Toph Allen is a new electronic artist we’re excited to recommend and share with you. His luminescent sounds soar along ambient lines, while the pop-infused synth rhythms suggest a deep affinity for Röyksopp and Pantha Du Prince.
— disco naïveté (@disconaivete) September 17, 2014
Toph had a moment to give us an interview, so read on to hear about his musical evolution, inspirational drivers, and how he shares his music with Fluence and the world.
How long have you been making music? How did you get your start?
It’s kind of a weird story; I started doing it as a hobby. Just doing it for myself really. But I played the violin growing up, so I had some musical background. Then in 2006 I got my first laptop, and being interested in technology, electronic music was naturally what I created. I just played my music for myself and friends—it was more basic, kind of like Garageband stuff, and I gradually began working on it more and by the time I finished grad school, I discovered that I had improved over time.
Why did you choose the electronic genre?
It’s kind of like the tools that you use, right? So I had kind of taken to computers and it was as simple as that. If I were using just a piano, maybe I’d be writing different music. I do listen to wide variety of music: folk, rock, pop. But I have no urge to write lyrics. Maybe I was influenced by growing up playing the violin, that’s probably why my music is more melody and harmony driven and less beat-driven.
Any other genres you’d like to explore?
I would eventually like to do something with vocals. I’m working on a second EP right now that’s similar to my first, but in the future, I’d definitely like to explore vocals, music that’s more beat-driven, more upbeat and “dancey”.
Is there an artist you’d like to collaborate with?
I have a huge fanboy crush on Nils Frahm. His studio albums are still and beautiful; mostly on the piano. He mics the piano really close, and you hear incidental sounds, the movement in the background, like him shifting on the piano stool. Live, he uses more synthesizers and does these amazing looping crescendos. It would be a dream to do something with him, but don’t think I’m ready for that yet.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
It’s a combination of looking at the world different ways; through an analytical and an emotional lens. I guess it comes from my different interests, like science. For example, during grad school I was studying public health and the concept of “path dependence”. It’s not a fancy concept, basically just stating that things are the way they are now just because of past circumstances. I mean, you face this sort of thing all the time in your everyday life, that feeling of constraint. I want to embody those feelings with the sound I create. I think I get bogged down with words when I try to describe it—which is probably why I don’t write lyrics!
The landscape for musicians has changed in the last few years with social media. Do you think it has hurt or helped you?
It has helped me immensely. In my day job, I am an epidemiologist. With the internet and social media, I can share my music with more people. It makes it a lot easier for hobbyists and part-time musicians to do that. Without it, I would probably just write for myself and a few good friends. I’m entirely dependent on the web and those tools.
Tell us how you’ve used Fluence.
I forget where I first heard about Fluence, but it popped up again when I was beginning to pitch my track “Limits”. I didn’t have time to write a ton of emails asking people to listen to my track. Fluence was a way to get people to listen and get feedback. I sent my track to a few people; one person loved it and tweeted a link to it. Another curator, Mike Mineo, contacted me through Fluence and said he helped independent artists promote their music, so I worked with him to promote “Limits”. It was way more than I would have been able to do through my own efforts. And just last week on the train back into New York, I was talking with a fellow passenger and he asked if I had any of my music on SoundCloud. It was really gratifying because he actually had heard some of my tracks. And, Fluence was the thing that put me in touch with the publicity guy in the first place. It was all very serendipitous!
“Toph’s new track ‘Limits’ seems to blend the ambient beauty of Boards of Canada with Röyksopp’s pop-laden underlying rhythms. Small additions – like the introduction of a synth arp around the two-minute mark and the haunting string flourishes a few moments later as that arp progresses – are brilliantly executed… This is up there with some of the better instrumental electronica I’ve heard all year.”
Any advice for other musicians?
Play your stuff to people more. Just because you’re doing it part-time, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t release stuff. There are tools out there to help you. Go for it and don’t sell yourself short!
What are your plans for 2015?
One is another EP and I’m aiming for a 2nd quarter release. I wrote the core of it ages ago when I was teaching myself to mix with Logic Pro, then came back to it in grad school. I ended up splitting it up into 5 different tracks. Another thing is I’m taking piano lessons. I’m working on it more, because although I don’t have plans to play live in the near future, I want to be prepared if the opportunity comes up.