Saturday, February 4, 2012

Kayo Dot: The Interview

The mastermind of all things Kayo Dot, Toby Driver, gave us a great deal of insight into his music, his thought process, and sales as an independent artist. We want to take this opportunity to thank Toby for his time, and for the loads of real information. It was an eye opener for us.

How did the avant style of Kayo Dot come to be? Did you have a clear idea in mind for the finished product, or was it more of a free flowing process?

It might have all begun with internet arguments between maudlin of the Well fans and Opeth fans, hah! Really, I remember myself and some MOTW fans on the messageboards thinking that Opeth's songs were really just a bunch of riff salad, and Opeth fans on the messageboards used to say the same thing about MOTW, and there were heated arguments. I basically decided to be more aware of that kind of perception of disconnected parts in metal songs, so with Choirs of the Eye really only set out to make a through-composed "metal" album... one without riffs or arbitrarily repeating parts. That was a pretty huge paradigm shift for me and lots of creative paths in my brain opened up.

You have had a laundry list of collaborators and contributors to the Kayo Dot catalog. How do you decide who will be a part of this project, and how did you come across so many talented musicians in the process?

Originally it was just based on who I knew and who was available. But now, I know so many great musicians that I can't have all of them be a part of the band. So, whereas in the past, I was foolishly trying in a way to mold the musicians to suit the vision, now what I do is that I shape the vision around the small group of musicians that I enjoy keeping close. And those people are friends first, collaborators second. I think the way I came across so many talented musicians was just being in environments that attract these people - universities or liberal urban settings.

Some musicians we have interviewed have adamantly denied that geography has a profound impact on their music. With your roots in Brooklyn, NY, how do you feel your home has come through in your music?

Hmm, I have definitely seen patterns in the aesthetics of underground bands that come from particular regions. I think that in the NYC avant-rock scene, for example, there's tons of subconscious emphasis on proving yourself with proficiency and newness, even if we don't want there to be. Additionally, NYC is not really a nice place to live, so pretty much everyone that has decided to be there has a very strong work ethic and single-mindedness, which, when combined with all of NYC's resources, leads to some of the most intense and unique music in the world. Indie rock bands from Brooklyn also have to prove themselves with coolness, but thankfully, contemporary prog rock is so uncool that none of us have to even worry about playing that game. :)

With so many moving parts in the form of a seemingly endless array of instruments, how difficult is the writing and recording process for each individual track and album?

I try to always push myself forward and try new things in order to become a better musician. Because of this, everything I write has many aspects which are a lot of work and very difficult to conceptualize, communicate, rehearse, and perform. Every time, we're learning new abilities in the process. It's a recipe for disaster when musicians only work with what they already know and don't make any effort to extend themselves.

Each instrument seems to find a home within each composition, without disturbing the delicate balance of sound. As a writer, when do you know that you have found the right contrast in sounds? How do you know when to say "stop"?

I always decide on the instrumentation before I even begin writing a piece. Then, I compose the music to suit the instrumentation. Occasionally, at the end, I might feel as though something is missing and then will try to find what that is and fit it in (actually it usually ends up being keyboards, which are a sort of musical glue, in my experience).

There seems to be some confusion about the recording process for the new album, "Gamma Knife." What led to your decision to record it partly in studio, and partly live?

We just had to come up with a way to record an album basically for free (it didn't end up being 100% free, but it was relatively cheap). The reason for this is that getting funding from a label to do a professionally recorded album has been impossible because album sales have been terrible. I think we'll get back to this topic below... Also, when you say it was recorded "partly in studio," I hope you know that it was actually my bedroom and I don't have any "studio" equipment other than one mic and a laptop.

We have noticed in some of your recent interviews that you are very much dedicated to the ideas and the music itself, rather than the process. Do you ever question whether people listening to your albums really "get it"? Does that question come in to play when you are writing?

I'm not sure if I have that question anymore... I just assume people aren't going to get it. Haha! I'm pretty jaded, i guess. Seriously though, lots of music in the world is audience-oriented, and that's great. But the music I write is not audience-oriented, it's internal. It's great if other people are able to see what I'm seeing and share in the experience, but it's really important for me to stay true to my own aesthetics in order to successfully exorcise the demons at hand. I think one of the worst, most unhealthy things an internal musician, like me, can do for themselves is worry about what other people are going to think, especially when writing!

The satellite bands of Kayo Dot, (a much better term than "side project"), including the recent return of maudlin of the well, in particular, are equally powerful. How have you managed to maintain all of your projects, while still keeping each one unique?

Thanks! Well, everything is circumstantial. Most of the time, stuff I'm working on is dictated by what's happening in my life, such as concerts that I'm invited to participate in. Often, people will ask me to do a show, and if I think the venue is special enough, I'll write something new for that upcoming concert. Then, if it ends up being a cool idea, I'll spend time developing it further. Tartar Lamb 2 came out of this type of thing. MOTW's Part the Second really only came out of its circumstances as well - fans were interested in funding a record. I'm super-pliable; I want to do tons of different things and music and really it only ever comes down to whether the opportunity is available (venue, funding, time, whatever). Regarding how to keep them unique, well, each one of those projects uses a specific kind of compositional method, so that's how I know which project something fits with. For example, MOTW uses time-tested devices of rock music and traditional harmony. Tartar Lamb doesn't use rock drumming, and also is all about a sort of modular type of composition (small bits). Kayo Dot is basically through-composed rock and has an avant-goth aesthetic. I'm starting to do some other stuff now that doesn't fit into any of those, though. Some more classical type stuff.

With all of the recent SOPA and PIPA hoopla, it would seem silly of us not to ask about your personal feelings on the matter. How do you think the world of piracy has affected your life, as a musician and otherwise?

Yeah ok, so you were asking above about how/why Gamma Knife was recorded live and in my bedroom. It's great that we have listeners and fans, but people don't seem to realize that if they keep only stealing the music they're listening to, then the music ends up suffering. We couldn't get any funding to do the record because people hadn't bought the last few records. What's happening is that we're now in a world where all the most unique music (read: unmarketable) is forced to be recorded shittily. I thought it was so ridiculous when we released Gamma Knife and people were complaining about the recording quality. It's like, Dude! It's YOUR fault!!!

On a related note, "Gamma Knife" was self released, which seems to be an increasingly more common route. Without a label involved, do you see any difference in the sales of your album, and, more specifically, the willingness of people to pay for your work?

Yeah, the sales are much much much less, but our total monetary profit has been greater ONLY because he production cost was so low and we got to keep 100%. With labels, the production cost has been so high and sales so low that the albums never recoup their losses and the band never sees any money. Now, basically the problem at hand is figuring out a way to do an album with high production value but still not lose money on it. Anyway, just for transparency's sake, I'll tell you that in the month it's been releases, Gamma Knifehas only sold 350 copies, but according to the bandcamp stats, has had like 30,000 streams. So, something is wrong there. I think a lot of time there's a misperception that bands are selling tons and making bank, so people think the band is really famous and rich and doing well, so they think they don't need to buy the album. It's fucked up.

Toby, thank you again for your time, your honesty and the music you create. We look forward to what comes next.

Thanks for your support!!!!!!

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