Name: Toby Gale
Current Release: Sun Songs (self released)
Recommendations: "Kids Tapestry" by Chassol / Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.
If you liked this interview with Toby Gale, learn more about him on his website tobygale.com
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing and producing using the game ‘Music’ on the PlayStation in the early 2000s. It was a very basic sequencer, but an important gateway into sampling and programming music for me. At that time, I was probably inspired by my older siblings and their friend’s music tastes - I remember often borrowing their minidiscs and trying to decipher the track list scribbles. On one of these tapes was Supermodified by Amon Tobin, which entirely fried my 11 year old ears. I remember it giving me chills, I was awestruck. I was also enjoying Jill Scott, Words and Pictures Volume 1, which came to me as a gift from my sister who inherited promo CDs from her work in London and would send them back home. Mos Def Black On Both Sides, and Erykah Badu Baduizm were also among these. My parents would play records that I still feel inspired by today - Chick Corea, My Spanish Heart, Miles Davis, Tutu, Joan Armitrading and John McLaughlin LPs were all highlights.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
One of my biggest fears as an artist used to be that my portfolio of music would be incoherent, and that touching on a multitude of genres over time would be unhelpful for an image or identity. Now, I like to think that there is a common thread throughout the few releases I have put out, I was just inspired by drastically different scenes at different times. Once as a DJ in my 20s, club culture was a big part of what influenced my music. Emulating the sound of others’ productions, particularly how they sounded on club sound systems was almost the best reason to go out. For a short time, I hosted a short run of performances in my living room where I would invite electronic producers to come perform. We filmed them, and would then talk about their process. It was really insightful, everyone’s methodology seemed to be so different. More recently I have been discovering the orchestral world. I have always been a huge fan of where this world meets jazz and electronic influences - Pierro Piccioni, Bill Evans with Symphony Orchestra, Miguel Atwood Ferguson. Today, I don’t worry about identity at all - my compositions are a self-indulgence that don’t concern anyone else, what a joy. If others want to share that, of course they are welcome, but that doesn’t affect how I make music.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I would say that technical barriers were an issue in the early days, producing something that had a poor mix or bad recording techniques - it made it difficult to enjoy my creations if these simple issues masked the potential. The technical issues became easier to overcome, and became second nature over time, which almost presented a new problem - what am I actually trying to say? I had the language, but sometimes I felt I didn’t have a point. Sun Songs is a more considered release than other music that I have put out, because it has a dialogue with things I care about - the environment, surrealism, stillness.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I always preferred to have a limited armory of tools - I have never been one for collecting tons of synths or outboard gear. I’m a drummer, so a drum kit has followed me around but that’s about it. With Sun Songs, I wanted to create something unique, so technology was a big part of that. We designed and built a device that could respond to sunlight, and would turn this data into sounds and music via midi. I then recorded sunrises in different parts of the world, adding musical layers over time. This was a collaborative effort, I couldn’t do it without the help of some engineer friends. The process has probably made me more confident thinking about technology as a canvas, as opposed to an array of off-the-shelf products.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Can I be negative? Soundcloud was a bad platform for my creativity and mental health. I found myself glued to browsing hearts and comments on waveforms, with algorithms pushing me towards more and more popular tracks, much of which I didn’t enjoy listening to. I could feel this new online community becoming influenced by these algorithms, and friends of mine would invariably give in to the .wav homogeny. My first iPod had already exceeded my expectations of how much music I could have on tap to consume, but this new global scale influx felt like too much to process. To be a bit more positive, it’s musicians and composers who are creating their own instruments these days who are inspiring me. Hauschka, La Hazienda Creative, Dimitri Grimm. Creating bespoke instruments, no matter how well made or thought out, will inevitably give your body of work a sound like no other.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaborating has always been an area that I try to push myself in, as it doesn’t come naturally. My process is typically very solitary, and putting someone else in that environment can feel uncomfortable. Because of this, I try to approach collaborations like remixes - files sent across, edits then made in our own time. For me, this allows time for a more honest and considered response. Working live with someone else in the studio can be fun, but I always seem to splurge out with something I didn’t mean to say or write, and it ends up being this bizarre musical time stamp that marks a slightly awkward moment.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I do not currently have a fixed schedule. My own view is that making music is a highly creative outlet that should be enjoyed. If making music is anything but a self-indulgence, then your art is being compromised. I accept that this is often necessary. I have to give myself dedicated time for this process, it is sacred. I try to keep it separate from the rest of my life.