the AU interview: Tora (Byron Bay) on songwriting, tours, and everything in between

Currently in the middle of touring their new EP, Eat The Sun, Jo Loewenthal from Byron Bay band Tora chatted at length to the AU review about the beginnings of the band, the switch to the electronic, and of tour buses breaking down in the middle of nowhere.

First up, how’s your day going?

The day’s been good! We woke up at about 5.30 at a truck stop on the Hume Highway. We were gonna try and get to Sydney last night, but then we realised that we didn’t have accommodation booked, so we decided to just camp at a truck stop. And then we just called upon some friends, and worked out a place we could stay. We got here…I’d say we got here…we picked up our sound guy from the airport at about 11 o’clock, got to Narrabeen at 12, then just got the bus nice and clean again, went and had some lunch. Now we’re just chilling out and enjoying Sydney.

Awesome. Well I’m pretty excited to see you guys tomorrow night, how’s the tour been going so far?

Yeah, the tour’s been awesome. The first gig was in Geelong – we were actually surprised that we had so many people there ‘cos we’ve never even heard of Geelong before the tour. So we pretty much just went there and there were still people there to see us, which was really nice. The Melbourne gig was such a buzz – lots of people, and it sounded awesome…had a great time. Then we drove to Adelaide and on the way the bus broke down – it literally just decided not to work anymore. So we had to wait there for eight hours while they brought us some new buses, then we had to split up and take two buses ‘cos they were smaller vans to Adelaide. We got there literally like six hours after sound check – we just rolled in, did a line check and stuff…which was pretty interesting. But it was still fun, still a good time.

Wow, that sounds a tad bit stressful…

[Laughs] Yeah, we all just deal with stress well; we kind of just bounce off each other and laugh at our misfortune rather than get too worried.

Speaking of shows, you guys won the Local Unearthed slot at Splendour this year – that’s usually been a pretty big gig for bands in the past – so what was it like to get that?

Oh man we were blown away when we heard that we got that gig – like this is what we’ve been dreaming of since we were little, to play at Splendour. So when we heard, we were over the moon, and we just decided to spend…to practice the next month or two leading up to it. So we got to the point where we were quite comfortable with actually playing the songs – and when we got to the festival it was all just about getting into the zone. It was a 12 o’clock slot, so pretty early for all the hung-over people [laughs]. It was funny when we got there the gates were still shut, because they keep the gates closed until midday, so we actually started to a completely empty amphitheatre – and then about 20 seconds into the first song we just see about 500 people rushing around the corner and down the hill. There was actually some stacking and tumbling down the hill, which was pretty funny to see.

That was a pretty killer hill, I remember trekking to the top and it was dangerously high…

[Laughs] Yeah exactly. That’s it. It was definitely the biggest show we’ve ever done, we had a lot of fun and it seems like the crowd did, so we were stoked about the whole thing.

So going back to the start a bit – where did Tora come into play? I know you guys were playing around in other bands before, but when did Tora first kick off?

So basically at the start of 2012 we moved to Melbourne as the band (Alice Blu), but that just fell apart after two or three months. Toby moved, or went travelling to Europe, he went to Greece. And after about seven or eight months of me working in a call centre I was like: ‘Alright, I’m pretty over this now, I’ve saved up enough money, gonna go make some music again’. So Toby and I met back up in Mullumbimby, so quite close to Byron Bay, and we just started living together for a few months, and decided we wanted to start producing music on the computer. So we just strated making more electronically infused music to sort of let loose. Before that we hadn’t really had much experience in the studio, like running our own session. So we just started making music in our bedroom, which was like a big granny flat sort of thing. The first Tora track we made in four days – “Unobtainable” – it just came together and we were like ‘wow’. Electronic music is so much more fun to play and make, so we got that together – we didn’t actually release it for quite a while, we sort of kept it. Our vision was was that we’d make an album. So we made that track then stewed on it, then made heaps of tracks – then after a while we just decided to put them up and see what people thought. We got a much better reaction than we’d ever had for Alice Blu – so we were a bit excited about that.

I started teaching my best friend’s younger brother guitar, and after one or two sessions we had a song, and thought that we may as well release it under Tora, just to see what happens. Then our mate Thorne – who worked in the call centre that I worked at – he moved back to Byron at the same time I did, and he was a drummer. Originally we started with Toby playing on the bass, but then he moved to synth. We all just started playing together at the start of 2013, and Shaun the bass player came back to Byron around May, then that’s when we actually started playing as a five piece and though, ‘yep, this is Tora’.

