One of our favourite discoveries of the recent Specialist Subject Distant Together live streams were Bristolian-trio, Toodles & the Hectic Pity. The band first emerged back in 2016, with the somewhat literally titled, First EP. Since then the band have gone on to release two further extended-players, 2017’s Call In Sick, and February’s, Ghosts, Guilt & Grandparents, their first for Specialist Subject. Earlier this month the band shared their latest offering, Familiar Piece of Furniture. The EP is three new acoustic versions of old favourites, recorded by the individual members from their houses during the Corona-virus lockdown.
While the enforced limitations of the remote recording process could be seen as a hindrance, in Toodles & The Hectic Pity’s case, it serves as the opposite. Here it seems to focus their sound, take Ducklings (the new version of Ducks), the stripped version highlights the influence of The Mountain Goats and focuses the attention on the somewhat defeated lyrics, “‘cause I thought that, when I was younger, I would be a science-fiction author but writing about spaceships ain’t gonna pay the rent this autumn“. Elsewhere Quiet Cigs (previously Menthol Cigarettes) slows the original down as the addition of an array of warm instrumental choices pick out a series of gorgeous previously hidden melodies, while Sneaky Furniture (previously Spooky Furniture) replaces the originals angsty howl with a calmer, more poised delivery, as if the original pain has now been dampened by the passing of time. While it was a record that should probably never have been, the band were meant to be touring and writing their debut album right now, as asides go, Familiar Pieces of Furniture is a fascinating one, a snapshot of the world as it is and a band at the top of their game.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Toodles & the Hectic Pity?
We’re a folk-punk-emo three-piece from Bristol. The three of us grew up in the same cluster of villages north of Bristol and went to school together, forming a band in our late-teens to early twenties, the development of which got savagely impeded by us all going to university in different cities. But since then we’ve had two EPs as vinyl releases – one which was put out as the first Invisible Llama Music release almost exactly three years ago as I write this, the other called “Ghosts, Guilt & Grandparents” via Specialist Subject Records in February of this year—plus this recent digital acoustic EP which I don’t think any of us realised we would make. Which isn’t a bad output!
I was speaking to Thom of comedy duo (No) Money in the Bank the other day and he described us as “The Mountain Goats meets The Front Bottoms” which is pretty accurate as those were two big influences when we started out. We also take influence from folk punk giants like AJJ and ONSIND.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
This question is a good excuse to do a quick origin story of the band, if you’ll allow it. We formed as a band to play a garden party that our friend had hosted (a gig of sorts?) which year after year evolved into Inglefest, which is a fully-fledged three-stage musical festival in the Cotswolds that we play every year. We’d played some original music under the name Toodles & the Hectic Pity for the first couple of years but because of aforementioned university obligations we hadn’t had the opportunity to get properly onto the gigging circuit. So are those our first gigs? I don’t know.
The first gig that we think of as our first “real” gig was one of the weirdest we’ve ever done, in quite a nice way. It was at The Hatter in Bristol which is tiny and I’ve never heard of a gig happening there since. The line up was Jamie Cruikshank and Kate Stapley with Sean Addicott (who later formed a band together with our own Max & Dom called Springbreak).
It was rammed and sweaty and the sound was terrible but it was really fun and we basically brought all our mates. And that’s where we met Iwan Best, who worked at the Exchange (now venue manager) and who created the micro-label Invisible Llama Music and who put out our first record. He put in some good words for us which got us future gigs including our first at the Exchange. We thought he was a big shot! Now we know otherwise although he is still the greatest.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I can’t speak for Max and Dom, who are both immensely talented and creative people in music and in their other endeavours. For me, I’m not sure I thought music would become my main creative output. In my teens and at university, I thought (or hoped) that fiction would be. And to be honest, although I am a music-lover and gig-goer, that part of my life came much later than reading and writing fiction.
The difference is that it turned out that I found writing songs a lot easier than writing short stories, which I still try and do and find really engaging and satisfying. But with songs, it’s easier for me to do “free writing” than on paper, because you can bash out a few chords and then go with what comes to you and I really don’t mind ad-libbing nonsense to myself or my band mates. If there’s something good, I then use that as a baseline to start from. Which gives you a starting point, at least, which it’s harder for me to find in fiction. The other thing is that songs are (generally) short and contained and have constraints which is what I find valuable about them. You are sometimes required to distil ideas into fewer and fewer words and sounds. We’ve always channelled that as a band. We like the constraints that a three-piece (with an acoustic guitar) brings and we try and create the biggest and most engaging sound out of that that we can — which challenges us to think a little bit outside the box.
