INTERVIEW: James Toseland – Toseland

Known to many as a former motoGP and World Superbike champion motorbike rider, James Toseland has also been tackling a career in rock music over the last five years with his eponymous band TOSELAND. Now, as the band embark on a second tour in support of their sophomore album Cradle The Rage, we caught up with Toseland himself before a show in Stoke-on-Trent (read our review here) to talk about the band’s meteoric rise, touring Europe with rock icons DEEP PURPLE and how he first made the transition from racing to rocking.

So, first night of the tour, and the first time we’ve properly seen you out on the road since March – excited to be getting back on the road?

James: Oh yeah, it’s really exciting. We’ve had some really good tours with DEEP PURPLE and BLACK STONE CHERRY since then, and we got a lot of confidence from that – being out in Europe for the first time really. The crowds out there knew nothing about us – in fact for the BLACK STONE CHERRY shows they thought THEORY OF A DEADMAN were going to be the support, they pulled out last minute but were still on the tickets and everything. So we walked out and you could see the crowd were like “Oh, this isn’t THEORY OF A DEADMAN”, but they were really into it and we got a good reception. And we got on with the BLACK STONE CHERRY boys really, really well too. And the DEEP PURPLE thing as well was just really good – all the boys welcomed us really well and there were just a few things that happened that just gelled it all together where we got really friendly with them. And then after that we’ve just been planning this run, and the organisers for the DEEP PURPLE and BLACK STONE CHERRY shows, the promoters invited us back out to do our own first headline shows in Europe which we’re going off to do at the end of this run. We’ve got, I think, fourteen shows in the UK and then another seven in Europe.

Any places you’re particularly excited to hit on this run?

James: Sheffield’s always a good one, it’s my hometown – that’s in a couple of nights. I’ve got my birthday gig in Chester on the 5th of October, so I’m looking forward to that one. I’ll have family and friends at that one, which’ll be cool. Wolverhampton’s always good – the Midlands have always been good to us, y’know? Stoke, Wolverhampton, Birmingham – it’s a real rock area. I think one of the things is that Planet Rock Radio have always really supported us and I think with that being on FM around the Midlands area, our music’s just been able to get out there a lot more and build that popularity. And even Scotland, like Aberdeen and Edinburgh. We’ve done Edinburgh a couple of times now and we’ve got a few numbers coming, but Aberdeen we only did for the first time out and we’re going back again this time round. It’s going to be the quietest show, and I only mean that by numbers of audience, because I mean like 60 or 70 Aberdeen Scottish rock fans – they’re some of the noisiest, it’s amazing. They’ve all got something though, every show’s got a bit of something. And obviously when you’re touring your own country, if you’ve travelled, you’ve got a good understanding of the personalities of different areas.

Like you said before, you’ve had some pretty huge gigs over the last 12 months, playing with DEEP PURPLE etc. Where do you hope to get within the next twelve months?

James: Well, those BLACK STONE CHERRY and DEEP PURPLE supports did what we were hoping they’d do – gather us a brand new audience in territories outside the UK. And obviously, with the audience sizes of those two bands it just meant we were able to perform in front of a lot of people. And like I said, the promoters got back in touch and said “We want you back out here for your own shows”. So that’s the next step really – all the hard work we’ve done here over the last five years, we want to start getting out over there. It’s not gonna be easy, I mean you’re going down on numbers and starting out again essentially from the bottom of the ladder again. But the nice thing is, with the tours we’ve done, even though the audiences didn’t know who we were – the reactions we got; we know we’re confident that the music we’ve got, the band and the performance and whatever it may be, they were into it. We’ve just got to keep going.

Cradle The Rage, the band’s second full-length came out around six months ago now – what’s the overall response to that record been like?

James: Oh, it’s been great – the first three singles we had out went straight onto the A-list at Planet Rock and the fourth was a B-lister as well. But y’know even to have four tracks from one album eligible for one of the biggest rock stations in the country, if not the biggest now, is just a real compliment and without that exposure it’d be more or less impossible to be doing this. And not only that, but being able to put the new songs in front of a crowd – when we were touring the first album Renegade, you know what it’s like having to play new stuff for the first time, always a bit “Hmmmm”. But with those, it felt like the songs were easy to connect to and likeable from the get-go. And the fanbase we’ve gathered, luckily, seem to like the new album because you know…it’s difficult sometimes to keep that continuity going. But I’ll tell you why we managed to keep it – it’s because I wrote this record in the same way as Renegade, with Toby Jepson (LITTLE ANGELS). We kept the system the same and I knew the band was different, but if I kept the writing process the same, I knew the continuity from the first album would keep.

You’ve worked with Toby Jepson for a few years now in both a songwriting and producing capacity – how important to the TOSELAND creative process is that partnership?

James: Oh he’s my right arm, haha. I first met Toby five or six years ago now and he’s first-and-foremost just an amazing friend. Secondly he’s the co-manager of the band, and thirdly, the important stuff – we collaborate together. And I enjoy that process so much; we have such similar outlooks on what we want to produce when it comes to music, so I think that’s why we’ve really gelled together. And with his experience and songwriting expertise and my ideas to bring to the table on the piano – how it works is, I bring the piano ideas and he brings the guitar ideas because that’s the instrument we write on. And that’s why there’s a bit of a diversity on both albums; I do try and pile on a bit of keyboard onto a rock album, but it’s not easy. The genre I like and write for, it’s not always easy to get a piano on there.