We’re all bound quite tightly. Like Shaun and myself are step-brothers. Toby and Shaun are step-brothers except on the other side. Like my Mum is with Shaun’s Dad and Shaun’s mum is with Toby’s Dad. It’s a bit of a circle, and we’re all best mates. It’s not so much just a music thing, it’s a bit of a lifestyle.

You mentioned that you hadn’t really had much experience producing electronic music, what’s that like, in terms of songwriting, to go from learning how to write and craft songs acoustically, to being on a computer?

I think it just made the end product more complete and professional, in a sense. It kind of is restrictive in a way, but at the same time you just end up with a product that sounds, rather than just feels good to play. They end up feeling good to play, anyway. You can also sit back and hear what it actually sounds like without playing it; it makes a whole lot of difference to the end product. It gave us extra ears, and gave us a new perspective on the whole thing, which seems to be working.

Going into Eat The Sun EP, and into influences a bit, I heard a lot of Skream in it, and there’s a lot of heavy rhythm stuff, as well as Toro Y Moi – who are some of the other massive artists that you name checked on this EP?

Well that’s a good question because when we go into making a record, although we incorporate a lot of influences, I guess it’s unconscious. Our vision is to make something that’s as far from anything else as possible. So you said Skream, I’ve never actually heard of Skream, so that is interesting. So yeah it’s definitely a sense of what we listen to, but there’s no artists that we were trying to be like when we made Eat The Sun, it sort of just came out. I think Alt-J have had an impact on our sound, especially with some of the more percussive aspects on some of the tracks. With alt-j’s sound they’ve got a lot of clicky…hoppy….like weird sounds – rather than just like hi-hats and tom drums. We pretty much just decide whatever sounds good at the time – like often we’ll just get a mike and just click our fingers in front of the mike, or make a weird sound with our mouth, and turn it into a rhythmic thing.

I’ve noticed that clicking – it’s everywhere on the EP. It’s all so heavily rhythmic as well, what’s it like trying to get the balance between the rhythmic and the melodic – so it’s not just one or the other?

I think at the end of the day it just sort of happens – we don’t too much about whether it’s too rhythmic or whether it’s too melodic – we’re just going with whatever sounds good to us. I guess naturally, if it is too melodic or rhythmic, we’ll say ‘oh this needs a bit more of that, it needs more of a melodic part’. We spend about 100 hours on each song from start to finish. It is a tedious process towards the end.

So where did Eat The Sun start? What was the writing process like for this?

Well 100 hours is definitely average, some take longer than others. We started after our tour in April, and when we got back we were like ‘alright, we’re going to start writing for the EP’. And that process was about six months from start to finish, keep in mind it’s not non-stop, time to let your creativity manifest. But pretty much an idea comes out you start it. Towards the last couple of months, because we had set up a deadline for this tour, it got a bit stressful, but we got it there in the end.

And last week you guys hit over a million plays on Soundcloud?

Yeah it was crazy! This time last year we hit 10,000 and we were completely over the moon, and blown away by the fact that that many people could listen to our songs – and now it’s like multiplied by 100 in a year. It doesn’t quite feel real.

It must be rad to have that kind of online support base – and from all over the world.

Yeah well funnily enough when you look at our Soundcloud figures the majority of those plays are from the US. I think Australia is second, and Canada is third, and Germany is fourth or something like that. It’s interesting to see such a widespread thing already, even though we haven’t played outside of Australia.

So you’re in the middle of this massive tour, what’s next for the rest of 2014, and onwards?

So pretty much until mid-December we’ll be touring. And next year hopefully more touring as well.

How do you create the live shows – like trying to get all the electronic elements in there, is it crammed with laptops?

Yeah to be honest we make the songs and then learn them. It is a bit of a process, it took us a month to learn this EP, of solid five or six days a week of practice, at a few hours a day. We’re really excited for this show tomorrow night – judging by the pre-sales it’s going to be a big show, already almost double what Melbourne was. In terms of the live show it’s a lot about working out how to play it live. We do try and recreate the CD as much as we can – but on the CD it’s programmed drumming whereas when we play live it’s obviously a drum kit. It just results in a much fatter sound, and much more energy. I think people are quite surprised when they see us, on CD it is really chilled – and it’s still chilled live, but there’s a lot more sub, and you can feel it a lot more. People seem to dance more at our shows, which is good.

Tora are currently touring nationally You can stay up to date on their Facebook Page HERE.