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Kayo Dot Frontman Toby Driver Discusses New Album "Moss Grew On The Swords And Plowshares Alike", Maudlin Of The Well And More

Progressive metal is a term which arguably goes against its very name. If something is easy to class as "progressive," is it really progressing? Nevertheless, there are those musicians who truly do progress and continue to push the boundaries of their music and art and no one will disagree that Kayo Dot's, Toby Driver is one such artist.

Driver originally made his name with the acclaimed avant garde metal band Maudlin Of The Well, which blended a variety of genres aside from metal such as jazz, ambient and electronic music to craft a genuinely impressive legacy that still leaves fans stunned to this day. Following the break up of Maudlin Of The Well in 2003, Driver moved on to a new project, Kayo Dot, who last week released their tenth studio effort, "Moss Grew On The Swords And Plowshares Alike." This latest offering is sure to please not only Kayo Dot fans, but also those who miss Maudlin Of The Well. To find out more about the record, we spoke with Toby Driver, who answered a variety of questions not just about Kayo Dot, but about the history of Maudlin Of The Well, working with jazz legend John Zorn and astral projection. You can watch the interview in full below, as well as read an excerpt from the chat.

Diamond Oz: First of all, congratulations on the new album, "Moss Grew On The Swords And Plowshares Alike," which is some title! I don’t think I’ve heard an album title like that before.

Toby Driver: Thank you. I really like florid titles. I didn’t come up with the title, the lyricist Jason Byron did. It comes from a biblical verse, I can’t tell you exactly what the book or verse is right this second but there’s a biblical verse which says "Go and turn your swords into plowshares," which basically means take war things and turn them into peaceful, productive things. In the case of this title, it means that moss growing over both swords and plowshares is kind of like the theme of the album, which is that everything, no matter what you do, turns back into nature and this decayed Earth. It’s almost nihilist, almost like saying that no matter what you do doesn’t really matter, whether you try to be a hero or not, it all leads to the same place.

Oz: It’s interesting as well because like you say it has like a nihilistic tone to it, but also when we think of nature we always talk about the beauty of it, so you could look at it the other way in that even the most violent things you do will become a part of something beautiful.

Toby: Totally. I’m not a nihilist at all and I don’t think our lyricist is either, so I think it’s all about, kinda like what you said, it can be a beautiful result or a painful one, but either way, nature rules over all and it becomes a part of this singularity in a way.

Oz: What would you say makes this a different album from "Blasphemy"?

Toby: Well, this one is not a concept album. "Blasphemy" was deliberately a story. So, on "Blasphemy" every song is like a chapter in the story and there's a narrative throughout. This one, there's not, even though there's kind of like a mood that ties them all together and this one is deliberately more metal than "Blasphemy" was. This one I produced in a way to sound more like the nineties doom/death stuff that I grew up on and a lot of that has to do with the fact that this year is the twentieth anniversary of the Maudlin Of The Well double album and the twenty fifth anniversary of the founding of Maudlin Of The Well. We were going to do a Maudlin Of The Well reunion record and try to do some shows or something but we couldn't because of the pandemic so I figured, maybe the next best thing is to have the new Kayo Dot record paying homage to that. So, since Maudlin Of The Well has its roots in the nineties doom/death stuff, this Kayo Dot record tries to bring that out a lot.

Oz: Yeah, you can definitely hear that, but also it doesn't shed the evolution of Kayo Dot. For example, the music video, "Void In Virgo," there's really beautiful music and the video itself is very celestial and just nice to look at it.

Toby: Thank you so much. That video was made by Nick Hudson, who's a friend of mine, a musician, a writer and he's just brilliant overall. In this case I didn't have any creative input at all because I trust Nick as an artist and I just wanted him to do what inspires him, but the only restriction I had was that we don't show any people or characters because I didn't want to personify anything. I also said, "Make sure the video is through composed" because I really don't like those videos which is just the same footage looped or repeated. I feel like, videos like that, there's no reason to really watch them so I just said, "Make sure it changes throughout and that there's no characters" and he just did all the rest himself.

Oz: It's a great result and I think it represents and accompanies the music really well. On a similar note there's the artwork for the album, which is incredible. Is this another one of your creations?

Toby: It is and actually I have it hanging on the wall behind me. I painted it and I wouldn't really consider myself to be an accomplished visual artist. I've done a lot of the artwork for my bands over time but if you average out my output, I really do one drawing a year, so I don't really do that much. This one is an oil painting and it took me like two and a half to three months, which I'm sure a much better artist could have done pretty quickly! This picture is supposed to be my rendition of what's happening in the song, "Get Out Of The Tower." If I could kind of imagine the tale that's being told and try to show all of those images just in one frame.

Oz: As for the recording itself, was this a relatively smooth operation? Did you have to record it at home or were you able to get together in the studio?

Toby: We couldn't get together, it was right in the middle of the pandemic, so the guitar contributions that came from Greg Massey, we did it over email and then everything else I did in my own studio.

Oz: OK. I suppose that makes it a more comfortable experience.

Toby: Honestly, I really enjoyed working this way. Kayo Dot and all my previous bands have made records in studios and there's always a studio budget to contend with. You've got to come up with money somehow or you have to get it from the label or whatever, there's always a limited amount of money, which means there's always a limited amount of time. Especially when I was living in New York City, where studios cost three times as much as anywhere else, so there's even more limited time. So, every record I made in New York City has just been made so under the gun and so stressful and I did learn this thing while living there that the edge of panic can produce really good results. It kind of forces everybody to be on their best game all the time and of course, there's a downside to that too. You can't really do anything with patience and you can't really do too many revisions and stuff like that. When Kayo Dot has done records in professional studios, especially really expensive ones like in New York City, it's a case of things have to be recorded live and done in one or two takes.

In this case, since I was doing it in my own studio during the pandemic, I kind of had all the time that I wanted and the budget that I normally would have put into paying for studio time, instead was used to upgrade my own studio and be able to produce it better myself, therefore every aspect of the music was able to have attention paid to it in a way that it could be perfect. Usually when I go back and listen to other recordings that I've made in a studio, I'm like, "I wish I had more time with this" or "This could have been done better," things like that. In the case of this album, there's not really anything that's like that because I took all the time that I needed to.

So, going forward in the future, I would say that I probably prefer working this way and really the only negative was that I missed live collaboration. I really love being in a studio and recording something with all the musicians playing at the same time, there's a certain kind of energy to that. But that might not be the best thing for my music anyway because when I think about my entire body of work, all of the records that my fans like the most are the ones that are recorded more in an overdub situation. So maybe being able to seperate the instruments and have that level of detail works for my music better and that's something that I'm just kind of realising.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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