Following the positive feedback and some relevant matching with notorious bands/musicians like Massive Attack or Thom Yorke, Robert Toher recently deployed Demolition, the second album of his project Public Memory, through Felte. Delighted by its listening, we had a chat with Robert to get deeper into his sound and his release. Enjoy the reading!
Chain DLK: Hi, Robert! How are you?
Robert Toher: Hello. I am very well, thanks.
Chain DLK: Your music and your style are very interesting… I guess there could be many steps, but what’s the path (and I also mean the music you’d like to repeatedly hear in your earphones) you followed before defining it?
Robert Toher: Thank you. So, do you mean what is the path for the music I am interested in, and thus has inspired my own music? That could be quite a lot to write. When I was young in the eighties, I listened to a lot of music that my father would play. Old rock and roll, sixties and seventies music and such. In the nineties, as a young teenager, I got into punk and played in some punk bands, but also liked Tori Amos, Radiohead, NIN, Smashing Pumpkins, etc. As I got older and time drew on, I got more into things like trip hop, krautrock, jazz, ambient and experimental music. I feel like the music I make is naturally some kind of “reduction” of the many influences I have. Like many people, I’m not trying to make one set style of music. I just feel inspired and then make whatever comes out. I think you can hear some of my influences when you listen to Public Memory, but I also don’t want to simply imitate what inspires me. I like to try and capture inspiration, but intentionally end up somewhere else by the time it’s finished.
Chain DLK: The media has compared it to Thom Yorke, Portishead, Massive Attack and many more… Many artists don’t like this kind of matching (even if generally it’s made to give an idea to readers of reviews of what they’re going to hear)…is there any comparison that you think fits your sound?
Robert Toher: I don’t mind these kinds of comparisons. If I am really into a record and I want to tell a friend about it, I will naturally make comparisons of some kind, so that my friend will have an idea of what I’m talking about. They are reference points. If someone hears something in my music, that’s OK with me. I don’t particularly associate my music with “goth” music and I find it odd when there are comparisons to Clan of Xymox and Dead Can Dance and things like that. But if that’s what someone is hearing, who am I to say they’re wrong? Again, I have been inspired by a lot of music over the years, and of course some of that comes out in what I make. But I don’t want to find myself playing a “style” of music, which I think has been happening a lot over the last few years, especially in the realm of so-called “goth” bands. There’s a lot of nostalgia, lots of pretenders wanting to sound like this band or that. That’s fine, but personally, I’m not into that. Maybe one day I’ll do a stylized record, but I’m not sure if I’d release it under the same name.
Chain DLK: Before digging deeper into your recent album “Demolition” that I am recommending to our readers in these lines, can you give a retrospective of your past outputs as Public Memory (in particular with the likewise good Wuthering Drum) and their possible connection with Demolition?
Robert Toher: I first released the Public Memory debut Wuthering Drum in 2016. I had left NY in 2014, moved to LA and began writing an album. I finished it in 2015, and a year later it came out. When I made that album, I was trying to find something new, getting away from what I had contributed to my older bands, ERAAS and APSE. I limited myself to one synthesizer, and had some other rules about having a limited palette when I was writing and recording.
A year later, I released the Veil of Counsel EP, which is comprised of two outtakes from Wuthering Drum and one other song that was written very quickly (“Afterlife”). At the end of 2018, I released Demolition, which had taken me about 18 months to write and record. For me, that’s a little bit too long. The next record, hopefully, will come together a bit faster, but of course, it will take whatever time it takes. I am working on something more minimal, back to a limited palette, and shorter songs at times.
Chain DLK: Any relations (even just metaphysical or conceptual, so to speak) with the outputs while you were in ERAAS or Apse?
Robert Toher: Not especially. In my contributions to ERAAS and APSE, I was always drawn to darker themes and sounds, but all the people in those bands were also exploring those things. Public Memory is more electronic than the other bands I was in, but I approach writing for Public Memory as just songs, and they turn out however they do. I try not to steer it too much. I just work, and what comes out, comes out. I find that to be better than setting out with too much of an idea in mind, because if you just write and enjoy it, I find things will usually just come out naturally.
Chain DLK: The opening of “The Line” sets the listener’s mind on something that sound a bit contrasting to me…that sort of aware self-seclusion and lucid insight seems to contrast with a musical movement that sounds like following a gradual uprising… Do you agree with such an analysis or not?
Robert Toher: It isn’t the same for me, but I can’t say I “disagree.” This is simply what your experience has been, and that’s fine for me. “The Line” to me is about flying over different scenes in my life, different neighborhoods, different experiences, and watching from above, or watching from right next to myself. Taking on a spiritual form and revisiting the good, the bad, the neutral and the other, over the course of one’s life.
