A stroke of luck: Interview with Peter Von Toy

petervontoy_web_credit_williamsbonbon_2016

Photo credit: Williams Bon Bon

I’m always interested in the weird paths that point me in the direction of certain artists. Being a music geek from a young age, when there was no spotify, and 56.6k dial up modems, music was found by links from sites, and digging ever deeper in to the rabbit hole. My link to meeting Peter last year started years ago when I started listening to Acid Bath, which in turn went to Dax Riggs, then to a band called Santeria, who were fronted by a man called Dege Legg, more commonly known as Brother Dege, and Peter just so happened to be supporting him in a small theatre in Camden early 2015. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Peter live around 4 or 5 times, so to have the opportunity to interview him to find how he came to be in London (he is from France originally), and how the life of an independent singer songwriter without a record deal but plenty of gigs is like is an honour indeed.

It’s a little over a year since you moved from France over to London. How has this first year gone for you?

18 months to be exact and so far it has been an amazing whirlwind of goodness, achievements and promising leads for the future. London has been very good to me and I feel very thankful as this beast of city can easily chew you up, spit you out and leave you for dead. Knock on wood!

What made you decide to change your life in such a way? You were in the band Bloody Mary in France, record label, basically a pretty big deal, and then you not only change countries but style as well. That’s a brave move I have to say. 

Sometimes you just have to say fuck it! It wasn’t an easy decision, I hesitated a lot and then one day I thought to myself: “What would’ve 20 year old me done?” and the answer was obvious. We tend to overthink as we get older and get scared to lose whatever we have, even if its shit, it’s important to acknowledge that as not to burden ourselves with the weights of unnecessary metal chains. I wasn’t happy in my life, I was the only one struggling to keep the Bloody Mary ship afloat and on the same course, was in a devastatingly complicated relationship with a lady, and felt like a fish trapped in a small bowl. London presented itself, I took the leap and it’s been the best thing that happened to me, and every single endeavour I’ve decided to take on has been a success. It’s not that I’m cocky or full of myself (well ok a bit but it goes with the job) but in the same way that we love to whine and sob when times are tough, there’s nothing wrong in very openly saying and appreciating that all is good.

London is a notoriously difficult place to get started with a solo project – who has been the most help to you with getting regular gigs? And do you have any advice for anyone thinking of following a similar path?

That would be David from Slim Jim’s Liquor Store, he’s an ace promoter, who treats musicians with respect and he booked me so many times that last year he realized that I was the artist that had played the most at Slim Jims! I don’t know if I have any advice to give, but here’s what worked for me. When I arrived in London I grinded the open mic scene for 2 months playing almost every night, just 2 songs per open mic, just to build a network get some gigs etc., then stopped so as not to become an open mic bitch. Open Mics are great for anyone who wants to try a stage, wants to test drive new songs, meet other artists etc. but don’t ever fall in that trap of thinking that you’re gigging because you’re open mic’ing, these are 2 worlds apart and usually bars who host these events use that lure to attract musicians for free, just to make more profit off their backs. You have to know when to exit that circuit…

I first met you when you were supporting Brother Dege early 2015. I know Dege has
played a big part in what has effectively been your first year doing the solo singer songwriter thing. How did you come to meet one another?

Dege has indeed been a huge inspiration for me but more as a person than music wise. Although we evolve in 2 very different sonic worlds, we have some kind of connection, and we get each other volt-1since day 1. I very vividly remember us talking about sludge while listening to Acid Bath before hopping on a cab to play our first acoustic show at the Etcetera Theatre. We both don’t care much for genres, labels and social protocols; music is how we express ourselves but the form it shapes into does not define us a person.

We met quite randomly, when I was living in Nancy, France, a friend of mine who was based in Strasbourg (FR) told me to listen to Dege after seeing him live. I instantly loved the sound and wanted to book him in my town, there was no agenda as I was playing in a heavy rock band then, but I felt like my town needed to hear this. Dates didn’t work out with his tour schedules and it stayed dead for about a year. When I moved to London his tour booker contacted me to see if I was still interested in booking him as I was now based in London I sorted out his very first London gig and I was now playing solo it was the perfect opportunity to open for him, and then mutual connection and musician respect did the rest. The universe works in coolsterious ways…

Coming from a heavy rock group, to the music you are doing now – do you ever find it difficult not playing with a band anymore? Or is it just so much easier when it’s just you and your guitar?

I don’t miss it one bit, in fact it’s probably the best decision I ever made! Sure it’s fun playing with a good rhythm section every once in a while, but just like in my personal life I really can’t deal with teenage drama any more. And if you put this on a pure productivity level, just imagine that all the time you used to spend scheduling rehearsals, tours, dealing with musicians’ genetically inherent lateness, arguing over arrangements, structures, investments, all that time is now used to play music. You therefore get a lot better at what you do and growth evolves upwards and exponentially. Of course that is not an approach that could suit every personality, but being a solitary child at heart who thrives whenever pushed out of his comfort zone, I’m a very happy bunny right now!

Since the beginning you’ve said you won’t be making any recorded music – the only way to hear you is to go and see you live. What brought you to this decision and will you ever change your mind?

