Interview:Toby Macfarlaine moves on from Stone Gods as The Darkness return
By Sam Patrick
(August 4th, 2011)
Rewind to 2006. The high profile UK rock band The Darkness has just been shocked by the news that their flamboyant front man, Justin Hawkins, was leaving the band due to a cocaine addiction and because of the growing tensions between he and his guitarist brother Dan Hawkins. Less than half an hour after receiving the devastating news, Dan Hawkins phoned bassist Richie Edwards (who replaced Frankie Poullain as the bassist in 2005) and basically said “Hey Rich, do you want to form a band and do some singing?”. Edwards had done some vocal work for The Darkness on their world tour by singing the band’s cover of “Highway to Hell” during each set.
The Darkness promo shot in 2006
The next step was to convince Darkness drummer Ed Graham to be a part of the journey, and that was successful. With no intentions of continuing as The Darkness, the boys knew they had to recruit a bassist and start a fresh new band. The man for that job was Toby Macfarlaine, who was working with Graham Coxon at the time and who was also an old friend of Dan’s. At the completion of this process, a heavy, hard-nosed metal called Stone Gods were born. They were immediately heavier and edgier than their previous project The Darkness. Meanwhile, Justin Hawkins had cleaned himself up and got back on his feet by starting his own new band called Hot Leg.
The newly formed Stone Gods receive their first lot of media attention
The band had an interesting journey: they released a classic debut album in July 2008 called “Silver Spoons and Broken Bones” which had four successful singles, played on the main stage at Donington for the Download Festival in 2009, opened for well known rock bands such as Velvet Revolver, Def Leppard, Apocalyptica, Airbourne and Black Stone Cherry and had drummer Ed Graham depart the band in 2008 due to health reasons. He was replaced by Robin Goodridge, the tub thumper of American grunge band Bush. The band were a classic British metal band and were the shining light for a music industry that is dominated by skinny guys with comb-overs pretending to be rockstars.
A promo pic of the band with new drummer Robin Goodridge
They no doubt had the potential and the media loved their work. Classic Rock magazine called Silver Spoons and Broken Bones “One of the finest rock debuts of the millennium so far” whilst UK tabloid The Sun gave the album a four and a half out of five.
Following their March 2009 headlining tour and a very successful main stage performance at the 2009 Download Festival, the band focused on finishing the recording for their highly anticipated second album. Their fans and those that were interested knew that a successful second album could see them sky rocket to fame…but that’s where the journey ended for Stone Gods.
Toby Macfarlaine performing at the 2009 Download Festival
A mixture of no updates from the band and rumours of The Darkness reforming caused the fans to become restless. For some, it was exciting that The Darkness were potentially reforming whilst for others, including myself, it was sad that the chances of a second album release from the Stone Gods were remote.
Soon enough, news started to appear. Bush had announced a reformation of their own that involved the original line-up and in turn Robin Goodridge was no longer focusing on Stone Gods. And then, on the 9th December 2010, Stone Gods bassist Toby Macfarlaine announced the dreaded news on his Twitter that Stone Gods were on hiatus. With news of the Stone Gods being over, the spotlight quickly turned to the potential Darkness reformation, and it was on the 15th March 2011 that the band officially announced their reunion.
Fast forward back to August 2011 and The Darkness are currently writing and recording their third album, as well as rehearsing for a UK tour in November. They were a sub-headliner on the main stage at the 2011 Download Festival. The band includes the original line-up of Justin Hawkins, Dan Hawkins, Frankie Poullain and Ed Graham.
The Darkness, officially reformed and backstage at the 2011 Download Festival
As we know, Robin is currently working with Bush, but what amazes me is how quickly people forget Richie Edwards and Toby Macfarlaine who, for me, were the driving forces of the Stone Gods. I believe Richie has returned to his original work as a guitar technician, whilst Toby has been working with various projects including Boy Cried Wolf, as well as resuming work with long-time friend Graham Coxon.
I was able to snare a short interview with Toby. Throughout his days as a Stone God, I was lucky enough to communicate with Toby quite often, whether it be about the band, my Stone Gods Australian Street Team or him helping me deal with the emotions of losing a somebody close to me. Not to mention the signed set list I received thanks to the wonderful work of fellow diehard fan Jo Cummings. Being an Australian fan of a band that lives halfway across the world isn’t always easy, but a bloke like Toby, as well as the rest of the band, made it easier to deal with. Without their music, I wouldn’t have gotten through a lot of bad times.
I hope you enjoy the interview. Toby and I discuss life as a musician, the breakup of Stone Gods, his musical experiences as a child and his current work with Boy Cried Wolf and Graham Coxon.
Sam: So when did you know that music was going to be your life? Did you start playing from an early age?
Toby: When I was about 15. I’d been playing guitar since I was 7 but I wasn't really any good until I was fifteen. I managed to convince some friends that my songs were good and started a band. We did one gig and suddenly everyone at school knew who I was and groups of girls started looking at me differently and whispering to each other and stuff. Needless to say, I was hooked.
Growing up, who were the bands and artists that you loved listening to? Has it influenced your musical direction?
