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TOYAH (THE HUMANS) INTERVIEW [2009]

HOW ARE YOU AND HOW IS YOUR BUSY, BUSY LIFE COPING WITH FITTING IN YET ANOTHER PROJECT, THE HUMANS?

I'm very, very well but I'm very busy, The Humans is appearing to really take off and we're looking at doing a west coast of America tour sometime next year and everyone is interested!

I think it's because it's a new name with people with experience involved in it... I mean my name is heavily linked with the 80s, but because this is a brand new name and a whole new concept - what I call pop songs deconstructed - where every person involved has their own sound and their own space to appear in, which is why I created it, because I wanted my voice not to conflict with anything, purely selfishly! The idea originally was for two basses and a voice and then it slowly grew into samples and stuff.

Simon Heyward who mastered it, we didn't tell him it was us and he started telling people about this exciting new project, the best album he'd mastered for years! When he found out it was me and Bill he absolutely couldn't believe it because firstly he mastered all my early albums and secondly because Bill's in REM. It caught him out and he's been telling people that this is the album of 2009!

WHEN DID YOU START PLANNING THE WHOLE HUMANS PROJECT? WHEN DID YOU START WORKING ON IT?

It started because Robert (Fripp), my husband, was invited to play in Estonia in 2007 and he doesn't play, he just doesn't go out because he had decided that he was retired. So I contacted the Estonian embassy who has given the invite and I said that I could put an act together for this very short tour. They said OK and left it to me so I then phoned up Bill Rieflin, who is a very close friend of ours, and suggested that he and I do something that is just completely off the wall, just one bass and a voice. He said OK we'll give it a try and it just ended up that we added Wongy, Chris Wong, to the equation because it was just too much for Bill Rieflin to do it completely on his own.

So we went out to Estonia in 2007 and we liked what we were doing and we enjoyed each other’s company. I'd written most of the material up until that point, I demoed everything on GarageBand and sent it out and Bill said let's go to Seattle and make the album. So it's grown out of our commitment and Bill, who obviously has to also work with REM - has to tour with them and be around for demos and recording - has not been very available lately but after we played Estonia again two weeks ago he said right, we're going to make this work let's go for it and start touring, so it's just fabulous and everyone is now completely committed to it.

YOU MENTIONED GOING TO ESTONIA AGAIN A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, THAT WAS TO LAUNCH THE ALBUM WASN'T IT?

Yes, we were invited by the Estonian government to go out and play and launch the album because we put on the CD cover that the music was conceived and first performed in Estonia. Now Estonia is a very small country and is relatively independent in its independence from Russia, it got its independence in 1992, and for them to have artists go out there and do something specifically for the country means an awful lot to them, so when we completed the album we were invited out to do this concert which was purely for the Estonian President, the Minister of Justice and all the guesting musicians at the Tartu Music Festival.

So we said yes and then Robert said that he'd like to come and play to support us, to open for us, and then completely turned that on its head when he played the whole concert which is what has launched everything in a much bigger way than we originally expected. The President, who was on the front row that night, stood up and introduced Robert and the band which took everyone by surprise because no-one knew he was there! The Secret Services had got him in but no-one was told that this was going to happen!

So everything has kind of happened on quite a serious and exciting level. We played the concert and we recorded it live, and Robert did the whole set where we played the whole of the album... and it was just great, and Robert has said that he will play with us in the future, not on every date but he will do short tours... The Humans is a band with massive spaces, with King Crimson there was two drummers, two lead guitarists and a bass player all trying to find their sonic space, but what he found wonderful with The Humans is that there was just this great big space that was intended to be there and that he could just sit in. He said it was fabulous and as long as he could just come along and just be a jobbing guitarist he'll be up for it.

I IMAGINE THERE'S A LOT OF ROOM FOR THAT KIND OF SPONTANEITY WITHIN THE HUMANS...

Yes, well the songs can go into improvisation very easily. We perform the songs as they are on the album but certain songs like 'Demi God', 'Is It Wrong To Worship You', 'This Belongs To You' can all slip into improvisation which means that because the audience really want to watch Robert, because people come to see Robert play solo, it means that we can all go off into an improvisation that supports him.

DO YOU CONSIDER THE HUMANS AS A COMPLETELY NEW THING, OR ARE THERE ROOTS FOR YOU IN SOME OF THE THINGS YOU'VE DONE BEFORE, PARTICULARLY WITH SUNDAY ALL OVER THE WORLD, WHICH ALSO INVOLVED ROBERT...

The problem with Sunday All Over The World was that Robert was under massive pressure to keep gigging, to keep King Crimson going and to be touring King Crimson and he just couldn't do both, but also we were both kind of managing Sunday All Over The World and we just didn't have the time for it. It was a huge disappointment to me because I fully intended to make Sunday All Over The World my main musical project, so it wasn't great when that whole thing just slid to a grinding halt.

That said, the live recordings of those shows are staggering, Robert is sitting on those live recordings and he's got to release them one day because they are magnificent. But I think it was mainly his commitment to King Crimson. Robert now, at the age of 63, actually doesn't want a commitment like that anymore. Obviously he will still do King Crimson but I think the gaps will get bigger and bigger... and he had so much fun with us because we looked after him very well, we were his bodyguards and no-one got near him so he could just drink coffee in the morning, read the papers, come to the gig, play with no-one taking photographs of him, no-one asking for autographs. Bill and I were like Rottweiler’s keeping people away!

HAVING LISTENED TO THE HUMANS ALBUM I THOUGHT THERE MIGHT ALSO BE SOME CONNECTION WITH A COUPLE OF YOUR LATE EIGHTIES ALBUMS WHERE YOU TOOK OFF ON A KIND OF MUSICAL TANGENT WITH 'PROSTITUTE' AND 'OPHELIA'S SHADOW'...

They were just me letting off steam really, I just got so fed up with being told to write hit singles, to write things for a commercial audience rather than for the audience I believed I had... I kind of wanted to do things that were personal. If you leave me alone to write something... I'm not as established a songwriter as Simon Darlow, so when I work with Simon he kind of reigns me in and controls me and forms my ideas, but when I'm left to just come up with something myself it tends to be something more off the wall and I think that's why The Humans does relate to those albums in that they are intensely personal...

IS IT DIFFICULT TO BE THAT PERSONAL IN PUBLIC?

No. Because all my favourite stuff is that personal, when I think of Kate Bush's 'Moments Of Pleasure' which she wrote about her mother, or when I think of Tori Amos' 'Cornflake Girl' or PJ Harvey, the whole of 'Dry', these are all intensely revealing writers and I do like it, I do enjoy it!

THERE'S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND THOSEARTISTS HOWEVER IN THAT THEY SEEM TO LIVE VERY QUIET, INSULAR LIVES OUT OF THE PUBLIC EYE WHEREAS YOU SEEM TO BE CONSTANTLY ON THE GO, FREQUENTLY IN THE MEDIA, AND CONSTANTLY PRESENTING YOURSELF IN SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS...

Well I know what you mean! I think partly it's a necessity because I don't do world tours like lots of other artists - well Kate doesn't but then Kate doesn't need to tour - but I have to keep living and my life is about my work, it's not about my private life, so I do live out loud and I live in the public eye but that said outside of the UK I'm much more private and no-one really knows anything about me. It's kind of a split personality thing really, but I'm sure that if I was doing endless world tours then I would be more private!

YOU MENTIONED EARLIER THAT THERE MIGHT BE SOME AMERICAN DATES FOR THE HUMANS NEXT YEAR; ARE THERE ANY OTHER PLANS FOR LIVE WORK AT THE MOMENT?

Well there are... at the moment we are in meetings exploring possible relationships with management agents and publishers and are looking at the possibility of recording deals. Now the whole structure of recording deals has completely fallen in its arse because the traditional music outlets are closing but we're looking at ways of getting the product out there and then touring it. It's a slow process and it's not going to be a massive touring schedule because Bill is currently doing the demo section of REM's new album which they will start recording next year and then in two years he will be touring it... I have my fingers crossed that we might be able to do some opening spots for REM! (laughs) I'm certainly going to suggest it! But we're also looking at doing these smaller West Coast dates, European dates and a few selected shows in the UK.

IS IT TOO EARLY TO SAY WHEN THOSE SHOWS MIGHT TAKE PLACE?

Well, I have been dealing with crisis after crisis with companies I'm talking to going down and each time that happens I have to pick up all the pieces again and at this moment in time I'm just not willing to predict anything!

WE WERE HOPING TO GET SOME TIME TOGETHER WHEN THE LAST TOYAH ALBUM 'IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON QUEEN' CAME OUT, TO TALK ABOUT THAT AND BECAUSE OF ONE THING AND ANOTHER IT NEVER QUITE CAME TOGETHER SO I WANTED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT THAT A BIT IF THAT'S OK? IT'S A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SORT OF RECORD TO THE HUMANS...

Well it's a commercial Toyah record and that's a very different sort of project, but it's like I was just saying about companies going down, there has been one crisis after another and we're still trying to do the record deal! It hasn't gone away; in fact we have companies bidding for it. But we have had a year of companies going under, once we get one something sorted the next week the company has gone bust, but what's happening with that at the moment is that there has been a lot of interest from some major BBC projects to use the track 'Sensational' and because of all this it looks very likely that we'll get the recording deal done this year but right now we're in exactly the same place with it that we were a year ago!

BUT THE RESPONSE TO CRIMSON QUEEN HAS BEEN BRILLIANT HASN'T IT?

It's been really, really positive which is why the publishing company we're signed to are treating it as one of their major projects and even though it's been available for promotion for a year it's still on top of their pile, so I kind of like to think that by September we'll know more about its future and some of this will have been sorted out.

FROM A SONGWRITING POINT OF VIEW IS IT EASY TO DECIDE IS SOMETHING YOU'RE WORKING ON IS GOING TO END UP AS A TOYAH TRACK OR A SONG FOR THE HUMANS?

Well a Toyah song will most likely be written with Simon Darlow and I think Simon and I have a very definite kind of symbiosis... it's going to be guitar based, it's going to be brash, it's going to appeal I think to an American and European market, where The Humans I think is almost exclusively European, and Bill does too. That said there are people in the USA looking it at the moment because it is a completely unusual concept.

When I write a Humans song, because I don't play anything, I base the backing tracks on sounds I can get my hands on so it's often down to what I can find on the internet, or download, or on GarageBand and I write it completely on my own and take it to Bill. Bill then creates sound sculptures and then Bill and I will just work it in a rehearsal room together whereas Simon Darlow and I will sit down in front of a microphone and we will write a song in about ten minutes - he will go through a series of riffs that he's improvising and I'll go right, give me eight of those, sixteen of those, four bars of that, another eight of those and we'll gel it together like that and I'll put down a rough vocal and then go away to work on the lyrics.

So two completely different writing styles and I like them both, I have an incredible amount of freedom so I'm very lucky... my work with Simon Darlow is obviously far more commercial than The Humans but what I like about The Humans is that it has potential for cult status and I started as a cult artist and I really enjoy that.

IS IT POSSIBLE YOU'D EVER DO A TOYAH TOUR FOR 'IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON QUEEN'?

It's very possible yes, but there's no point touring until we have everything else in place it's back to those meetings and the problems we've had over the last year. The thing is we've had radio play, we've been play listed, but if you can't get the product on the high street you can't tour and this is what we are working on now... fingers crossed!

JUNE 2009

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