Published on February 3rd, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
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Best remembered for 1999’s multimillion-selling album Onka’s Big Moka – which spawned top ten hits such as ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ and ‘Achilles Heel’ – Toploader are back with their first dispatch of new material since 2002’s sophomore effort Magic Hotel and a load of live dates to boot.
Rocksucker caught up with guitarist, travel guru and thoroughly bloody nice bloke Dan Hipgrave to discuss the band’s new album Only Human, being subjected to overly harsh press, the rigours of touring, the benefits of festival-going abroad and his steps into entrepreneurialism with his innovative Original Music Travel company…
What brought about the reforming of Toploader after all these years?
I think it just seemed like the right time for us, really. It wasn’t premeditated or because we need the money, we just really fancied making a record and we listened to a couple of new tracks and thought they were good enough. That was the key to it, really. If we’d have reformed with nothing to say and no music then we wouldn’t have bothered as there’d have been no point but we felt like there was a bit of unfinished business, like we hadn’t left the music industry in the way that we’d liked to have left it. Some people were on our back a little bit but that’s just the way it is in this country; when you’re the underdog, people love you but as soon as you’re successful they start hating you. We had a massive success with ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ and lots of people really hated us because they thought we’d only had success with one song but people have to remember that we recorded that song because we liked it, not because we thought it was going to kill everyone’s ears! We’re not Bond baddies. So I think for us to come back and make a new record that we really enjoy and like was really important for us. I think the album’s great and we’re really happy with it.
‘Achilles Heel’ should have been the bigger song anyway.
To be fair, ‘Achilles Heel’ did better chart-wise than ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’. I’ve read journalists calling us “one hit wonders” before but that’s either sloppy journalism or just people being bitchy because we had five top ten singles! ‘Achilles Heel’ got to number 3 in the charts but people still say “they only had one song”. The new album is probably more in keeping with ‘Achilles Heel’ and we were always more comfortable making that kind of music, piano-led indie epics and stuff like that, and that’s probably what the new album sounds like: an extension of ‘Achilles Heel’.
A good mate of mine’s first ever gig was Toploader, some ten years ago now…
I hope we didn’t disappoint him! What was really interesting about our gigs was that we used to get loads of Paul Weller and Ocean Colour Scene fans, lads with mod haircuts and Fred Perry shirts, and the other half of the audience were young kids who liked ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’. You could imagine them all starting to fight each other, like a scene in a West End play, the mods against the kids! I think a lot of the kids came along thinking they were going to see an hour and a half’s worth of pop stuff like ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’, which of course they didn’t get, but we used to hope that it would have set them off to go and listen to some decent music!
There’s a fine lineage of great bands who have one massive but terribly misleading single: The Boo Radleys, The Divine Comedy…even The Beach Boys wound up typecast by their early ‘surfer’ material…
Yeah, exactly. I think when you make music you try not to be too premeditated about it but, unfortunately, record companies can be. We were with Sony and, without wanting to make an excuse, they were very calculated about the way they promoted bands and stuff like that. When you’re 22/23 years old and a bit naïve, you just go along with it. We’re a bit older now, a bit wiser and our label are finding it terribly difficult to control us! We only do what we want to do, all the time.
You’ve spoken before about living the rock star lifestyle ‘back in the day’. Did you take it to excess or was it just par for the course?
It’s such a cliché and almost a really bad thing to say but it is par for the course. It’s just there all the time and, when it got towards the end, I was having to take every third night off; I’d do my utmost to just go back to my hotel room or go back to the bus and stay away from the party because I couldn’t take it. Some people will probably read that and think, “Every third night? Oh, how big of you,” but you have to do something because I think the cycle of being in a band is: bored, hung-over, high, excited…bored, hung-over, high, excited…and it goes on like that. You’re either bored and hung-over or your adrenaline’s high and you’re getting pissed or something like that; it’s never anything in between!I think the glamour isn’t quite there in reality; you get to venues way earlier than you’d ever like to be there, you sound check – which, if you’re on a long tour, takes all of ten minutes – and then you’re sitting around from four in the afternoon until stage time. It’s a long time to hang around and you’re just bored out of your mind, playing the PlayStation while feeling a bit hung-over. So you start having a few beers before the show and, by the time it’s all over, it’s four o’clock in the morning and you’re hammered. But that was then; it’s different now. We don’t approach it quite in that same way. There’s an initial excitement about being in the industry I think but, once you’ve done it for a few years, you get wise to it all, you know? That’s not to say we don’t get hammered every now and again but it is just every now and again these days.
You’ve done some travel writing in recent years. Where are the best places to go for basing a holiday around a festival?
Ah! Well, if you go to www.originalmusictravel.com … (Laughs) I actually have a company that packages music festivals – it’s the first company to have done it in the way that we do it – and it’s great. There’s a growing trend of British people going abroad for festivals for multiple reasons – one being all the rain here. Festival line-ups are pretty much the same from country to country anyway. There’s a great festival in Croatia which is beautiful, easy and cheap to get to, cheap when you’re there and always sunny in July. I think that’s one thing that’s changed incredibly in the music industry over the last ten years; live stuff is now massive and there are hundreds of festivals around.
Is there much scope for enjoying a festival when you’re playing at it?
Definitely. It depends how many you’re doing; if you’re doing a whole series of them then it can start to become hard work, a bit of a busman’s holiday, but it’s good to do the odd one every now and again and a great way to keep up with new and up-and-coming bands without having to make too much effort. If there’s a particular festival that you want to spend a bit more time at then you can work the diaries so you can stay over for a night or two. We used to do that a lot.
Who do you like at the moment, band-wise?
I haven’t had much time to listen to new music lately because we’ve been so busy doing our own! I’m just trying to remember the name of the guy whose stuff I bought of the internet recently…the Scouse guy who was in a band with the Arctic Monkeys guy…
Ah, Miles Kane! Funnily enough, Rocksucker interviewed him last week.
Yeah. Brilliant single. I haven’t heard much else but I love the raw sound of it. He’s got it going on and I can see that sort of music doing quite well. Good video as well, actually.
Finally, bearing in mind that your answer could change all the time, what would you name right this second as your top three albums of all time?
Disintegration by The Cure; it was such a big part of my childhood and I think it formed amusicality in my later years. Some people call it depressing but I’d call it melodic. I’d also have to go with Ten by Pearl Jam because it was so seminal at the time in 1992, when it was so refreshing to hear some rock music after years of synthesiser music. I love that album. I’ll just try and think of a more recent one to bring it up to date. (Pauses) This is a bit of an odd one but I really like Keane’s Under the Iron Sea; it’s a great album, a really solid record. ‘Wall-to-wall’ is what I like to call it; there’s no filler in there. I tried to keep away from the big ones there: I could have gone for Dark Side of the Moon or any one of The Beatles’ albums, probably Revolver for me.