Toby Lightman, 2006

 

Written & Photos by: Jason Perlman

 

I was checking out a few of your new songs on Myspace, and they have a very bluesy, very emotional feel to them. That is somewhat of a transition away from your first record. How much when you were writing for this record were you comfortable writing for yourself versus taking outside advice and influences? Did you feel more freedom this time around?
I wouldn't say I felt more freedom from other people, but I would say I felt more freedom within myself and was able to tap into a kind of singing always wanted to do, but didn't necessarily write for that style of singing. I just started to become more comfortable with writing that kind of music. I am also fortunate to have a label didn't really have a creative hand in the first record or this second record. They seem pretty happy when they get the full songs, so I think it was more just me coming around to it.

 

When you mention writing a bit different for this record, Birds on a Wire. How was it for you to be able to write more from and about yourself versus maybe a different point of view? Was it hard to write in this new way you wanted to sing?
Well, I think it was more musically that I had to change. This record I did help co-write some of the music, and I think that helped because when someone else is there saying, "Why don't you bring the chord this way instead of that way," it will help bring out new ideas that I wouldn't get on my own. I think that helped a lot and helped in the music I did write by myself to be able to open my mind to new possibilities. But again, a lot of it was me being more comfortable with experimenting and not just feeling confined to a certain pattern.

 

The first time we interviewed, you were flown in to New York for a press day and you were in the lobby of Lava Records on a cell phone. Have you adjusted to life as a musician and a public figure?
I don't know if you ever really adjust to it. I mean, I haven't really done this for about 10 months since I last toured, so I got out of the head space of singing every day really hard, as you can tell because my throat is really scratchy. But you really don't think about all the interviews and promoting you need to do when you haven't done it before. But since I have done it with one record already, I am a little more prepared, but I don't think you are ever fully prepared until you start to do it and get into a rhythm of being on the road. It is just more different than anything I have ever done before.

 

You are playing tonight with James Blunt and later will be on tour with Rob Thomas and Jewel. Although you have a new record coming out, you are playing music now that a lot of people haven't heard. Are you nervous playing this material that hasn't really been heard yet?
I get a little nervous, just because I am still coming into my own with it. Right now, I am not taking many liberties and am trying to stick with what we put down on the record, for one because I want people to hear it and have it ingrained that this is what the record will sound like, but more importantly maybe is because I don't want to go off somewhere and not be able to find my way back. But it has been a really positive response from people. We get a lot of fans coming over to the merch booth asking me when the new record is coming out, buying the sampler of new material, and it is mainly new material we are playing at these shows, so it has been really good.

 

You just mentioned playing a lot of new material, and that is not an easy decision to make when you are the opening act. The easy way is to play what people may have heard already, so was it a hard decision to play mainly new material?
Actually, I think in opening slots it is easier to play new material, because more of the audience, for the most part, is not there to see you, so you are new to them anyway. So I think that gives me a lot more liberties. And granted, I do play three songs of maybe four songs from the first record, but if I were playing my own shows I would play a lot more from the first record, but I think that I am in a different place now and this new music represents me much better, so I actually like playing more of the new music.

As an artist, is it more gratifying for you to play in front of a James Blunt crowd and see that audience member go from wondering who Toby Lightman is to dancing by the end of the set or is it more gratifying to play in front of your own fans and hear them sing the words to your songs?
They are very different to me, but both very exciting all the same. When you play in front of people who do know the music, it is very validating and exciting that people actually know it. And when you play for people who don't know you, it is challenging to win them over, and when you feel like you do win them over, it is validating in the same way.

 

I was talking with a singer in a band a few weeks ago who was saying he gets more motivated when he sees a crowd not reacting positively to the music because it makes him work harder. How much do you pay attention to the reaction from the audience versus how much do you just do your thing and let the chips fall?
I try not to focus on people, who are not paying too much attention, but there are definitely songs in the set where I am more aggressive lyrically and even if they are totally ignoring me, I am still totally into that song. But I do think it is always really cool to see people getting into your music. But it's a challenge; you have to play a little bit of a game in your mind.

 

Talking earlier, being on tour with James Blunt, going out with Rob Thomas and Jewel. All three are excellent songwriters. How is that for you as an artist to be on the road with them and to be considered as a peer with them?
I think it is really flattering. I think it's flattering that James had me out on this tour and that I am going to go out with Rob Thomas and Jewel. I am really exciting to be playing show with what seems like career artists, not just flash-in-the-pan people because I feel their fans are more educated and the artists are more dedicated. It is just a totally different mindset than the one-hit band or person, so I am really excited to be on tour with them.

