20 April, 2015


TOYAH & BILL RIEFLIN ON
"THE ENCYCLOPEDIA
OF ROCK"
SEVERN FM,
GLOUCESTER
WITH TREVOR HOWARD
13.4.2015



 
TREVOR: I'm talking with Toyah Willcox -

TOYAH: You're not going to get any peace or quiet – here's your coffee (laughs)

TREVOR: Apparently you're very good friends with the President of Estonia?

TOYAH: Yeah. Wonderful wonderful man and a wonderful country. In 2007 the English ambassador to Estonia got in touch because they were looking for musicians to play at the President's birthday in Estonia. My husband Robert Fripp wasn't available and I heard about this phone call and I phoned up the embassy and I said I can put a group of musicians together - we would come to Estonia, we would absorb the culture and the myths Estonia and the folklore and we would write the music specifically for the President for this birthday. And they said yes. 

So I phoned Bill Rieflin, who at the time was drumming with R.E.M and I took my musical director Chris Wong and the three of us went out to Estonia. We wrote 45 minutes of music in a week and then we performed it and it was just fabulous. It was so exciting! And we got to know the President, we dined with the President, we travelled with the President and we've been back since to perform new music as well. So we feel a great infinity with the country so it's always exciting to be there – a very special country.

TREVOR: The band you put together have now released the third album with the fourth on the way? 





TOYAH: Yes. Our third album is “Strange Tales”. Admittedly it was released on iTunes last year and it went straight in at number 20 I believe. We've just done the hard copy and the hard copy is only on sale on the tour within the venues. It's a fabulous album. Each album we've progressed with the instrumentation. “We Are The Humans” (the first album) only had the 3 of us on it, the second album “Sugar Rush” had Robert Fripp as a guest and on “Strange Tales” we have guest viola players, sax players and violin players. 

On this tour we're playing “Strange Tales” in its entirety and the show is magnificent, it really rocks out. And if you like music that has a twist - The Humans is two bass players and me on vocals but we add voices and we add guitar and we add sax but they're not the focal point. It's very narrative and it comes from someone like me who has a back catalogue of five platinum albums and 29 albums in all, Bill Rieflin who has been in R.E.M and was the guitarist in Ministry so you're looking at a fine pedigree of experience. And it's quite a journey this show. It's quite dark and it can be gloriously funny at the same time.

TREVOR: The London gig is at The 100 Club?

TOYAH: Yeah, which I haven't played apparently for 32 years.

TREVOR: So Toyah, having spoken to the President and been invited to put together a band -

BILL RIEFLIN: Obama? When did you speak to Obama?

TOYAH: This is the President of Estonia -

BILL: Aaah!

TOYAH: That man butting in is another American Bill Rieflin -

BILL: So when did Obama become the President of Estonia?

TOYAH: Probably any day now!

BILL: I see.

TOYAH: And Bill Rieflin is in The Humans with me and he is a genius – aren't you?

BILL: I am. I am a genius. And what I can't figure out is why no-one else except you seems to realise that.

TOYAH: Well, my husband thinks you're a genius too because you're the drummer in King Crimson. But in The Humans - 



Photo by Dean Stockings  


TREVOR: And somebody in R.E.M must've thought he was - 

TOYAH: He was the drummer in R.E.M!

BILL: Yes, but that was before the lobotomy.

TOYAH:
And you're going to have to edit that bit out! But in The Humans Bill plays bass and when we record he also plays keyboards. He's the most beautiful keyboard player. And he sings on stage as well and I feel as if I am his PR person but you see Bill has the most beautiful voice in the world. It's much better than my voice.

BILL: What you don't actually know about Toyah – she's tone deaf so she's not really capable of making those conclusions but you know ... she does what she can. She's gotten far enough I guess … on her own innate talents.

TOYAH:
So Trevor - I bet you're really pleased you've come to interview us. For people in our 50's ... you're interviewing 12 year olds. I apologize.

BILL: You're in your 50's?

TOYAH:
Oh, well in. Hanging onto my 50's.

BILL: That's not what I was told in my pre-interview.

TREVOR: What were you told in your pre-interview? (all crack up laughing) Oh hold on! That would've been me wouldn't it?

TOYAH:
So Trevor - ask Bill some questions and let's see if you get an answer …

BILL: Oh, you're going to get an answer.

TREVOR: So how did Toyah tempt you to come and join the band?

BILL: Toyah tempted me by taking me to do something that I thought was a very strange request. Well, we met in a cafe in Chiswick -

TOYAH:
In London.

BILL: In London, yeah. I'd just arrived from the US and I was a bit jet lagged and I'd walked into a low awning on Portobello Road earlier that day so when I arrived for supper that day I had an incredible huge shiner. I mean it lasted for weeks, I've never had a black eye like that before. 


 


Photo by Dean Stockings

 

TOYAH: He looked so tough! I thought this man's a bruiser. He's trouble!

BILL: So she instantly asked me to join the band right there and then because of that! Hoping I would have a permanent black eye. No, she asked me to do something which I thought was very odd which was to play bass in a group she wanted to form -

TOYAH:
In a trio.

BILL: In a trio and I thought well, that's weird because I'm not known for playing bass and how would she even know I play bass so she went to a drummer and asked him to play bass in a trio of two basses and a vocalist and I thought well, that's … interesting. OK. (laughs) How can you not do that?

TREVOR: Can you explain that then, Toyah, how did that came out of your head?

