It’s been three years since My Chemical Romance announced their break-up. Since then Gerard Way has started a Brit-pop inspired solo project, Frank Iero has returned to his punk rock roots and Mikey Way has dabbled in numerous projects. The one member we haven’t heard much from is guitarist Ray Toro; but that’s all about to change.
Despite the occasional demo trickling out over the past several years, it wasn’t until mid-October that we learnt Toro would be releasing his debut album Remember The Laughter in less than a month’s time. Lead single Take The World soon followed, so we decided it was about time to catch up with Toro and find out just what’s in store for us with his new project.
Your debut album Remember The Laughter is released 18th November, what can you tell us about that?
It’s extremely exciting to finally announce it, it’s been something I’ve been working on for three years in change. You spend three whole years creating something and it’s yours and only you have access to it, and now everyone is getting access to it. It’s definitely a great feeling, I’m really excited to see what people think about it.
The record is being billed as a concept album, what’s the story behind that?
The basic concept of it is an older man returning to his childhood home, he then hears a melody coming from the attic. He goes upstairs into the attic and he finds a memory box that he never knew was there, so he starts going through it. He finds these items that spark memories of his, and those memories connect to each song. I came up with that concept because I saw the past three years of my life, and I felt like the record could become a recording of those three years.
I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a songwriter, as a musician, and also as a father. I’ve gone through all of these changes, and the record is sort of a catalogue of that.
Without giving too much away, how does the concept progress through the album?
There’s a little… I guess you would call it connecting tissue that kind of guides the listener through the overall story. I call it a “light concept album” and the reason I do that is because my focus was on the songs first, and making sure each individual song could stand on it’s own.
I always go back to records such as The Wall, and that is conceptually heavy. There’s longer bits of dialogue and narration between the songs. I didn’t necessarily want to go down that route. There are some placeholders, and as the person is going through the box you can imagine him recalling certain sounds and certain smells. I guess the best way to put it is these moments create scenes for the listener.
Both your wife and son play on the record, your son being just 2 years old when it was recorded. How did that come about?
Yeah! [laughs] So I have a small guesthouse on my property and that’s basically my studio… well, I call it my studio, but it’s basically a two-story with really small rooms, but I just happen to jam all my gear in there and have my drums upstairs. It’s not like a full studio.
I’m always next door working a lot and I don’t know, around that age my son just got a real interest in coming over to the studio and checking out what I was doing. He constantly heard music coming from there and he just wanted to see what was going on. He would come in and he’d play around with some of the amps and the other gear I have in the studio, and I would let him play with the lights as well.
One day I was recording the song Lucky Ones, and I knew he had a kids set of percussion. That song is 100% about my family, so I wanted to find a way to involve them. I had my son in the studio with his percussion set, so I just had him hold a shaker and a tambourine and had him play along with the song as best he could. I edited it all together and I think you’ll hear him playing in the chorus.
My family was so integral in the process, in giving me the support I needed, and also giving me something to write about. My songs are very much about me and my life, I have a very tough time conjuring lyrics up out of nowhere. I always feel that everything has to be very in the moment and related to me, those are really the only things I can write about. My family were super important for the record, and I’m glad they could be on it.
So far you’ve released Take The World and Hope For The World. Listening to both them songs and there’s a feeling of hopefulness and positively, is that the vibe you’re going for on this record?
Not every song, but predominantly most of the songs have a sense of hope. Hope For The World is more directly talking about race relations in the world, being US-based that’s what I really take notice of. Then Take The World is really about the youth generation doing things differently to what was done in the past, we don’t have to live with what the past is; I think it’s something really important for the younger generation to realise. They have this great power to change things if they want it and if they take it.
The sense of hope is one of the main themes of the record. I want to leave my son with a sense of hope about the world. He has the ability to affect people in a positive way and affect the world in positive change. I feel a lot of the songs are definitely connected to that idea of hope.
