The Toi - no, not the toy, The Toi. What does it mean? Where does it come from? Why are we toying with the word at all? Well because this new Scottish band have the ability to turn Water Into Wine and with their debut album, of that name, they've nearly come up with a collection of songs of those miracle proportions. Gathering together a hugely disparate selection of influences, the results hit with a melody and warmth that simply implores you to listen to it again and again. Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid traversed the world (well, the fifty miles of Scotland between Perth and Glasgow) to toy with The Toi bassist Andy Carr on Oasis producers, Darkness members and, of course turning Water Into Wine…
OK, I have to start by asking about the band name, The Toi. I believe it's a turn of phrase local to you guys, but even coming from just 50 or so miles "up the road", I'd never heard of it. Where does it come from and why did you think it fit the band so well?
It is a term associated with Glasgow gangs, although a little before our time, we found it had a bit of edge to it, and it has basically stuck ever since. We are a gang, and a we feel like we have to prove ourselves to other bands and each other that we are the best band around, so we are willing to fight our way to the top – metaphorically, of course.
So, how did The Toi come together? And how long ago?
[singer] Pol Healy and [drummer] Stevie 'Dog' McLay played in a band together since 2000, and I joined around four years later. We have been through a few line-up changes in the past, but now we are happy with the balance we have in the band. We feel we are now ready to do all that we were born to do.
These days it seems that bands are only together five minutes and they're (ready or not), banging out an album. You guys have waited a little longer. Was it a case of making sure you were 100% happy with the songs before bringing it all together?
Well we felt that we had matured enough as musicians and people to take the plunge. We had taken the songs as far as we could have done. We all had to really dig deep into our pockets to pay for it, but we had a fantastic opportunity to work with one of the top guys in the business. You don't turn that down.
And since the album was recorded, I believe that you've added a new member to the ranks, Connor Williamson on guitar?
Yeah, we met Connor at a few gigs, and thought he was a cool guy. We had a similar taste for tasteless music!! But we later learned that he was a great guitar player too.
What brought that about?
We played a Freddie Mercury tribute gig for Hard Rock Cafe and we thought we could do a great set of Queen songs, but in order for Paul to do his best Freddie impersonation we would have to find someone else to play guitar. So we asked Connor, had a great laugh, and then the rest is history.
How will it be adapting from being a power trio, into a four-piece? Will adding a second guitar change, or allow you to expand on some of the songs?
Absolutely, we sometimes felt that some of the important riffs and guitar parts in the album couldn't be taken to the live stage, as it was just impossible for Pol to play the parts and sing, so Connor is here to give the fans more of the stuff that really give a lot of the songs their identity.
Will it change the sound for album number two?
It may also change the vibe of album two, but that would be happening regardless. We already have a good few ideas and songs that are sounding great. We are being a little more experimental, but I mean we're not going to turn into a jazz quartet, it's still going to be anthemic rock music, or as close to it as we can possibly get.
When describing your musical influences as a band and as individuals, you always been intentionally vague. However in my review of your debut album 'Water Into Wine', I've suggested that fans of good, melodic music and especially 80s Hard Rock, will LOVE the album. Do you think that's a fair assessment of the album's sound?
I suppose it is fair, music is what you want it to be. We just want to make people happy with our music. We want people to identify with it no matter what you call it, we are all just people at the end of the day, just different colours and from different backgrounds, but we all love, hate, loathe, laugh cry the same. Water into Wine was our youth and every song means something about when we were growing up. It's our audio emotions of youth.
Your debut single, "Get On It" was released at the tail end of 2013 and gained recognition in the national press, on radio and even the i-tunes chart. Were you surprised by the amount of attention it gained?
It was quite exciting for us to have a single out, but we believe in every song that we write and release. We were just really pleased that people really got behind us and bought it.
Lyrically your songs range from carnal lust, to sexual/physical abuse, via stalking and the trials and tribulations of life, love and relationships. It feels, refreshingly, like you've tried hard to steer clear of cliches. Has that always been a driving factor of your song/lyric writing?
As I said before, these songs are the emotions, ups and downs of our lives to date. It really all came from the heart. I think you can always tell when a song has just been hashed out and it doesn't really mean anything to anyone. I mean, there are a few clichés in there I'm sure, but we try to keep it as real as possible.
For the album you hooked up with Nick Brine, who's produced, amongst others, Oasis. How did that come to be?
A simple email. I sent one, and he replied with a breakdown of the song we had sent him; honest, constructive criticism. We respected that, and he turned out to be the right man for the job.
Do you think Nick played a pivotal role in the sound of the album, or was his role more about honing what was already there and getting the best out of you and the songs?
I think the sound was there and the songs were there, he just guided us in the right direction and really helped with arrangements. He is a fantastic musician and producer.
And he introduced you to Dan Hawkins of The Darkness, who turned out to be a bit of a fan of The Toi. He also got a little involved in the making of the album. What did Dan bring to the table that might not have been there otherwise?
He knows what makes a hit. Dan has sold millions of records all around the world. If he says to do something you do it, and more often than not its works. It was an amazing point in all our lives working with such a talented team for our album.
However, things haven't been all plain sailing for the band, with Pol Healey being diagnosed with Thyroid cancer - something which thankfully now seems to be in the past. That must have been, firstly a worrying time for you all, and secondly, hard to take just as The Toi were gearing up for a debut album release?
It was a tough time. Pol never really let on that it was serious. He always makes light of bad situations, but thankfully he has the all clear. He is going through radiotherapy treatment as you read this, but he is fine and in high spirits, itching to get back on the stage where he belongs.
And in the meantime you've joined-up as bassist with veteran Scottish rockers GUN. That's a feather in your cap, but will it cause The Toi to have to work round GUN's schedules and plans at any stage?
It does I guess, but with that also comes the opportunity to meet people who we would normally not have gotten the chance to meet. Healy and Dog have really been supportive of me and come to most shows which really means a lot to me. Things happen for a reason, and I hope that part of the reason is that it opens doors for more success for The Toi.
And finally, what else does 2015 have in store for The Toi? Loads of live shows? Possibly starting work on a second album? World domination?
All of that and more!!!!!
Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions, it's hugely appreciated.
Thank you so much for your kind review of our album on behalf of Pol, Dog, Connor and myself.
(Click here to read our reviews of Water Into Wine)