It was on a whim that I listened to Toehider. A random person on Twitter said their latest record What Kind of Creature Am I? was one of the greatest albums they ever heard, so naturally I had to listen for myself. And I will never look back. After listening to the album, I thought it would be fun to have a chat with the man behind the magic, Mike Mills. A Facebook message later, and here we are. Mike sat down to answer some questions about the recording process, being labelled “prog rock”, crowdfunding, and how he really wants to be a folk singer.
Hey Mike, how are you? I’m actually new to Toehider, and ‘What Kind of Creature Am I?’ was my first experience with the band. From what I’ve read Toehider is classed as prog rock. To be honest, aside from the length of some songs, I feel there is just so much happening in the music to put you in one genre. How would you classify the band?
Hi! I’m great, how are you? To me, “prog rock” kinda means “do-whatever-you-want rock” haha. When you think of how many bands fall under the prog banner, and how different all those bands are…. its probably the most fitting for Toehider. Although I very much want to be a folk singer…
I am very well thanks. I guess you must fit since you’re going to play Progfest – a festival you’ve played several times I believe. Must be a great time since you keep coming back. Are you excited to do it again this year?
Yep, we’ve been doing Progfest I think since the very first year, even going back to when it was a benefit for the ozprog website. Always excited, it’s usually the highlight of the year for me! This year’s lineup is particularly strong too.
It’s great to be that invested in a festival and that it’s always exciting for you. I kind of feel that the album title reflects this notion of not fitting into one genre, by asking the listener to decide for themselves.
Yes very much so. I like the old Beatles and Queen albums, where they jump around from style to style, but they also possess an identity, so that’s an ongoing goal of mine too. People have told me on more than one occasion to “streamline” the sound, but of course that just makes me want to experiment more!
I don’t agree with streamlining. The eclectic nature of the album is what made me love it so much. I say, keep up the experimenting!
Your Bandcamp page says that you did everything. What’s your process? And do the other band members help with the song writing in any way?
I very much enjoy working by myself, I feel much more at ease and can definitely come out of my shell easier. I have an ace bunch of musicians who come out and play the stuff live with me – Amy Campbell on bass guitar, Lachlan Barclay on guitar and Mike Solo on the drums.
That’s fair enough. And it’s great you have an awesome bunch of people to play live with you.
You did something quite interesting by releasing 12 EPs in 12 months. I think it’s important to release music these days in a way different from the normal record release. With the internet and downloading, people tend to need something flashy to really pay attention. Can you talk about the project, and why you chose to release the EPs this way?
A couple of things prompted it. The previous band I was in fell apart, my relationship fell apart, so the song ideas started to pop up. I wanted to get into the recording side of things, the production, it was a perfect practise vehicle to develop and learn about that stuff. Plus I’m a pretty lazy person, so setting up the thing where I HAD to get things finished really helped me. I’d like to do something like that again, but not exactly that format.
It would be interesting to see what you come up with next. Recently I watched the documentary Metal Down Under about the history of metal music in Australia. It raises the point that Australian fans tend to have this idea that international bands are somehow better than Australian bands. Do you feel that this is the case? What struggles, and advantages do you face as an Australian band?
Well that kind of thing happens locally too, we always get a more enthusiastic response playing, say, Sydney than what we do in Melbourne. It’s that sense of foreign-ness that’s exciting, and it’s pretty natural and common I guess. Some problems are that we’re so far away from the rest of the world, and that the main cities are so damn far away from one another. But Australia is one of the best countries in the world to live in…
I never really thought about the interstate thing, makes sense though. What kind of response have you received regarding the new album?
It’s been really good, I think even my brother likes a little bit of it, and he usually dislikes like 90% of what I do. There’s a band I used to listen to when I was a kid called Hoodoo Gurus, and their singer Dave Faulkner sent me a message today saying that he loves Toehider. We’ve been getting a bit of time on radio, it’s all been really cool!
Praise from Dave Faulkner is pretty amazing! How did you feel about using crowdfunding for the album?
I like the idea of crowdfunding; I think it helps bands without the backing of a record deal to be able to go into a studio and record, as well as connecting with the fans. Though, to be honest when big, established bands use the service I find it a little odd. I mean, it’s still a great way to connect with fans, but I feel they don’t quite need it as much. If that makes sense.
The first time I heard about it was this UK band called Marillion. They play a very 80’s style synth-driven prog rock, which was about as unfashionable as it gets by the end of the millenium. So I think they pretty much threw in the towel. Then a group of fans in the USA got together and said “No you guys are actually awesome. We’ll put our wallets together and raise the money up-front to pay for you to come tour here.” It was a way of sidestepping all the crap, and became a direct communication between creator and consumer. And I think that’s the way it should be. It’s the way it always should have been really. I can say that when I back a band and contribute to a band releasing an album or fund a tour etc, it’s so much more engaging, like “aww hell yeah, I’m a part of this, they wouldn’t have been able to do it without me!!” which is also exactly how I feel about the people that contributed to our crowd-funding campaign for this new album.
I do get that. I mean when backing bands I love, I enjoy knowing that I helped, even just a little bit.
One thing I’ve always wondered about musicians in general is what is it like when you hear your music on the radio, or say, coming from someone’s car? Do you ever listen to your own music, or is that odd, like an author reading their own book after it’s been published?
No I don’t enjoy listening to Toehider very much. I’ll sometimes listen critically, try to learn from it, what I’d like to do more of, and what I’d change. I love looking at the artwork, I remember when I opened the CD cover of this new album, and I just stared at it for about an hour thinking about how awesome Andrew Saltmarsh is.
Most of the time I don’t even like reading stuff I’ve written, so if I wrote music, not sure I’d want to hear much of it. Listening to it critically to learn from makes a lot of sense.
One last question for you: If someone who had never heard Toehider before asked you which song they should listen to in order to get the best representation of the band, what would it be?
Still has to be this one – https://toehider.bandcamp.com/track/under-the-mistletoe
Thanks for taking the time to chat. All the best!
Hooray thanks for having me! xoxoxoxox