Toseland released their critically acclaimed second album, Cradle of Rage, last month.
The band recently took to the road in support of their latest offering. National Rock Review sat down with James Toseland at the last date of the band’s UK tour to talk about their new album, his motorsport past and the group’s plans for the future.
NRR: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review, we really appreciate it.
NRR: So you’ve been out on the road for a little while now in support of your new album. How’s the tour been going so far?
Toseland: Really good. It’s been like a two-week run really, but we had a couple of days off just in the middle of it, because we had to go and do a show in Belfast and that was really, really good. First show in Northern Ireland for us and my management is based in Northern Ireland and they’ve been trying for a while to get us out there, but logistically it’s pretty expensive to get a band out there and to just do a show of the size that we are doing at the moment. The promoter out there was amazing and he got us out and that was great.
It kind of split up the tour a little bit and it’s been really good because we’ve had like a first half and a second half, and this second half has just been really, really good. We had Leeds a couple of nights ago and Glasgow last night and the whole tour really on the gigs, the numbers have nearly trebled from the last time we played and that’s been really rewarding.
Obviously when you are writing a new album, you’ve got to be a bit of a hermit for a good year you know, getting the art right and recording it and mixing it and all of the rest of it that takes you know the best part of a year, when you do it in the way that we’ve done it. So when the new album came out and it got instant support from Planet Rock radio on the single, and then two more came after that and a few more radio stations have played it and on the A list as well, which has been great and it’s really kick started, that was just before we started touring.
The album only came out I think two days before the tour, so I knew that the ticket sales and everything else for this tour were gonna be really what we’ve done before on the first album. It was just an opportunity for us to play the new stuff live to people to get used to, but we knew with writing the album and all the rest of it how long it took me, we needed to get back out there again, but this is all setting up hopefully for the festivals and then an extensive Autumn tour.
NRR: As both a superbike champion and a professional touring musician do you get the same buzz from playing live as you do from say chasing after Valentino Rossi on the circuit?
Toseland: (laughing) I was very, very fortunate to race at the level I did and it’s a strange old story between music and bikes, because music came first for me and I fell in love with playing the piano as a kid when my grandmother taught me to play, because I lived with my grandparents because my mum and dad divorced when I was young. Then when I was 9 years old my mum met her new boyfriend, who had a motorbike, before that point I didn’t even know what one was. That’s where the path slightly altered a bit.
I don’t know how I was so naturally talented on a motorbike, even today I don’t know how I did what I did a bit, but I had an 18 year, nearly 20 year career at it and winning the two World Championships, but luckily I had been studying piano for five years before she met him. I got to a level where you passed the crappy stage because that’s when you’ve kind of like give an instrument up. If you can get to a certain level where the instrument starts talking to you and you really connect with it and luckily I got to that point and I never gave it up. I even played in a covers band for the whole of my racing career, just because I loved playing so much.
NRR: Is that Crash?
Toseland: Yeah, and that was just an excuse to stay into music, because I loved it so much. Then when I had to retire five years ago with an injury, luckily I kept it up to the point where I knew if I put the same amount of dedication that I did into the racing, you know we’ve got to give it a shot in doing it at the same level.
NRR: So from playing piano, at what point did rock music enter your life, what’s your earliest memory of that?
Toseland: Well that was also my mum’s boyfriend’s fault because when I first got in the car or when we went on the motorbikes together he had a CD in his car called Queen. I was wet behind the ears a little bit and I thought that was the royal family or a connection to and I thought bloody hell Liz has got some lungs on her you know (laughing). I quickly found out it was a band with Freddie at the front of it and it was the “Greatest Hits II” album and it will forever more be on my A list of albums and that’s where it started.
NRR: Who was the first band that you ever saw perform live?
Toseland: He took me to see a guitarist, Gary Moore. The loudest gig, because I only had 13-year-old ears and not used to hearing rock music. I remember going to the toilet and staying in the toilet because it sounded amazing to be in there, in the room it was unbelievable. So Gary Moore was the first ever gig.
NRR: Obviously your motorsport achievements speak for themselves being crowned twice world superbike champion. With motorsport, you’ve got that kind of end goal winning that championship. Do you have a similar kind of goal for the band and if so what have you got your sights on and when will you know that you’ve achieved that goal?
Toseland: That’s really difficult in music isn’t it because it’s taste. With racing, I took a trophy home that said 1st on it so you knew instantly how well you had done and in this game it’s very, very subjective. You know everybody is not going to be into it. I’m just hoping that enough people are going to be into it to have it as a job at some point.
At this point I’ve been five years, I’m driving the van and taking the boys around the country and in Europe. We’ve just got back from Europe with Black Stone Cherry, which went amazingly well for us. That was our first tour in Europe and things are really starting to move, but it’s nearly two albums if I’m honest for people to go oh ok they are here to stay kind of thing and it’s not just a one off thing.
