So last week in Part 1 of this interview you read about who they Dad of the group is, the secret to Antonia’s flexibility and Sophie’s influences growing up. This week we pick the conversation just after we spoke about their appearance at YNOT and Toby tells us how he started playing.
Debbie: Toby, we haven’t talked to you about how and when you started playing is that ok?
Toby: Yeah it’s good…Let me think. My dad used to work in a youth club focusing on musicals and theatre and stuff. One day I’d just finished football training and I went back into his house and went into the living room and there was 2 Squire Telecasters and a Squire bass. And he went to me and my brother pick one and we both went for the Telecasters, funnily enough. When we got home we both practiced but my brother advanced really quickly within a few weeks; he was very good. He’s always been instantly lucky at everything. He’s four years older than me and he’s always had this like intuition to get really good at things. So because he was so good I thought I’m not gonna play guitar, I’m gonna play bass beside, you know alongside him?
Debbie: Yeah yeah.
Toby: My step dad had a bass and he taught me a few things. We’d play through, The Origin of Symmetry by Muse. I’d have to wrap Sellotape around my fingers because I couldn’t cope with the callouses on my fingers. I got to a point where I was like; you know what I’m gonna do guitar. There was a lot of school involvement, and the opportunities to play in big school productions – when I say big they weren’t that big. In school in Wales there's like an arts cultural thing on St David’s Day. So you have these big performances….
Debbie: So like the Welsh Factor?!
Toby: Yeah… so there’d be bands playing Everlong and stuff like that… and then I dabbled in bands. I had a kind of heavy music outlook when I was younger.
Debbie: Yeah? What kind of bands?
Toby: Trivium, Slipknott, Machine Head bands like that..
Debbie: I saw Machine Head in 1994-95 when Metallica were headlining Donnington. When Davidan had just been released…
Toby: No way... Then, I went down the atypical singer songwriter route – you know at the age of 15 that you do. I wasn’t gonna stop, but doing that thing from a really early age.... self esteem comes out of it and there’s always someone in your classes who is much better than you; so you invariably stop and do something else. One of my best mates passed away and his parents asked me play at his wake.
Debbie: I bet that was tough?...
Toby: Yeah it was tough… weirdly I didn’t feel overwhelmed with pressure, because erm….
Debbie: Was it because you wanted to do something from your heart for him?
Toby: Yeah, yeah totally. There was a huge impact on our community. There was like 500 people at his wake in this giant hall. Me and 2 twins played a few of his favourite songs, just instrumental. I did an acoustic song just singing. When I did that, it was just a massive release. Music is a really good way of expressing.
Toby: Then I went to college and was in bands, and knowing that I wanted to do music it pushed me to move away and I went to ACM. I moved up with 3 other friends that I was in a prog-rock band called Swift Arvel.
Antonia: May I say I was a huge fan!
Sophie: I loved Swift Arvel!
Toby: We were a bunch of nerds who tried to reference TV and game culture into songs. It was way too complicated.
Debbie: Not Taylor Swift inspired then?
Toby: No, no…
Antonia: They were just a band you’d go and see, and they’d be playing really well and that’s why you like it. You know when you go to Uni and you discover new music
Toby: Then when I was there the band broke up. I was on this course with Sophie and I knew Antonia really well from her other band. Chris is Chris – then came the opportunity. Chris and Sophie asked me to join the band. We literally had 3 months of Uni left; and they said oh we’re thinking of going up to Sheffield do you want to come with? I was like, yeah I’ll come to Sheffield, sign me up.
Sophie: I think we’d only done one gig together.
Debbie: You just had a feeling
Toby: Well it was that or stay in near uni.
Debbie: It’s funny because when I see you guys play now, I focus less on the singing and I'm now starting to focus on certain elements of the performance. Space Girl is my favourite song as you guys know - when you were playing this at Neighbourhood your licks at the start have got way more funkier, more blues sounding.
Sophie: Toby develops really quickly. Over time you hear something and you think when did you come up with that?
Toby: It’s weird… I dunno.
