FOONYAP - Yes/No
After 10 years of running the Edinburgh label as a space for outsider folk and beyond, in September 2018 the founder of Song, by Toad Records Matthew Young decided to step back from his creation. The label was given an emotional send-off last October at a 10th anniversary gig in Leith Depot – a bittersweet full-circle celebration as the venue hosted Song, by Toad's launch gig back in 2008.
But before Young ended Song, By Toad, work was already underway on Vol 7 of its Split 12” series, with sessions recorded at the label’s DIY studio and live space The Happiness Hotel. Thankfully Young and the artists persisted with the project, and the swansong album is a fitting final chapter in the Song, By Toad legacy.
With a back catalogue of over 70 releases, the label has been a home to left-field singer-songwriters and electronic explorations, from Americana and alt-folk, to psych-infused indie — always with no concessions to the mainstream. As Young says: “These records aren’t going to make anyone rich so it really only makes sense to do it if you think it’s fun.”
Artists in the Song, by Toad circle include Siobhan Wilson, Meursault, Modern Studies and David Thomas Broughton, and the previous Split 12” release featured underground Americana great Micah P Hinson and the final recording of Willard Grant Conspiracy, before the death of Robert Fisher in 2017.
Vol 7 didn’t start as an all-Canadian project, but the first three acts who recorded were from Canada, and after the fourth act dropped out, Young realised there was only one way to tie it up. “It made beautiful sense when I found another Canadian act who I thought would fit perfectly on the record,” he says.
There’s another beautiful sense of coming full circle with this album, as Young is half-Canadian, even if he counters: “You’d never know it to hear me speak.”
He adds: “My Dad was born and raised in Montreal, so making an all-Canadian Split 12” just seemed too appealing to shy away from. When I was a kid we’d go and visit the Canadian side of the family, and my Dad and I would always go into a music shop to buy something new for the inevitably epic long-distance drives.
“I remember being fascinated that Canadian releases had a wee red maple leaf sticker in the top corner so you’d know they were local. The idea of having a release of our own with that wee maple leaf in the corner is really nice to think about.”
FOONYAP’s spectral mix of Asian folk and electronica has drawn comparisons with Björk, Braids, and Lhasa, with her experiments in looping violin, mandolin and voice complementing her classical training. She says this album opened up a new pathway to collaboration and improvisation.
“I'm a meticulous songwriter that can be paralysed by self-doubt,” FOONYAP says of her part in the project. “When Song, by Toad approached me with an ethos of 'simple' and 'quick', I knew I had to try something new. Upon meeting a beautiful stranger, I scrawled my songs and jetted to Edinburgh where they were recorded in one dusk.”
LT Leif was also enchanted by her visit to record at the Happiness Hotel, aka Toad Manor, finding a ready-made band to improvise and collaborate with. Leif’s lo-fi drones, woodland psychedelia and shape-shifting outsider folk songs are subject to wafting left turns, so she welcomed the extra hands. In her music she channels the sound of the Canadian prairie coated in flecks of Iceland and Finland, where she now lives, and a hint of Edinburgh also seeped in for this release.
“When I got to Scotland, the sun was out and the yard was full of flowers,” she recalls. “Matthew had a last-minute urgent mission so he left me the keys to Toad Manor, along with some new friends. The new friends played keys and nice strings and we sang together in a room with dusty windows and a red rug. Edinburgh seems cool, right? I was ready to move there and be friends with these people for real.”
Edinburgh flows freely through the music of Woodpigeon, aka Mark Andrew Hamilton, as he began playing music while broke and living in the Scottish capital in 2005 after a pal gifted him a stolen guitar. He smashed that guitar on an Edinburgh street during his first band’s only performance, but since then he’s kept his instruments intact, over five albums of intricate, widescreen folk, chamber pop and gentle psychedelia with a revolving cast of musicians, and his ongoing side-project Frontperson with New Pornographers’ Kathryn Calder.
“Recording in the Toad garage was an exciting, fast-paced way of working that as someone who’s always very controlled in what I put to tape, was quite new for me,” Hamilton says. “The chance to share some wax with these extremely talented women whose work I’ve also always loved (and with whom I’ve worked with often) is a total thrill too.”
Matthew Young admits that it was tough to get Dana Gavanski over to the the UK to record after she agreed to be the fourth artist on the album, but the “logistical nightmare” soon evaporated when she laid her tracks down, “as the record hangs together beautifully with those four artists”.
Gavanski is in the middle of recording her debut album, due this autumn, with the full-length promising contemplative, wispy folk, as heard on her serene new single ‘One By One’, which gets a full release on April 26.
Dana says of completing the final Song, By Toad release: “Working with Matthew Young was a divine pleasure. When he contacted me to be on this record collab, I was so excited to be featured alongside Mark, Foon and Laura! And I feel the songs all work really well together, especially in the raw way in which they are recorded."
This inclusive and open atmosphere surrounding the final Song, By Toad release is shared by Young, even if in the past he has maintained that the label has been fuelled by “an unhealthy supply of jaded, bitter sarcasm”.
“It looks now like this might well be the last ever release on the label and if so it is a fitting one, and a beautiful album,” he says.
“And if it is then I really have nothing left to say, beyond a massive, sincere and slightly tearful thank you to everyone who has ever been a part of this. It has meant the world to me. I’m sure I’ll see you at a gig somewhere soon enough.”