Thursday, March 15, 2007

Tough & Lovely! Andrew Robertson! Interview!

Lara & Andy of the Tough & Lovely photo: Rochelle Beres

By:Rich Tupica

Andy Robertson of The Tough & Lovely just wasn't made for these times. His songwriting is brilliant, authentic and stays true to a style of music that most kids don’t care about anymore, good music. Robertson may be influenced by 50s and 60s soul and rock, but that should not deter you from recognizing the craft and catchiness that he puts into the songs he pens for his band. Their debut album “Born of the Stars” is filled with melodramatic tunes, which I appreciate. It's nice to hear a record that can paint a picture of heart break, a style that has all but vanished from popular music today. Robertson’s songwriting is topped-off nicely with Lara Yazvac, a talented lead singer who knows how to put on a show. Brett Ruland, owner of Spoonful Records released their debut 7-inch single and full length album, soon he'll release their second album. “Every song they play is different from the next. Not just the tempo or volume, but rather the beats, rhythms, and arrangements,” said Ruland. “Lara's voice can go from a whisper to a scream and do it in a dozen different ways that never get old or boring,” said Ruland. Robertson also recently had one of his original tunes recorded by Mary Weiss of The Shangri-Las, not a bad seal of approval if you ask me.

I hear The Tough & Lovely are about 3/4 of the way done with a new LP! How long have you guys been working on this record?
"All the songs are recorded and most are mixed. I just have three more songs to mix so with mastering and cover art and those kinds of finishing touches still to go, I am hoping to have the record out by June or July 2007. We started recording spring of 2006, but then extensive touring and a much needed hiatus put our recording on hold for a bit.”

Where did you guys record this new album?
"With this album, the entire recording was done here in Columbus with some local friends. We’ve had some line-up shuffles this year and that makes it a bit more difficult to get everyone who is involved to travel out of town for recording like we have often done in the past. The various member changes, however, proved to be a blessing in disguise since it made available a nice variety of musicians to invite into the recording process and perform various parts that best fit each song with each musician’s abilities and styles. We are definitely looking forward to the album being in our hands, and I can’t wait to continue moving forward with newer songs.”

All of the songs on your first LP "Born of the Stars" are original tunes, is it the same deal with the new one?
“The new album will be all originals too. When I first started the band back in 2002, it was primarily because I wanted to have an outlet for the type of songs I’d been writing that did not match the style of my previous band that I was in. I started out with the desire to have a dynamic featured vocalist who could take a good song and make it even better, and I certainly found that with Lara. This album will feature a couple co-written numbers, and once again there are no covers.”

Preach it! Lara & Andy on stage photo: Jay Brown

What is the song-writing process within The Tough & Lovely?
“With the song-writing process, I am the starting point, either on the guitar or bass. Sometimes I’ll present my new songs first to our drummer Chris in order to arrange the beat and the structure that I am looking for before I put all the finishing touches on it. Often I’ll bring the songs to the band with all the arrangements and lyrics ready to go. Other times I may present the basic chords and ideas and then look to the band to lay their parts over them to see what happens.”

Geraldo? Nope, it's Andy! photo: Ezra Thobabben

You guys have some old R&B influences, is there an era that you dig the most?
“The 50s and 60s are my favorite decades. I am an avid record collector, especially of 45s, and I do love old 50s R&B, rock-a-billy and country. The Everly Brothers are one of my absolute favorites, and they have a solid stretch of recordings from the late 50s to the early 70s, there is so much great stuff out there. Even in our region alone with record labels such as Cincinnati’s King Records and Detroit’s Fortune Records and those are just the tip of the iceberg. 60s garage, psyche, pop, bubblegum, soul, British, Dutch Beat- all those genres are at the top of my list. There are endless amounts of records out there to be rediscovered from those eras.”

Flat, Black & Circular! I bet that record doesn't suck

Do those old records influence your songwriting?
“I’m certain that a lot of what I do come across has a tremendous influence on my song writing. I can’t speak for other members’ tastes, but I know that Chris and Lara like a lot of older stuff as well. I know Chris has been big into The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers lately, all great stuff."

Backing up a little bit, when did you start playing guitar, and when did you start writing songs?
“I started playing guitar when I was 19, and I didn’t really start writing until I was 23 years-old. That was with my first and only other band, Them Wranch. That band was more straight-ahead rock-n-roll and a bit more high energy. The drummer and I shared the singing duties, and while I wrote most of my own songs, many others songs were co-written and worked out more spontaneously. Our music was a bit different from The Tough and Lovely, but not off the map. Towards the end of Them Wranch I found myself writing more melodic and pop based songs that didn’t really work with that band, or with my voice for that matter. And being a huge fan of artists like the Shocking Blue, The Shangri-Las, Evie Sands, Irma Thomas and other 60s girl groups, my newer songs were beginning to reflect those influences, becoming geared more towards a female lead vocalist and someone who would sing without any distraction of playing an instrument. I became very excited about stepping back from lead singing and putting more of my focus into song writing.”

What town were you born & raised in? And what was it like?
“I was born and raised just outside of Swanton, Ohio. It's a small railroad town just west of Toledo. There really wasn't much to do except stuff like exploring the woods behind my house, riding bikes into town to throw rocks at trains. Swimming at our neighbor’s pond, I guess that's normal stuff kids do in the country. I had some good friends and I'm the youngest of five siblings, so there was always stuff do. I commuted to Toledo for high school and work, so I didn't hang out much in my town in my teens like everyone else. I was an outsider there because of this, and I was an outsider in high school because I was a kid from the boonies. It kind of sucked really, boo-hoo for me. Needless to say, I really wanted out of the Toledo area by the time I went to college.”

Debut 7" on Spoonful Records

How is it living in Columbus, Ohio?
"Cheap. Ohio is cheap. That fact alone can make it hard to move to cities with higher costs of living. But I love Ohio. And I like Columbus’ proximity to other cities. Cleveland, Cincinnati, Athens, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Akron, Ann Arbor are all just one to three-hours away and Chicago, Memphis, NYC, Atlanta are all within a days drive. It makes for good regional touring. When I was 18 I moved to Columbus from Toledo to go to college. Really colleges are the reason a lot of people end up in Columbus. It’s an easy town to live in. There are some cool record stores, venues, and a lot of friendly people.”

Enthused! Tough & Lovely photo:Brett Ruland

What are some other great bands in Ohio that you think everyone should hear?
“Columbus has a fairly fragmented music scene now, but there are a lot of bands here. A newer band called Magic City has been sounding good, they have a female singer/guitarist with a really nice, warm voice. And for me, good vocals are hard to come by anymore. Just southeast of Columbus is Athens, Ohio, a cool little college town with some really great rock and roll outfits. We always like playing with The Dropdead Sons, Dragline Brothers, and Wheels on Fire.”

What is the most interesting or crazy experience you have had while on tour with your band?
“We like human pyramids. Are those mildly crazy?"

A few too many? It's T&L human pyramid time!

How did the Tough & Lovely come together as a band?
"In late 2001 my old band began to wind down and I was looking to start a new project. I had in mind some musicians here and there from around town, and I was playing with various people every now and then just to get things going. I still didn’t have a clue as to who I could get for a singer, but I was frequenting some karaoke nights and continually asking around and mentioning to friends and acquaintances what I was looking for. I was almost to the point of trying out various girls who were interested in singing, Lara being one of them, when I was fortunate enough to catch her a couple times at some karaoke nights. Lara and I had known each other for some time and I always thought she had a decent voice, but then I saw her karaoke one night at a local rock club and I almost fell off my barstool. I remember she did Sweet’s 'Ballroom Blitz' and she laid it down! It didn’t hurt that song starts with ‘ready…Andy?’ I was sold. After that the musicians for the band started falling into place.”

Lara Yazvac rules! photo:bulletmedia

Since then the band has experienced a few line up changes, can you recall the history?
"First came our original bass player Carol Schumacher and one of my previous band mates agreed to fill in on drums until we found the proper drummer. That turned out to be Chris who I’d wanted to play with since the first time I saw him play a couple years before and, fortunately for us, he became available when he had a falling out with the band he was with at the time. Once Chris joined, we had the core line-up. Mark Sims, our first organ and additional guitarist, came almost a year later. He actually joined to fill in for Carol on bass after she had broken her leg one night after a gig. Once she was better Mark jumped over to organ and guitar and by summer 2003 the full line-up was complete. In the summer of 2005 Mark and Carol both left the band during a couple month hiatus. Mark has married and is raising a child, and Carol went on to join the Reigning Sound. Since then we have had those positions change a bit, though Mark will appear on most of our new album. Considering everyone who has been in and out of, and sometimes back in the band, we have been graced with some extraordinarily talented people.”

Andy in a Psychedelic-Freak out! photo: dotdashnyc

When you go to a record store to look for some vinyl, what are you usually digging for?
"Anymore I am mostly digging through 45s randomly looking for anything good. I still have specific records I want to find, but most of the time I am just kind of digging and hunting for striking titles, labels and band names. As I said before, I love old R&B, garage, soul, country and so on. Occasionally, I might get on-line to see if I can find some affordable deals overseas. There is so much amazing foreign stuff that just doesn’t turn up over here.”

Under the lights, Lara & Andy

Reviews are always comparing The Tough & Lovely to various great old bands and artists. Do you feel that some writers are quick to compare you guys to 'any old group' without noting what sets you apart?
“I think that will always be something a lot writers do no matter who they are writing about. I think most critics will use older bands or genres to describe a new band’s sound, and they may not know enough about the older music they are referencing to to explain why they are making that comparison and so they don’t go into detail. For me, the word 'garage' is a great example. Since the rise of The White Stripes and Little Stephen’s Underground Garage everybody uses ‘garage rock’ to describe all kinds of bands, and considering the sound of the original genre that ‘garage’ used to describe, it is almost never accurate anymore. In fact, for the most part the word has taken on a different meaning then it once had up to six or seven years ago. Occasionally a music critic will give a review that not only compares, but also explains and contrasts very knowledgeably. All this doesn’t surprise me though, because like any trade or talent there are usually far more people who are o.k. at what they do then there are people who are truly great at it.”

Tambourines rule! T&L being loud photo:dotdashnyc

On the first LP, there are a lot of the heart-breaker type songs. Will the new one show a happier side of The Tough & Lovely? And can you describe the sound of the new material?
“Oh man, I think the new album probably has even more heartaches and troubles! This newer material is a natural progression from the first album in the fact that it definitely stands on its own, but it is by no means worlds apart. I feel the songs on this album show more variety than 'Born of the Stars', but I guess that is what one might expect from a band’s sophomore effort. The production on this record isn’t as rough around the edges as our first album, and I didn’t want it to be. That’s not to say that the recordings are ‘slick,’ but more that each song was honed a little more to fit its specific vibe. I am very excited about this album and I hope our fans will be too. Lord knows it’s been a long time coming!”

"Born of the Stars" Debut Full-Length on Spoonful Records

What was the first band that really got you into loving music?
"I've loved music since I can remember. I wish I could say it was some band like The Ramones or The Beatles, but my mom tells me that as a baby I would flip whenever I heard John Denver. A big factor I am certain was a carrying case of beat up 45s that had been handed down from sibling to sibling until it was my turn to scratch them up more. We had an old portable record player that I would use to play radio station DJ. Most of the 45s were crap, but I do remember there were a couple gems, my favorites being The Zombies ‘She's Not There/You Make Feel So Good’ and Georgie Fame's ‘Yeh Yeh.’ Even as a kid that stuff just sounded so cool."

Would you ever do a solo record?
“I'm not sure. I am really self-conscious about my voice. I think I could be persuaded to do a solo record someday if someone really wanted me to do one and was willing to release it. But honestly I feel way more comfortable letting others sing my songs. I really love the 'behind-the-scenes' song writing that people like Felice & Boudleaux Bryant, Jackie DeShannon, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Goffin-King did. I believe all these people released there own solo work at some point, but I by no means have the voice and talents of these legends. At this point in my life, I think I can say that I would be content even if I never released a solo record. Who knows how I'll feel in a couple years.”

Andy & Greg Cartwright at the Mary Weiss show

How did you get involved with contributing a song to the new Mary Weiss album? And did you write that song with her in mind, or did you already have that one arranged?
"Greg Cartwright asked me to contribute to the project. He, along with Billy and Miriam from Norton Records, were looking to accumulate some demos for Mary to comb through, aside from Greg's own originals. I think I sent four songs originally. Two were written for Mary specifically and one I'd had already and one was a Tough & Lovely song yet to be recorded. She ended up choosing one of the ones I'd written for her specifically called ‘I Just Missed You.’ They eventually recorded it and to my overwhelming pleasure it made the final cut. I am very grateful to Mary, Greg, and Norton for the opportunity."

What is the best and worst part of being in a touring band?
“For me the best part is getting out of your own daily routine to play music every night and see all the great geography, cities and people across the country. And record shopping in other cities is always great. The worst part is gas prices, being gone for so long, and usually being broke when you come home. Also, five people crammed into a stuffy van for a month can be taxing. I still love touring though, but it can be hard to find five people who all feel the same way when there isn't a bunch of money to go round.”

Travelin' band! Tough & Lovely kickin' it photo: Brett Ruland

(NEW! Tough & Lovely LP in June/July '07)

Tough & Lovely on Myspace


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