Into the Library Loft: an Interview with Toby Driver

I have to admit, I’m a little bit giddy about this one. I first listened to Toby Driver and Kayo Dot back when Choirs of the Eye was released in 2003. I’ve followed Driver’s work since, and happily purchased every release he’s been involved in. Interviewing Kayo Dot front man and multifaceted musician extraordinaire Toby Driver is a bit like interviewing Maynard, for me. Scratch that. I am way more excited about this than I would be about a Maynard interview.

This is officially Silent Motorist Media’s first interview with a musician. I’m sure you’ll find Driver’s work every bit as dark, deep, and weirdly satisfying as any of the authors featured here. Listen to and follow both Kayo Dot and Toby Driver on Bandcamp. Stop by their website. Fall into the darkness, like I did. I’ve never made a better decision. Claiming that Silent Motorist Media probably wouldn’t exist without Driver’s influence, in fact, wouldn’t be an exaggeration.

“The artistic goal for myself can be summed up as a search for self-identity, and the goal for my audience is to try to open minds and share new perspectives in order to help society grow its consciousness in whatever way I can.”

-Toby Driver

Justin A. Burnett: To get the unavoidable Kayo Dot question out of the way, over the years I’ve come to rest assured that a new Kayo Dot release is always looming on the near horizon. Is that still the case? Should fans expect a follow-up to Plastic House on Base of Sky soon?

Toby Driver: We have a new one in the works but haven’t made any announcements about it yet. You’ll hear something about this soon, though!

Burnett: Excellent! I never know what to expect from a Kayo Dot release, which is one of many aspects of your work that keeps me paying attention. From my end, at least according to what I see on Amazon reviews and interviews, it seems like KD fans are pretty accepting of this tendency to radically change musical approaches. Is this your experience as well, or has there been some resistance from listeners through the transition of, say, Hubardo and Coffins on Io?

Driver: Kayo Dot has a small and loyal group of fans who are curious about everything and have come to accept that exploration is what it’s really all about. The keenest type of Kayo Dot fan can see the KD oeuvre as a sort of Final Fantasy overworld map, ha ha (which I hope some amazing artist draws someday, or maybe I’ll eventually do that myself). The resistance has come mostly in the form of the band’s difficulty in finding a scene that totally fits; it’s extra difficult for us to grow constrained by the genre limitations of scenes.

Burnett: I understand that. As I writer, I find myself at my weakest when I write for a genre. Is the resistance you mentioned in the form of listener expectations, or a personal feeling of not belonging somewhere specific in the musical spectrum? In other words, do you feel “genre limitations” as something imposed externally by industry, or is it more of an internal struggle of wanting to play with genres while aspiring to transcend them at the same time?

Driver: I’m trying to be like Kubrick, who made one of the best horror films of all time, one of the best war films, one of the best sci-fi films, one of the best comedies, etc., without being a genre director.

Burnett: Of course, however, no one Kayo Dot album confines itself to a single genre. There’s so much more going on. It’s important for me, in my capacity as a fiction writer, to challenge my readers a bit. Do you set out to challenge your fans as well, or is the challenging aspect of your work a natural byproduct of an altogether different artistic goal you consciously strive for?

Driver: Relating the music to writing is apt; earlier on, I wanted the experience of my music to be more like reading a book, where the reader has to meet the writer halfway and put some energy and investment into the experience, as opposed to watching television. TV does 100% of the work for you. But nowadays, I try to go a little bit further than halfway with the music. I try to be a bit more inviting. The artistic goal for myself can be summed up as a search for self-identity, and the goal for my audience is to try to open minds and share new perspectives in order to help society grow its consciousness in whatever way I can.

Burnett: I think Kayo Dot succeeds beautifully at this. I think a lot of readers of experimental/weird fiction who appreciate the resistance to the culture of instant gratification will find a lot to admire in your work as well. While we’re on the subject, are there any books out there that you feel speak to you on an artistic level, or inform your creative vision?

Driver: Well sure! There are tons, so many… Riddley Walker (Hoban), Pale Fire (Nabokov), The Lathe of Heaven (LeGuin), DFW’s short stories, Lovecraft, Ligotti, Blatty, Alan Moore, Gravity’s Rainbow, House of Leaves, etc. etc.

Burnett: Oh man, you hit some of my favorites there. I’ve recently gotten into LeGuin and I’m thoroughly enjoying the discovery. And, of course, I don’t go on any vacation without at least some Pynchon or Ligotti. Let’s talk about your solo work. You released Madonnawhore last year. It’s certainly the most subtle and among the most beautifully haunting work of your oeuvre. However, I’ve seen it advertised as your debut solo release. Does it bother you that it eclipses the In the L.. L.. Library Loft?

