Yippee Ki Yay: Song, by Toad & The Happiness Hotel
On a dreich Sunday afternoon in November, we jump on the bus to the deepest darkest depths of Leith and catch up with Song, by Toad ringleader Matthew Young, at The Happiness Hotel.
Named after a fictional rundown hotel featured in The Great Muppet Caper movie of 1981, Young’s version is a warehouse out the back of his house which doubles up as a recording studio and unofficial gig venue. When the Muppets arrive at The Happiness Hotel, they're welcomed by Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem – Kermit asks, “Do you guys live here?” to which they reply, “Yeah, but only between gigs”. During our chat we're interrupted by eagleowl’s Bart Owl and Meursault’s Neil Pennycook, who come in to ask if we want anything from the shop; suddenly everything makes sense.
Song, by Toad was founded in 2008, having originally started out in 2004 as a static website Young put his CV on, when he was looking to leave a previous job. “I slowly but surely put more and more pages on it, where I was talking about music,” Young discloses. “Then I discovered blogs in 2006 and realised that’s what I was doing. By 2007 I was ranked in Hype Machine’s top 5 blogs, but that’s when I was writing about popular stuff.”
In the same year, Young was catapulted into Edinburgh’s local music scene. “I think, it was probably Rob St. John got in touch saying, ‘I’m an unsigned musician, I’ve got a gig in the Waverley next week – do you wanna come along?’ So from that and the T Break heats [where bands competed for the chance to play T in the Park], I went to see Down The Tiny Steps, and I saw Broken Records for the first time,” he says excitedly. “I got really pulled into the local scene, I stopped writing about famous bands and concentrated more and more on local stuff.
“Then Kate [Young’s wife and partner in crime] and I promised Broken Records that if they didn’t get signed, we’d release their album because it seemed ridiculous – ‘Holy shit, what have we promised here? We’ve got no idea what a record label does!’ They (Broken Records) did get signed by 4AD, but we’d already planned it to such an extent that we kind of wanted to do it anyway, so we just started doing other stuff and our first release was in December 2008 (Meursault’s Pissing on Bonfires / Kissing With Tongues). We got pulled into being a legitimate record label before we really had much chance to think about it.”
The Happiness Hotel and future of Song, By Toad
Fast forward eight years and Song, by Toad is now a well-oiled machine boasting numerous releases, sessions and gigs, mostly fuelled by gin and swearing. Young’s recent move to The Happiness Hotel in Leith isn’t for financial gain. “I don’t want this to become a commercial studio and I don’t want this to become a proper venue, but I do want it to become the engine room for the label,” he enthuses. “Like the Christmas single – I want it to be the kind of place where somebody has a ridiculous idea and we can say, ‘Yes! Let’s do it, we will make it happen. Now!’ rather than having to think about stuff too much. I want people to be able to experiment and have a go at things. I don’t want anything to not happen just because studio time is expensive.”
2016 has been an incredibly busy year for Song, by Toad with releases from Plastic Animals, DTHPDL, Modern Studies and Faith Eliott, amongst others, but at the time of our chat, there were still three more releases to come for 2016: Toad Flake Paint’s Split 12” Vol.5 featuring Small Wonder, Furnsss, Eskimeaux and Beach Moon/Peach Moon; Meursault’s comeback EP, Simple is Good; and the eagleowl / Jonnie Common Christmas singles; Yippee Kay Yule.
“They are two Christmas songs which are basically about the plot of Die Hard; one from the perspective of the Nakatomi Plaza building itself, and I think Jonnie’s is from the perspective of John McClane,” Young affectionately reveals. “We’re gonna be releasing it on a little Christmas bauble snowglobe with a Lego John McClane inside. It’s basically the best thing that’s ever happened in music."
eagleowl's Let's Save Christmas (The Ballad of Nakatomi Plaza) was recorded at The Happiness Hotel: "This is one of the things about having this place – you can just do it! I initially thought Bart would just play his electric guitar and sing the song, and now it’s a 55-track behemoth with child choir, four tracks of trumpet, and however many different forms of percussion. It's going to be our silliest thing to date.”
Once Christmas is out of the way, and Hans Gruber has met his match for the umpteenth time, Young and his wife are planning to adopt in the new year, so some new faces are joining the ranks: “We’ve got Mario from Plastic Animals coming on board to help us create video constantly for sessions and releases.” Young explains. “Gavin from Electropapknit is going to be helping us with a lot of the band management/live management aspects, and Anastasia Connor is going to be doing full-time PR, plus various other things.”
In 2017 you can expect albums from Meursault, Lush Purr and a new Split 12”, featuring Willard Grant Conspiracy, Micah P. Hinson, Tissø Lake and Kitchen Cynics. Young tells us: “That one was all recorded here and I thought Micah P. Hinson was going to freeze to death cos he’s from Texas, and we recorded it in November. There’s a hell of a lot on!”