Tuesday, October 6, 2015
An interview with Tora
part of Artist Features
I went out to Le Divan Orange last night on St Laurent to check out a band I've been following since their sophomore EP "Eat The Sun", a dynamite Aussie five-piece called Tora. Their music has roots in R&B, jazz, and pop, featuring some really cool arrangements pulled together with bumping electronic compositions.
It was refreshing to hear an electronic set with so much musical intelligence performed live by a cast of blue-chip musicians, rather than watching your standard DJ bounce around behind a Macbook; from the keys balanced between laid back
Toby Tunis and energetic Jo Loewenthal, to drummer Thorne Davis who spent the night exchanging nods and smiles with guitarist Jai Piccone and bassist Shaun Johnston - there was that element of total live chemistry. The show as a result was completely electric and had the audience moving the entire set through.
A chat with Tora before the show provided some good insight into the nature of the band, the guys who compose it, the decisions they've made along the way and the experiences they've had as a result.
They have two EPs to their name as well as a handful of singles, amassing tens of thousands of fans worldwide and millions of listens since the band's inception two years ago. They're at the tail end of a lengthy worldwide circuit that's kept them out of Australia for five months now. The trip includes a stretch through Mexico, into Europe, and over to North America where they've hit Toronto, Kingston, Quebec City, and Montreal in six days. They culminate their tour with a show in New York tonight and two more October 16th and 17th.
It's Tora's first tour of this size and an important one, as it represents the manifestation of two years of audience building. Frontman Joe Lowenthal noted, “we didn’t really think about [audience building] too much. It was just organic, putting music out and people naturally sharing it around.”
That's the beauty of the music industry today. Equipped with nothing more than a collection of social media channels, artists can not only spread their work to a worldwide audience for free or next-to-free, but because platforms like Soundcloud and Facebook collect such complete audience data, artists have access to in-depth analyses on their audience demographic.
"What we realized [from our European tour] is that the promoters and agents and people that wanted us to come out and play were just naturally in the places that reflect Soundcloud’s [audience demographic] stats.”
It's an insightful observation, but it makes sense; as is the case with most rising artists these days, Tora's entire online presence hinges on their Soundcloud profile so it's no surprise to see a correlation between the two trends. It's an interesting note that reinforces just how powerful an effective online presence can have on a musician's commercial success these days.
Tora capitalized on this notion during their first year in business, slugging it out as an independent act and gaining a following through organic shares online and word of mouth.
Opportunities quickly presented themselves, with labels and potential partners looking to chip in on the budding Tora franchise. Drummer Thorne Davis voiced his opinion on working with labels based on what he's seen in the industry, stating that he feels holding off on signing with a label right away is "good for longevity as a musician, if you want to actually make a life playing music.
"You’re going to burn out so quickly if you run head first into major labels, get signed, get chewed up and spat out. And we’ve seen that happen so many times to so many awesome musicians that just can’t handle it, and it destroys their whole creative aspect. So I think there’s definitely a lot to be said about taking things slow.”
Loewenthal touched on the creative aspect to Tora's process including both the music development side and the live performance side, noting their shift from creation-oriented inspiration to becoming equal parts creation and performance-inspired. "The studio and producing fuels the live show, but now we've turned it into a 5-piece band…we think a lot more about the live show.
“We want the show and the album to always have quite a different vibe, but we want them to be equally good so we’re going to spend countless hours on both aspects getting them to where we want them to be.”
Added Johnston: "The live show is going to be a huge change from what it is now. We’re going to focus wholeheartedly on the album, but also bringing that into a live situation with the visual journey. Our live show at the moment has been basically crafted for compact, light, easy to travel with basic setups…no special lighting or projections or anything like that," with Davis noting the goal is “to compliment the music and take the audience on a bit more of a journey.”
So, what's next for Tora? Davis was quick to state: "massive development in musicianship"; a scary thought to consider, given the ridiculously high level of musicianship exhibited by the group to date.
Loewenthal expanded, saying "in the next two years, the music that we make is going to be a bit less fragrant to the first two years but we’re going to aim to bring the quality of the music up by quite a lot. Spend a lot of time on the whole product.”
Outside of music, Tora's pretty much what you'd expect them to be: "We were mates before we had the band… A day in the life, one of us would send a message on the Tora chat like 'Yo, who wants to go to the beach,' and we'd work out which beach to meet at and chill in the sun."
"That's joe speaking," the guys were quick to interject amidst chuckles. "Some of us have part time jobs that helps us get through, but that was before we left [for the Europe trip]. I think coming back from this 6 month trip, it's going to be different than before we left."
There's a general consensus among the guys that it's time to dig deep and take the band to the next level. 17-year-old Jai Piccone recently dropped out of school to create "more time to work at my stuff."
That's not to say they're going to be all business. "When we get back it's going to be different to how it was, but at the same time, the sun's still there and the beaches are still waiting. And the surf’s still waiting."
Some grounded statements from such a young group of guys. When asked to reflect on any advice they wish they'd had two years ago: "Number one would be always keep the van locked," Davis pointed out to chuckles of agreement regarding a string of thefts they were victim to during their European swing. "It’s difficult when you’re travelling around with so much gear but I think if you can develop a system to be able to safeguard and keep an eye on your stuff, that’s definitely a number one priority."
"Don’t burn your bridges," Tunis added, to unanimous agreement; "Yes - be very nice to everyone in the industry! Even if you’re having a shit day, and there’s some tech on stage who’s pissing you off, just suck it up and be nice to that guy because one day he’ll probably be working the main stage and see you and go, ‘you’re an asshole. I’m going to destroy your gig now.'"
Advice to live by no doubt.