A long, revealing chat about former My Chemical Romance man Ray Toro's first solo album, 'Remember The Laughter'.
HI RAY! TELL US ABOUT YOUR SOLO ALBUM. HOW OLD ARE THE SONGS?
"The record started taking shape around three years ago. The first song or two came out - I guess I had a spurt of creativity at the beginning! Then I’d go through periods of quiet time where I didn’t have any songs or anything to sing about or really say.
"At the same time I was still developing the sound of the record and musically what direction I wanted to take, and also developing as a solo artist. There’s a lot of things I’d never done before, so it took me a good bit of time to gain confidence in my ability to be able to sing and write lyrics and also just to be able to conscruct the songs themselves. There was a very long gestation period to finally get me to this point."
HOW WAS IT WRITING WITH YOUR SINGING VOICE IN MIND FOR THE FIRST TIME?
"That was the biggest challenge for me. Singing is something that I feel like you either have or you don’t, and I don’t think I do so I’ve had to work hard at trying to translate the emotions I wanted to get across. That was the biggest struggling point for me.
"It’s very strange to record a song, do vocal takes and have to listen back as a critic, like, ‘This take is good, this take isn’t’. You put yourself under the microscope and that was the hardest thing for me.Guitar playing – I feel pretty confident in how I pleay and my ability is there. I’m a little self-conscious about my voice anyway, so that was just amplified!"
WAS THERE ANY POINT WHERE YOU WEREN’T SURE YOU COULD EVEN DO THIS?
"Honestly, that was another thing that I struggled with for the first year of writing. A lot of times I was like, ‘I can’t do this myself. I need to find someone else to sing. Maybe I could write the lyrics or I can write the vocal melodies, but I need someone else to deliver it.'
"I talked to my wife a lot about it and in the end I realised I just had to trust myself and not only trust myself, but believe that I could do it and that my voice was the best messenger for the songs and what I was trying to say in them."
WITH THE CONTENT OF THE ALBUM, IT COULDN’T HAVE BEEN ANYONE BUT YOU...
"It would’ve been strange for someone else to be singing because the lyrics are pretty personal. Honestly, I don’t know how songwriters do that!"
YOU'VE WORKED AND TOURED WITH AWESOME VOCALISTS. DID YOU ASK THEM FOR ADVICE?
"I worked with Gerard [Way] for so many years... I talked to him about it a bit but I think it was more by observing what he does in the studio and also live... I really found the main thing you have to do is be honest and believe in what you’re saying.
"With anything - when you’re in the studio and playing live - that’s what people want to hear. They want to hear honesty in performance, they want to hear true emotion. So you really have to clear your brain. You can’t worry too much about hitting all of your notes, you have to let your mind wander and just focus on getting the emotion across. That’s what I concentrated on the most.
"I think at the beginning I was sort of a little more timid in tracking the vocals and more concentrating on hitting the notes and making sure I was in tune as opposed to just getting the emotion of the song across. That’s something Gerard told me and also a producer and engineer we used to work with – Doug McKean. He told me to just let it come out. That was the best piece of advice I think I got."
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE IT WAS TIME TO RELEASE THE ALBUM?
"I think I just needed the right collection of songs to do it. I think if I were to go on my computer over the past three and a half years I probably wrote close to 30 or 35 songs. I feel like towards the beginning of this year was when I really found the right body of work to release. I still love the idea of the album. I think it’s a lost artform in a way, and I really had to find the right collection of songs that a listener could put on from front to back. Songs that would connect and have a little bit of a narrative or a story. It took a bit of time to get there.
IT MUST BE NICE TO STILL COMMIT TO THE ALBUM AS AN ART FORM IN 2016...
"It’s interesting because I think there is a benefit. It’s exciting that you can put out just singles. You can reach hundreds and thousands of people just in the moment. I think that’s one cool thing about how people nowadays access media - there can be more immediacy to it.
"When you make a record, finishing the recording of a record to when it actually releases sometimes can be three, four, five months. It’s interesting as an artist because you’ve been living with that material for a long period of time. It’s been gestating with you, and by the time the album comes out you lose a little bit of that energy – that immediacy you have when your’e doing it. That is one cool thing about a single-based culture. Just releasing songs as they come to you, you’re very much caught in the moment.