Sophie: There’s this riff that you play on Wild Child and I’m like what is this riff? And you’re like it’s in Wild Child!
Antonia: It is like the greatest riff ever!
Sophie: It's like after rehearsals I want to write a whole song based around that one riff!
Toby: It's strange being in this band as a guitarist, I absolutely love it and I love the fact that I'm not a guitarist I'm more of a texture. If that makes sense?
Debbie: I'll let you explain...
Toby: Rather than shredding, rather than flexing - I'm more of a texture. It's more about looking at it and thinking what's needed, rather than what's needed to be played.
Debbie: That makes sense and explains why Space Girl sounded so different to me because you were in the group, but you weren't really looking around you; you were playing what needed to be played - you were listening and playing what you felt needed to be played.
Chris: The weird situation is that me and Toby have come from a background where every person tries to play in a showy off kind of way, and back then I'd be like I don't want to listen to that kind of music. Looking back it at it, I'm thinking what was I doing?!!
Chris: And then when me and Toby came into this band and it's so much the opposite of what we used to play, it's more about actually thinking about what you're doing. Instead of actually showing what you can do yourself, it's more about playing this because the whole band needs it.
Sophie: It sounds sic!
Toby: mmm (agreeing)
Chris: Like I play no fills at all really anymore because of that - I enjoy what I play and I choose what I play still. But, I'm keeping good timing, I'm doing what I'm doing, it sounds good and I would rather be applauded for how well you keep someone in time rather than for how well you can play this really weird fill that you do.
Sophie: Maybe when you get to the level of having millions of fans and you're playing in a stadium people would want to hear that, but when you're playing in a small venue and then you're like and here's the drummer! (laughs)
Chris: That obviously works with certain genres...
Antonia: That's the idea when you're young and you think you have to do that kind of thing to be a musician..
Sophie: Yeah, it's like you're really trying to prove yourself.
Sophie: And people are saying to you but that's (being a musician) not a career.
Chris: That's the thing about being in a music uni it's so competitive. The moment I was out of the music uni and I wasn't trying to play this fill or that fill, You (Sophie) thought I was a good drummer.
Chris: I was trying to find the best fill, the best thing to outshine myself. Instead of just learning about being in time with the band.... it's a but weird but just...
Debbie: I used to play the drums as a teenager
Sophie: Did you?
Debbie: Yeah.. and the violin and the trumpet.
Chris: I used to play the violin! I played Three Blind Mice once, smashed it on the floor and never went back to it!
Debbie: You went straight to the rock n roll part!
Chris: I'm kind of the musical M.D. You know I have the click and I'm at the back and keeping everyone in time.. I want the rest of the band to have the click - I'd love that. Instead of just playing a song and trying to show off. I'd rather just play and keep everyone in time.
Sophie: I think that's harder in a way. It's easy to show off when you're a good musician.
Debbie: You all play simply and well. It's understanding that you're the sum of parts - that you're part of a group. With you guys it's not the Sophie show, it's not the Toby show, it's not the Chris show, it's not the Antonia show - you all play together.
Debbie: What you guys create is really special - to use a culinary reference. I used to work in an Italian restaurant and it was 2 or 3 ingredients done in a rustic way; when you don't over complicate dishes and you're not trying to outdo one or another flavour what you get is magical.
Sophie: It's not like I love oranges so I'm gonna put loads of oranges in it! I do. put loads of orange in things.
Antonia: Music is a community - it makes a community that's why we started playing music back in the Stone Ages.
Debbie: Absolutely. It's a unifier.
Antonia Exactly! So if you take it out of that and you try to be an individual within it, that's where you get this ego from...
Debbie: That's a very academic way of looking at it (forgetting these guys studied music at university.. DUH)
Antonia: That's where you get this ego from, that's where you get this need for, I have to be this great player. Music isn't about that, so once you take yourself out of that and you're with a group that all understand that and you're all just playing together for this one purpose, that's when you get it and that's when it's perfect. That's when it all works. A lot of university bands are like that, you're young and you're finally getting to be creative, it can create friction or it can create good musicians.