TOYAH:
I was looking for -

BILL: Yes, explain it to me! (both laugh)

TOYAH:
I was looking for a situation where I could sing without drums blasting the voice to a point where you loose the sensitivity of hearing the tonality of the voice. And I love bass, I love the kind of lower sound level of the bass. I was visualising the voice sitting on top. So I just wanted work with two bass players. But Bill has something I've never come across in another human being in all of my working life.

BILL: I have six toes on one foot.

TOYAH:
So have I! (both snigger) And it's an exquisite judgement of taste. And even though I didn't know Bill particularly well at the time I could just recognise he had this thing that I am envious of and I know I will never have it and I know if I work with him … (Bill and Toyah are dying with laughter)

BILL: I'm sorry! We're having too much fun here. I know it's unprofessional.

TOYAH:
I just thought I have to work with this man because I will never escape my own shortfalls without this man's absolutely exquisite taste involved in what I do creatively. Simple as that!

BILL: Well, what can I say? I'm a genius as you pointed out. Yes! Exactly what she said … Oh yes! So the point about the two basses and the voice and the thing and the bass the sound is all low down here (lowers his voice), you can't see this in radio land but my hand is down here and now they're up here with the voices … And then on the newest record we've gone and ruined it all by adding drums and -

TOYAH:
Yeah, but not that many drums. 




 

BILL: And those other things which she never wanted.

TREVOR: Are you not allowed to play the drums?

BILL: Well, the problem is I'm allowed to produce the records so I tend to just go for it and do things.

TOYAH:
Because Bill is a multi-instrument player, I mean he can play absolutely everything – it means when we get in the studio the three of are actually a much larger team of creative people than the 3. So in the studio we very much let Bill have complete control over the sound and how the sound evolves and the arrangements evolve. 

And on “Strange Tales” it was very natural for the keyboards to come in and for the multi-vocal layers to come in which we've managed to reproduce on this tour. So kind of write and then give everything creatively to Bill because he's a great producer.

BILL: All the songs begin as a three piece, as a trio, the two basses and the voice so it's myself and Chris on bass, Toyah singing and the songs work as a three piece so in recording that's the core of the music and then from thereon it gets built up to what it becomes.

TOYAH:
It's about adding textures. So what you'll never get with a Humans album is everything in the kitchen sink thrown into the production, you get it as a texture like a fantastic painting where every texture contributes in the right way. Rather than distracting it's there as a contribution. So I think our music is really about texture and we've managed to keep that a successful passion on three albums.

TREVOR: So Bill, how much a challenge was it working with The Humans to produce?

BILL: Well, actually it varies record to record so the answer would change from record to record. On “Sugar Rush” the challenge was to make a record essentially with two basses and a voice with some guitar and some other twinkles into a convincing sound that had force and impact. 

So just the boring technical aspects of making something like that happen – that was a real challenge. The record was mixed, it was mastered and the engineer and I listened to it one day and thought it sounded horrible so we began again! (laughs)

TOYAH:
Yes. Bill's a bit like working with Peter Gabriel. Make an album, scrap it and start again.

BILL: Well, no, we just used the same, we just re-mixed it. We didn't – the balance were good but somehow it just wasn't assembled properly. But yeah, once you don't have all the normal things you put into make music, energy, you know drums and all the fancy things that we except from normal rock music. Once you loose all those ingredients how do you convey essence of that energy but without all those ingredients? 

 



 

TOYAH: It's much more challenging. I think that's what makes it so interesting is to meet that challenge and find different ways of putting energy into the heart of it.

TREVOR: Excellent. Now the next challenge is obviously for you two to stop messing around sufficiently to be able to deliver a gig? (all laugh)

TOYAH:
I'm not messing around!

TREVOR: (to Bill) Are you messing around?

BILL: Well … I do … should I practice for the next one?

TOYAH
: I think you should really.

BILL: Because the last one I didn't care really. I didn't try very hard. Shall I try harder for this one?

TOYAH:
He's like this all the time. But he's utterly brilliant once you put an instrument in his hand. He's like the naughty dyslexic child in class until you give him an instrument.

BILL: And then he is like the naughty dyslexic child with an instrument.

TOYAH:
But we won't be messing around tomorrow, we are deadly focused on stage. We have to be because there is so much going on without a drum cueing anything going in so we're constantly counting, we're constantly placing words. It's as if we're hanging little kind of baubles and jewels on the skeletal three. So you can't mess around on stage, you've got to be so focused or we're just going to collapse. 



Photo by Damon King

 
BILL: It is tightly organised and arranged. There's a lot going on but it's ... well, we don't give away the entire magic trick!

TOYAH:
Well, I'm going to give it away! (Bill laughs) What's so exciting with the audience is that the basses spar and they stand each side of me and they spar off each other and you get to see what a fantastic instrument it is. Because it sings and it rings and it drives and it can be percussive and it can be melodic and it's a really fantastic experience to just be there and see all this going on. Because every player on the stage tomorrow in Guildford is utterly brilliant. We have great musicians and I'm singing along and just hearing all this and going "wow that was so good!" It's a good experience.

BILL: A bass guitar will also do the washing up if you're very nice to it.

TOYAH:
A bass guitarist?

BILL: A bass guitar.

TOYAH:
Oh, OK.

TREVOR: And on that bombshell – thank you very much Toyah and Bill!

TOYAH:
Bet you're glad you came now Trevor.

TREVOR: I'm going to go off and practice my bass.

 


Photo by Damon King


You can listen to the interview here, choose "The Encyclopedia Of Rock" 13/4/2015. The first part of the interview with Toyah starts at 43 minutes into the show and the second part with Toyah and Bill at 59 minutes.

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