My Inspiration: Tobias And The Lion | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Teesside based singer-songwriter Tobias And The Lion recently released his brand new EP, Your Looks Can Never Compensate for the Music You Make via Frozen Pines Records. Blending a wide variety of genres together, including folk, pop and electronic music, and telling stories about the dichotomy of the self, TATL is establishing himself as a unique and inventive artist. Here, he tells us about the inspiration behind each track on his EP ahead of his show at Middlesbrough Town Hall, as part of Shine Festival, on Saturday 11th May.

Tobias and the Lion are about every aspect of an individual, the humorous experiences we have, the sad experiences that make us a stronger person, the thoughtful and the joyous. Personally, when I write songs the main person I’m trying to please is myself if others enjoy what I do and it can help them gain comfort from them or make them happy, then that gives me a greater desire to keep on writing. Creating music is a therapeutic process for me if I’m worried or dis-hearted I know that I can express myself in a productive way. A lot of artists gather a concept, theme or worry about their image but, I think that it’s all about the song-writing. If I write a song and I can play it on the piano, guitar or ukulele and I’m still pleased with it then I know it’s a keeper. I hope that my explanation of my E.P will help and inspire others to write their own material while giving an insight into the creative process.

I am very D.I.Y apart from recording, I always go to the studio as I believe I need someone who can be more objective when mixing and recording. I have home recorded for years but was never truly happy with the end results, so when I recorded at a studio it was the first time I have ever been happy with the sound.

A question I get asked a lot is about the name, I didn’t want to call myself Tobias or Tobias Halford (as it’s a shop), I always feel strange in saying I’m a musician or singer-songwriter as I have no music qualifications at all. It’s all about expression for me, I’m not wanting to make a career from music because it takes the fun out of it. So having a stage the name takes that seriousness from it I think, the name ‘Tobias and the Lion’ is from a book that is about an old Asian folk tale, that was given to me by my nan, so I think it’s a nice tribute to her.

The idea for this song came about when I was a hairdresser in Derby. I had lots of clients who would say “I’m happily divorced’, which would make me think ‘was there a better man for them that they may have overlooked and didn’t give a chance?’ That is how the story started for the song, two childhood sweethearts growing apart as they get older. Chloe in the story grew up in a dysfunctional home, which led her to get married at 18 to a man who had more money and could offer her security. Chloe’s childhood love interest takes 25 years to get over her, in the song it says ‘I used to feel sick when you were away from me’. He moves on and she is left divorced and alone, so this song is about regret and being with someone for money instead of love.

I wanted to keep the music really raw, with the added mandolin complimenting the acoustic guitar and I kept on whacking a guitar case to make the bass drum sound. I wanted it to feel like you were at a live show in a micro bar and to give it raw authentic energy. I used the maracas, tambourine, and hand clapping for the percussion to make it sound like people banging on tables. The idea surprisingly came from From Now On from The Greatest Showman and after seeing the movie I thought that approach would suit the song. I didn’t use a metronome in it either and there is a part in the song where it speeds up, but I’m glad it does as it creates a more organic sound.

Plunge Into The Sea
This song is a really special one for me, it tells you a bit about my life and is one of the first songs that I have written where I am completely honest. I had some song ideas on the piano, then one day I just started saying what was in my head and I wrote this song in about 5 minutes. There are a lot of references to movies, shows, and books in this one. There is a line ‘taking the glass off a rose’ which, is a reference to the book ‘The Little Prince’ when the rose that lives on the planet with him only cares about her vanity. The little prince uses a Glass to cover her so nothing can mess up her beauty, so some of the lyrics in the song are about removing our own vanity for others. Another lyric ‘Because you are the only luxury I will ever need’ is inspired by the movie ‘Stupid, Crazy, Love’. Where Jacob talks about how unhappy he is so he surrounds himself with luxuries to make himself happy. I could speak a lot more about all the meanings behind this some but, it would be a few pages so I’ll save you some time.

I like that this some is simple with the guitar and piano as I just wanted it to sound passionate without the need of masses of layers. I could have layered up a few more tracks on it, but I liked keeping the simplicity of it so that you would focus on the lyrics of the song.

Ya Mam Fanzees Me
Moving up to the North East a word I love is ‘Mam’ and the incorrect spelling for the other words of this song is to annoy people. Being a primary school teacher I see a lot of misspelled words and there are so many exceptions to the English language, so the title is a tribute to that. The idea can from an experience I had when I was 18, my girlfriend at the time made fun of me saying that this lady we knew who was in her late 30’s fancied me. The lady would say things like ‘I know I’d be lucky to have you as my boyfriend’, so the song is based on this experience and as I wrote more the story developed.

This originally was going to be a ska sounding song, But when I went into the studio I recorded the punchy piano and acoustic guitar. I then wanted to have the contrast of raw sounds with electronic, so I messed around on the synthesizer and some disco beats. Usually, I know what instruments I’m going to add and how, so it was good to take an impulsive approach to this song.

20 years
I came up with this riff in drop D and had a few lyrics and melody together but, I was never really pleased with it. I was listening to The National’s Boxer album and I heard the lyrics ‘you know I dreamed about you for 29 years before I saw you’. I thought about this romantic gesture of dreaming of the perfect partner and knowing what they looked like before you have ever met them. It just so happened that it was my brother and sister in laws twentieth wedding anniversary, so using twenty years as the beginning lyrics was inspired by them, so I think it’s a nice tribute to them and it is a more spiritual love song with lyrics like ‘Has fate made us entwined’.

I usually avoid playing it live, just because I like to keep my set quite upbeat. When I played it at a gig in Leicester someone told me how much he loved it and how it changed the whole atmosphere of the place, so I keep it in now. Recording it was really natural I wanted a big built up in a soothing way and it’s the one song that Jack who recorded it was really excited about.

Did It Put A Light On?
The chorus of the song was meant for a really distorted rock song until one day I was playing it on the Ukulele and it sounded pretty quirky. I added some new chords and sped it up to make it into a happier song. The lyrics are about these amazing girls who date idiots, but with the boy getting the girl in the end (like a Hollywood ending). The lyric ‘while he has a controller in front of him’ is from conversations with a friend who complained about her boyfriend playing on the computer every night and not spent time with her. Most of the rest of the songs are about loser boyfriends as it amazes me how I see some really undesirable, loser men date really great women.

The music is quite simple with hand-clapping, double layer of ukulele and a junior steel drum, which I saw in the corner of the studio and made up a little riff and thought it made it sound really happy. I was strumming the ukulele so hard in this as I wanted the slaps of the strings to be heard, yet again I could have put more tracks on it but, I think by keeping it simple it gives it this claustrophobic feel that I like.

For every song I have made a music video myself, in which I recorded and edited, they are not professional but, I wanted to really test myself and see if I could do one that would be half decent. I was inspired by Snow Patrol with their album Wildness where they had a music video for every song on the album, I thought that was an inspirational way of combining music and cinematography together.

I plan to start releasing a single every few months and take a different direction with my music. I have such a diverse taste in music that I don’t want to restrict myself to a style or genre, I like the idea of having every song as distinctive as the next one and using a wider variety of instruments.

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