Shiny Toy Guns interview

Carah, Chad, Jeremy and Mikey are one of LA’s brightest young bands on the scene and are set to storm the UK after a massive success in the USA. They’re already working with major label Mercury and playing a gig with The Cure to an audience of 40,000 people. Writer Charlie Barker chats to bass and keyboards player, Jeremy Dawson about his songwriting, working hard, having fun and what’s in store for the future.

Where did the name Shiny Toy Guns come from?
The name is in the lyrics of one of our songs, called When They Came For Us. The name is a synopsis of what the song is written about. You take a person, someone who is innocent or childlike and they’re led into doing something and being misled. You can bring that to a form of government, religion, military or even a corporate job. They’re told to complete a task and they do it thinking it’s going to be good but they’re completely oblivious to the fact that they hurt someone or even themselves the whole time. So it’s something that appears to be cool but actually it’s dangerous, it’s a weapon hence Shiny Toy Guns.

Who’s the main songwriting force in the band or do you write as a collective?
We perform as a collective in the original songs themselves and they’ve morphed into what they are in performance. Initially Chad, the guitar player and I have written most of the songs and lyrics.

How did you make the progression to major label Mercury?
We never had an indie label, we did everything ourselves. We went straight from a one tier system of having a small team around us like publishers and managers and went straight from that into Mercury over here. We already had a massive digital networking strategy, a marketing concept, an art direction, a sound and a tour. The only thing we didn’t have was modern media relationships, which is not something you can obtain by being a good band or a hard working one. That’s where being with the record company is smart because the guy who is in radio has known the guy at the BBC for years. He can take a band and spread the word and if the industry gets excited enough they’ll play it. If I were to walk up to Radio 1 and hand them a demo it would go in the trashcan, I wouldn’t even get past security. I could mail it, along with thousands of other bands who do the same thing.

The first year or two that you tour, you don’t make any money and you go into the red by thousands of dollars. We’re not capable credit wise or buddy wise to borrow that kind of money. The main focus of the record company is that they are a bank that can allow you to have the resources to travel and reach people that you personally couldn’t afford to.

Your music combines a varied element rock, electronica and pop. Do you class the band under a specific genre?
A definition that we’ve grown accustomed to using is Future Forward Rock because we’re the result of one side being bass, drums, guitar and microphone and other side it’s 2007 and there is a modern day feeling. Look what we’re doing an interview on [points to mp3 recorder] it’s an extraordinary piece of equipment. So taking that into account we choose to take that approach with music. We use technology, synthesis, drum machines computer generated sounds and software. That whole world that doesn’t necessarily mean techno or club music it’s just technology. That’s the filter that the basic songwriting comes through. The songs are still written like everyone else with a notepad, pen, acoustic guitar, piano or cheesy keyboard sound. That’s how we get the sound, that’s the methodology.

Who are your main musical influences?
The core influences of the band is the stuff we were listening to on our iPods now. An influential part of the songwriting would simply be the music we used to listen to. At home we had our small music collections and we’d go to shows and clubs. I like bands like Charlatans, James, Blur, Jesus Jones and Queens of the Stone Age. That’s the age when we were really young in the 90s. Chad was really into Pink Floyd early on and we both were very obsessed with that band for a while. There’s not really a band that we’re huge fans of or a band that inspired us to start a band. We always listened to music. It wasn’t like I was a plumber and then I heard Radiohead and I picked guitar up. We just used to listen to whatever we had.

Are you fans of any British bands?
Oh god yeah! I’m listening to a lot of unreleased music right now. My favourite song right now is a song called Kelly by this band called Banshee. It’s a brand new band with some of the people who worked on the Klaxons record, they put a little demo project together. I’m really feeling some of the Kooks stuff right now. The new Snow Patrol is brilliant. The new Muse album is unbelievable. I’m really excited about what Coldplay are doing; they’re in the studio with Brian Eno. I don’t know what that’s going to sound like but I’m very curious.

How important has the Internet been to the band promoting your music and building a fan base?
The most important thing is we use the Internet to be a social networking palate to make us available, to see us and hear us. Most importantly you talk to the Internet and it talks back. That’s how we use MySpace differently, because everyone’s got a MySpace especially bands. They upload their pictures and videos and that’s cool, then they just sit there and leave it alone and let people go there and find out. We make sure that all of fans questions are answered because the people reaching out are the reason why we’re here. You can’t be a successful band without fans. You can’t live without water, so why would we not write back? Why doesn’t everyone do that? We don’t tend to worry about what everyone else is doing we choose to honour that and try to uphold our part of the relationship. Just like the fans expect when we’re on a world tour, we come to their town they’re expecting a good show, to meet the band and get a t-shirt. They pay money for it and it’s a relationship like a marriage.

How long will you be in the UK?
We go home on the 22nd March for a quick gig with The Cure in Miami. There are 40,000 tickets and we’re way past the halfway point in advance sales already. Then we turn around and come back here. Then we go to Germany with The Sounds and join them in Scandinavia, their home. Then we come back to England to do a small tour. We’re going to Manchester, London, up to Glasgow and then back home for a break.

What do you plan to get up to when you’re back home?
I think everyone’s dreaming about what they’re going to do on their break. They’ll be a lot of sitting! Something that Chad and I actually used to do a while ago… where we live there’s a place called Tornado Alley where catastrophic storms brew up in the sky over the Great Plains. We have this van loaded with computers, barometers, wind gauges and satellite dishes. We drive and literally chase these 2 mile wide tornadoes that tear 40 foot ditches in the ground and throw cows in the air. We’re right behind with video cameras filming and photographing it. It’s very dangerous, but if you know what you’re doing there’s a certain part of the storm where you can see everything and it’s not even raining on you. That’s where you’re safe. But it’s up to you how close you get because it can shift at any moment. It’s like the thrill of skydiving times by 10!

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