We had a show in London three nights ago and London is very, very difficult as a city because they’ve got so much choice I think and it was the first time we had sold out in London, there were over 300 people there. It literally doubled from the 100 Club that we did last year. When we did the final song and stopped, the ovation just kept going and kept carrying on and on to the point where it took me back a bit. It was a real moment of feeling a bit accepted because it has been a big bridge to cross from sport and the rest of it.
In the industry now I think people have found out that music was a huge part of my life, and the only thing in my life at a certain point before bikes and I think that the heritage behind it gives it that little bit of credibility and also playing an instrument. I think if I was just singing, it might just look like ex-sportsman trying to do something else. I think with the playing piano and singing together with the musicians that I’ve got and the songs that I’ve got now it does feel like I’m being accepted as a musician.
NRR: Being one of the few people to have rode and performed at Castle Donington with the MotoGP and then performing with the band at Download, Donington must have some special memories for you and I was just wondering what’s your fondest memory of riding or performing there?
Toseland: Riding at Donington, winning the first race in 2007 beating Max Biaggi and Troy Corser and all the boys. Unfortunately, Troy Baylis fell off, so I didn’t really count it as a win, a proper win. When someone falls off in front of you and then you win you know you’ve got the first trophy but someone was in front of you going just as fast that day and could have beaten you, so that was my real special memory from that.
Then we did Download festival, which was one of our very first gigs on the acoustic stage and my keyboard packed in half way through the song and all my management, agents they were all there you know what it’s like, the pressure was on. The only thing I could say was “It’s not the first time Yamaha as let me down here at Donington,” because I’ve got a Yamaha keyboard and it was a cheap gag because Yamaha has never let me down, and that was the only thing I could think of and it got a bit of a laugh (laughing).
NRR: Obviously, that venue has got a lot of fond memories for you. If you could perform at any venue, anywhere in the world what would be your dream gig?
Toseland: I’ve not really thought of that yet, to be honest. Sheffield Arena, I was brought up in Sheffield and it’s always gonna be home for me and you know to even think about getting to arena level. So any arena obviously, but Sheffield or even the Sheffield City Hall, actually you know that’s a fantastic venue as, well but they’re obviously the different levels you could get to, the City Hall and then the Arena. Let’s come down a little bit and let’s go for the City Hall first.
NRR: So you recently released your latest album, Cradle of Rage. Could you tell us a little bit about the album and the inspiration behind it?
Toseland: Yeah, we had been touring for four years and we had just got a record deal in Germany with Metalville and they just then wanted to release Renegade, but in the UK because I’ve been doing it four years the UK was ready for a new album. So I knew there was going to be a bit of a kind of catching up to do in Europe and America.
So me and Toby Jepson, who I wrote the first album Renegade with, we did exactly the same writing process but at my house this time. I didn’t have to go to Scarborough for eight months and live in a hotel. It took about the same time again, about eight months period of getting the songs together, then getting the lyrics together and then we recorded again at Vale studios in Worcester. Then luckily for me Mike Fraser, who did all the mixing for Aerosmith and all the amazing names out there, said he would mix the album for us.
Yeah, the songs are more of my interest this time, because Renegade was very autobiographical. I think most people’s are autobiographical on the first one because it’s your life a bit. I think anybody struggles to have more than eleven stories to tell (laughing), so in this album, it was more interest. Cradle of Rage actually I called the album that and it wasn’t really a single, “Cradle of Rage,” but I loved the story behind it because ever since having to give up something I love doing wasn’t easy and then doing something else and starting from the bottom of the ladder again, that’s the hardest part about it.
It’s just been trying to keep the belief and keep it going, because in the rock industry it’s not easy, it’s very, very difficult to keep things going financially and everything else and get the boys to have time off to do it, until you can get to a certain level where it can be a profession it’s a long, long time and we are still not there yet. So Cradle of Rage is about that, it’s just keeping that frustration inside and turning it into a positive to drive you on rather than just pissing you off and pissing other people off because you’ve got those feelings going through you.
NRR: You mentioned there Toby Jepson, and you’ve got Colour of Noise on tour with you as well, so obviously there is a connection with Bruce Dickinson and the Little Angels too. What’s it like being on the road with those guys?
Toseland: They’ve been great, real professionals. You know we’ve got a guitarist who has sold out the Royal Albert Hall in his band with the Little Angels. So when he said can we support you, I was a little bit taken back because the Little Angels gave us our very first gig supporting them. Then when you’ve got one of them asking to support me I was like wow, I felt a bit awkward about it. He said no this is brand new, nobody knows the stuff, we need a bit of a leg up and we need to start at this level and if you could give us a support it would be really helpful. So it was a no-brainer, we instantly said yes, and they’ve been great, great songs.
NRR: From the new album, you just released a video for “Puppet On A Chain.” Could you tell us a little bit about that song and the concept behind the video?