Chain DLK: The general atmosphere of this song sounds closer to the sound of Blue States’ soundtrack for 28 Days Later instead of the above-mentioned comparisons by the media, in particular, in the use of that thrilling whistle (a theremin?)… What’s the source of that sound?
Robert Toher: I’m not familiar with that soundtrack. I do know that there was a GYBE song on it, because I saw the film back when it came out. I don’t listen to a lot of GYBE these days, but I am very fond of F# A# Infinity and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. Both of those albums were very important to me when they came out. I have seen GYBE a few times, the most memorable being in December 2000, when they played at Bard College in upstate NY in the “Old Gym” and Will Oldham opened the show with The Dirty Three as his backing band. I was floored by that show.
Also, the sound you’re talking about is a synthesizer.
Chain DLK: Massive Attack’s possible influence (particular the MA of 100th Window) came out on the following Red Rainbow… A nightmarish atmosphere that was inspired by a nightmare, by paranoid thoughts or just by reality?
Robert Toher: I should listen to more Massive Attack. I know some of their more popular songs, but in trying to listen to the records, they didn’t really pull me in. No offense to them or their fans… I just never got big into them.
Red Rainbow was inspired by the concept of forces at work behind the scenes which contribute to your perception of reality. What’s real and what’s not, who’s in control, who laughs last. You can run but it follows you.
Chain DLK: The specific way by which your voice gets recorded in your songs could remind some of dark/gothic outputs…. Is there a reason that explains such a choice?
Robert Toher: I think the style of my voice is informed in part by my influences and in part by what comes naturally to me when I hear a bit of music I’m working on and I just respond to it, vocally. I also am not a fan of “direct” vocals (once in a while, this is fine). But I like effects. Like so many others, I have always enjoyed vocals that have delay/spring reverb/etc. But I like vocals to convey a feeling without the listener needing to know the lyrics right away. It’s more immediate to me, more interesting. That’s hard to do without singing a certain way, and that’s hard to do without effects. Yes, there are some that do it well without any of those things. But for me, I like to use effects to impart an emotional nature and a mood to the feel of the vocals. It only adds further depth to it when someone reads the lyrics later. But for my music, at least right now, the lyrics don’t need to be crisp and clean and up front. I like them to be another instrument in the music, a character with a role to play, even though that sounds a bit pretentious – that’s what I want out of it. That doesn’t mean I want to take a reverb pedal and turn everything up all the way and mumble into the microphone. There is still a presence in the lyrics, a foothold to the vocals. So while I don’t want them to be a wash of reverb and unintelligible syllables, I also don’t want them to be so absolute. They should exist somewhere between the two – and that creates a feeling and a purpose that’s very important to me.
Chain DLK: The only exception to the previously described style is “Falsetto”. That sounds pretty self-ironic, as it’s maybe the song where there’s no trace of that sort of androgynous falsetto you often used over the album…why?
Robert Toher: Hmm, I disagree. I think there is falsetto in that song. The title had nothing to do with the singing style in the song; it just fit and felt right. I don’t see how it stands out, in terms of its vocal style and approach. I suppose during the verses I am a bit more in a “talking” range of my voice, but it goes up and down – and later, toward the end, it goes quite high. I wouldn’t mind having a shimmering, delicate but powerful voice like Jeff Buckley. I don’t, but I try my best to get by with what I do have.
Chain DLK: Are there any religious or mystical references in the Trick of the Light lyrics? Can you share the source for inspiration for writing that song?
Robert Toher: There are a few references there… It’s all in the lyrics, which are available in the physical copies of the album. That song is about getting older, being true to yourself and coming back to nature, but also, in the process, isolating yourself. I guess it’s about preparing for death, but I don’t think in a dark way. It’s bittersweet.
Robert Toher: Lyrically or figuratively? Lyrically, maybe from “Trick of the Light”, where it says “turning out the lights on your illusion” – which is also the last line of the album.
I called it Demolition because the album is about renewal. In the context of relationships, but also simply within the self. It’s a story of coming-of-age, but not a young age. Just, getting to a certain point on various timelines where important and unforeseen things converge at once. It’s about love, failure, paranoia, spirituality and death.
Chain DLK: Are any songs from Demolition that are going to be rendered into video clips?
Robert Toher: No.
Chain DLK: Any plan of bringing it on live stages?
Robert Toher: We did a west coast tour in November, and we have some plans for the US and potentially Europe this year.
Chain DLK: Any work in progress?
Robert Toher: Yes. A new PM album, some remixes I’m doing for bands I like, and another little project I’m working on.