Chris: Vanity calls insanity! You can be vain if you're a solo artist - but being vain in a band is just toxic. I wasn't vain in a band before - I was just always seeking approval.
Sophie: There's always a difference between confidence and vanity.
Chris: Yes! My thing was always seeking approval, because I always felt like I was never getting approval for the music I was playing.
Debbie: That's my bag as well. I was always told I wold never amount to anything as a kid. I s bullied at school. So now I feel like I've gone to the other extreme. Not from a place of ego, but from a place of self love, of self acceptance.
Chris: Yea Debbie but you're a person who goes around talking to so many people and you get along with anyone. I think if you had any form of vanity, people would see that. You're accepting of yourself and of others.
Debbie: When you are yourself and you can express yourself in a way that is truly your most innermost self and it's cared for, nurtured in a way that is positive then what you can create is incredible! It really is.
Sophie: I think that's why we've grown so much, because we are a great team. There's no one person who's greater, there's no disfunction in the band; there's no ego's.
Antonia: I think what you've just said that's really hit me a lot; because with this band I am myself. I've realised how much I wasn't myself around people and having the different self with other people. These guys have made is so incredibly easy to be myself, like I feel more myself than I have done in my entire life. Like I am with my family when I'm with them. I've felt like I had to put an act on before. With these guys I know I can talk to that person, knowing I don't have too put a front on. Aaron he's the dad of the band.
Chris: We all thank Aaron. We love him. He's done so much in his career - he had Catfish at The Frog & Parrott. Aaron has definitely kept us grounded - yeah we want to talk to everyone, if he wasn't getting our arse in gear we'd be there talking until 5 in the morning.
Debbie: You can tell he is genuinely very caring (I've met Aaron a few times).
Chris: I hate it for the moment... but when you get home you think thank you for that.
Antonia: He's really great at teaching us to be a better band, because everyone can improve in some sort of way. There's so many different elements to playing and touring and he's really got so much experience with that. I can imagine him having a little checklist for each of us.
Debbie: Most interviews are like 40-45 minutes this is an 1 hour 10 minutes already..
Sophie: It's one of the best ones we've done..
Debbie: (sorry for this).. That's what she said!
Debbie: Sorry that's a joke from The Office (US version) and I do that all the time. I actually cannot believe I've just said that to Sophie from Sophie and the Giants!
Debbie: You know it's really funny because when I first saw your guys's name I thought it was a BFG reference.
Sophie: Yeah it's one of my favourite films as a kid that and The Little Mermaid and I did always believe that there was a giant out there for me.
Debbie: But there are... they're here!
Chris: Not that tall though!
Antonia: We get that at lot at gigs.. Sophie and the Giants.. You're not that tall.
Debbie: And then you take a photo with a fan (me), who's like twice the size of you!
Sophie: You're the real BFG.
Debbie: Big Fat Gay yeah!
Debbie: I always ask this interview question at the end, and I'm respectful of your guys time...
Sophie: We should do this every year... Catch Up with Debbie!
Debbie: I would love to do that!
Sophie: You should have a YouTube Channel.
Debbie: I do.
Debbie: transcendingwithdlc yeah - My videos go back 7.5 years back and the early ones are terrible.
Debbie: I'm gonna give you a tenner and you go into a record store. 2 for 1 classics or a tenner for a more recent record what do you pick.
Chris: I know mine already 21 Pilots - Trench.
Debbie: You met the drummer this year didn't you?
Chris: No I met the lead singer.
Debbie: I was so pleased for you because you're such a massive fan of theirs.
Chris: Yeah since the early days. I've been a big fan since then. I saw them in London when there was about 200 people... Do you know Nothing But Theives? They were supporting as well. I knew their bouncer and I was back stage at Radio 1 Weekend. Everyone else went and I stayed... I met Rita Ora - then I saw the bouncer I knew and I asked him if he would tell Tyler I wanted to meet them. I showed him Sophie and the Giants music too.
Debbie: You looked like a little kid who had met their footballing hero. I had a little tear in my eye because you looked so chuffed.
Chris: Since they started, since their first album I've followed them.