Being two albums and an EP into your career now, how would you say the band has evolved compared to how you first envisioned it?

James: Well, there’s only one member of the band left who’s still original, of the very first line-up I had. That wasn’t really through my choice, it was that they were doing other projects at the time and they stuck to those, which meant I obviously had to find different musicians. But for the last eighteen months or so, I’ve had these boys, and they seem to really get it. And I feel really lucky because they’re such good lads and easy to get along with. You spend a lot of time together as a band, you know, and being a decent musician’s one thing but being a decent guy’s actually more important. But nah, they’re good lads, and I feel very honoured that I’ve got such good musicianship in the band.

You’re obviously still primarily known to a lot of people for your non-musical endeavours in motorsports – how difficult was it making the transition from World Superbikes and motoGP to being a rock frontman?

James: Erm, for me, not difficult at all – I’ve studied music actually a lot longer than I’ve done motorbikes. But yeah, the perception thing for people to accept me doing something else – that was a difficult thing. And it was only made difficult really by the fact I did the other thing quite well, so if I’m doing something else, then that’s got to be done quite well too. At least to the same level anyway. But that’s what made it tricky really, and I knew that if I was going forced to do something else, and I got injured so I was, then the only other thing I wanted to do was this. But I knew my first album would have to be close to what I’d achieved in my other job, which bloody hell, that was tough.

Obviously, now having made that transition, does performing on-stage give you the same adrenaline rush that racing used to? 

James: It’s different, it is – I find it more intense on the stage, just because you’ve got the whites of the eyes looking right at you with expectation, and at 200mph you couldn’t really give a toss about that because you don’t see them, haha. So there’s a bit more intensity up on stage. But what I really do like is having something to wake up for and work for, and strive to be getting better at – having an opportunity to climb up that ladder. It’d be amazing if, and it’s looking like it might be possible, I could do both of my passions that I had as a child – have those as a career. It’s taken a lot of time and commitment and selfishness I must admit, but I wouldn’t swap it because, at the end of the day, you’re doing something you love and that’s what I’m trying to keep doing.

With regards to your own performance as a musician, are there any particular performers that influence you in your career?

James: Well, I grew up on QUEEN, so Freddie Mercury is one – his ownership of the stage and the audience was phenomenal and you can’t teach that, you know? That always fascinated me because you’ve got all these stereotypical classic rock louts with long hair and leather jackets, and some great bands with GUNS N’ ROSES, AEROSMITH and BON JOVI and the like. But Freddie – he was a short-haired gay man originally from India, and he had to have some seriously huge guts and thick skin to have demanded that reputation and adulation from people, especially in those days. It’s a little bit more cosmopolitan on things like that these days of course. But then, vocalists, I was always a big GUNS N’ ROSES fan as well, because of Axl, and since starting singing I’ve had a lot of Myles Kennedy (ALTER BRIDGE, SLASH) quotes, which is a massive compliment. And since those have been coming in, I’ve seen Myles sing quite a few times, and he’s really a fantastic vocalist. But yeah, I’m just a classic rock fan, through and through.

What would you say has been the highlight of your music career so far?

James: I had a bit of a moment in London actually at The Borderline. We finished the show there, I think it was the final show of the last tour, and I actually got the set mixed up – I started playing the new song We’ll Stop At Nothing when I was meant to be doing Renegade, and I’m on the keys so I didn’t even look up but the band just joined in with me. And I finished that song in the wrong place and it was the final one, and the audience started clapping and just didn’t stop clapping. And London’s always a tricky little place to crack, y’know because they’ve got so much choice there of what to go and see. I just remember standing there and going “Wow, you’ve really enjoyed that” and I got that warmth. There’s been some amazing moments this year though – the BLACK STONE CHERRY boys invited me on-stage to sing the final song with them, going out in front of DEEP PURPLE’s audience most nights is something I’ll always remember, and actually talking to Ian Gillan and all the boys – just even that, Ian Gillan inviting me into his dressing room for a beer and a chat will be a moment I’ll remember forever. It’s been a big year for the band and I feel like we’ve made a lot of friends as a band. And the music was well-received to the point where it’s just been encouraging us to keep on going.

What have TOSELAND got planned for the rest of 2016 and into next year? I know you’ve mentioned getting a record deal during the last tour.

James: Well, we haven’t got anything really nailed down yet but we’re hoping to pick up another support slot towards the end of the year, just to finish it off before Christmas again. Unfortunately, when you’re supporting people, you sometimes don’t find out until the week before even sometimes, so nothing’s really confirmed but we’ve got our names down for quite a few. Next year – again, we’re always looking to do like a March and an Autumn tour, two tours in the UK definitely. And obviously now being signed with a German record label Metalville, and the success we’ve had with DEEP PURPLE and being able to do these European shows, I’d imagine the German label will want us to keep that going. So a few more shows around Europe, and maybe even overseas stuff as well.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of Distorted Sound Magazine?

James: Well, if anyone’s reading this and you’ve been supporting our band for the last five years since we’ve been going, I just want to thank you very much. An audience for a live rock band is everything, and it’s gathering momentum, so if you guys have been part of it then thank you very much and hopefully we’ll be doing it for many years to come.

Thanks very much for your time James

James: No problem, cheers.

TOSELAND’s sophomore album Cradle The Rage is available now via 52 Music.

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