This Friday, June 24th, the almost aggressively eclectic and indefinable Kayo Dot will release their latest album, Plastic House On Base Of Sky. About one month ago, on May 28th, the band performed at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, playing a selection of material from Plastic House and their previous two albums, Coffins On Io and Hubardo. Against the backdrop of an unseasonably warm and unbearably humid day, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kayo Dot composer, multi-instrumentalist, and mastermind Toby Driver to discuss a range of topics surrounding the album, its influences, its challenges, and why metal isn’t a primary source of musical inspiration for him these days.
Of Plastic House – which can be described summarily as a pulsating, labyrinthine piece of progressive synthwave – Driver claims his primary inspiration for the album came from Japanese composer Susumu Hirasawa and that this album is his attempt to “make my version of this music.” He bristled at my suggestion that the album sounded like a succession or logical progression of sorts from the fluid and dark 80s art-pop sounds of Coffins On Io, rebutting that though there may have been some shared musical influences from around the same period as his favorite albums from Hirasawa were from the 80s and 90s, that Plastic House shares as much in musicality and influence as any two successive Kayo Dot albums do. He conceded that the two albums share the same retrowave-y keyboard sounds, though he said with a laugh that “those just happen to be the keyboards I have.”
When I brought up the fact that Plastic House is the first album that Driver has written for Kayo Dot as a trio and that they would be performing their upcoming tour dates as such (saxophonist Daniel Means was on-hand that night to bring them to a four-piece), he stated that the decision was based mostly just on what and who was available to work with. He conceded that he learned that lesson the hard way after writing their first album Choirs of the Eye, where he “didn’t think about that kind of thing and just made the record as big as possible,” which meant they couldn’t perform all of the necessary parts live and had to compromise the music in that setting. The biggest challenge for Driver in writing this album, however, wasn’t a creative or logistical one though as much as technical. He allegedly spent around a year and a half producing Plastic House and claims that much of that time was spent just becoming familiar and comfortable with the software and synths he used to write and produce it: “I wasn’t completely comfortable with the process…a lot of that process was just learning to handle what I had in front of me.
Aside from the direct influence of Hirasawa, Driver knew that he also wanted to make this album rhythmically and compositionally-dense, emphasizing the importance of rhythmic counterpoint throughout it: “You’ll notice on all of the songs there’s at least two different drum tracks, and there’s probably at least 3 or 4 bass tracks.” This falls well within one of Driver’s primary musical interests these days, which he describes as “timbre explorations and production explorations,” focusing more on a different kind of composition from what most are accustomed to (he moves his hands apart vertically as if physically stacking layers of sound on the spot to illustrate this).
When I brought up the topic of metal, the evident lack thereof from these past two albums, and whether he envisions himself returning to some of those heavier sounds from the other parts of the band’s discography, he hedged a bit initially, claiming that he doesn’t have any real idea what he’ll be inspired by for future albums. He did state though that “right now I don’t listen to metal very much, ever. There really aren’t many things happening in it that are exciting me all that much.” Touching on his current interest in vertical timbre compositions, he went on to say that he feels many metal bands approach it like “‘Yeah, here’s the writing. This is the song. Let’s record it. It sounds heavy. It’s cool.’ But no one really goes super, super deep in terms of timbre and production, I think. Not anyone that I’m aware of, anyway.” He did later amend that statement with the example of the band Cleric and their most recent record Regressions.
As for what’s next for Driver, aside from their upcoming tour dates in Japan and Europe over the summer and then US in the fall, he mentioned that he’s been working on a solo album of ballads, which he expects to come out by the end of this year or early 2017, though he said that was not finalized with the label yet. And also don’t hold your breath for another maudlin of the Well reunion anytime soon like they did last year, as he said pretty definitively that there are no plans currently or anytime in the near future to bring all the members back together again. For now what we do have is a new Kayo Dot album though, and that is always a cause for celebration.