An Interview With Toby Driver of Kayo Dot

T oby Driver is the main composer/frontman behind perpetual envelope-pushers Kayo Dot.

In an e-mail interview with Empty Lighthouse, he spoke about the influence film has on his work, the pros and cons of the internet, how Kayo Dot fans are pretty much unalienable by this point and the band's spellbinding new album, Coffins on Io.

Read the full exchange below.

Empty Lighthouse: After a string of self-released albums, Coffins on Io was released by The Flenser.

How did this come to be? Was it before or after the album was completed? Did finally having the backing of a label allow you more freedom to focus on the music instead of the business-end of being in a band?

Toby Driver: Jon from Flenser was into the idea of releasing the album after I showed him the first four songs we'd recorded. After we made a deal for a Flenser release, the label gave us a small advance so that we could add a couple more songs to make a complete full=-length.

Flenser had already recently released the vinyl of the latest album by one of my other bands, Vaura (entitled 'The Missing') so I already had somewhat of a connection to the label anyway.

And yeah, I would certainly agree that having the backing of a label allowed us more freedom to focus on just the musical aspects of the project!

EL: In interviews and press releases, you always tend to avoid obscuring the aims of Kayo Dot's albums. It was pretty clear that Gamma Knife was an exploration of the black metal aesthetic, that Hubardo was a reprise of the ground Maudlin of the Well covered, etc.

With Coffins on Io, you mentioned acts like Genesis and Type O Negative.

The end result is incredible, but was surprising to first read about as a Kayo Dot fan - especially after you guys have been bringing the "heavy" sound back for a little while now.

Were you concerned Coffins on Io would alienate the "metal" Kayo Dot fans?

TD:I wouldn't say I was concerned, although I was expecting to alienate a large portion of our fans - not just the metal people, but also the fans who are interested in complexity and prog stuff. But, I've been suprised to see that, so far, the album hasn't actually seemed to have alienated anyone. Ha! The thing is, I haven't really ever been in a position to be concerned about alienating listeners, because from my perspective, Kayo Dot has generally always been overlooked and marginalized by everyone except for only a very small number of people.

And while I very much appreciate that small number of fans, we've never had the success to lose, so I've always been free to do whatever I want musically without worrying about any negative effects. I think the only way we'll ever truly alienate our real fanbase is if we do something really disingenuous and bullshitty...

and that's not going to happen.

EL:You also specifically noted Blade Runner as an influence as well. Can we talk a little bit about how film influences your writing process? What do you think of "avant garde metal" tag?

TD:Film influences my writing process in terms of atmosphere and environment. With any music I work on, I'm always trying to create these little universes in which a listener can exist - not even just temporarily, but permanently... let me bring up Tiamat's Wildhoney again as an album that was hugely influential to me. Wildhoney created this world where I lost myself, a world into which I went so deeply, as an incipient person, that my personality evolved within that environment and my identity is what it is today because of that.

I'm still in that world. So that's what I also aim to create, and the visual and narrative qualities of films make them easier to access consistently from person to person...

there's less open to the imagination, so that's a good foundation upon which to develop an aesthetic. I have another thing to say about this, too, but I'll address it below.

EL: Kayo Dot exists and performs in varying incarnations, but Coffins on Io has the current line-up printed right on the cover. Is there any deep significance to this or are you merely giving credit where credit is due?

TD: Really I just wanted the album cover to evoke a 70's sci-fi book cover (and you'd see the author's name on the cover of one of those along with the title). Our personal names worked better for that aesthetic, in this case, than using a band name. Also, I think we can now put the idea of Kayo Dot having changing lineups to rest.

For starters, we've had the same core for years (Driver/Byron/Abrams/Means/Olson/Matsumiya/Varod/Byrnes), and it hasn't strayed too far from that since 2009. We can think of Kayo Dot as this consistent collective - with the current live band and torchbearers being myself, Abrams, Means, and Varod, maybe on tours we'd add Byrnes or Olson...

and I don't think we're ever going to add anyone additional to the collective.

EL: You're obviously Kayo Dot's main songwriter, but the depth of your involvement may surprise people. I've read in interviews that you co-write the drum parts with Keith Abrams.

Kayo Dot has some very, very impressive drumming. What percent of something like the end of "Library Subterranean" composed on paper and how much just comes about in rehearsal and in the studio?

TD: I think the best way for any composer (especially in a rock setting) to write drum parts is to basically be like 80% specific, and then let the drummer interpret that in a way that only a natural drummer can. 'Library Subterranean' in particular is a good example of this approach, and the proggy ending you're talking about is based on a specific, mandatory rhythmic idea.

Keith's role there was to basically do whatever he wanted as long as the rhythmic 'concept' was the framework.

All the separate-limb polyrhythm things in that part were Keith's personal ideas about how to interpret and work within the mandatory rhythmic concept, which was written on paper and then given character in rehearsals.

EL: Would it be fair to say that listening to Kayo Dot demands a certain amount of patience from the listener?

TD: Yeah, so, related to your earlier question about the influence of film. I think film also provides a good way to see how timing and architecture work with visual elements to create something palpable. One frame of Bela Tarr isn't what creates a space - it's the pacing. Some of my favorite kinds of films - the ones I want to inhabit anyway- are these slow dreams: Tarr, Tarkovsky, etc.

Of course you need patience to experience that fully. So, I've tried to have that be an element of my music as well.

However, I don't think this applies to Coffins on Io, which was deliberately constructed to appear immediate. That's probably why people seem to like it more, as well.

EL: As an artist who has been professionally recording since 1999, and as one who has spoken out about the financial strain placed on artists and used crowd-funding, what are your feelings about the internet's effect on the music industry? I imagine it must be gratifying for experimental bands like Kayo Dot to be able to be discovered so easily, but nowadays it's increasingly harder to get a listener through a full album's worth of material, which you kind of have to do in order to fully appreciate your work.

TD: Yeah, we even see with the free streams that are offered that people will listen to the first couple songs of any album and not as many of them even ever get to the last song (and I always place the final songs on my albums to be specific closers so it's sad when that arc is lost). Additionally, all the songs on Coffins on Io have a musical idea that was foreshadowed by the previous song, so the order is totally important in order to get a full artistic picture.

To answer your question without writing a whole fucking book about it, the internet has good and bad effects on music, and neither side is outweighed by the other, which is what makes this issue so difficult to solve.

It's annoying but important to have open, intelligent conversations about the issues between artists and fans, so that people can make informed decisions and act on an individual level instead of just going along with something that is actually societally dysfunctional.

EL: Can you think of anything that has influenced you that might really surprise people?

TD: Not really, because I don't know what people's assumptions about me are. I know myself and none of it surprises me.

EL: Are there any plans to tour behind Coffins on Io? If so, what can we expect? Would you being doing any death growls or just material from the new album?

TD: Yeah, we're trying to book some stuff now for December through April. We didn't tour very much for Hubardo, only did about a month, so we'd probably be doing some of those songs as well in the regions we didn't hit on the Hubardo tour, but I don't know if we'd be doing any of the growly, metally songs unless the crowd or the room really called for it.

Like i was saying earlier about creating certain atmospheres - there needs to be a degree of consistency, not jumping around between styles, otherwise the atmosphere that gets created is more of a chaotic, insane, fever-dream sort of thing...

which is cool and I've liked doing it in the past, but I'm going for something a little different this time.

Coffins on Io is out now via The Flenser records. You can purchase the album from the label's Bandcamp page.