Toploader made their first meteoric impact upon the British and (as time so generously told) global music industry in 2000, a year of promising blank canvases that granted the Eastbourne-based outfit the opportunity for overwhelming success. Their debut album Onka’s Big Moka (oh, what a name!) went triple-platinum and firmly planted their infectiously upbeat version of ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ into party playlists all over the world.
Following a second album, Magic Hotel, Toploader announced an indefinite hiatus. The band wouldn’t be back to make any more music for the foreseeable future. That was 2003. Now, they’re back. We caught up with frontman Joseph Washbourn to chat about the band’s latest effort Only Human, what it’s like to be back in the game after so long and the new structure of the band.
We always felt that what we had achieved was marred by the success of ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’. We’ve got unfinished business!
[one_half last=”no”] AltSounds: Hey Joseph!
Washbourn: Hey AltSounds! How’re you doing?
AltSounds: Pretty good here thank you – and how are you?
Washbourn: Yeah, not too bad at all!
AltSounds: Fantastic! Have you been busy today?
Washbourn: Hmm, what have I been doing today? Nah, I had a day off today! We’ve got gigs all over the weekend – we’ve got four gigs over three days! We’ve got two festivals on Sunday, so that should be interesting. It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare, it’s gonna be pretty tight between the two of them I think. There’s only about an hour between them and it’s about an hour’s drive!
AltSounds: Wow! What about the gear – will you guys have a lot to haul between the two places?
Washbourn: Yeah! What we’re gonna do is have one lot of gear head on over to one place and another lot go to the other, so we should be prepared! I’m just leaving all that to the tour manager though, it’s too much to think about! [laughs] It’ll be nice though, it’s been a long time since we’ve played two gigs in one day. Last time we did that, we supported Bon Jovi at Wembley Stadium and then we played one of our own gigs, way back in 2002 or something like that.
AltSounds: I bet you were knackered!
Washbourn: It was wicked actually, we did that for a few days in a row that weekend! We were just so excited by it all; I don’t actually remember being that tired!
AltSounds: So you’ve had some time to reflect after the release of your brand new album Only Human a few weeks ago. How do you feel it compares to the material you produced before the band’s hiatus?
Washbourn: There’s definitely been a progression from the previous two albums, obviously it’s been quite a long period of time between records. For us, it really is the album we really wanted to make, this time we didn’t really have any major labels telling us what they think we should do.
We really have come quite far as a band – we got back together about 18 months, 2 years ago, and yeah – it did take a little while for us to find our feet again and decide which sort of direction we wanted to go in. Over those 18 months I was writing – I’ve been constantly writing and it felt very natural. We didn’t want to come back and just make the same record as before, so it’s got a definite different sound to it. We’ve kinda grown up, and I think a lot of water’s gone under the bridge since the last record – the writing’s changed and I think we’ve changed, and we’re really proud of this new record.
AltSounds: You mentioned that you had been writing quite a lot – did you continue to do so when the band had gone on their break? How much of the material is music you’ve written since you’ve reformed?
Washbourn: Well, I’ve written probably hundreds of songs since the band split up. There are two kinda older tracks that I wrote a few years back, but pretty much everything else was written in the past few months really.
I think once I’d written the track ‘Sound of Your Soul’, it heralded a slightly new direction for us really. It was really exciting too, it wasn’t like we were recording a bunch of stale songs that I’d been listening to for 5 years, it’s great – it’s fresh. Now obviously we’ve only got the one guitar player, which makes our sound quite different. It became all about finding new melodies and creating a new sound.
AltSounds: What exactly happened there between the band and the guitarist?
Washbourn: Well, when we got back together, it was the original five of us, but the lead guitarist had quite a lot of commitments – he’s gone into artist management himself now. He just couldn’t commit to it time-wise. We thought about maybe replacing him, but after a few gigs we found it was quite nice to have a bit more space when it comes to writing new stuff. Before, it was obviously quite a full sound, with the keyboards and the rhythm guitar and then the lead guitar too. Now, it’s nice, because there’s not so much going on.
