The Toy Hearts are back with their fantastic new album Whisky, which is a slight departure to what we are use to hearing from this band.
As well as keeping their Bluegrass roots Whiskey sees them take on a more country feel as well as introducing some covers to their repertoire.
I caught up with Hannah from the band to talk about the new record and what they have lined up for the rest of the year.
- You are about to release your new album Whiskey so what can The Toy Hearts fans expect from the record this time around?
Well actually this is a bit of a new venture for us as we have made three Bluegrass albums, that was all acoustic music, but with out fourth album Whiskey is a departure from that because we have drums and piano and it has a lot more of a country feel that Bluegrass.
- Well you have slightly touched on my next question really this album is perhaps less acoustic than previous records so why did you decide to go down a slightly different path?
Basically a lot of the music that we make as a band has been influenced by the music that we grew up listening to and the music that our father use to play us, and while there was a lot of Bluegrass in there we also listened to some Western Swing and country.
Western Swing and country are two of the strongest elements on the album although there is a Blues song and a Rockabilly song and there are elements of Jazz in there as well.
So really I guess it was just to pay homage to the other types of music that we grew u listening to and are fond of, not just Bluegrass.
But then there is the issue that Bluegrass is a niche genre of music and it is not that mainstream so making a record with electric guitars and drums it makes it a lot more radio friendly and widens our appeal a little bit.
Fundamentally we made it because we wanted to but there has been a little bit of business consideration in there.
- And how have you found the reaction from fans to the new tracks?
Really well. We were all really nervous I guess because it was such a big change for us, or it felt big. We did two pre-launch shows in Birmingham and London and we had drums for that, it was the drummer that we had on the album and he is Richard Hawley’s drummer, and it went down really.
Everyone said that is still sounded like us but obviously with different instruments so we are happy with that because it is important that we have been received well.
- You have mentioned that you have brought in some musicians for this album so how did you find working with all them, as you say Richard Hawley’s drummer was amongst them?
To be honest most of the people that we managed to get on the album have been old friends, we are lucky in the sense living in Birmingham because is centrally located and a lot of great musicians live in Birmingham and can tour the country relatively easily.
So they have been old friends and Dean Beresford plays with Richard Hawley and we have known him for a long time. We knew that we wanted a drummer and he is such a sensitive drummer, it’s not a heavy drum track. So it was great working with friends and people that we respect as well.
- Whiskey features 6 original songs and 6 covers. That’s a big change for you as the first 3 albums were all self composed. So why did you bring the covers in?
When we made our first three albums, we had made one every two years, we felt like we had a lot to prove as we were a new band starting out in Bluegrass music and we felt like we had a lot to say and we wanted to prove ourselves as songwriters.
Three albums in we felt like we had a lot less to prove and nearly every song that we have chosen was 1940’s, 1950’s so they are really early songs and not that well known,
So we just wanted to choose songs that we had grown up listening to and that meant something to us and we weren’t worried about not having an album full of original material.
Of course we are songwriters and as you say it is 50% and we wanted to mix it all in there as well and I think that we have come up with a good balance.
- How did you find putting your stamp on songs that obviously mean so much to you?
The two Bob Wills songs that we have chosen they are a lot faster than the originals and all of the songs except the Bessie Smith song men sing, so I guess they automatically get a new slant with female vocals and female harmonies.
A lot of them have different instruments, the rockabilly song was recorded by Ronnie Self was a tradition rockabilly song but we have put steel guitars on there and given it more of a country flavour.
I guess just having The Toy Hearts line-up and the instruments that we use have made them their own, and of course changes in tempos and the things I have mentioned before.
- Ben Surratt has produced the album so how did that collaboration come about?
We made an album in 2010 in East Nashville and we recorded it him studio called The Rec Room and he is actually a Grammy nominated producer and engineer, we call him Bengineer.
We knew about his studio and we had been over in Nashville in 2009, we looked around a few studios actually, but something just clicked with him as he is easy going and he seemed to really get us as people.
He didn’t produce the Nashville CD but he did engineer it. We had some change throughout the process of making the album and we gave him a call and were like ‘look the producing role has come open and we know you know us’ it was like that relationship was already there and so that made it easier.
Also his wife is like nine times Bass Player of the Year at the Bluegrass Awards and she played on the Femme Fatale record.
- He is Grammy nominated so what does his experience bring to this record?
He definitely makes suggestions that we don’t think of. A lot of what we sent him, we recorded the files over here and we sent them to him and asked him to put them together with very little direction from us.
That was definitely something that we wanted because having made the first two albums where we were very involved in the production side and you give and you give and you write these songs and rehearse them and then go into the studio and record them and then to do all that post-production work - I didn’t want to sick of the songs and that is something that can happen if you just listen to something enough.
