banner image

:: Spotlight :: Interview with Byron Williams AKA Toe Fu - The Herd

By: Elise Snashall-Woodhams

After a few years of touring and well received side-projects all eight members of Sydney hip-hop collective The Herd are back together with their new album Summerland. I chatted to guitarist and vocalist Byron Williams, AKA Toe Fu, about the new release.

It’s been a couple of years between Herd albums. What are some of the exciting things you’ve been up to in the break?

We’ve been doing quite a few different things. It’s really nice in between gigs to get back to jamming in garages and that sort of thing, getting back to that rootsy music and really enjoying the other projects that the others have been involved in like Unkle Ho, Astronomy Class and Urth Boy. It’s been fantastic.

What made you decide it was the right time to come together and record a new album?

It’s just the live shows. Sometimes you’re playing together and its like “whoa, we’ve been playing this song for a long time”. It wasn’t actually a conscious decision. It was more like just having to jam a bit of wood in the machine and saying “stop, we need to record”. 'Cause we were having so much fun. But we needed new material and we were really keen to write new material. We’ve got eight people in the band, we’ve got a lot of percussion and different instruments and we wanted to get it all in there.

You’ve got a pretty big band. Is it hard to fit so many different talents together both musically and professionally?

I think yes and no. Yes because there is eight individuals. But also no because you know we’ve been together for eight years now and there’s really a lot of trust not only in our friendships but also a lot of trust in each other musically. So you really value everyone’s opinions even though everyone doesn’t play guitar or everyone doesn’t play bass or everyone’s not a computer program nerd. There are certainly no no-go zones in terms of offering an opinion or a critique. Everyone takes it on board. The way The Herd is and the organic nature of it means that if you pass one of your starting points on to someone else then your comfortable that it will probably end up somewhere completely different to where you want it to be. But its gunna be really good anyway, you know? There’s a real joy in the process of actually nutting things out.

What made you choose “The King is Dead” as the first single off the new album?

I suppose the timeliness of it. We wrote it right after the election. Apart from the timeliness of it, it was also sort of our favourite track off the album as well. It could have been released second or third but maybe it would have lost a bit of the impact.

A lot of bands that write political songs get criticised for focusing on the message rather than the music. How do you think The Herd have got the balance right?

I suppose with eight people we’ve got a really talented bunch of people and a really talented bunch of writers. And like I said before, there’s all this feedback between the two. So it’s not like for example someone’s writing lyrics for the song or we’ve written the whole song and we pass it over to see what they do with it. From the start the writers in terms of the lyrics are working together with the musicians. So it’s this process where the music’s intertwined with the words right from the very start. It just avoids that sense of the words and music being separate. It’s really important to us that the words and the music really fit together in terms of mood and that sort of thing.

Obviously you’re very passionate about the issues you write about and some of your songs have copped you a bit of flak in the media, especially “77%”. How often do you feel like you’re actually getting through to people?

I think in terms of reaction, positive reaction and negative reaction are both good. The negative reaction is almost better because you’re getting people who you wouldn’t necessarily reach, and in terms of artwork and music the worst response you can get is apathy. You’re actually raising people’s passions and getting discussion happening, that’s a really valuable result for any artist or musician. I thinks it’s really a nice thing to have when something sort of blows up and people are talking about it, and people are writing you off. I like to hear all viewpoints and if people are speaking up then that’s great. It’s better than sitting back and being apathetic and saying, well I don’t really care.

Back to the new album, what was the concept behind Summerland?

I suppose just getting away. I mean the album is named after where we recorded it. It’s where we recorded the first album, so it was really nice to get back to Summerland. It’s a place out of Sydney where we took all our studio equipment, and we were fortunate enough to have it for a couple of months. So basically everyone tried to get up there when they could. And that was the main concept, to get out of Sydney and get some perspective on issues and stuff. Often when you remove yourself from a situation you can get a more valuable or insightful; perspective of it. So we really liked the contrast of the album title Summerland which conjures up images of Cornettos and board shorts, as opposed to the seriousness of the album.

There is a lot more singing and live instrumentation on the new album. Where you aiming for a more “rootsy” or natural sound?

I don’t think there was a specific aim so to speak, it evolved. I think after we wrote the album and recorded it we could see the evolution which we’ve taken from the last few albums. I think we’ve been getting more melodic and more instrumental. We also had more access to musicians and strings and it was really nice to do that rather than the classic hip hop thing of trying to find something on vinyl. We can get real musicians to come in to play the things we can’t play or we’ll play it ourselves.

You mentioned an evolution in the Herd’s sound. Jane has a couple of great vocal hooks on Summerland, do you feel like she has been one of the driving forces of this evolution?

Yeah, definitely. I think it was, I wouldn’t say interesting, maybe fortunate or good timing for Jane to come into the band. She toured with us a lot and it was good for her to be involved in the recording of this album (because she wasn’t involved to much in the recording of the last one). She was involved a lot in the creative and conceptual ideas of this album which really helped us bring something else and something new to this album.

The cover art of Summerland is quite interesting. Is there a story behind it?

That’s Jane’s artwork. Jane drew the elephants and Rok Poshtya (the bass player) did the graphic design. So they put them together and I suppose the concept of a family of travelling elephants is how we see ourselves on the road. Often we’ll have other artists on the label along, elephant tracks supporters. So when we’ve got them on the road it actually feels like a family of elephants. I mean we pile into two Taragos and you hear “are we there yet?” and someone’s got to do a wee by the side of the road. It is that sort of thing; someone’s left something at the service station. So it’s very much like a family holiday when we hit the road.

What can we expect at the upcoming live shows?

A lot of tracks off the new album. Tracks which didn’t make it onto the album which were actually reworked and make great live tracks. And there’ll be some re-workings of some old favourites as well. So hopefully a mix of the old and the new, and some random ones thrown in too.

THE HERD ‘SUMMERLAND’ AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES

July 17 - PRINCE OF WALES, Bunbury, W.A.
July 18 - SETTLERS TAVERN, Margaret River, W.A.
July 19 - CAPITOL, Perth, W.A.
July 20 - FLY BY NIGHT, Fremantle, W.A.
August 7 - UNI BAR, Wollongong, NSW
August 8 - ANU BAR, Canberra, ACT
August 9 - STATION RESORT, Jindabyne, NSW
August 15 - METRO THEATRE, Sydney, NSW
August 16 - MANLY FISHOS, Manly, NSW
August 21 - BAROQUE, Katoomba, NSW
August 22 - PANTHERS, Newcastle, NSW
August 23 - WOODPORT INN, Erina, NSW
August 28 - GREAT NORTHERN, Byron Bay, NSW
August 29 - THE ARENA, Brisbane, QLD
August 30 - COOLANGATTA HOTEL, Gold Coast, QLD
August 31 - SANDS TAVERN, Maroochydore, QLD
September 4 - UNI BAR, Hobart, TAS
September 5 - BILLBOARD, Melbourne, VIC
September 6 - FOWLERS LIVE, Adelaide, S.A.