Sophie: I would choose from a new album I would chose Eera and the album is called Reflection of Youth. Every single lyric in the album resonates so much with me. It's so quirky and different. Some of the songs that she's recorded sound so old school, so different. They could have been recorded in the 70's. It's so great.
Debbie: If that's old school I was born in the 70's you're making me feel ancient (laughs)
Sophie: Old school like recording sounds, the mic and stuff. It rough and it's beautiful.JHer melodies and her voice. I did a cover of her on Instagram and she messaged me and said thank you.
Debbie: Have you heard of Celeste? You need to listen to her. She's incredible. Her voice is like absolutely incredible - her voice is insane.
Sophie: Cool I'll check her out - (adds her to Spotify).
Antonia: I would go for 2 - the first would be Muse Absolution. As a bassist I would watch their videos and I would constantly rewind back when they did close ups on the bassist as I would want to get his technique. I've never had lessons or anything. That album in particular is amazing. My second one would be the Hamilton soundtrack - musicals are my background and that one in particular is amazing. It has so much hip hop influence and the stories are incredible. It made me think you need up and make something with your life. This guy Alexander Hamilton he made an absolute legacy for himself, there's a song called My Shot, it goes I'm not gonna give away what I've got. There's another one with a lyric in particular, History has it's eyes on you... that one resonates with me so deeply. No matter what you're doing in life, even if you don't make a name for yourself you're going to be written about somewhere. Those two would be my pick, they're both so uplifting but in very different ways.
Toby: I would go for Jeff Buckley - Grace. It was a proper turning point for me listening to that album, hearing different things. I think a lot of modern artists find inspiration from him. He has such a pure voice but his writing is actually quite dark. It's really inspiring for me for playing guitar. The second one would probably be The Colour & The Shape Foo Fighters, which is proper younger me was inspired by it. It was my soundtrack of school. It's perfectly in balance and Dave Grohl's is awesome.
Antonia: I would love it if he patted me on the head and said good job. I would be happy for life.
Chris: We met Taylor Hawkins from Foo Fighters!
Debbie: No way!
Chris: He actually set my drum kit up!
Sophie: We were doing a gig in an underground bar and there was this hoodie guy sitting there having a beer in the corner while we were sound checking.
Antonia: Hoodie guy (laughs).
Debbie: Where was this bar?
Toby: Alleycat Bar on Denmark Street in London.
Chris: It has a famous record store above it and he as in there checking out guitars. And then he kept on going you know Black Sabbath recoded in here.... and I was like who is this? And then I was like, can we soundcheck? And I was like who is this guy and why is he getting loads of free beers from this place and then my bass drum fell over and he came over started setting me up and I was like thinking .... Oh my god it's Taylor Hawkins... I said to these guys should I say something? And then I was like... excuse me are you Taylor Hawkins? And he was like.. Shhh - Don't tell anyone! It as him. He sat back down and we had a massive chat. We were like how's it going? He said they'd lost their flight and they were having to stay over an extra day in London. He watched us play the whole soundcheck, but the promoter took a photo of him and then said Oh My God Taylor Hawkins is here. He did say he was gonna come back. But he didn't because of that. The gig was packed out, but it was probably for him and not us. But yeah it was a weird situation. I love him.
Debbie: I was luck enough to see them at Milton Keynes Bowl and it was when they brought out Seasick Steve and John Paul Jones.
Antonia: Seasick Steve!
Chris: Seasick Steve was under our management for ages.
Debbie: My daughter actually likes him as well, he's one of those artists who I play and she actually likes - Sophie, so you said you wanted to do another one what is it?
Sophie: Oh cool... so it's The Kills - Midnight Boom because I love The Kills and that's their best album. I could listen to it on repeat and never get bored.
Runaway the latest single from Sophie and the Giants is out now on all platforms.
Thank you Sophie, Antonia, Toby and Chris for your generosity, your time and your friendship. So much love for you guys and I can't wait to catch up with you all again for another chinwag in 12 months.
I'm so excited to see what the next year brings for this amazing bunch of beautiful humans.