I also didn’t think that live performance was something I would be good at or enjoy. But as it turns out, it is. I’ve generally been a reserved and solitary person but actually having a time where you can express yourself is a real anxiety inducing and yet immensely satisfying experience. I thought any creative endeavour I could ever have would have to be solitary. This is not true. If you think this about yourself, try joining a band. You may not enjoy it, but I am surprised by how this band has become kind of the love of my life? It wasn’t something I saw coming.
So to answer the question: I think it’s not just music rather than another art form. I think most people enjoy either making or consuming other forms of art (even some things which they don’t think of as artistic endeavours) but music has that social aspect and is also a particularly great form of expression. Music can feel, much less so than many other art forms, like this is very little between the act of the creative and the act of “consuming” or enjoying or participating. There’s something very collective and communal about live shows (even via the internet) that makes it feel as though you’re part of the art even if you’re not the person on stage. That’s less the case when you look at a painting in a museum or read a book of poetry. Although it doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be.
FTR: What can people expect from the Toodles & the Hectic Pity live show?
I think we put on quite a fun live show. We are best friends and as a band we can read each other’s minds. And I think that comes across. We don’t take ourselves especially seriously, but we are serious about playing well and having people enjoy what we do and having ourselves enjoy it.
Our sets can be quite energetic and full-on (thanks to Dom destroying himself on the drums) and lyrically we’re a very wordy band. But we’ve also been moving towards longer songs with bigger dynamic builds and greater variation. In our first record I think it was all like “let’s make this one really fast, and really short, and really blast people’s heads off” which i think in a way was compensating for the fact that I played an acoustic guitar and we’re a three piece and as we got playing better shows we felt a lot of imposter syndrome. It’s easy to feel that way, but we’re a lot more confident about what kind of band we are and what sort of music we make now.
FTR: What’s next for Toodles & the Hectic Pity?
So we just put out an acoustic EP called “Familiar Pieces of Furniture” which was not what we had planned to be doing in lockdown. We had planned to be doing a UK and then EU tour and when it became clear those were going to be cancelled we thought “let’s record a new single, and then knuckle down and write our album” which then of course got hampered (understandably) by social distancing measures. So the acoustic EP was born out of us needing to create something together from afar and also remain connected as a band.
So for us, the next aim is the same as before lockdown — which is to work on a full-length album. I’ve been working on songs by myself at home which is going well. We’d finished one new song together as a band before lockdown. Since then, by myself, I’ve written three fully finished songs, as well as having two ones that are part way there but are proving tougher nuts to crack. Which is not all that bad. The plan is, if possible, to workshop these songs from afar by recording my finished parts and sending them over to the other two in such a way that they’re usable — then, if possible, to work on the songs together when or if social distancing is eased enough for us to do so, and then to book in time to record sometime this year. I would be really stoked if that happened but also we are quite conscientious songwriters and if we’re not happy with something we won’t rush it. We really want to make a great album — and we will! There’s a lot that’s out of our control but that’s what all the energy is going on now and we’re feeling confident.
They Listen To…
Phoebe Bridgers – I Know The End
Like everyone else on the planet I’ve been wearing out the grooves on the new Phoebe Bridgers album which I can’t believe is as good as it is. Her first album was near album perfection, and her Boy Genius and Better Oblivion Community Centre projects were also brilliant — but this record is something else. This song is, to me, the platonic ideal of a late-in-the-album song in terms of how it uses song structure and dynamics and instrumentation to build tension and emotion and God damn it it’s good!
The Mountain Goats – Matthew 25:21
This is off their album The Life of the World To Come which is a high-concept album which uses Biblical verses as jumping off points for songs, which I have a lot of respect for. They do that with a lot of songs and a lot of albums but this one has been speaking to me recently and does a lot of what I’d like to achieve in a song.
Proper – Curtains Down! Throw in the Towel
Only discovered these guys recently but they are brilliant. Wordy and catchy and honest and very reminiscent of the Front Bottoms.
Travelling – Pt 1 The End of the Summer
A song that is giving me a lot of strength of late. Pure, simple banger. I am also way too late to the party on this one — I only discovered this after Ginger Alford’s set via Specialist Subject’s Distant Together live streams. Cracking set, great song.
Cosmit – Rolling Sea
New northern soul-inflected garage punky band from Bristol made up of an all-star cast of our friends and influences including our very own Max on drums. And I’m not saying this because we’re friends, this is some of the catchiest shit you’ve ever listened to.
Familiar Pieces of Furniture is out now via Specialist Subject Records. Click HERE for more information on Toodles & the Hectic Pity.