The first band I really loved was Huey Lewis & The News. My nan bought me their album Fore! for a birthday and I used to skateboard to school with it on my walkman thinking I was Marty McFly (I was about 9). Then I liked Bryan Adams, then Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. I just wanted to hear heavier and heavier stuff. The first time I heard Master Of Puppets by Metallica I was terrifiedbut then it’s all I wanted to listen to. Megadeth were next, still an enduring love. Guns N’ Roses and all that. And then one day I heard a song called Smells Like Teen Spirit. I copied it off the radio and played the tape to all my friends. A week later Nevermind came out and changed the face of the music world and suddenly I was Mr Grunge 1991. I still think that Huey Lewis greatly influences the way I write. Their sense of melody, particularly their middle 8 sections. I was known as The Middle 8 King for a little while. I blame Huey.
As a musician, what are some of the best things and the worst things that are involved in your day to day life ? Is it all gloss and glamour like people say it is?
The most annoying thing about being a “known” musician is that very assumption. People assume you join a band and someone gives you a million quid and a swimming pool. That’s just not the way it is. When we were recording the second Stone Gods record I was living on a friends couch. For a year. Because I could afford to pay rent anywhere. Any money that was made went straight back into the band to repay the touring costs, the merchandise, recording costs etc. None of us made a single penny out of it. There’s nothing worse than wondering how you’re going to buy something to eat and reading people on message boards pissing and moaning about lack of news saying things like, “it’s us who affords them their lavish lifestyle”. Of course, you can’t go on there and say anything, so you just have to swallow it.
You’ve worked with many different bands and artists: Graham Coxon, Thirteen 13, Stone Gods and more recently Boy Cried Wolf to name a few. Which has been the most rewarding experience and why?
I’ve been playing with Graham again recently and honestly, I would have to say that’s very rewarding. He pays me, for a start. Also he’s a bit of a hero. It’s nice when your friends and hero’s are in the same category. Plus, with Gra, I’ve gotten to tour all over the world. Hopefully we’ll be doing it all again next year. He’s got another 2 records to come out, so we’ll see.
Speaking of Stone Gods, it all came crashing to a halt with the reunion of The Darkness. How come the band chose not to officially announce it?
It was an incredibly frustrating time for me. When we finally new that Dan was going to concentrate on The Darkness we were unable to say anything publicly because it would hinder the impact of The Darkness’s reformation announcement, but kind of made us look like pricks in the process. We just had to go silent. It would be nice to eventually release the second SG record eventually but, honestly, at this point I don’t see it happening. You never know, though. Goonies never say die, do they?
Which of the Stone Gods songs was your favourite and why ?
Life On File from album 2 is probably my favourite. Mainly because I wrote pretty much all of the lyrics. It’s kind of about a very public breakdown I chose to put on Facebook/ Twitter. It’s what a lot of people do. And then regret. It’s just how sometimes these days nothing is personal any more. Everything is a shared experience and I don’t know whether or not that’s a good thing. Off the first record, I don’t know. Maybe Burn The Witch as it was the first song we finished properly and kind of became the bench-mark for everything else that followed. Even though it has slightly misogynistic overtones which I struggled with, a bit, at first. But it’s all tongue firmly in cheek and I don’t think anyone thought we were actually advocating the burning of women.
Do you often reflect on how big SG could have been had you kept going and is there any chance of a 2ndalbum release in the future?
Naturally. I really thought album 2 (Nothing’s Sacred) was and IS a great album. We were pushing forward and, in my opinion, really coming into our own, sonically. I think there are at least three massive singles on there. You know. It is what it is. We’ll just have to see what happens with The Darkness and whether there’s any interest generated from that and if, by then, any of us want to do it anymore. We may just stick it out and let it exist on its own. I’ve no idea at the moment.
You’re now with Boy Cried Wolf and you guys released your EP “The Firebrand” last November which is an absolute beauty, How is it all going and what are the plans for the rest of the year?
Boy Cried Wolf is an ongoing thing. We recorded a second EP a while ago, which is being mixed as we speak. We’ve a couple of shows lined up around Halloween. We’ll see what happens. We’re in no rush on that. Wayne’s busy with The Manic Street Preachers for the rest of the year, and it looks as though I’ll be busy with Coxon for a good while too, so we’re just kinda’ fitting it all in around our other projects. It’s cool. No pressure. Plus I’m toying with putting my own band together again. I’ve written a bunch of songs that are QOTSA sort of sleaze-rock and I quite fancy doing the guitar playing/front man thing again.
For those not familiar with Boy Cried Wolf, how would you describe the band and it’s sound?
Well, the first EP was kind of harmony-laden, country tinged, and sound-scapey type stuff. The second EP is slightly more electronic and weird and almost pop. Somehow we’re gonna’ put an album together that blends all that coherently (!)
Your top 3 bands and top 3 songs of all time?
That is WAY too difficult to answer. I love all sorts of stuff and favourite songs change all the time.
Advice for musicians and bands who are trying to make it ?
My main bit of advice would be to avoid following trends. If it’s hip now, you can bet your arse that it won’t be by the time you get your shit together so just do what’s true and honest to you.
Toby performing post- Stone Gods
I was very grateful to Toby for offering his time and insight into a variety of topics. I think I speak for all fans when I say that he is a gentleman who always treated his fans with love and respect. He is the cheeky, unique and friendly bassist who always wore that top hat with the feather and who always managed to make every fan laugh with his humorous Tweets, blogs and forum posts. Toby Macfarlaine, you rock!
Stone Gods: http://www.youtube.com/user/StoneGodsOfficial