Toseland: Yeah, it’s a song about the music industry really, and the singing competitions we see on television. It’s tongue in cheek about possibly the X Factor and Simon Cowell really. Because of the industry that I’ve discovered by starting from the bottom, I wanted to write a song about it because it’s fascinating sometimes when you look at what’s going on, it’s baffling, it just looks like there’s dead end after dead end.
It’s very difficult to get some support these days with the lack of record sales and all the rest of it, so it’s just down to getting people to be able to hear it. But then you look at these TV shows, we’ve been five years trying to get an audience of 300-500 kind of thing, you know in the organic way of what a band does and they are selling out arenas after three months.
That’s great I’ve got nothing against the competition or whatever, but I do feel a little bit for the people that are being told they are great and they almost get there and all the rest of it and even win and don’t come up with the goods for whatever reasons shortly after and the pressures of there’s always the next one the year after and the next one and the next one. So it’s always the next best thing always and they are pretty much dropped.
I went to an event and there were quite a few stars there literally walking in off the tube and then this X Factor person, I’ll not mention any names, in a blacked out Mercedes with two bodyguards kind of comes out. In six months you won’t even know their name anymore, but to have all that all around you as a youngster and making you feel and look like a superstar, megastar I don’t think is healthy for them because I’m old enough and ugly enough and I had the fame thing in the racing and all of the rest of it, it takes some getting used to and psychologically you need to know how to handle it and why it’s there and all that, which you can’t get at 16 or 17 years old and I don’t think they manage it that well. So that’s what the song is about.
NRR: Obviously you got married to Katie Melua a couple of years back. Do you ever write together or bounce ideas off each other musically?
Toseland: Luckily me and the Mrs we’ve got music in common but that’s where it ends really, because her music is so different to mine and we like it that way. She’s ultra competitive with it, she doesn’t allow you to hear anything until it’s completely finished she’s like a seven-year-old with a drawing, you know what I mean, you know when they hide it. So she knows what she wants to do, she knows her art and I’m very proud of her. I just love being proud of the Mrs. Its a nice thing to have in the relationship, she’s such a professional and until I get quite a bit up on the ladder there will be no collaboration, there will be no songwriting together, there will be none of that because I have to be conscious of that as well.
As well as not using what I had with the racing side of it what I could have done, also it was a little bit of a sticking point being Katie’s husband a few times when I was first starting out because if you get a bit of an opportunity here or there it’s because he’s married to her isn’t it. So we’ve been very conscious of just keeping it completely separate but you never know in the future. I might get good enough so that she will say yes (laughing).
NRR: If you could choose any artist to cover one of your songs, which song and artist would you choose?
Toseland: Eh that’s a good one. Bless him if Freddie was still here god yeah it would be him without a doubt. Yeah, that’s a tough one …because we do go from the ballads to the rocky stuff. So in my mind, I’m going from ballady people to rock and roll people. I mean with Axl Rose getting back with Slash and the Guns N’ Roses thing going on, I would love those boys to strum up “Cradle of Rage” or whatever it may be “Puppet on a Chain,” definitely. But on the ballad side of it, you know I’d love the Elton John side of with “Just No Way” that we’ve got “All Fingers Burned.” That’s the thing with the two albums that we’ve got now, we’ve got diversity, we can do a mid-paced set with the piano mostly, or we can do a Download, or we can do a Reading if you know what I mean with the set.
NRR: What else do you in store for the rest of this year?
Toseland: Tomorrow BBC2 launches a documentary, a four-part documentary that I did with Gareth Thomas rugby captain of Wales, Donovan Bailey 100 meter champion, and Eoin Thomas the 400m champion. We do four events. The first one is a fell run; you’ve got to run against people on horses up and down a dale in Wales for 21 miles it’s ridiculous, so that’s the first one. Then we do oil wrestling in Turkey, martial arts in India and then we do horseback archery in Japan, and we actually enter official competitions, so that starts tomorrow for four weekends, every Sunday.
The land speed record is still on the cards, I’m not sure when I’ll be on the bike testing it and when it all kicks off, but that still is on the cards. There’s also a little bit of a problem with Bonneville the salt flats because they are farming too much salt at the moment and it needs to solidify, so it’s all mushy at the moment because they are farming too much, so until that rectifies itself I won’t be able to do that, but as I said we should still be testing this year.
More importantly, we’ve got Steelhouse Festival because the band and the music are first and foremost, it’s nice to be able to do other things as, well but it’s all inline with the music really. We’ve got Bike For Life festival on the 8th May, Steelhouse on the 24th July, we’ve got a big announcement on Tuesday that we are going to be supporting someone pretty big. Then after those festivals and the supports Black Stone Cherry went so well, if they are coming back to the UK I believe in the autumn time if we can do the same again, would be amazing so fingers crossed for that. Our own shows then on the back of hopefully Cradle of Rage getting some momentum and some publicity around it and going up maybe of the rooms of where we’ve been playing around the country. Maybe see the Mrs every now and again (laughing).
NRR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us we really appreciate it.
NRR: We are very much looking forward to the show tonight.