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

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!

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. It's a very special country

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

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 but it's 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. 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. 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 - 

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

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. 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

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

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

BILL: You're in your 50s?

Oh, well in. Hanging onto my 50s

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?

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 -

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

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 -

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?

I was looking for -

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

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. 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. 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

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 radioland 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 -

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

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 us 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

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 we 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

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)

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. 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, 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.  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)

I'm not messing around!

TREVOR: (to Bill) Are you messing around?

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

: 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?

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

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. 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

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!

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

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

A bass guitarist?

BILL: A bass guitar

Oh, OK

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

Bet you're glad you came now, Trevor

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

You can listen to the interview HERE


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