 

Taking the 10 months off, how was the transition from being on the road for so long, to actually taking time off, to now being right back on the road again?
It is hard; it is really hard. Again, it is kind of like a sport because your voice is like a muscle, and if you don't use it regularly, and granted I was in the studio singing a lot but not every day, it takes time. When you are driving around in a van, getting up at 6 am to drive and then do interviews, and everything else, that is like stretching before the game, and if you don't stretch you will totally fuck yourself up. So right now I am still getting used to playing every day and getting back into it, it's tough. I remember when I was touring for about a year, it took a month to get on solid ground, but there definitely is a transition period.

 

You mentioned writing some of this new record with other people, and how much of that allowance was due to the experience of recording your first record versus how much was it just natural progression as an artist to want various input?
Well, I wrote pretty much the entire first record by myself, and I was still getting comfortable with the guitar. When I write on the guitar, I tended to rely heavily on it and I think now I am feeling more comfortable with my voice, so I can use my vocals to guide myself on the guitar a bit more and experiment more. I mean I didn't even know that many chords when I wrote the first record, I still don't. I don't know what half of them are called, I just hear it and know what I like in terms of the sound. It is a lot like learning a new vocabulary, and I am working on broadening my choices on how to say certain things.

 

Was it ever a bit tough or overwhelming when you went to record the record with a "limited vocabulary?" I remember asking guitar guru Joe Satriani about should an artist know about reading and writing music and basically said music is good if it sounds good.
I wasn't really nervous. I had these songs that just naturally started going to those places. It wasn't really thought about, nobody really asked about them to be like that. It is just like when you mature and become more comfortable with what you are doing, you will just naturally take more liberties. A song like "Don't Wake Me," I just started singing that randomly and figured out what to play with that song. And a song like "I'd Be Lost," I had that verse music for 3 years, but Howard Leonard actually said, "You should bring the chorus to this chord" and that opened my mind to all these new melodies. It was really amazing how it all worked out.

 

There now seems to be female musicians such as Tristan Prettyman, Kate Earl and Rachel Yamagata are just a few, but it is becoming more accepting of female artists to not be cove girls as well. Do you pay attention at all to how you are dealt with as a female musician in the industry? For example, Tristan told me a story of how when she was looking to get signed, one label made the comment she would look great in a mini-skirt. Maybe he was joking some, but I am sure there was some truth there as well.
Well, I generally have a big mouth and I really don't pay attention to that at all. Sometimes people will bring up the fact that I am short, or that I am blonde, and I have had reporters as my weight. And I am just like, "What do you weigh?" I will just ask them those questions back. I mean nobody likes to answer that question, so why would I want to answer those kinds of questions. I don't know why when you play music you all of a sudden have to be a model and be an actress. You have to wear cool clothes; like short little miniskirts and I don't think that is what I am about at all and I am sure Tristan was probably thinking the exact same thing.

 

Are you excited about the trend and that you don't have to have an albino snake around your neck in see-through outfits?
You know, people can do whatever they want and whatever they are comfortable with. I think that is the whole thing. When you do things you are not comfortable with, it shows. If Britney Spears is comfortable putting a boa constrictor around her neck, then good for Britney. But I will never be doing that.

So maybe no quick phone calls from TRL?
Well, if they want someone dressed like a normal person, then yea, they will be calling on me.

 

Earlier, you talked about how cool Lava Records has been to you. How important was that to you to have a label and artist representation that allowed you to grow and be your own person?
I feel really fortunate to have this label that is like that. Jason who is now at Virgin signed me, so I was kind if left with a staff of people I didn't really know, and you never know what is going to happen with that. But luckily my A&R singed me as well, and he moved over and has always supported me. He let me do my thing, and I was very fortunate. A lot of people mettle with what you do creatively because they don't think it's marketable, and even when I was doing the first record, I wanted to do a record, not make just about a song. It wasn't like someone over my shoulder saying, "We need a hit. Don't forget about the hit." I was hoping the whole record would be a hit to them. When you start thinking about hits, you start writing bad songs. At least that is what I think.

 

Because you write that way, was it hard to pick a single for this new record?
Yea, it was hard. It was really hard. But I am trying not to rely so much on that. I think the label definitely has their idea of what the stronger songs are, and I love all the songs. So I am willing to do whatever, as long as I am still touring and trying to get long-term fans instead of just a radio hit that fades away. Radio hits go away, but if you have good fans that like your records, then that is what lasts.

 

Since this interview is to preview the Rob Thomas and Jewel show, how excited are you about that tour?
I am really excited about it. We are coming back to a lot of the places I hit on this James Blunt tour. I am really fortunate to be on another tour that is going to the same markets and hopefully a lot of the same people will be at both shows. I mean, yea, it's Jewel, people know her from that one word, and so it is definitely a pretty cool tour to be on.

 

(Laughing) And will you be touring with someone not on Atlantic?
I know, right? I mean it is actually very coincidental. But granted I was a little nervous thinking, "Was it all just going to be label hook-ups?" But fortunately for this James tour, he heard my music and made the decision on his own and I am pretty sure that is what Jewel did, too. So it was just a little door to step through.