Influx of a new music: Interview with a dream pop band Tolstoys
Interviewed by Viktor Czerny
The band, Tolstoys, originally from Bratislava, released their successful debut album, Botanika, in 2017. The album mainly consists of calm, dream pop filled with piano-based sounds, the unmistakable vocals of lead singer, Ela, but also violin and double bass. Tolstoys, however, aren’t shying away from harder sounds either, which is clear in their single “Diamond Coat”. A year after the release of their debut album, Tolstoys have also released a catchy tune ”Olivy” in 2018, which serves more as a homage to their debut album, rather than moving the band’s sound into uncharted territories, as is the case with this year’s singles. So far two have been released, and their sound shift foreshadows the new album that’s on its way. The first single, accompanied by a music video, was released in May 2021, and now we can look forward to an influx of new music, which will be released gradually throughout the year.
Hi, for those who don’t know you, could you say a few words to introduce yourself?
We are a dream pop band; there’s 6 of us now, and currently we are working on our second studio album, which we’ve recorded throughout last summer partly in Berlin and partly in a cottage, in Vysna Boca, with our Berlin-based producer, who swore that he’d buy a cottage himself there and become the local wizard.
It’s been more than three years since the release of your debut album, Botanika - how do you look back on that time? How was the recording process?
The first album was one big spontaneous experiment. As a sixteen year old I started writing songs in my room, I started a band and it somehow magically worked. The first album was recorded in a semi-professional studio at our friend Rob’s, where we spent one whole summer. At the time, it felt like a never ending story and maybe that’s why, as soon as we finished the album, we immediately wanted to release it. We were lucky to be signed with the biggest alternative sound label in Slovakia, Slnko Records. What followed were two years of touring around Slovakia, Czechia and elsewhere. That time of our lives was very unexpected and full of surprising experiences, which we weren’t able to fully comprehend as everything was happening so fast. We had no clue how show business and the music industry worked, we just jumped into it.
photography JOHANA KASALICKÁ talents ELA TOLSTOVÁ, MICHAL SMETANA from TOLSTOYS
How was the recording process of the first album different to what you are working on now?
The main difference is the fact that we collaborate together more, and we make more preparations before recording. Songs in the first album were produced more spontaneously when I was hit with a surge of inspiration. The rest of the arrangements followed throughout the recording process. Now it’s the complete opposite. We created more time for songwriting. There was a time when we would wake up in the morning, and try to write until the very end of the day. Songwriting is now mostly left to me and Miša, and the music is made together with the whole band and producer. This way not everything that we write (luckily :D), goes into the album - we create more and then we select.
Your new record is made in collaboration with the Berlin-based producer Drew Deal from the band People Club - how did this collaboration come about, and what exactly does it involve?
The collaboration with Drew came very unexpectedly. Our friends’ band, Darjeeling, from Berlin, whom I’ve met unexpectedly at a festival, recommended him to us. Drew is the biggest sweetheart and he brings a lot to the new album. In fact, he was working on it with us from the very beginning to the end. He was there with us through every phase of the process - from songwriting to mastering. For a few months, it was as if he became another member of the band, and a mentor, who knew about the entirety of the project - and was able to resolve certain questions much faster than us ourselves.
The first single from the album, Describe My Name, was recently released along with a lo-fi wedding music video and a collection of rings. The single sounds very different from the songs on your debut album. Could you talk briefly about the shift in the band's sound, and what led to it?
Throughout the three years we moved from a northern, melancholic dream pop to a much more colourful, vivid sound. Botany was based primarily on my voice, or piano and violin tunes. The new album forefronts the sounds of other instruments as well; fretless bass guitar or many retro casio synths.
The first album consisted of some songs in English, some in Slovak. What language will the second album be written in?
The second album is mostly in English, but there are also two songs in Slovak. When composing, we never focus on what language the song will eventually be in. It’s more of a coincidence that unravels naturally.
Your latest single, “Describe My Name”, was accompanied by a music video produced by the Berlin based photographer Thi Thuy Nhi Tran, and a limited collection of custom made rings by London based artist Molly Ashman. During these challenging times, how do you manage to work with such international collaborators? Can we look forward to more?
We love collaborating on projects. It's also one of the main reasons why we have a band. We enjoy experimenting and bringing together different art practices. That's why we decided to work on music videos for the individual songs on the new album with different visual artists, who bring their own vision and can also choose how to process it. We are currently in the preparatory stage of the entire project and, together with the artists, we are putting together the concepts. It's very diverse and so far it looks like each collaboration will be completely different and very unique. We hope that we will be able to shoot the videos in accordance with all the implemented safety measures. The video for Describe My Name was the first clip in the series and was made last year when we finished recording the album in Berlin. On our day off from recording, we ran into a thrift shop, bought wedding outfits, and had a typical tourist tour of the city together, accompanied by our fake wedding. Our friend, Nhi, recorded it all on an old VHS camera, and of course the people around us believed it all completely. It was very spontaneous and ridiculous. The ring collection came about also very spontaneously, but it fit perfectly into the whole wedding concept. Molly and I arranged everything remotely, of course, and she sent us the finished products by post. We are also in the process of preparing other merchandise, which will all be really cool, and everyone will be able to wear it with pride. So follow us!
Was the recording of the new album in any way jeopardised by the restrictions placed due to the coronavirus pandemic?
Luckily we managed to record everything throughout the summer of 2020, and we managed to fit the process in which we had to be physically together into the short timeframe of the lockdown easing.
The album was originally supposed to be released in October last year, but due to the spring restrictions you had to postpone it to this year. Are you able to reveal the new release date?
Yes, the album was originally supposed to come out at the end of last year, but due to the current situation we had to postpone the release several times already. The plan now is to bring out a new single every two months and then the whole album should be released by February 2022. We are hoping this will not be postponed any further, but then again we have thought so a few times already.
Do you listen to any Czech and Slovak artists? If yes, could you name a few?
Yes we do, and we always try to keep track of what’s new on the scene. This year’s discovery is the young Slovak band God and Eve, but we also love Fragility of Context by Oliver Torr or Celibat by Katarzie and Jonatán Pastirčák.
If you were to choose a European or global festival at which you’d like to have a set, which one would it be?
The best festival in the world is Pohoda! (But we also secretly want to play at Iceland Airwaves).
Any message to your fans?
Spread the love, buy more flowers and also music from your fave artists, so that they can keep on making it for you!
See the Czech version of this article together with visual artworks in NOVY ZINE, issue 1.