Toby Rand of Juke Kartel
On September 28th Juke Kartel dropped their first US release titled Levolution. Don’t know what it means? You shouldn’t …yet. It’s a word the band coined themselves to encompass their years together and their rock and roll pilgrimage from their homes in Australia to their new digs in Los Angeles.
Front man Toby Rand first made his mark in the good ole US of A on a little show called Rockstar SuperNova, vying for a chance to become the lead singer of Tommy Lee’s band. While he didn’t win, It gave him just enough leverage to return to Australia and blow the roof off the place with his own band Juke Kartel. With some success under their belts and a lust for a full on global rock and roll takeover the band uprooted their lives and moved to LaLa Land – a gutsy move that has paid dividends.
Levolution is about as solid a collection of rock tunes that one will find, from the anthemic rocker “Throw It Away” poised for sports stadiums across the nation, to the acoustic, live recorded “Soulshaper” to the beautifully rich and deep layers of “Find Out”. It’s definitely a contender for our top ten list of the year. The album mixes a few of the band’s older tracks with several new songs to give the perfect 1-2-3 lights out punch of rock and roll mastery.
I recently had the chance to chat to Toby about his move to California, the new album, and how it all fell into place, and after an hour of listening to that accent, I might just be in love.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette
I just wanted to congratulate you on your new album Levolution– I’m a big fan and I’ve watched your career develop and I’m really excited for you guys.
Thanks very much Mary, we’re very happy with the album. It’s kind of weird, we’re at this stage where we have the product, we have a music video and we’re just looking for the next direction and it’s going to all come to fruition in the next few weeks. Today we’re shooting the second half of the video for our latest song we recorded “Brightest Star”. We’re working with the Susan G Komen Foundation.
Yes, let’s talk about that song a bit. The song was written for Jason’s mother and has a pretty personal touch to it doesn’t it?
Yes, that’s true. Last year we were playing a show at The Hotel Café here in Hollywood and Jaybro was walking up the street quite distraught. He had just found out that his Mum had cancer. So that was a surreal kind of moment because he doesn’t really know how to deal with feelings. He grew up in South Africa during Apartheid where there was a lot of violence and his feelings are somewhat suppressed so it was all hard for him to deal with. I remember the show we played that night; it was a pretty emotional show for all of us. From there Jay was kind of like out of sight out of mind so I took over the role of being in contact with his Mum because she was worried about him as well. It’s always the drummer that seems to have that kind of torment.
I became really great friends with his Mum and we would chat daily on email and that’s when I decided that I wanted to have some sort of legacy for his mum and write a song about it. I started writing it and it developed over a few months and then a few weeks ago we started collaborating with The Susan G. Komen Foundation and reproducing the song. We re-recorded it and shot a video for the foundation and it’s been really incredible. The song means a lot to us and to have so many people jump on board and be a part of it has been great. We have a production team to help with the video, we got a really cheap rate at the same studio that we did Levolution at and the producer we worked with, his mum died of breast cancer so everyone involved in the project has been touched in some way by cancer. My Auntie is a survivor; she dealt with it by locking herself off from the world and disappear for moths where other women do it differently. Jay’s Mum was very honest so it was really interesting to gather that from her and put it to music and here we are. We’re shooting the second half of the video today, we’re going to one of the rehab facilities here in LA and it’s going to be a pretty emotional day. We’re going to see women who are dealing with the struggles of it.
So they’re a pretty big part of the video?
Yes, we actually had three of them sing on the outro of the chorus in the studio. The women’s voices you hear in the song are some of the survivors and we shot a live performance in the studio where we had 30 women come in with their kids and they are all in the video and that was pretty incredible. It’s something we’re just giving back to on behalf of Jay’s Mum and we’ve adopted that kind of role to give back to the women in our lives. We’ve been nurtured so much from our Mums down to our street team so it’s important to us an it’s something we can do to support the cause.
So let’s talk about Levolution a bit. The album has a handful of songs that were actually on your 2009 Australian release and then several newly recorded songs. What was behind the decision to release those songs again? Did you feel they didn’t really get heard?
We’ve been in America on and off for about four or five years now and we’ve never released anything. I think we released “Throw It Away” as a single but that’s about it. We were never managed right or represented correctly. We worked with a large management company at one point but they didn’t really know how to work with a baby band so we went back to Australia and that’s where we recorded the first album and we took a few tracks from that which we thought would complement the new stuff. Having these 12 tracks for the American release, it’s kind of the culmination of the last three or four years of our lives so we’re pretty happy about that. It’s a good introduction to us as a band and we feel like the whole album is complete. We did some arduous writing late last year and into this year. We spent a lot of time really digging into it and that’s where the word Levolution comes from as well.
Yes, the album title. I know that you made up the word and you’ve described Levolution as “journey of our band together” – is there more you’d like to say about that?
When we fully packed up our belongings last May in 2009 and decided we wouldn’t be going back to Australia unless it was for a holiday, we came over here and we had starts in our eyes and we expected a lot of things but a lot of things didn’t happen. So eventually we met our new management and got rid of our old manager. When our new manager came on born, she was literally putting her dream in front of me. All the little wishes she put out there for our band, we had to evolve and step up to accomplish them. There were no excuses anymore, if you want swim with the big fish you have to perform like big fish. She wanted to aim big and she held us up to that, so that’s sort of what we mean by Levolution. I was just sitting there with the album and a lot of it is about the journey and our move over here and taking risks and living for the moment. The word Levolution just seemed to sum all of that up for us. I wanted to create a new word because I felt like it was a new word for a new world for us because we had literally changed our lives to come here. This place compared to where we came from is a lot different.
