Now with a 10-song debut (produced by Wilco’s Ken Coomer) released earlier this year, and a plethora of opportunities on the horizon, it seems as though the band will be on the fast track for some time.
Yet the two have managed to stay grounded in light of all the praise, insisting that it still surprises and amazes them when they think of all the good things that have come about in the past year.
“It hasn’t really changed us,” Williams said. “Because we never really planned to do any of this from the outset and it was just a bit fun and [us] writing songs just for the hell of it.”
The songwriting facet itself is something that begins as a solitary process, and only toward the middle or end of it do the two join forces, filling in the gaps for one another and completing partially-developed ideas.
“Most of the songs are written separately, but we come together and sort it out,” Franklin said. “And the lyrics always come second, apart from once. There’s only been one song where I’ve just written a bunch of lyrics, write them down and then tried to build a tune around it.”
The band is currently on a week-long tour of Germany, a country which it is no stranger to, particularly in light of being signed with Munich-based Kanoon Records.
“It happened very very quickly actually,” Williams said of signing with Kanoon, its label outside of the UK. “They kind of heard the album and within days…the deal was kind of done. It was very very fast. And they’re really enthusiastic about us as well.”
That enthusiasm for Toy Horses and the music the band makes is incredibly important to both members, who said they are fortunate enough to have experienced an overwhelmingly positive response from people who like their music as is.
“They either like what we do or they don’t,” Williams said, sharing how there has never been a point where they’ve been asked to compromise themselves. “We just do what we do.”
However, taking the songs on the road did spurn some change, particularly in the live setup. Whereas before, just Williams and Franklin would play together, now they have a backing band, which consists of Tom Rees (drums), Jon Proud (bass) and Carl Prior (guitar and keyboards).
“I think we’re getting, well, I think we’re getting pretty alright now,” Franklin said, referring to the large, full sound the band now has at its live gigs.
He said that prior to bringing in additional musicians, one of the bigger struggles was making the songs on the album work with just two individuals on stage.
“We came back with this record that we had to tour and we had this massive sound, so we just tried to recreate that live,” he said. “[But] you have to play things differently [to do that].”
Of course, doing things differently is nothing out of the ordinary, particularly coming from someone who is no stranger to trying out new things.
“A couple of years ago, I’d never written a song, I’d never sang in front of anybody,” Franklin said. “So there’s been quite a leap there, to go from too nervous to sing in front of anybody to standing on stage in front of a load of people, singing your own songs.”
And although touring and writing more songs are always endeavors for the band, now Toy Horses has switched priorities slightly, adding a new ingredient to the mix. Its current focus is writing songs for R&B artists, an opportunity that came about because of radio play the band received in Los Angeles which caught the attention of music producers located there.
“We’ve just been mainly trying to come up with catchy little choruses that will be used in these R&B songs,” Franklin said. “It’s not at all how we usually write, ‘cause there’s a formula with R&B…there’s a lot of repetition I think. But, I mean, melodies are melodies wherever you apply them. The hardest thing is the lyrics, because you can’t try to be clever at all.”
The result of these efforts will eventually be heard on albums by Jason Derulo, Drake and Sean Kingston, something which is both exciting and slightly laughable for the band.
“You sit at a piano and you find yourself singing the most ridiculous things,” Franklin said, explaining how the process has taught him all about the meaning and usage of the word ‘shorty.’ “It’s quite fun to do something so, so unlike the usual.”
And in spite of this somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach R&B songwriting requires of Toy Horses, Franklin truly does love the songwriting aspect of it.
“I’m sort of the oddity in the band [because] playing live isn’t my absolute favourite thing, while I think it is with the rest of the band,” he said. “I prefer to write songs. I love being in the studio recording…I mean, you never really finish-finish a song, but when you’ve got a complete song…it’s a really nice feeling that you’ve just created something out of nothing.”
At the same time, however, he also said songwriting can be just as maddening as it is rewarding, for him and Williams both.
“In a way, the best and the worst is songwriting, because sometimes it’s so frustrating and you have melodies just floating around in your head, driving you mad for days and days until you finally get rid of it, finish the song,” he said. “[But] on the songwriting front, I think we’re getting better at it, learning to discard bits that aren’t working, just not get attached to them too much and come up with something better…I think we’re trying to perfect the art of songwriting a bit.”
Toy Horses plays tonight at Magnet Club in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00