Toner Low Interview
Toner Low have been at the very pinnacle of doom excellence for more than a decade and yet they only have two albums to show for their endeavours. Is the smoking of too much weed responsible for this lethargy or is it, as with some many things, the slow burn fermentation process creating something more luscious and satisfying to devour? Whatever the reason a heavier manifestation of doom would be hard to find. Long drawn out songs concentrate mantric rhythms and lysergic pulsating grooves, ghostly vocals bind this screaming beast to the bong by demanding that all who listen must partake in the green leafed sacrament that feeds their rhythm and doom.
In the end, the manifest synergy of all three musicians amounts to something greater than all their parts. Yes I’m a fan indeed this interview may be regarded by some as being exceedingly biased in favour of the band. But why not, what we have with Toner Low is a master class on how to play tripped out psychedelic songs. Oozing a weed drenched confidence they have created for the doom masses a bench mark for all aspiring bands who wish to exceed the likes of Electric Wizard or Sleep. In an attempt to uncover more from the weed heroes, I stepped into the smoke filled room to find out more from Jack their drummer.
Some might think the membership of Toner Low has run a strange course, with Miranda (bass player) being in the band, then leaving only to rejoin a few years later. Can you tell us about the bands trajectory when it comes to members? Perhaps you could also tell us about your 4th phantom member who doesn’t play an instrument but works as an important part of Toner Low behind the scenes?
We started off in 1998 with five members trying to create our own Kyuss. Miranda left at the end of 1999 to join 7zuma7, a Dutch stoner rock band, which was pretty popular back then. The four of us continued until our other guitar player left in 2002. Since then we felt more comfortable as a 3-piece and decided to keep it that way. This also changed our sound and pushed us slowly more towards stoner-doom. During the recording of the first record we used a lot of sampled sounds. We figured we needed a 4th person to take it to the stage. Enter our phantom member. At the end of 2007, Deef (singer/bass player) and also our sample guy left the band. Enter Miranda and Rogier (samples). Right before our release-tour for the second album at the end of 2008 Rogier got into a serious accident and Kees took over the samples. Rogier is pretty much ok again by the way. And yes, the samples are a very important part during our live shows. People often wonder where the sounds come from since they are not controlled from the stage.
As with so many bands within the doom scene, bands can take up to ten years to receive any kind of recognition with few releases to measure their progress. That’s not to take away from what has been released. Toner Low have a totally unique take on the doom scene and it may be the case that writing just takes time. How come it has taken so long for you, Daan (guitar and vocals), and Miranda to record two albums?
Your not the first asking about this. And it’s true, we are slow in releasing records due to several reasons that swallow our time. Miranda and me also play in Krush, a crust-grindcore band which is the total opposite of Toner Low. Daan is also involved in a black metal project and a solo project called Danny Ramirez.
Next to that, we have this construction-project called our house-boat which we started in 2002. Our aim is to finish it in 2012. Fingers crossed.
But also my work at a club usually includes working at night when there are bands playing. And finally… we like to go out and see lots of bands and have a beer and a smoke, so you can imagine it’s not an early rise and shine the next morning. Believe me, I have lots of other projects/bands in mind to start any day, if only I could do without sleep (not the band!) and generate more time.
Many bands follow particular writing routines when it comes to creating new songs, how would you describe your writing process?
I guess like most bands, we all come up with rough ideas, riffs or complete songs, and work them out during practise until we’re fully content. Usually, while doing a rough song, it’s already finished in my head, complete with the right sound, samples and sometimes vocals. If that doesn’t happen, to my opinion, the song won’t work. Sometimes it takes a bit longer then others for a song to ‘flower’ so to speak. And then you have interesting occasions like the 7 inch song ‘Duster’ which popped up in my head right after recording the ‘Orange’ album. I recorded the drum track with the riffs and melody in my head and did the guitar and bass afterwards. Reverse song writing I guess. We used to jam a lot more in the early days but I guess that brings us back to the whole ‘not enough time’ issue.
Perhaps it is more evident on the continent than in the UK, but there seems to be a close relationship between doom, punks and the DIY scene, could you tell us about your close association with the DIY scene?
We are all closely involved in the DIY scene. We set up shows or festivals for local and touring bands. As mentioned before we visit a lot of bands and support the scene any way we can. Every band that we were involved in so far always had the same do-it-yourself attitude. It’s not any different now with Toner Low or Krush or any other bands/projects in the future. It’s just the way we are. It’s about having control the way you want it, and doing things the way you want it. That means designing your own records, CD covers, t-shirts, stickers, flyers, posters… you name it.
But… we are very lucky to be in the middle of a bunch of creative people, and being in this scene, you meet a lot of similar people from all over the world.
And that’s what makes the DIY scene a unique one. It doesn’t matter what music you play, or what kind of art you perform, if you are into the attitude, you’re bound to connect.
It is certainly something that we lack in the UK, this close relationship between the punk and DIY scene. What’s it like in Leiden, do you have free autonomous spaces where you can play shows?
There’s actually one autonomous club/stage left in Leiden. It’s called Sub071.
A very small room which can hold 35 people. Perfect for weekday-shows. It’s underneath a big empty office building near the central station. On the first floor there’s a bigger place called Multipleks. Mostly used for party’s, festivals it also runs as a vegan-diner café. We used to have a real squat-alley, which was called Koppenhinksteeg, but that was closed and boarded up in March last year.
