Last week we were lucky enough to sit down with T.O.L.D. before his show at The Echo with vox and Humans to talk about his relationship with music, his visual art background,
and what we can expect from the project in the next coming year. He's an interesting, insightful character and we can't wait to see what the future has in store for this project.
T.O.L.D., an acronym for The Order of Life and Death, is the moniker of 25-year-old LA-transplant-via-London musician and songwriter Dan Smith. Recently signed to the progressive LA indie label IAMSOUND, he is the next gem to join an already stellar roster. We were taken with his first compelling Heaven EP, released back in late 2014, and his upcoming highly anticipated debut full length titled It's Not About The Witches, set to drop June 17th, does not disappoint.
Inspired by Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt’s piece titled ‘Death and Life,’ Dan named the project during a potent moment in his life where the image helped him to see the importance of enjoying life whilst living it. Reflective of his singular, poetic personality, T.O.L.D. songs are introspective and explore philosophical and existential ideas amidst dark pop sentiments, euphoric sound elements, and haunting, aching vocals. From gospel choirs, to steel drums, to moody synths and guitar riffs, the soundscapes that make up the album are hypnotic, luscious and artful, displaying an impressive array of massive yet emotional pop songs.
LYKA: When you are writing music, what are you writing about?
Dan: “I was thinking about this the other day, it’s kind of like deep sea diving for pearls. You don’t know what you’re diving for, and you don’t really know what it is until long after you’ve caught it. You feel like it might be something, and you don’t really fully realize it until three years after the album’s come out. I’m just writing about what’s around me. And this is only how I’m writing right now, I might not be doing this in a year.”
So far the digital world has only been introduced to three singles off of the new record, including “Return Forever,” co-written with Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco, “There’s No Truth,” and the latest, “Master Of The Species.” Each song is powerful and transcendent in its own way, and along with the rest of the album, deserve an earnest listen. They build, soar and endure, taking standard pop ballads to the next level, providing an experience for its listeners.
“The new album is definitely more ambitious. The Heaven EP was a little more like the encapsulation of the feeling of summer… but this album is more of a statement. A formed statement; it’s like a novel vs. a short story… Or a novel vs. a poem, Heaven was more like a poem, and the album is the novel.”
The live interpretation of the songs is delivered by a 3-person band, Dan on vocals and guitar, Mikey Lee on keys/percussion, and Rhythm Luna [yes, his real name] on drums, translating many of the ambitious production elements into a vibey experimental live show. We have been graced with the T.O.L.D. live show twice, both at the Hi Hat and The Echo, and both times the live experience perfectly embodied and delivered the band’s ethos; captivating ethereal layers of dreamy synths, melancholy vocals, and bouncy steel drums seeping through the room.
Music currently exists in a primarily digital landscape, and as such, the visuals which accompany tracks are vital in creating emotional attachments to a project. T.O.L.D.’s visuals do just that, seamlessly tying together the music and emotion to create a standout, polished overall brand. From his album art to his press photos, the visuals from T.O.L.D. present a balance between light and darkness, echoing the sentiment of his music in a cinematic, aching and tasteful presentation. He understands the need to create compelling art across the spectrum, and has a background studying fine art, helping enable his execution.
“I went to art school when I was 19, I studied fine art and I loved it. I’ve always been obsessed with marrying the senses… music isn’t just about the sounds that you’re hearing, it’s about the mythos, it’s about the emotions you’re feeling and the associations you have with the sounds. You can frame that with visual things.”
T.O.L.D. is a project to watch, and we can’t wait to see what the future has in store. Be sure to check out the debut full-length, out June 17th via IAMSOUND, and follow the project for show announcements + updates.
What process goes into recreating the songs for the live show?
D: A lot, haha. It’s kind of a brand new thing for me… but not really, I’ve been playing live since I was 15, but with this album, trying to translate it into the live show has been tough. There’s a lot of experimentation in the music and we’ve had quite a few band members come and go… We have a studio in Chinatown where we rehearse for days and days and days, just experimenting and playing off each other to see where it goes.
What can we expect from T.O.L.D. in the next year?
D: That’s a good question… we’re already working on another album, it’s kind of in the works. I’m also working on a companion book to go with the album, called It's Not About The Witches. It’s going to be semi-related to the album, like a companion piece almost. When it came to making the record we decided not to put lyrics on the physical copy and save them for a companion release. The way I wrote the album, so much of the lyrics are the backbone of the whole thing… I envision the book coming out within the next year or so.
That's rad. I love how we're in an age where the music industry isn't tied to standard release formats anymore so you can do a project like that, it's super exciting. It's also great to see a company like IAMSOUND being so progressive and encouraging an out-of-the-box element to the project.
D: Yea, I mean it’s all art; it makes me want to engage more as a musician if I can put all of my work out. And totally, with IAMSOUND, they’re one of the most forward thinking labels out there, they’re awesome.
What's your definition of success?
D: Good question... My definition of success… fuck. Don’t ask me, I’m not successful, haha. My personal definition would be the moment you really feel that you’re going to die - and sometimes it takes something like a death in your family to really taste it - to lose the illusion that you’re working hard towards something. To just shatter that, that’s success. And as soon as you shatter that feeling, you’re free, and that’s what that feels like... that’s success.
What's been your proudest moment for the project so far?
D: Honestly, definitely finishing the album, that was such a journey, it was crazy. And I think that it was one of the greatest moments of my life, finishing the album, because we were just working on it for so long.
What would you be doing if you weren't making music?
D: Probably sculpting 3D spaces, I feel like that could be a huge entertainment form… actually no, I wouldn’t be a 3D sculptor, haha I’d be a writer. That’s what I’m going to do anyway, when I grow up.
What do you like to do outside of music?
D: I really like hiking, I love nature. I love smoking weed, and I love my dog and my wife.
We love dogs too, it's an unhealthy obsession...
D: Me too! We played in San Diego last week and it was to a dog park, haha THAT was my most proud moment, was playing to a dog park in San Diego, haha.
Rhythm: We didn't really play to a dog park, there were dogs there, like a place where dogs were allowed... we didn't play at a dog park, haha
D: It was a dog park!!!!
What are you listening to currently?
D: Currently I’m pretty exclusive to Stars Of The Lid right now, they’re ambient… I’ve been working so hard on music, that when I’m not working on it, ambient is just so relaxing. You can sink into it and don’t have to think about what’s going on outside of the music, it’s really cool. So Stars Of The Lid, and Brian Eno, I’m in that space right now.
We ask everyone these questions, but where do you like to go to brunch in LA? And we know you work at a restaurant, so it can be that, or it can be something else...
D: Trails Cafe, I’m giving them the plug here, haha it’s probably the best cafe in the world. We sell scones, cookies, freshly baked every day.
Bloody marys or mimosas?
D: Mimosa, I never liked bloody marys, I don’t know why. I know that’s a very controversial statement, but it’s just a preference. A preference which will probably change, like most things… but I don’t drink booze, so it’d have to be a virgin, haha.
So just like, tomato juice, haha.
D: Sounds gross, haha maybe that’s why I don’t like it.