Driver: Yeah, that bothered me and I immediately addressed it with my publicist, but it was too late by that point. The info had already gone out. It was something I just hadn’t thought I would have needed to communicate to my publicist but it’s an easy mistake to make–my Tzadik release has been extremely obscure.

Burnett: Madonnawhore is much different than Library Loft; it’s been called “pop,” which seems to beg for a little qualification. It’s deep, haunting, and tracks like “The Deepest Hole” have more than a little characteristic weirdness going on. Did you set out to write a “pop” album, here, and were any of the experimental recording techniques that characterized the Library Loft employed?

Driver: It’s close to pop because all the songs basically have a verse-chorus-verse thing going on. I have a few friends who were encouraging me to explore this side of my writing and experiment with reining myself in, in this way, so I gave it a shot. It took me about 2 years of dipping in before I was able to settle on a sound that I felt accurately expressed this side of me and could function as a definitive as opposed to a deviation.

Burnett: It didn’t feel like a deviation at all. I have to ask about “Kandu vs. Corky (Horrorca)” on Library Loft. Library Loft was featured on this site in a list of darkest albums ever recorded. Not an insignificant element of the album’s dark momentum comes from the opening track. Where did “Kandu” come from? I’ve never heard anything quite like it, before or since. Also, what does the title “Kandu vs. Corky” refer to? I’ve tried to investigate and find out, but came up empty. Ha ha.

Driver: Thanks! Well, the foundation of that piece was the bell-curve rhythm that you’ll hear mostly in the snare drum, and later, the guitar. The rest of the sonic palette just comes from who and where I was at the time. Kandu and Corky were two orcas at Sea World San Diego in the 80’s when I was a kid. During a performance, Kandu charged Corky and collided with her to assert dominance, but fractured her own jaw which punctured her nasal cavity and caused her to bleed to death, spraying blood from her blowhole all over the audience. The lyrics of the song also tie this in to the washes of blood in Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, kind of oblique references but they make sense to me in terms of a certain type of horror.

Burnett: You have no idea what kind of a long-standing mystery you just solved for me, ha ha. “Spraying” and “washing” are good descriptions of that song. The massive build-up/release structure of your work seemed to reach its pinnacle in that song, although Dowsing Anenome with Copper Tongue still had moments of it. Soon after, Kayo Dot abandons that structure, as I think you explicitly point out in another interview somewhere. Did “Kandu vs. Corky” seem like it exhausted the possibilities of the “slow burner” with its absolute intensity?

Driver: Thanks! No, I’m not sure that I felt exactly that way, but was definitely interested in trying something different after that point. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty more places to go with that kind of vibe or structure.

Burnett: I’m a huge fan of the Tartar Lamb releases. What circumstances typically necessitate the decision to record a Tartar Lamb album, and do you foresee any further work in that direction?

Driver: The first one, Sixty Metonymies, came about during the time that Kayo Dot had eight members. That made it not only difficult to organize everyone’s time and be productive, but also difficult to hear all the details in the music due to how extremely loud and oversaturated the band was. So, Mia [Matsumiya] and I started a duo so that we could play more frequently without too much scheduling trouble and also in quiet settings so that all the details could be heard. Mia’s way of reading and expressing rhythms is unorthodox, so I had to come up with a system of flexible rhythm that suited her style of playing, and that’s what became the Tartar Lamb system. When I was doing Tartar Lamb II, Mia wasn’t available so I wanted to adapt this particular system to a woodwind ensemble. If I use the same method for a piece in the future, it’d make sense to think of it as a Tartar Lamb jam.

Burnett: It would be a delight if a resurfacing of that method happens to be in the cards. Speaking of “resurfacing,” do you get tired of fans asking for more Maudlin of the Well?

Driver: No, I certainly appreciate the interest

Burnett: Awesome! There always seems to be a demand for more Maudlin out there in the Kayo Dot world. Our above-mentioned list, “Darkest Albums Ever Recorded,” is due for another addition soon. As a musician featured on that list, do you have any recommendations for possible inclusions?

Driver: That’s tough to answer, because the definition of what’s dark can be very broad. There’s also performative darkness vs. real darkness. For example, some stuff that would be genuinely dark would be like white supremacist hardcore, government propaganda music, or a proselytizing David Koresh album (I picked one up from Aquarius back in ‘04). Performative darkness (still expressive) might be something like Khanate’s Things Viral. Personal pain, maybe that last Nick Cave album, The Skeleton Tree. I think comparing suffering is unfair. Many people really felt that Mount Eerie album about the guy’s wife dying but it actually sounded like nothing to me. Who’s to say?

© 2018, Silent Motorist Media

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