It contained a bar/stage called Bar & Boos, lot’s of shows there. A political cafe-bar-club called De Linkse Kerk. Also there was a place for illegal refugees in need of help plus a give-away store. And guess what… It’s still there and still closed. Nothing happened!
In 2008 Toner Low unleashed upon the world Volume II, the cover looked and felt extraordinary and was the product of many trials to get it just right. So who came up with the idea of the cover and can you describe the effect? Do you know how much it cost to press?
Ah yes, the stroking cover. A guy who bought the album once stroked it and said he felt a pleasant itch on his back at the same time… real story!
Like all the Toner Low or Krush designs, I am the one who is responsible, and to me it’s really important that it looks really nice and original.
The idea for this one came to me when I took a picture of the trees shown on the cover. They are right outside, in my garden. So I actually see the cover every day. A funny detail is that the CD cover is upside down. Mix-up during printing.
Basically it works the same as writing new songs. So when I took the picture, the cover was already finished in my head. Just had to find a way to print it.
The idea was to really get the trees out of the cover so that you could feel them. The printing process is called ‘Puff suede’ if I’m correct and because of it’s thickness it had to be folded manually. I remember it wasn’t cheap. Together with the double vinyl it came around 12 to 13 euro’s a piece. But worth it!
Already have the new record cover finished… in my head that is.
So Toner Low Volume II has songs 1,2,3 and 5, so what happened to 4?
We sold it to an English guy called Oborn?… just kidding.
During the recording session of II, we recorded 4 more songs, including 4 (which was actually a spin-off of nr 2.) and 3 other songs called: Jam (which really was a jam Brant Bjork style with a strange High On Fire twitch), Radiant (an old one re-designed) and Venus in Furs (a Velvet Underground cover). Of these songs we only played Jam live, at three Germany-gigs in July and December 2008.
The plan was to use these for a 7 and 10 inch. With a very nasty deadline on our hands we only mixed and mastered the record. Now, 2 years later, after giving these songs another listen we found out the songs don’t have the right drive, feel, speed and groove. Back then they were too fresh to record i guess.
By the way, we have decided to continue the numbers on future releases.
Toner Low should not be considered as another band that just turns up at shows to play. Their shows comprise of a light show, oil lamps and samples, this together with the band playing makes for an empowering vibe. When did you decide on using the projectors and samples as an integral part of your set?
I think we already used projection in a very early stage of the band. I guess it’s a legacy from 35007 but could easily be the fact that I had that stuff lying around. In the beginning we used 3 projectors which was a complete menace to set up. We used a huge, old beamer, a slide-projector and a liquid-projector, which we now use to light up the bass-drum. I got that idea from Dead Meadow, by the way. So all three of them had to be placed at a different distances from the screen and needed there own power supply. One day we did a show in Leiden and I connected the wrong power supply to the slide-projector and that was the end of the three projecters. After that we invested in a fancy beamer and dvd player and life became a lot easier.
I know you have been to the UK to play one concert. Can you tell us about where that show was held and when it took place?
It was October 2007 and we actually did 2 shows. The first one was at Peterlee College in Peterlee. The other one was in Sheffield. The music teacher at Peterlee College organised a show, now and then, for the whole school. He was related to a good friend of ours and wanted to have some Dutch bands. He suggested us and off we went. It was an interesting show. We started off with about 120 teenagers in front of us and ended up with 15 left who actually liked it. But we had a great time there. The show in Sheffield was in a small bar called Redhouse organised by the people of Ninehertz. Again, very nice people and dito show.
What plans does Toner Low have for 2011? Are you planning to tour and do you have any new releases in the pipeline?
Yes, we definitely are planning to write and record new songs this year and release the new album at the beginning of 2012 since it’s the end of the Maya calendar and the perfect doom-year. Also planning to release a split 7 inch with Burn Pilot, a young trio from Bielefeld, Germany. The song for that release was supposed to be one of the 4 tracks recorded during the 2008-studio session, but the way it looks now it might be even a rare one from the ‘Orange’ session, with Deef on vocals. The touring is a bit slow at the moment. As we have no new releases at the moment it feels a bit weird to go and plan a tour. We do have some shows booked in Holland from February onwards and in Germany around June. Maybe if the 7 inch thing gets real we can plan something after all.
Having the opportunity to witness Toner Low live was one of the highlights to 2010. The bass anchors the band to the floor with a seismic burst of vibrating low end rumble, while the guitar played by Daan exhibits a mantric flare that takes the whole band to a new level. There are two other elements of equal importance and distinction, the drumming, Jack is a man who knows his art, and he is responsible for driving the band forward. Samples and lights only go to make this the deadliest concoction known to mankind. I would place them up there as one of the top bands to see, so for all UK doom residents can you tell us if you will be coming back to the UK anytime soon?
I would love to, but as I mentioned above…. But who knows, things can look totally different in a couple of months. Perhaps when that 7 inch is out we should at least be able to do a show in London. How big is your living room Pete?
Pete: It’s always going to big enough for you four to visit and play…
Thanks Jack for doing this, before you go do you have any final words that you would like to share with our shaman audience?
Well I hope that all readers enjoy it and make something out of it. It was fun doing my first full interview for Toner Low, it brought back a lot of good memories. Normally Daan takes care of it, so it was a well spent rainy evening. Many thanks to you Pete, and all who supported us in any way. Hope to see you soon somewhere, someday, who knows… Take care.
More info on Toner Low at: www.myspace.com/tonerlowstonerdoom
Interviewed by: Pete Hamilton-Giles