INTERVIEW: Toby Charles

Inspired by the likes of Ben Howard and Jeff Buckley, Worcestershire-born singer-songwriter Toby Charles explores experiences old and new with his latest EP, Spaces in Between.

Blending soul, blues and folk, Toby’s husky tones float over laidback arrangements; providing a chilled soundtrack to a sunny Spring day.

I had a chat with Toby to find out more about his musical roots and how he created the EP…

Hey Toby! Introduce yourself to our readers…

Hello! I’m Toby Charles and I’m a singer-songwriter from Worcestershire. I’ve been writing my own songs since I was about 12 (so for almost ten years now) and I’ve just released my second EP!

Congrats on your new EP Spaces In Between. Can you tell me a bit about how it was written and recorded?

Thank you!

It’s a combination of a couple of older songs (She Moves, Alcohol) that I’ve been wanting to release for a while and three brand new ones (Same Old Thing, Gracie, Shades of Green) that I wrote specifically for the EP.

The older songs worked well thematically with the new ones, so it made sense to put them all together as one release. Same Old Thing and Gracie were probably the hardest songs I’ve ever written in terms of the time it took to get them to a place I was happy with. I normally write songs pretty quickly, but both took a good couple of months and there was a lot of ripping it up and starting all over again, but I’m really glad I stuck with them because I’m super happy with how they turned out.

We recorded the EP over a couple of days in December at Load Street Studios in Bewdley. James Delin produced it and Hector Brazier – who’s the drummer in nth cave and one of my oldest friends – played the drums.

I had a great time doing the recording and I’m pretty sure the other guys did too, which I think helped us to be so productive in quite a short space of time!

What’s your favourite track from the EP and why?

This is something I’ve been asked a couple of times by people and I think I’ve probably given a different answer every time! I think I’d have to say either Same Old Thing, Gracie or Shades of Green just because they’re the newest ones to me.

I guess if I had to choose just one then maybe Gracie. I think it probably took the most work and I really like the blues-y kind of vibe it has, but I love them all and I think they’re all different enough that they could all be my favourite depending on what kind of mood I’m in.

Who are your biggest musical influences?

This is another question where I’m pretty sure I always give a different answer!

I listen to so much different music, and listen in a way where I basically binge a different artist or band for a couple of weeks at a time. That’s why it’s probably always changing!

I always end up going back to the same group of artists though, like Jeff Buckley, Arcade Fire, Ben Howard, Leonard Cohen, Radiohead, Bon Iver… and listening to them always makes me want to pick up a guitar and write something so I guess I’d list them as my biggest influences.

I’ve been listening to Big Thief and The Japanese House a lot recently, and writing a lot, so the new songs I’ve been working on are probably influenced by them in some way or another!

Are you playing the EP live any time soon?

Yes, I’ll be playing it on April 24th at The Underbelly in Hoxton Square.

I still haven’t fully worked out how I’m going to play a couple of the songs live with just me and a guitar but I’ve still got a little time to figure it out. I’m hopefully going to fit in a couple of gigs before then but there’s nothing concrete yet!

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a musician?

I went to a talk by Tom Robinson at a BBC Introducing event a couple of years ago, and he was talking about how important it is to keep constantly creating and writing new songs because that’s how you’ll write great ones.

I think what he was basically saying is that the majority of the songs people write aren’t worth keeping, and it’s only every 1/100 or whatever that are really good, and so the more you write the more you’ll find those good songs.

I used to beat myself up a lot when I went through periods of writing songs that weren’t very good, but I now realise that those songs are all part of the process and journey to getting to something you’re happy with.

I think another really important piece of advice is to not use other artists as a benchmark; just focus on yourself and what it is you’re trying to achieve. It’s really easy to look at other people and think ‘why can’t I do that?’ or ‘what are they doing that I’m not?’ and get sort of caught up in that, and let it get to you.

I think it’s really important to realise that not everything happens at the same pace for everyone, and that you’ve just got to keep on working on what the next step is for you and how you want to achieve that.

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