“Different” good or “different” bad?
Both! I take the good out of the bad because everything is learning. There’s nothing more beautiful than waking up in LA and being surrounded by so much creativity. Even though there’s a lot of bullshit we know how to sift through it; Australians are really good at deciphering that crap. We keep it pretty real and we don’t really have much time for the bullshit. LA has been good to us, we have great friends, great management, a great label – it’s worked out really well for us.
The album is really quite diverse as far as the different sides of Juke Kartel that you offer up – was it important to you to show everyone the depth of the band and that you can go from a ballad to a ballsy rocker in the blink of an eye?
It actually was. When we recorded the first album we had 30 songs to choose from and we narrowed it down to 12. This time around we wrote 25 songs and selected six of those. When we had all those new tracks our producer asked us what we wanted to get out of it and we told him which tracks were our favorite and he was able to go through them and right away determine which ones sounded too much alike. So that really helped us show some diversity and not show everyone the same songs over and over. We’ve heard bands like that and sometimes it works for them but for us we wanted to show that we can play acoustically as well and break things down like we did on “Soulshaper”.
“Soulshaper” was actually recorded live wasn’t it?
Yes, we jammed it out in different rooms and then we broke it down. It was quite cool because we were all looking at each other and we could feel it. That’s really important to us. With this latest recording we captured more of us in a live perspective rather than cutting and pasting. The album to me has a lot of diversity, it has heavier songs, there are break downs, and some really great moments.
You wrote the song “Road of Glass” literally as an accident happened before your eyes – do you draw a lot of your lyrical inspiration from those kind of experiences?
That was more of a right time right place kind of things. There’s a place I go to in North Hollywood to write that’s my favorite place. I was sitting there with writers block and then all of a sudden that crash happened. It was exactly what I needed that day but generally I take from the emotion is at and relate it to circumstances. Songs like “Anybody Out There” is literally about our move to America. It’s about jumping over the Pacific Ocean to a new land and asking who’s out there and who’s going to be a part of our scene. Who’s going to look after us? What were we escaping back in Melbourne? And the thing we were escaping is that it just wasn’t the right market for us and we feel like America is where it’s at. I’ve taken on the experiences of not only myself but the band. Soulshaper was written about a person who was going through a tough time in her life and found a way to overcome it and find things to be positive about and not reflect on the negativity like she did for so many years. So many people do that. A lot of the theme of the album is to look forward and to not live in the past with any regret. For me the album is an inspirational vibe and then we close it all with a song like “Find Out” where you put everything on the line and you will find out. I wrote that about someone in particular. It was someone who was willing to come along for the ride but not actually put their balls on the line. We just feel that if you put everything out there and are positive, you’ll get it back. 2007 was a shit year for me, the more negative I was about it the more nothing happened. As soon as I shifted my brain out of that train of thought and started thinking more positively things changed and that’s a theme that we wanted to relay on the album.
I know that you write all the lyrics, but as far as the general writing process for the band goes is everyone involved?
We split everything. I come in to Dale with my guitar and a melody and he puts the beauty on it and the Todd gives it some depth and Tommy gives it a bass line and I teach Jay what drum beat I’m thinking or the other way around – Tom will bring in a whole track and I’ll chop it up and change it a little bit and he’ll either like it or tell me to fuck off. We have this structure where we create that the main writing comes from me, Todd and Dale. Me and Todd are the initiators and Dale and Tommy bring their bits and pieces so it’s an entirely group effort. Now that Jay is a full member he’s a part of the writing process as well and he’s got some interesting ideas because his background is a lot different than ours so he brings a lot of inspiration to us. We keep it equal, it’s been a problem only a few times but that’s probably when we think that one of us isn’t pulling our weight. We know that we’re not the same person, we all have different personalities but we have to have the same goal and that’s an important part of our friendship as well. We all want the best out of each other but we go about it different ways. When you’re living with a band for so long if you don’t understand each other you can get in a lot of fights and that’s the last thing we want to do.
I remember “Throw it Away” from the last album – it’s pretty much a perfect rock anthem – do you have a vision for that song, perhaps having it played at a sporting event or something of that nature because it seems like a perfect fit for that kind of an environment, the song is larger than life.
It’s funny how things always come back to that song. For me, I’ve played it so many times that I’m kind of immune to it. Its funny when people tell me that it’s undeniably one of those songs but that kind of goes back to being mismanaged when we first came over here, no one really knew what to do with it. The song was played a lot on Australia radio but it wasn’t controlled by us, it was just picked up while I was on the show (Rockstar SuperNova) and we weren’t there to back it up. Everything happens for a reason. But yeah of course we’d love to have the song played, do you have any ideas?
Let me work on that. Until then, are there any touring plans – you’ve had some one off shows in LA but what about the rest of us?
We definitely have plans to tour; we’re trying to find the right tour for us. But you’re right, a tour is exactly what we need to do. Trust me, we’re banging our heads against the wall to make it happen!