaron [Turner] is nice a person, so I have nothing bad to say about him, but the other guy that was running Hydra Head with Aaron for a number of years, that guy really fucked up. He lost the label a lot of money, fucked the bands over, he fucked us over pretty bad, and now we just own them money and we can’t get our CDs back.

Hubardo was paid from crowdfunding?
No, just pre-orders. That’s a little different. Crowdfunding, you’re basically asking for donations, pre-order is just commercial, market, really.

Are you still doing visual arts?
No, I’m not really. I did the cover for Coffins on Io and I do probably one drawing a year but I would like to do more. I realised that I think if I could spend so much time on visual art as I do on music, I could be really, really good at it. But I don’t really like the fact I just do it as a hobby. And when those images get out in the world, the people think it’s the best I can do, but I know I could probably do much better if I had more time, I just usually have to do something for an album cover really fast and I don’t ever get to practice drawing and all that. Maybe some day I’ll just do that, but right now I don’t wanna half ass it. I’d rather do it fully or not  do it at all.

Are there any older paintings available online?
No. I think I had them online for a while but as I said, I realised that to me they looked amateurish. So I don’t want them to be available. And I would rather spend time on doing something for real, something really good. And then put it out there.

Are you still working in a studio?
No, I had job in studio like 8 years ago. But I haven’t worked in there since then.

Kayo Dot

The final question comes from our incredulous editor-in-chief who is a drummer. How many instruments can you play?
Let me count. I can play guitar, bass, of course there are different kinds of guitars, like bass guitar, baritone guitar, regular guitar, ukulele. They are the same guitar, ukulele, mandolin. So I play those. I also play clarinet, bass clarinet, keyboard. I used to play cello but I sold mine, so I haven’t played it a long time. I can play a little bit on drums. And that may be all of them. I think that’s it. I haven’t really played anything else in a while. I think I’d like to get back more into clarinet, I haven’t played it for a while. Since it was my first instrument, I think the way I engaged with this instrument is different from the way I engage with other instruments because it is kind of hardwired with my brain. Since I learned it as a little kid, it’s a part of me, in a different way than guitar. Guitar and things like that, I still have to think about them in some way. Especially when you’re reading music, you read it and then there is another step between the page and your brain. But with clarinet, it’s already wired and almost automatic. It’s pretty cool that this could happen with an instrument. I think I would like not to really forget that I have that in my life. So I got a bass clarinet sometime last year. And bass clarinet is really similar to the clarinet I got, it’s just giant. So I can already play it, just the mouthpiece is bigger, so you have to work on that. But maybe I like the bass clarinet more.

Thanks a lot. Sorry this took so long.
You’re welcome. Thank you as well.
Questions: gorth, AddSatan, onDRajs, bizzaro
Conducted by: AddSatan, gorth, mIZZY
Transcription: gorth, mIZZY
Translation, editing: gorth (some edits: bizzaro)