The live show of Toydeath (Dr. Elephant, Olivia the Witchy and Little Miss Star Guitar) seems to be a perfect compliment to their superkinetic sound. Chaotic theatrics and scenery. Colorful, cartoony costumes. And a set list that's over by the time you finish your pixy sticks. The group debuted their CD at a museum of mechanical musical instruments in Sydney, Australia, before embarking on a 20-date European tour. They took some time to answer some of our questions...
What drew you to strictly using toys as instruments to define your sound?
Oh gees, they all sound so excellent. It's just not necessary to combine them with grown-up instruments. There's sooo many toys with such different sounds. You can get toys with great drum beats, toys that play guitar riffs, toy keyboards, saxaphones, violins, etc. And then you put them together with vocalists such as talking bears, talking barbie, quacking fluffy ducks, telephones, etc., and then add farm animal toys, police cars, guns, helicopters, etc. etc. for craaaziness and who needs real instruments?
Do you modify them at all, or mostly rely on the built-in sounds to base your tracks upon?
Well normally, Dr. Elephant modifies them just for amplification, but lately the exciting thing has been the addition of pitch knobs inside the toys. We've managed so far without this feature, cos they all sound so excellent without any alteration, but this is just for a special treat. So, Dr. Elephant will make this new operation on a few toys, for a bit of extra bass and weirdness. Even though it's not really necessary, we use FX on a few toys every now and then, just for more variety.
How do you approach song-writing, given the limitations of using just toys?
Mmm? Limitations? Don't see many limitations with these toys. In fact, probably the opposite. When we're writing a new song, it takes us a while to find the right combination of toys and sounds cos we've got so many to choose from. Usually we'll find a good beat first and wowee, the beats in toys are getting more amazing every time we go to a toyshop. Got a few of these toys in our toybox that we havent even used yet, just waiting to get out and be in a new song.
What other projects do the group members have?
Olivia the Witchy lately has a new solo ukulele/drum machine/singing career.
Little Miss Star Guitar (a.k.a. Alabastar Charms and Fairley Long) spends much of her time being a circus stripper and lesbian trash queen.
Dr. Elephant busies himself as a circuit-bending, electronic music freeaak.
Please describe the amazing costumes that Marty Jay designed for the band.
When we first started, we had a heavy metal look, with long wigs, black leather and studs...really tough looking. Then we tried a few not-so-amazing, thrown together ideas and eventually asked Marty Jay to help help help us. We worked with him to design three weird toyish characters -- Dr. Elephant was a cowboy teddy bear with an enormous flashing cowboy hat, Little Miss Star Guitar was a super pink princess robotty doll, and Olivia the Witchy was a hyper space bunny. At the moment, our characters are a bit scarier (we think so, anyway) -- a cartoony action man, a spookypunky 80s witch and a scaryglamour-mummyzombie. We always wear plastic transparent masks. From a distance it looks like we're wearing trashy makeup.
One thing that really impresses me is your insistence on "playing" the toys live, instead of merely sampling them. How difficult is that to orchestrate in a live show?
We've learnt not to make the songs too complicated. One song on the CD, "Pleasey Polizei," is actually too difficult to play live -- too many toys involved and not enough hands. We tried it once and didn't really work. So, now we only play one or two toys each for every song. Some songs you get to play a really simple part so you can concentrate more on jumping around while someone else is playing the complicated part, or sometimes the toys play a little bit on their own so we can all do a silly dance. Sometimes people in the audience can't really see what we are doing on stage. We have a little mixer on the floor in front of us and after each song, we plug in new toys. We use different toys for every song. On some of the smaller toys, it's hard to show that you're actually playing it and also, because the sounds are so amazing, people often do think we're using a sampler or even just jumping around to a recording (oh gees, as if we'd waste our time doing that). Once we had to take someone backstage after a show to let him hear the toy that played a particular drum beat, because he couldn't believe it was coming from a toy.
How has audience reaction been to your shows in general?
Usually really excellent. But we have also been booed off stage at a big rock gig once and spat on at another gig. In Utrecht in Holland we were charged at by 50 school kids (our only ever school show) because their over-enthusiastic teacher said they could all have a go of the toys if they wanted. That was pretty exciting.
Toydeath homepage »