When I moved to London, like every one, I was outraged by the prices of housing (bear with me). I remember going to an agency and telling them I wanted a clean room in a clean house with a garden, in a nice neighbourhood and quite central, for £600. The lady told me that would be impossible as £600 was “nothing” (tell that to one of the homeless people living on the street see how they feel). I told her that no £600 wasn’t nothing, it might be low for London standards but it’s still a great deal of money and I told her that I would find what I was looking for. 1 week later I had my dream room in my dream house where I still very happily live today. Moral of the story is if you don’t agree with something, don’t accept it. It’s a lot healthier to create your own path rather than trying to comply with rules that you’ve never had your say on and usually who just exist because of a global social consensus.

Photo by Tina Korhonen © 2016, all rights reserved.
Photo by Tina Korhonen © 2016, all rights reserved.

The music industry works in a crushing way for artists and the business model of an album is as obsolete as its format, the CD. It takes at the lowest 10K to self-release your album with a bit of promo, I’m not talking home studio here, I mean an album with a level of production that makes it somewhat competitive on the international market. Regarding promo I’m talking about 1 or 2 full page advertisements in national press, then you have to pay for a graphic designer, advance for merchandising, and all that time and money doesn’t even include booking a decent tour to promote it or sending 100s of copies to magazines who won’t review it because you’re a “nobody”. Now standard CD price at gig is £10, do the math that’s 1000 CD’s to be sold just to break even. If you want to sell that in a year that’s about 83 cd’s/month, you’ll maybe sell 3month via internet, in a small venue selling 5 cd’s at a gig is a good average, so that would mean that during 1 whole year you’d have to play 16 shows every month, but 16 different and new venues every time as your album will be labelled as “old” within 3 months. So the grand total is doing a total of 192 different gigs in the year and that’s hoping that all the gigs will have good attendance and people willing to buy music (good luck with that!). So like I’ve said before, fuck that! I’d rather not spend 10K on an object that no one really wants to buy and take my chances on the fact that I’ll have no credibility for some people, who are they to judge me anyway?

As to whether I’ll ever record these songs, my only rule is not to have any, make what you will out of it!

Since you started as a solo artist what is the weirdest gig you’ve played so far? And why was it so weird for you?

If by weird you mean the ones where you have to think out of the box to adapt to an unfamiliar situation with a crowd that’s just as surprised as you are, then quite a few! I don’t like being part of one milieu, I like to navigate and move from one to another – may it be from going to a metal gig, to a meditation class, to a poorly habitated island to a gigantic metropolis. As music is very much based on networking, this spirit also surfaces in the gigs I get booked on, so I’ve played obviously with other singer songwriters, but also rock and blues bands, metal orientated festivals etc… The one really trippy show I played was when I got bumped up to main support for my teenage idols Nashville Pussy. Promoter got tired of potential opening bands being uncertain of doing the gig because of personal schedules blah blah blah, so he said fuck it, you’re on for a 50 min set. Now imagine a solo dude who vaguely looks like a hippy walking on stage to find 350 fuelled up, hard rock freaks, who are here to see a high energy Motorhead meets AC/DC meets Allman Brothers rock and roll band fronted by two bad ass, busty, guitar and bass players, yeah. That’s where you have to man up stand your ground and rely on the fact that your music and personality touch these people one by one and not get intimidated, kind of like trying to seduce 350 women at the same time…I nailed it, Nashville Pussy loved it, crowd went crazy and the best compliment came from this young dude wearing a jacket with all these patches saying: “Pretty good for a hippy!”, made a lot of friends and had a lot of drinks that night… Rock n roll is universal, electric or acoustic, the key is not to fake it.

Since we became friends you’ve introduced me to some fellow musicians (Tim Holehouse!) who tour in a similar style to you. Have they given you any sage like advice/tales from the road?

Tim is an incredible musician and guy, I don’t know how he does it! To keep his sanity while spending 300 days/year on the road. We mostly give each other tips on where to play, what are the good clubs, promoters etc… Even though I’m not as experienced as Tim, I’ve done my share of touring and know how to get by, at the moment I’m writing to you in the train taking me to Prague, I’ve started this tour 2 days ago in Munich with a perforated eardrum and a lingering throat infection preventing me to use full vocal capacities. There’s no secret, in these hard times the key thing is to pace yourself and follow your heavy medication, eat healthy, no alcohol before the gig and no excessive partying after to be able to get some sleep. No party at all is merely impossible for me so I just a enjoy a bit of the vibe and then off to bed… Touring is not really the hard part, resisting the 24hour party cycle is the real challenge, especially when your instrument is your body!

Are there any live acts you’ve played with that you would recommend we check out?

Off the top of my head and just for London:

Bands that are great but haven’t played with:

Finally, here is your opportunity to pimp yourself out 🙂 do you have any gigs coming up soon where people will get their only chance to hear your music?

Yes! My very first “big” London show. I’ll be supporting the Hillbilly Moon Explosion at The Borderline, Friday 16th of September. HBME are a really good female fronted rockabilly band based in Zurich, signed to Universal I think and video clip just hit 8 million views. Their last London show was sold out so expect the same for this one and book your tix early. Other London shows will be coming up so you can find all that on www.facebook.com/petervontoymusic

Interview by Kate Turgoose
September 2016