Jeremy Toback, like Michael Penn,David Mead and Gus Black, is a superb exponent of Romantic Pop. Beautifully crafted, emotionally charged and melodically creative, his latest offering AnotherTrue Fiction maintains the brilliant song writing of his debut Perfect Flux Thing but brings with it a pop sensibility and conciseness that seduces even the most jaded of ears. A joy from beginning to end, this quality album speaks of a man at the height of his creative talents. Eschewing pop cliche in favour of new and inventive sounds Toback is at the cutting edge of new pop in every way. We caught up with the excellent Mr.T., as he's busy recording music for his next release but the Los Angeles native with a Princetown education kindly took the time to fill us in on what's cooking in Tobacksville.
So what were your earliest musical memories? I first really got into music in high school when the heavy metal of the day, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and progressive rock, Yes, Genesis and Jethro Tull, made me feel part of a sort of exclusive club. I didn't realise how geeky the members of that club were, but really we were no more lame than the folks listening to "cooler" bands like Joy Division. The prog stuff did lead me to Peter Gabriel who remains a significant influence and the metal gave way to R.E.M. and U2 who also remain big parts of my pop canon.
So how did you get into doing music? I was in this band called Brad, a side project of Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard, with Shawn Smith and Regan Hagar of Satchel. I mostly played bass and wrote though I did my first vocal recording on a song called Down on the first album and got to sing another called Circle and Line on the second.
From there you went on to your debut an EP for Cherrydisc. The EP was born out of collaboration with producer Brad Kaplan and engineer Gabriel Moffat at a time when I could barely stomach being in a recording studio. I was the ultimate fearful artist who thought only live performance could make art, so I would have to leave the studio after my singing or playing was done while Gabe and Brad really made the record. Given all that, I still really like the texture of the e.p, and feel that in some ways it sounds most like my influences. The songs are considerably less mature and direct than my new stuff, though "the word behind words" seems to still transcend. But I feel in some ways this new record I'm working on now will use the e.p. as a starting point sonically.
You started out with a background in free form jazz and the wildness at points of Perfect Flux shows this. What was your musical vision at this time? During Flux I was still somewhat resistant to the possible freedoms of a recording studio and Craig Street, with his history of jazz influenced recordings, was just the producer to help drive a performance based record. The overdubbing we did end up doing definitely reflected a more improvisatory and less part based approach to orchestrating. Of course, California Phase and the track Perfect Flux Thing, which were recorded later with Brian Malouf are much more attempts at something like normal pop production.
There were plenty of songs that didn't make the record. At the time my writing was much more concerned with sound and poetics than direct communication. I would come up with a melody and choral thing and just let the words evolve from that sound, eventually shaping them into something that made sense to me. Since I was such a modernist poetry buff, I had no worries about taking liberty with syntax or meaning.
So you toured with that album? I toured that record for the last half of 1997 1 believe. The group began as a quintet (drums, bass, organ, guitars) and became a quartet later on, and there was a lot of freedom to veer from the record since there quite frankly weren't that many people who had heard it and wanted to hear it replicated. Despite, that freedom, I didn't have a very good time. I hadn't come to peace with the idea of entertaining, which is really necessary if you're going to win over crowds as an opening act.
Another True Fiction has a more concise, disciplined approach and for me this makes the songs shine with even more strength. Still with loads of detail and layers. And you're not afraid to use unusual sounds both rhythmically and in the melody. The songs are your finest yet. Well my lyrical approach definitely shifted on this record. I had spent so many years writing non-linear lyrics that I really didn't have a clue about writing any other way. Collaborating with Marvin Etzioni, who has a very heart-driven Lennonesque word thing, really helped shape the directness of the songs. I was also in a stage of intense emotional/spiritual healing and growth during the writing of Fiction, and I think that's why there's so much talk about breaking down, putting back together, opening up, acceptance & optimism in the face of difficulty. It's been really gratifying playing these songs live and feeling the crowd actually understand and respond to the message. That experience, along with the radio,t.v. and film response to You Make Me Feel and Perfect From The Start has encouraged me to continue aiming for simplicity and heart in the new songs I'm writing for the next record.
