A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of half an hour’s telephone interview with Toyah Willcox for a forthcoming magazine feature, which gave me the opportunity to ramble around Toyah’s classic output and talk to her about her current project, the vocals and bass focused trio The Humans.
Toyah’s publicist was kind enough to send over copies of The Humans’ debut album We Are The Humans and the accompanying single, their minimalist cover of the Nancy Sinatra classic ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’, featuring a guest performance from Toyah’s husband, Robert Fripp. He’ll also be making guest appearances on some UK dates The Humans have planned for February 2010 (currently booking are The Assembly, Leamington Spa on 22/02/2010, The Junction, Cambridge, 23/02/2010 and The Scala, London on 24/02/2010 but I understand more are in the pipeline).
The concept of The Humans is essentially to mesh bass frequencies with vocals to achieve something both pure in sound and which pushes boundaries in its goal of deconstructing the traditional pop music format – their cover of ‘These Boots...’ is a manifesto to this respect you’d have to conclude. It’s sharp, snappy and sexy, has a vitality all of its own and a delicious sense of irony in its sparseness that takes it far away from the original. It’s available for digital download and though it’s not on my copy of the accompanying album, I do understand it is now included with subsequent versions.
The album itself is a startling work. Startlingly brave and ambitious - and startlingly different from the general public perception of what a Toyah album is, despite her own creatively diverse body of work since the ‘glory’ days of the early ‘80s. That’s quite correct of course, since this is a group project, a core-trio also comprised of bassist Chris Wong and REM drummer (and former Ministry guitarist) Bill Rieflin. “The Humans already have a very good following of people who are just not interested in what I’ve done in the past,” Toyah noted to me. “So, yes, I opened the Rewind festival a few weeks ago to 30,000 people and that was a ‘80s festival, but I think The Humans have just won a completely new audience. [They might be] interested in the history of myself, Robert and Bill, but the whole point of that history is that we can condense it into something completely different and new.”
But it’s really the mark of a continuing creativity and an eclectic openness to experimentalism that underpins this band. Toyah’s vocals possess a staccato spikiness loaded with confrontational passion that tells us she’s still as challenging in her art as she ever was, but in comparison to her earlier records the sparseness of the surrounding instruments here gives her wide-open spaces in which to work and this is immensely effective and satisfying. ‘Quicksilver’ has an urgent, sultry vibe to it that’s incredibly absorbing, and the juxtaposition into the following ‘Labyrinth’ with its heavily rhythmic descending bass lines is therefore all the more exciting. ‘Noise In Your Head’, with its layered voices contrasted against punctuated bass notes develops into a discordant lushness that switches off in an instant to keep that unsettling tone at the front. But, really, everywhere in this exceptional debut are the sounds of skilful exploration of technique and tone, and with a second album already in the pipeline, you’d have to anticipate this to be a project that will continue to creatively grow.
The Humans Myspace Page
Toyah Willcox Official Website
Toyah on YouTube