AltSounds: And when it finally came to releasing this long-awaited album, how were you feeling? Were you nervous or apprehensive at all?
Washbourn: No, it was lovely! It was great to finally get it out. I think we’ve always felt that we’ve had unfinished business, we always felt that what we had achieved was marred by the success of ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’, and people just thought it was the only song we’d done. It was important to me to get another album out there that we’re really proud of, and to show people that we’ve just really worked hard – and that there were lots of other songs, other than ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ that were great, that people just kinda forgot about. So I don’t think we were nervous about putting it out, I think it was just more of a relief. It was important to have people know where we’ve come since that other time, what we’re doing now and how we’ve developed.
AltSounds: Do you think that this is an album you would have made even if you hadn’t have had that break? Is this the result of that extended hiatus?
Washbourn: I think we maybe would have got to this stage in the end, but I don’t think that if we had made another album that this is what would have happened. Hmm… actually I don’t know! [laughs] It’d be interesting to see. We needed a break back then – even before we made that second album. But it is lovely to have the benefit of hindsight – having a break, because in that time, so much has happened. We’ve all got families now. Your priorities change. I think back then, we had sort of lost sight of what being in a band was about. Back in the days, we got sort of blindsided by a lot of other things that got in the way. We want to get back to having the music being the centre of our attention really.
AltSounds: So in that sense, it sounds like you guys have matured since then…
Washbourn: Yeah, I think we definitely have! I’m a totally different person to the guy who was singing with Toploader ten years ago – so much has changed. I listened to Onka’s Big Moka for the first time in ages the other day; I hear this twenty year old kid writing really super-optimistic, naïve, hippy music – and it’s lovely, it’s really charming, but it’s totally not where my head’s at right now. But that’s the nice thing about making multiple albums; music changes as people change and hopefully we can still make good music no matter how our lives change.
AltSounds: Once you’d written all these song and penned all of the material, what was it like when it came to recording? Was it a comfortable process?
Washbourn: It was lovely! We really just forgot how much we enjoy that part, it’s my favourite part of the whole process really – putting it together. We had a really strong demos and a really strong idea of how we wanted it to sound. We had a really great producer, Danton Supple – he was really great in getting what we wanted out of the record. We’ve had experience in the past of producers storming in and making the songs how they wanted them to sound, and we had this definite vision of where we were going with this record, so his input was great. And we had a laugh! It was a really fun, creative time, and I think you can hear that on the record.[/one_half]
[one_half last=”yes”]AltSounds: Do you think that had an influence on the way you finally sounded – writing for yourselves and not for your producer?
Washbourn: Yeah, totally! He totally brought stuff to the table too though. We all knew what we wanted a lot more than we did seven years ago, which helps, because if the band’s got a definite direction, it makes the producer’s job a whole lot easier.
AltSounds: And from the album, your latest single that you released was ‘She Said’ – how did you decide upon that track in particular?
Washbourn: Well we’ve been going back and forth between about three or four tracks that we thought could be the next single, and the joy of social media is that you can actually ask the fans what they want, so we did a poll on our Facebook and “She Said” won. The close second was the actual track “Only Human”. We thought, y’know what, let’s go with the fans! This was in contention for being the latest single anyway, so that turned out great! It’s a great track too; it’s probably one of the heaviest we’ve written. We shot the video for it the other day too, which was wicked to make a video to such a livelyhttp://kingloaf.com/wp-admin/post-new.php, rocking song. I’m really excited about that, the video’s gonna be wicked and the track sounds amazing!
AltSounds: What did the filming involve exactly?
Washbourn: We had a performance linked in with a therapy session – the lyrics in the song are very much like a girl taking about being lost, and ‘help me heal myself’, that kind of thing. It’s about someone becoming lost on their way. So we thought that the idea of a therapy session would be quite apt. We got quite a few people cast in a number of different roles, and it was cut with a really rockin’ band performance too, so it’s gonna be good!
