The low-down on Toby before Peppytones…..
As a small boy Toby loved music and, born into a family of musicians, you could say music has always been his destiny. Once he’d passed through a Thomas the Tank engine obsession, I remember him singing along in the car when he was three, to Fat-Boy Slim, Blink 182 and the band Space (whatever happened to them?). In the dusty archives of old family video footage (unfortunately not locatable) we captured Toby as a seven year old, singing his heart out to Busted and pretending to play his toy guitar, with such ferocity, it was as if his life depended on it!
Toby was drawn towards guitar-based bands when he was about seven and Busted burst onto the music scene sounding unlike anything he’d heard before. Although they were (embarrassingly now) his first love, his taste soon matured to more serious bands and then came a pivotal moment – he discovered Green Day. This became the turning point for his musical taste and inspiration. He’s been a passionate disciple ever since.
Fast forward a few years and after being given the first of many guitars by his grandfather when he was 12, Toby spent years painstakingly teaching himself, until his fingers bled. However, he has always been a cripplingly shy boy, and as an adolescent he was possibly even worse. The thought of standing on stage in front of an audience to perform was, and still is, a dichotomy to him.
I took Toby to London for his first Green Day gig when he was 13 and I’d like to think this trip was the moment which sparked the fire and determination to follow his dream and become the hugely talented guitarist, songwriter and singer that he is now.
Today, Toby has a tendency towards introspection, he still wrestles with his inner demons, feelings of inadequacy and a crushing lack of self-confidence, and it’s not unusual for him to be physically sick before a show. But his infinite love of music and, more specifically, the desire to play the music that he’s written, overpowers his incredible shyness and spurs him on to overcome these feelings. To Toby the idea of not being able to play music is simply not an option, it runs in his blood.
This is the story of Peppytones. So far……..
Rose and I interviewed Toby from local band Peppytones on 28th November 2020.
Peppytones are a three-piece band from Saltash in Cornwall, who were formed back in 2015. Before this they were all part of schoolboy, going–nowhere–fast groups, and hung out at Live Wire Youth Music Project in Saltash. After realising they weren’t getting anywhere (and were never likely to) in their current bands, at the end of a night out on the town they all drunkenly agreed it would be a good idea to join forces and Peppytones was born – a modern, peppy and punky, refreshing alternative to much of the bland stuff today’s music scene has to offer.
The band line-up is Toby on lead guitar and vocals, Alex on bass guitar and Josh on drums – all now age 24. The band survived the last five years with Josh away at Bournemouth University, but still coming back home at regular intervals to practise and do the occasional gig. Alex took a Deep Blue Sound music production course in Plymouth, which gave the band the opportunity of some free studio time. And now this year Toby began a three year Song Writing and Music Production degree at BIMM (British and Irish Institute of Modern Music) in Bristol, to help broaden and expand his musical knowledge and experience, which he hopes will be really be helpful for the band in the future.
Originally, the boys started by practising in the shed, until the neighbours became a little intolerant of the volume and regularity of the noise emanating through the garden fence, and started to complain. Fortunately, Josh’s parents own a farm, so they were able to find a new place to jam in an outbuilding without disturbing anyone – except maybe the odd cow.
Since those early days, Peppytones have gone from strength to strength. They’ve recorded several of their own songs (all lyrics and music written by Toby), done numerous gigs in and around the Plymouth student area, and built up quite a local following. Their music was played last year on Sarah Gosling – BBC Radio Devon’s Introducing Saturday night slot, and back in the days before Covid prevented any kind of live show, they hosted their own mini summer festival at the farm, inviting other local acts along.
Speaking to Toby, Rose asked him how the national lockdown has affected the band and what their plans are for the future? “There was a gap in the summer when it was ‘legal’ to get together, so we were able to practise a bit. Since I’ve been in Bristol, we’ve just had a few video calls and I’ve played Josh and Alex some of the new stuff I’ve written. If I don’t hear anything back from them, I guess they’re not keen, but if they like it, they’ll give me a call and we’ll talk about what we want to do with it next” he said. “I’ve written loads of new stuff since I’ve been here too, so I guess you could call that quite productive.” He then added, “it does feel kind of pointless sometimes though – writing new stuff when there’s no end goal and we can’t play any gigs. Why am I writing these songs if I can’t go into a studio and I can’t play them live….?”
