Fresh off the back of an extremely fruitful 2019, we caught up with Mahogany’s Toby Johnson to find out all about his latest crop of musical delights and how he got started in the industry.
Hi Toby, thankyou so much for taking the time to talk to us amidst all the chaos. You released an amazing EP last year, one of my favourites to be blunt, but for people that don’t know you or haven’t heard your music, who is Toby Johnson and what is your sound all about?
Thank you for having me on! So I’m Toby Johnson, and have been for quite some time. I began releasing music back in 2015 with my first EP which debuted on BBC introducing. I never thought of myself as much of a musician as I was always a film geek (studied film in university) however after the attention the first EP had I was hooked. I spent a number of years independent and built up a portfolio of tunes recorded in my bedroom but it was only until recently where Mahogany Recordings picked me up and we began our label venture together!
Your songs are lyrically very clever, is it often a case of writing the lyrics and then fitting them to an instrumental or do you follow a specific process while songwriting?
Usually when i’m writing I tend to come up with a melody first. The next part is often pretty odd as I just mumble sounds over the top to see how many syllables fit. There have been multiple times where I’ve mumbled nonsense but have actually ended up using the lyrics in the final song, its almost as if i’m letting the song write itself but we won’t get carried away with that as it sounds mental. Writing, in general, is a really fun process however I’ve discovered that writing lyrics is a very circumstantial endeavour. It can’t really be forced, which is a pain as I just want to write them all now!
Last year was pretty crazy for you with all the gigging amidst releasing the record, including a winter tour with Jack Savoretti in the winter. Was there a particular highlight for you?
Touring was a great experience. I toured with a Dutch artist ‘Dotan’ who is incredibly talented and such a genuine guy. Me and a friend ventured between 10 venues across Germany, Belgium and Holland in a VW camper. I think the long roads and seeing different cities was definitely the highlight for me. Besides that, performing to my biggest crowd yet at the Plymouth Pavilions while supporting Jack Savoretti was a real pleasure, again, a real humble guy and a true friend for life!
For those that don’t know you recorded your last set of songs at RAK studios in London and are now embarking on the same process with Natural Habitat Studios. Have you changed your recording and writing methods at all or will we see a similar style from your previous releases?
Recording in RAK was another experience I’ll never forget. Surrounded by history and you just feel that magic as you walk through those main doors. I do love the studio feel however working in a more relaxed environment and Natural Habitat just feels so personal. I could liken the two different experiences to working at Warburton’s bread factory and then moving across to a quaint family run bakery. Joey at NH is a real talent and that’s not to mention the rest of the team always bringing something amazing to the table. It’s a true team effort.
You’ve amassed a pretty impressive set of streaming figures I must say, is that something you really look at or is it all about making the music for you?
Streams are a huge piece of the puzzle and I think they’re very important for me as I they give me a real sense of achievement. I remember when I hit a thousand monthly listeners and its just something I never thought could happen! It proves that everyone is in for a chance with this industry I think it’s just a case of making noise and keeping peoples attention. Social media is a real weapon in the industry, I think if you can be heard online then your voice travels much further in the modern world.
As I touched on before you proceed some incredible music last year, my highlight being Isla, and there is definitely a buzz around new releases, so what are people in store for in 2020?
Last year was a great year all around. We hit streaming numbers I didn’t think were possible so early on and we toured with some pretty amazing people. In 2020, the projects have been taking a step up. We’ve been working closely with incredibly talented producers and mixing/mastering engineers to provide that real polished yet natural sound. The new 5 track EP will be released throughout the year and I’m so excited about this one. It has far exceeded my expectations of how my own music can sound! Everybody that has contributed to the records deserve a medal, all the way from the incredible session musicians to deliveroo drivers bringing us meals during our 2am studio sessions. I love you all.