AltSounds: That sounds like an awesome idea for a video!
Washbourn: Yeah, we were really happy with how it went, and we loved the idea too, it was a lot of fun!
AltSounds: Do you have any idea when we might see the video?
Washbourn: Well we filmed it and shot it not too long ago, so I’m hoping it’s going to be within a couple of weeks or something. I’m sure they’ve got a lot of footage to work through. Personally I think it’s the best band performance we’ve ever done in a video, so I really think it’s gonna be exciting, energetic and lively, and I’m hoping it’ll just make people go “wow!”. It really is the absolute antithesis of ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’, so we’re hoping it’s gonna turn a few heads!
AltSounds: Sounds great! And of course, you guys have always been just as lively in the studio and in your videos, as you mentioned, as you actually are live – and you’re touring the UK in October! How’re you feeling about getting back out there with a new album under your belts?
Washbourn: Well, that’s the thing, we went out and played a few low-key gigs not long ago, basically just because we wanted to get out and play the songs really. But this is going to be the first time we’ve gone out on our own tour, so hopefully people who know us from before and people who already have their favourites will show up! It’s gonna be wicked, we’re going all over the place. It’s been a long time, obviously, since we’ve done a UK tour, so we’re really looking forward to getting back out on the road. And we used to have a lot of fun playing live, it was that thing we used to really get a buzz out of. It’ll be interesting to see how everything happens after seven or eight years. I think we’ll have to look after ourselves a little better than before.
AltSounds: For you, what do you find the best and worst aspects of doing tours like this are?
Washbourn: Well I think the best is pretty much what I was just saying, just getting out there and playing directly to the fans. Obviously nowadays it’s different because with Twitter and Facebook, you can get that feedback straight away, it really has become tangible, the relationship with the fans. You can really tell if people have liked it or haven’t liked it. But yeah, the worst side has to be being away from the family. It’s gonna be difficult being away from my wife and kids and everyone really.
AltSounds: I guess that brings out another great aspect of social media – it’s so easy to keep contact with your friends and family whilst you’re away now!
Washbourn: Oh absolutely, it’s a lovely thing.
AltSounds: On that Internet-related note, what do you think of the British music industry nowadays? Do you think we’re producing world class music or that we need a kick up the arse?
Washbourn: I think there’s a lot of talent out there, and it’s obviously much easier nowadays to put yourself on a platform. When we started, we just had to keep playing gigs and hope we’d get spotted by someone from the industry. It seems very old fashioned. Now you can produce music in your bedroom, upload it and in minutes you can have responses. I think it’s incredible. It’s nice to know that there’s a bit more guitar music out there too, it’s become a completely different place to how we last left it to be honest. The whole downloading thing is crazy, it’s a very different state of affairs now. The Internet has obviously shaped the music industry to make it the way it is today. Because there’s so much stuff out there now, lots of good and lots of not so good too, your music has to be much better now to poke up above the rest.
AltSounds: And finally, a bit of comic relief; can you tell us something interesting or weird about yourself that our readers might be surprised to know about you?
Washbourn: Umm… I’ve been a vegetarian since the age of eleven! That’s not particularly weird is it? Just an interesting fact I suppose!
AltSounds: Did you pick that up from your family? Or are you an animal-type person?
Washbourn: I had a big freak out! I just don’t believe that there’s any need, in this day and age, for us to be killing animals for food. I realized kind of very early on! And I haven’t touched a burger or anything like that since!
AltSounds: That’s awesome! You’ve got more willpower than I could ever have.
Washbourn: [laughs] It does make me feel a lot better not having that on my conscience, definitely.
AltSounds: Well thanks very much for your time man, I think that’s everything!
Washbourn: Thanks dude!
AltSounds: Cheers for speaking to us, we appreciate it! And have a great tour in October!
Washbourn: Thanks very much! Take care!