You've been playing live recently. You played at The Mint in L.A. with Gus a few weeks back. I actually toured a lot less for this record than for Flux and I had a much better time. I toured the States opening for Sixpence None The Richer and BetterThan Ezra. And it was just me and my acoustic guitars, no band, no road manager, no crew. Driving and flying all over the place. I even drove through a hurricane to get to a show in New Hampshire when my flight out of Philly was cancelled (won't do that again). I really learned a lot about welcoming a crowd into my music, about being a better entertainer, and really look forward to applying those lessons to fronting a full band when I get that opportunity again. But then again, being the only opinion in my tour car allowed me the freedom to roam and seek out new vegetarian/health food options in all the unlikely places.
Now I'm home and writing for the new record, which is going to be much less a singer/songwriter record and more a deep modern groove pop thing. I'm finishing up my live obligations, which have included some Los Angeles stuff with such local one word luminaries as Gus and Jude, and holing up for the spring and summer in studioland. The record I'm going to make won't be fairly represented with the solo acoustic guitar, so this may be it for a while as far as Toback the troubadour goes.
What music are you into at the moment? What other artists are you aware of? I've been listening to a fair amount of ambient world music dance type stuff. There's a label here called Six Degrees that puts out a lot of that. I'm a bit behind the times in this regard, but a lot of it is new to me, I've also gone back and really listened to a lot of the Eno catalogue 'cause I feel that he's really the father of so much of modern pop music. Even rap owes a lot to the way he and his collaborators started looping grooves and textural/harmonic elements in the context of pop songs. I do listen to the radio frequently just to hear what people are listening to, and there's lots of stuff there I can learn from, from a songwriting or recording craft angle, but not much that moves me. I really like the latest Fiona Apple CD for what it's worth. She's an amazing singer and Jon Brion created some wonderful textures around her.
Update. His third album Jeremy talks about here never happened. Jeremy started up a label making music for yoga and for a while he had a very fine political blog on which his humanity and heart shined through every word. Then last year this appeared.....
(Text taken from website.) "it's a big world" is a collection of songs for all ages. While we set out to make a record for our little ones, mostly written while Renee was on bed rest with Amelia, and recorded in the recording studio we set up in Amelia's bedroom, we really ended up making a record for ourselves & other parents like us. We welcomed a range of mood and melody from bright to dark, silly to stark, and influence from all our heroes of song, from drake to joni to marley. It all started with a simple idea, really: to make kids' music that adults could enjoy, not just tolerate - a collection of original songs for parents who appreciate the likes of Jack Johnson, Nick Drake, and Aimee Mann. The result is a treasure chest of luminous harmonies and sophisticated lullabies. Quiet time music for the whole family to enjoy together. From the moment renee and jeremy became a duo there musical energy has almost been palpable. The title track on it's a big world came to Jeremy on a walk with his 1-year-old son, Ezra - after wondering what life would be like through his eyes. And Renee crafted her haunting and minimalist lullaby, Powder Blue, out of her own meditations on motherhood before becoming one herself. The duo vowed not to be afraid to let the odd minor key shade a little dark into the album's sunny canvas, and to have fun with their lyrics without straying from the underlying positive message.
new update from Jeremy april 2008. Was wild reading the interview we did ...a snap shot of a certain moment in time 4 sure I was really drinking my own kool aid then not that there was anything wrong with those songs on Fiction but gosh I read myself trying to disown the language I had developed early on as a writer and it kinda breaks my heart... after our interview, and after my attempt to be a good soldier and write straight ahead pop songs had officially failed commercially ...I went through around three years where I really didn't know how to write anymore and where I was struggling to re-discover my artistic purpose, taste, muse...it was ugly, and I thought at one point that I was done with music ... of course, once I tried to quit songs started showing up seemingly of their own accord...go figure. the R&J record represents a return to purpose which was unexpected - since it's a family music thing, but I really endorse those songs & recordings and we're performing whenever we can and writing the next one now... There is also another record in works a band project with Joel Graves and Paul Legaspi where i've picked up the piecesof my language as a lyricist from the EP and Flux and the drone groove art rock is in full effect...More on that soon... So that's the five minute update...thanks so much for giving a hoot !!! peace JT
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"I see in the near future a crisis approaching. It unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. The money powers preys upon the nation in times of peace and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me & the financial institutions at the rear, the latter is my greatest foe. Corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in the hands of a few, and the Republic is destroyed." -Abraham Lincoln, (letter to William Elkins, Nov 21, 1864)