"For this album I felt like I should treat it more as a whole – an entire 42 minutes. That was the best wasy to get my ideas across but I think in the future I may just release songs as they come. Recording from home, you can record an entire song and release it the next day."
YOU RECORDED AT HOME, RIGHT?
"I have a small two-story guest house. Downstairs is my mixing and editing area and upstairs is where I recorded the drums. On one of the tracks I recorded the drums in the living room of my house. I have vaulted ceilings in my living room. As soon as I came into the house I thought two things. It’s a 1920s craftsman style, so as soon as I saw the room I thought. ‘I’ve got to spend Christmas here and I’ve got to track drums!’ 90 per cent of the album was recorded in my house."
AND YOU HAD NO LABEL PRESSURE, NO BANDMATES TO PLEASE. HOW DID THAT CHANGE THINGS?
"There were things I’d never done before like singing and lyric-writing. If I hadn’t had that time and space to develop I don’t think the record would have come out the way it did.
"There are some downsides, though. You feel like you’re working in a bubble. You can go to your wife or your close friends for outside opinion but sometimes you can’t group all the A&R and label process. Sometimes that pressure can be bad and disheartening, but at the same time a lot of great opinions come from outside people.
"That was a little tricky. I had to find that balance of, ‘Am I just locked in the studio? I don’t see daylight sometimes. Am I just living in my own world?’ I felt it was important to reach out to people that I trust and check with them to see if I was on the right track."
SO YOU MISSED HAVING THAT SUPPORT SYSTEM?
"When you’re a kid and you’re looking at the credits list of your records like, ‘Producer’, you never know what that means. I used to love doing that when I was a kid – looking at who the engineer was, which producer, what studio it was recorded at – but as you get older and as you’re doing it you realise that a producer is very much that guiding force that gets the artist to the best of their abilities.
"Sometimes there can be dissension between that – sometimes the push and pull between the producer and the band can enhance the record or sometimes it can sink it. The producer role is important, so for me that was weird because I was wearing all of these different hats. I had to pull myself away from my connection with the music and the lyrics."
YOU AREN'T VERY ACTIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA. IS THIS ALBUM’S CONTENT YOUR WAY OF LETTING PEOPLE INTO YOUR LIFE?
"I definitely consider myself a private person. I like to keep my family life to myself and at a certain point during the tracking process I made a point to stay away from social media. I’m not a huge fan of it anyway. I like to get on every once in a while and engage, but I feel lie a lot of times whether people you’re engaging with can take things the wrong way and get hurt, or you yourself can get hurt by what people say so I felt like the best way for me to open up and share myself is with music.
"I think I went silent for a few months before I announced the record. For me it’s a more honest way of getting to know somebody. When I’m writing lyrics and riting songs I’m at my most vulnerable and most open, whereas on Twitter – some people don’t do it that way but I feel like when you’re on there, you have to think about what you’re saying. Like, ‘Should I press enter and send this out to the world?’ In music, you’ve just got to put it out there. To me that’s a better way of putting it out there.
"There’s a marketing aspect of it as well, but that’s the line I’m trying to walk where you have to go out and promote [the album] and there’s this element of because I’m a private person, how much do you share of yourself before it’s not special any more? That’s why I try to be very sparing in how I use social media."
WHAT HAPPENS NOW? TOURING? I GUESS YOU HAVE TO START ALL OVER AGAIN...
"That’s kind of exciting! The live portion of it is that next challenge where I have to figure out how the songs translate live and what things worked on the record but may not work in a live sense. That’s the exciting thing for me. I played with a few other musicans on the record but that was very limited. I’m extremely excited to see how the songs transform and really breathe new life into them. When you find the right people to play with all the material can be elevated. Right now I’m in talks about doing some touring early next year , then take a break for a bit and then start up again maybe mid-to-late next year."
"I’ve never done a show myself. There’s part of me that wants to dive headfirst into it – maybe as part of a small headlining run – and then there’s another side of me that’s like, ‘Maybe I should just do a support for somebody and get my feet wet and see what it feels like.’ I’m still trying to figure that out, but there’ll definitely be some touring next year."
'Remember The Laughter' is out now.