Obviously before this you were in My Chemical Romance, who at their peak were one of the biggest bands in rock music. Do you feel any pressure to deliver on this record given your success with MCR?
I wouldn’t want to speak for the other guys, but if there’s any pressure, it’s the pressure we put on ourselves to perform and deliver the best that we know we can. Expectations wise, My Chem was a very unique and special thing, that’s something I know that we can’t recapture, there’s no point in trying to. That’s why you see each of our individual projects becoming very different things to what My Chem did as a band. It’s a way for each individual to further explore their artistic side, or make whatever record they want to make. It’s a real opportunity to branch out with no expectations and no worry, it’s just each of us exploring our own creativity. I definitely don’t try to think about that.
I think as soon as any musician starts thinking about what music they should be making and what expectations might be, then that’s going to be negative to the work. The best thing I can do is be as pure to myself as I can, I think that’s what people most like to hear.
You’re originally from New Jersey. New Jersey has a fairly impressive musical history, from Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, to the likes of The Gaslight Anthem and The Bouncing Souls. Has that shaped the record in any way?
If anything Jersey brings a work ethic. The people from New Jersey and the bands that come out of there are extremely hard working. They’ll go to any lengths to play a show, to get their record made, and to get their music out, that’s how a lot of them started. Springsteen, The Gaslight Anthem and The Bouncing Souls all started small and grew from there.
I think it’s the work ethic, and for me having the record made was juggling a lot of hats. I was recording, engineering, mixing, and I guess that’s the Jersey mentality, it’s kind of like the DIY mentality.
People who know you through MCR know you for your guitar playing, but as you mentioned, you pretty much did everything on this record, including the mixing and the engineering. How did you find that?
A lot of fun and extremely challenging in a lot of ways. There was a big learning curve for me, and that’s why some things took a little longer than others. I had to learn a lot on the engineering and mixing side.
I recorded the first initial demos and recordings in the room next door, and as time went by I started to notice the character of the room I was recording in. I started adjusting microphone techniques, the preamps I was using, and a lot of subtle things to help improve the sound.
I got a lot of advice from Doug McKean – he produced Danger Days and The Black Parade. He was integral in helping me figure out the engineering and mixing side of things.
Playing other instruments is something I’ve always loved to do. I used to play drums when I was younger, and then I’ve always wished I could play piano and keyboard, so this was my shot. Nothing’s really complicated or anything, but I do enjoy playing piano.
There’s also a lot of string arrangements on the record, and that’s something I’ve enjoyed since High School. I’ve always enjoyed symphonic work, but in a band like My Chem that isn’t something you can do all that much. I feel like doing the record this way really gave me the chance to push myself in a lot of different directions that I never would have expected to and I like that. I like to feel like I’m kept on my toes and that I’m learning new techniques, it’s what keeps any musician alive. It’s that constant push for what’s next.
My Chemical Romance broke up three years ago. What has kept you interested in music and pushed you to create since then?
It’s just part of who I am. It’s just one of those things where it’s part of my character, whether it’s recording records or not, I’m always creating music in some way. Whether I’m humming melodies throughout the day or playing guitar lines or riffs, it’s just part of who I am. For me, making music helps me process a lot of feelings that I have inside me that I can’t find any other way to get out.
That’s another interesting thing about the record, I found that in order to write good lyrics, I really had to dig deep inside of myself. I found it as a new outlet for me to express some of my feelings. Making music is the best gift I was given, I’m really thankful for it, it’s definitely shaped my life in numerous ways.
Finally, once the record is released, what’s next?
The rest of the year I’ll just be doing promotion, I don’t plan on doing any live shows until next year. Right now I’m hoping to get going during the first half of 2017, then depending on the reception, something later in the year as well.
This year I’ll be doing promotion and then rehearsals, I have to find the right line-up to play these songs live with me, and that’s going to take a little bit of time. I have those things to figure out, then next year I’ll be touring for sure.
Interview by: Daniel Rourke