I asked Toby who his big musical influences were, and which bands does he think inspire his music now? “Growing up I listened to The Cure, Placebo, The Smiths and my absolute favourite band was Green Day. I played them a lot – more than I do today, but when I listen to them now, it’s only their old stuff I really like – Dookie and Insomniac. I’d say generally these days I prefer slightly weirder, obscure stuff and I’ve been listening to Talking Heads a lot. There’s a new artist called Blood Orange who I’ve been playing lately, and I also like a band called Born Ruffians and Woahnows. It’s hard to say who influences me though, because I realise your audience don’t want to hear you replicate the sound of another band. So, you have to try to find a blend of someone who inspires you and then come up with something new, that’s your own – unique.”
Rose asked Toby how he would describe Pepppytones brand of music? “Ah, peppy songs! Well, I guess we wanted to describe the style of music we play, songs that are kind of up-beat that might not be the most positive lyrically, when you analyse the content, but sonically, at least, they’re quite uplifting, and make you want to move and think – ah yes that’s quite cheery!”
Rose asks whether Toby thinks the band are keeping up with the musical trends that people are listening to at the moment, or do they just decide that this is the kind of music they like and want to play? “I try to, but there’s so much music out nowadays that I just don’t resonate with at all . Then again, I do realise you can’t only listen to music which is 40 years old either, like Talking Heads and the Doors – you have to listen to stuff that’s happening now aswell.”
Toby also told us that because of the pandemic, many musicians have been trying to do things in new ways and Bimm have recently had some big artists as guest speakers to tell the students their stories. These have included Arlo Parks, Rob Harris the guitarist from Jamiroquai and Mike Rutherford from Genisis. So far, Toby says he’s found these talks interesting and quite helpful, and that it’s been an informative way for us (the students) to get advice from experts in their arena, and hear their stories about being in this industry.
I asked Toby when was Peppytones last gig? “Back in March I suppose, at the Junction in Plymouth. We’ve played to about three people before and also to a crowd of 500. It depends who the other bands are though – to be honest they aren’t always there to just see us! We’re not usually the headline act and prefer to be on second or third. People don’t tend to show up for the first act, so we’re happier if we’re playing second or third as that hits the right spot – they’ve had a drink or two by then and are in the right mood to enjoy it.”
And how does it feel to have the audience singing your songs back to you, I asked? “It really does feel surreal” Toby replied, “At the festival loads of people showed up, and at the end of the night they were singing our songs back, and I almost forgot the words – I felt so shocked and I couldn’t focus, it was weird, yep it’s definitely a strange feeling!”
So, have you got any idea where you want to head in the future, I asked Toby? “It’s kind of uncertain now – I’m just not sure what’s going to happen with live music, post-Brexit and post-Covid. Personally, I’m not going to stop making music because of how the industry is or whether there’s any opportunities. I’m always going to keep making music and putting it out and will keep playing gigs wherever I’m allowed to. I would hope there’s a resurgence in little DIY shows and people playing at house parties, putting on shows in their gardens and having a little festival – and stuff like that. It just makes sense and why not?”
I asked Toby how he felt about the big music streaming companies out there? “Personally, I think they take advantage. I read a statistic somewhere that if you had 33,000 streams of a song for 12 months it equates to about £9,000 which is barely enough to even pay rent. And if all those people bought your album at £10 a time that’s a lot money. These streaming companies don’t pay for the content that they sell – they aren’t paying for the studio time or promotion or anything like that, but they get to sell the product, and then give the musicians barely anything.”
“It’s very bleak, but there are alternatives out there though, like Bandcamp and Soundcloud, if you want to listen to music ethically and not let these big music corporations take money from artists. But if someone asks you where they can listen to your music and you don’t say Spotify or iTunes, they kind of go ‘never mind’ and then walk away. So, ultimately you really have no choice but to give in to it.”
Rose asks Toby what would you say is your favourite song that you’ve done so far? “I think probably Do Something from the EP. I’m also making some very lo-fi solo stuff at the moment, just in my room. If I’m going to do it like that, I’d rather do it as a solo project. I think the last EP Peppytones produced was the best one we’ve done so far, and each time we put something out I really want it to be a step up from the last, and I don’t ever want to put anything out that’s of a lesser quality. We’ve already got some songs we want to record together, but until studios open, we’ve got no means of doing it. So in the meantime, while I’m here in Bristol, I’ll just do my own solo stuff for now.”
Only time will tell, but these 3 boys appear to have the talent and determination to make something really big, post Covid of course. In the meantime, you can find their EP’s Wet Wednesday, Keeping Busy and I don’t want to see you on Spotify, iTunes, You Tube and Bandcamp.
The full interview can be heard here….