His experience allowed us to be able to let go and trust him and not worry that he wasn’t making the right decisions.
We produced it with him and gave him advice but he definitely took the leading role in the production side of it. There is just an ease working with him and his experience makes us all feel very calm and makes us feel that everything is going to turn out fine, which it did.
- You released your debut album back in 2006 so how have you seen yourself develop as an artist and a songwriters in that time?
A huge amount. I was sixteen when the band started back in 2001 and I am just about to turn twenty seven so I have grown up in this band and so has my sister.
We have learnt a huge amount, we tour a lot more now than when we started and that brings a huge amount of experience to not only your live show but also the things that you see and experience and that effects when we write as well - both me and my sister write about personal experience.
So it is really just growing up as women, we have both been to university as well as we both have degrees from Birmingham University, so it’s just those experiences of being a teenager to a young woman and that journey has taught us a lot. I guess you learn something about yourself every year and it’s all just experience.
- There is a Bluegrass and Swing element to your music when did you start listening to these genres of music and how were you introduced to them?
We were introduced to all of this music through our father as he was a musician himself. When we were young he use to mainly play a lot of peddle steel guitar that has that very unique country sound.
We didn’t just listen to Bluegrass and Country music but also lots of Blues and Jazz music as well as well as some rock and roll as we all love The Beatles. So it was just good songs and good song writing - we own a lot of our musical taste from him, definitely.
- Where did you love of music come from and when did you really consider that this could be a career?
I guess we only got serious when we made our first CD and we invested into that financially and emotionally and that was the point where we thought we are not just doing pub gigs anymore we are writing material and we wanted to make a credible album.
From that it escalated we made our second album and now we are in a partnership me, my dad and my sister as well as an accountant so we treat it as a small business.
I wouldn’t say there was an exact date where we woke up and said ‘we want to do this’ it just grew from wanting to do things professionally and doing things to the best of our ability. It was just an organic growth I think.
- So what is it like travelling round the world, making music and getting to perform with your sister?
As you can imagine we are very normal and so we do row and we row with our Dad. But what is really nice is when you are going away to America and you are travelling all day and all night, we have had visas and been over there for five weeks; it is a very long time to be away from you’re the people that you love.
So travelling is much easier with your family because you don’t have that alien foreignness because your family is there with you. Of course we are totally normal and we argue but never about the music as we are lucky in our common goal with the music that we make.
- Have you started releasing your music in America and if so how is it going over there?
Yeah we have a few sites that sell our music in America and when we tour there we do sell our CD’s. We have been over there and represented England and the International Bluegrass Music Convention for the last couple of years and we will be going over there again in October to play a big festival.
But we are generally received very well in America, a lot of people in this country they often say ’oh my gosh you play as a family and you play Bluegrass music and we are not use to this’ but in America there is a big tradition of families playing together.
Bluegrass is a very grass roots music as people would come home from doing very laborious jobs in the fields and come back and a way of bonding and pending time together was that you played together - this was before people had televisions and things.
So it’s a music that connects people anyway and the fact that we are a family in the States people get that and they think it’s something very special, so it’s nice to be understood.
- And I was reading that you will be skydiving later this summer so can you tell me a little bit about that?
Since the age of thirteen I have been diagnosed with Psoriasis, I actually have it very badly and I take a biological injected drug and it is probably something that I will have for the rest of my life as there is no cure.
I made a new friend a couple of years ago and her mum had it very badly, one of the worst cases in this country. We get asked constantly to do work for charity and as much as this is a business and I can’t say yes to everything but I really wanted to give back and do a charity event as well as doing something a little daring to help raise money.
The band are performing in a night we are putting on in Leicester and me and Marie are also skydiving. However I think she asked me when I was dunk and now I am like ‘oh no what have I done?’ But so far I am doing good as I have raised some money and we are both looking to hit our target of £1000.
The Psoriasis Association has no government funding and it is totally run upon the donations of other people’s charity work so it is something that I am extremely passionate about as they have helped me a lot over the years.
I am grateful that I am in the position that I can do something to help but I am absolutely petrified - you don’t bet in planes to jump out. I must be mad, but it is all for a good cause.
- Finally what's coming up for you, where are we going to see you perform live over the summer?
We have a real jam packed calendar as we are playing quite a few festivals; Maverick Festival, Cambridge Folk Festival, Blues On The Farm, The Wilderness Festival - all these are on our website.
So yeah playing festivals and being on the road as much as possible as it is the part that we love the most. Then we are off to the States in October so we are keeping busy and getting out there and playing a few songs from our record and hopefully selling a few CD’s.
The Toy Hearts new album Whiskey is out June 24th on Wood Ville Music. Visit www.TheToyHearts.com
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw