LOVE’S SHADOW is the debut solo album from TOBY MARTIN. Over the course of 10 years and four albums in rock band YOUTH GROUP, the singer and songwriter sometimes experimented with what might be termed ‘character’ songs: the interior thoughts of impressionistically-sketched protagonists. Toby’s first solo outing … read more »

LOVE’S SHADOW is the debut solo album from TOBY MARTIN. Over the course of 10 years and four albums in rock band YOUTH GROUP, the singer and songwriter sometimes experimented with what might be termed ‘character’ songs: the interior thoughts of impressionistically-sketched protagonists.

Toby’s first solo outing provided an opportunity to foreground this aspect of his writing. The songs on LOVE’S SHADOW were written in various rooms in Sydney and New York and are imbued with a sense of place. The Gold Coast, Kings Cross, motel rooms, bedrooms, under Moreton Bay Figs, the view through apartment windows, airports, harbours at night. The characters that inhabit these places are invariably lost and lonely – wounded by love, but, despite their better judgement, romantics.

These intimate stories were given grandeur and dignity through the album’s production and arrangements. LOVE’S SHADOW was co-produced and engineered by Toby’s long-time friend, YOUTH GROUP collaborator and musical genie Tim Kevin, who also did many of the string arrangements that lift the songs. Sparse use of drums, piano, acoustic guitar and double bass flesh out the stories and the result is melancholy, sometimes sinister, sometimes darkly humorous, but never depressing.

“The two of us, Tim Kevin and I, talked a lot before and while making the record,” says Toby. “We got excited by Randy Newman, Scott Walker, Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’, Bill Callahan, Todd Rungren, John Lennon’s solo albums, Go-Between’s ’16 Lovers Lane’, ‘Gershwin’ chords, the idea of the 1970s, Helen Garner, Lorrie Moore and Frank O’Hara. We talked in paradoxes: Human, yet unsettling. Romantic, yet arch. Funky, in a good way.

“I was keen to make a record unlike Youth Group. While in some ways we couldn’t control the result (and of course there are lots of elements that are similar to Youth Group records) we could control the process and we deliberately set out working in ways that I hadn’t before. Rather than record the songs live-ish with a band, or build them up from rhythm tracks, we recorded acoustic guide versions of the songs and then built parts around them. The skeleton was made invisible once the flesh and skin had grown. (Sometimes it pops out, breaking through the skin.) There were only two short afternoon rehearsals. We wanted to come up with the parts in the studio.”

Drums and percussion were recorded at Jim Moginie’s wood-panelled studio in Sydney’s northern beaches while quieter parts were recorded in two tiny, veneered office cubicles in Marrickville.

“Jim’s studio is a room within a room,” explains Toby. “From the outside it is a tin shed in an industrial estate, but he has made a wooden box inside this tin shed. The box is made of found and scavenged cast-offs from demolished buildings: the walls from a church, the floorboards from a pub, the cornices from a theatre. It is a room which resonates.”

Once the songs had shape, Toby called in some special guests to add colour: Bree Van Reyk (of Holly Throsby’s band and Synergy) on drums, Amanda Brown (of Go-Betweens and Cleopatra Wong) on violin and oboe, Sarah Kelly (of theredsunband) on backing vocals, Matt Steffen (of Decoder Ring) on double bass and Cameron Emerson-Elliott (of Youth Group and Community Radio) on guitar.

Since YOUTH GROUP played their last show in Brooklyn in 2009, Toby has played a handful of solo shows – a residency at Sydney’s Low Bar and New York’s The Living Room and as opener for Seeker Lover Keeper. These gigs have been places to try out these new songs in solo, bare bones style. LOVE’S SHADOW is the result of several years of songwriting, recording and travel. It is a fresh start for Toby, a new place, but also draws on the confidence of several years playing music.