The first time I saw Toy was unintentional. They were supporting Big Deal and they were a helluva lot of hair, immersed, along with the audience, in a groove-heavy, swirling wall of sound. Two months later I saw a second performance that exposed the synth hooks and noodled basslines in their psych-inflected pop, with sweet harmonies providing a striking counterpoint to singer Tom Dougall’s assured baritone. This was followed by a quick google which revealed a surprising past.
Back in 2007 singer Tom Dougall, guitarist Dominic O’Dair and bassist Maxim “Panda” Barron—who all met at school in Brighton—used to be in the band Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong whose much-hyped sub-Razorlight jangling was made even more risible by the their snottily arrogant lead singer Joe Lean. But it wasn’t long before the singer’s ego, significant musical differences and record label ineptitude saw the band implode in 2009. Dougall walked away first, to play guitar for his sister Rose (you’ll recognize her first from The Pipettes, then as member of Mark Ronson’s Business International and now as a solo artist in her own right). He also contributes to her lately released Distractions EP which you can download for free.
Eventually Dougall, O’Dair, Panda and Spanish keyboardist Alejandra Diez hightailed it up to London, where after a brief stint at Goldsmiths University they met drummer Charlie Salvidge and started making music with him. I shared a pint with O’Dair and Panda ahead of their weekly, month-long residency at The Shacklewell Arms (which will feature guest DJ appearances from The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess, Richard Fearless from Death in Vegas and perhaps a support slot from Lo Light bka Dom from Factory Floor).
Download: Toy, “Left Myself Behind”
You recorded an album as JLATJJJ but it was never released. That must have been frustrating. PANDA: We actually made the decision not to release the album. We were 18 years old back then and there were so many things that we had no idea about. We withdrew the album because the label held it back for 14 months. So by that point we had another album, but through various things, mainly to do with our lead singer, we just packed it in. Like, to be honest we don’t really like this guy and we [O'Dair, Dougall and Panda] have always liked hanging out so we just decided to do that.
So it was natural for you three to move away and start something new? O’DAIR: Completely. It was never at all our kind of music. The favorite songs that we wrote, our singer didn’t like because we were on completely different wavelengths. If we did write songs it had to be to any indie pop agenda which we were really railing against at the time so it made no sense to be in an indie pop band. PANDA: We learned a lot and this time we’ve got really great people around us to build it up from the bottom and we’re doing something that we really care about this time.
What sort of bands did you bond over? PANDA: When we were back in Brighton Tom had a really great record collection that his dad left in his house and we just rifled through it. O’DAIR: We really love The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Velvet Underground, The Byrds. PANDA: And even folk, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention.
I actually think what elevates your sound from other psych-influenced bands are your harmonies. O’DAIR: We love west coast harmonies. And Neu! are really important to us. We got into that quite soon after we moved up to London. My flatmate Chris played me Neu! for the first time and I couldn’t believe it. They invented the motorik beat—that straighter than straight beat that’s relentless and throbbing and loads of really amazing melodies played on bizarre instruments. Then we got into Can and Faust, lots of synth-driven and oscillation-driven krautrock. I think what we try and conjure up in our music is a feeling of motion. We want it to feel like you’re driving fast down a motorway or going on a fast train through the countryside or flying on a plane.
Is it nice to have a girl in the band? PANDA: Yeah definitely! Although we’ve been rehearsing quite a lot just the four of us because she’s a nurse.
I heard about that but thought it couldn’t possibly be true. O’DAIR: She has the most insane job bu she’s going to move to part time soon. She’s saved our lives more than once. PANDA: She saved Josh from The Horrors recently. We were at a party and he somehow managed to dislocate his thumb. The funny thing she clicked it back into place and basically fainted.
You’re still a while away from recording your debut but what sort of lyrical themes are emerging? O’DAIR: We’ve got a song called “Left Myself Behind” and “Lose My Way.” PANDA: And I guess those were written because we were in a state of limbo, feeling a being lost and disenchanted, but also breaking out of that.
Have you enjoyed touring with The Horrors? PANDA: It’s been great because we’ve known them since we’ve moved to London when we started going to this psychedelic night called Mousetrap so we’ve know them for four or five years. We see them all the time. Rhys came round mine the other day because it’s just near the studio where The Horrors were working on a song for the Olympics. O’DAIR: There’s loads of us who like making psychedelic music, The Horrors and S.C.U.M, they’re just our friends.
Download “Clock Chime,” the flipside to “Left Myself Behind,” here for free.