A Conversation With Kayo Dot’s Toby Driver

todayJune 29, 2023 76 3

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By Deacon Wolfe

Music Journalist

Kayo Dot is a strange band. Despite having a nearly twenty-year tenure, with a whopping ten albums under their belt, they have managed to stay in the underground for their entire career. It is this that I believe to be the biggest tragedy in all of modern music: the fact that these absolute genius performers and composers have managed to go unknown for so long. For this reason, I decided to have a conversation with their lead singer and composer Toby Driver, to expose a few more people to the awe-inspiring genius that is their Avant-Rock.


From left to right: Jason Byron, Toby Driver, and Greg Massi.
From left to right: Jason Byron, Toby Driver, and Greg Massi. | Toby Driver


In this interview, Toby and I discussed a great many things, such as what his band is all about, musical burnout, and even deeper subjects like emotional maturity and moving on from loss; but the snippet I will include is about the difficulties of having your music accepted by an elitist classical world as a rock musician, and how rock music is just as emotionally meaningful and artistic as classical music.

Deacon: I want to ask: are there any unique challenges that came about from being a rock composer?

Toby: The main difficulty that I came across in my career and I still am dealing with these days is, as a rock composer, the classical world tends to make a lot of judgments about that. And it’s not really like the classical musicians who are making judgments, but it’s really the institutions that make judgments.

So if you are a composer and you have on your CV, all of this work that you’ve done, but a lot of it is rock and then you go and you try to get some kind of funding or grant for a project from an arts institution. And you present your CV, and you say this is what I’ve done. They just see you as a rock musician, which seems unserious and it doesn’t only seem unserious, but it also seems that rock musicians can exist inside of the marketplace and, rock music generally will be able to sell more records than any other genre of music, like any of the artsy genres like classical or jazz or experimental or anything like that.

And so when these institutions are present when they have funding that is available, they’ll just say, well, the rock musician can just sell records and the rock musician doesn’t need the funding, and then the person that’s making the super abstract stuff that probably needs the funding more and that’s not necessarily untrue, but the amounts of money that we’re talking about are so negligible, like the amount of money that, like somebody making super super niche prog or experimental rock, it’s almost equal to zero the same way that an experimental musician is making something equal to zero. And the experimental musician is probably making more, because they can get these sweet festival dates that pay them a whole ton, and somebody that exists in a liminal space such as a rock composer doesn’t actually get those opportunities because the space that we exist in is too liminal.

Deacon: Yeah, it’s a real problem, just in general. Classical institutions, even at Texas State, which is not a very pretentious university, we’re not Berklee, but even the music program here finds itself being a little uncaring towards rock musicians and people who don’t dedicate everything, time money to the classical and jazz pursuits. Which is very unfortunate because I feel like bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor have really proved that rock music can be beautiful. Even going back to something incredibly mainstream, like “Dream On” by Aerosmith. That song is beautiful, but I feel like a lot of people would reduce it to being just glam rock, or whatever.

Toby: Yeah. A whole other side of that too is that rock musicians certainly do dedicate everything. Even if it might not be that they’re dedicating, let’s say all of their practice time. Maybe they’re not as great a performer as somebody that goes to Juilliard, as somebody who’s going to Juilliard is maybe practicing six to eight hours a day and becoming virtuosic, and maybe a rock musician is practicing one to two hours a day or something. But those rock musicians are dedicating everything in their lifestyle to do this very, very difficult thing. And the rock lifestyle is really uncomfortable compared to the classical lifestyle, which is just posh and comfortable and sweet where every single gig they get hotel rooms given to them. It’s really totally different. Rock musicians surely dedicate all of their energy to making something happen.

To listen to the whole interview, check out this link!

And be sure to listen to Toby’s latest two works, Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike by Kayo Dot and Thymiamatascension by Alora Crucible.

Written by: Preethi Mangadu

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