If we would like to humanize the relationship between a guitar player and the guitar, we could compare to a grand musical romance. We beg...

Toby Hay: a more intuitive than a virtuous musician who lets himself go in Raga's immersion

If we would like to humanize the relationship between a guitar player and the guitar, we could compare to a grand musical romance. We begin with an interest and curiosity to a romantic passion of another time that makes our fingers bleed. There are some who give up at the beginning or half of the journey, and there are some who partake in that relationship without ever quitting – because romance for those becomes an incorruptible matrimony. This romance is devoted to love through time and sacrifice, it demands body and soul without pretences.

Toby Hay’s compositions are transparent, everything is felt by ear. Such connection is fed by the identity that is practised each and single day. Nick Drake was able to rehearse the same chord for 7 hours straight, as was João Gilberto. The relationship with the instrument develops the necessary calm that becomes like a sort of therapy, and the torment – that was the training of the strumming– extrapolates its form. What is this dedication but love?

Toby Hay stands out by his angelic and ethereal looks that transpose to his sonic landscapes that gravitate in space determined by time.

The 12 string guitar Red Kite is personalized and made especially for the guitarist created by Roger Bucknall. It is configurated to be played in unique tune ups. New Music for the 12 String Guitar was recorded during two days at Real World studios. The themes were recorded and mixed by Tim Hay, they are live recordings with overdubs or edits.

©Toby Hay

- Toby, thank you for giving us this opportunity. How are you feeling in this confinement phase? Can you talk a bit about your reality and how life has been in your region of Mid Wales?
It has been a strange year. Tours cancelled. Two album recording projects cancelled. However, I have enjoyed the time and space. I am lucky to live where I do. I can walk for miles and not see a single person. And I have enjoyed gardening. Growing things has brought me comfort.

- Your relationship with the guitar is very intimate. How have you been creating that bond?
The guitar is important to me. Music is how I express myself, I see the guitar as a tool to do this.

- A lot of the videos in which you participate have a background of exterior and natural landscapes. Do you believe that they are pictures that better personify your musical moods and soul and that all that natural landscape, like the birds singing for instance, are part of the poetics of your composition?
I think you are talking about the recent series of videos I made. I have been enjoying improvising during these uncertain times. Composition feels set, final, finished. Improvisation feels fluid, adaptable, ever changing. More appropriate right now, I feel. The landscapes and the natural sounds inspire these improvisations.

- It is clear your technique is a result of many hours of daily work. How many hours in estimate do you play per day?
I don’t play all that much really. I should play more. Some days I won’t play at all. It changes. I don’t have a strict regime.

- Is it your brother that records your creations? How is that relationship and the dynamic between you?
I have worked with my brother on most of the recording work I have done. I trust him. He knows what I like, and I can communicate well with him. I don't like to think too much about the technical side of things when I am working on music, it is good to have someone there who can take care of that. Allow you to focus on the music.

- (The Gathering?) The Longest Day is your debut album – a homage to a house and a farewell that begins a voyage through other worlds like in New Music for the 12 String Guitar. You are influenced by the Indian ragas, by Occidental Africa’s Kora and by the work of the (Welsh?) Scottish harp player Robert ap Huw – therefore, your music is a capture and mixture of those atmospheres, being that the (Welsh?) Scottish folk is intrinsic to the musical culture of your region. Are all those influences a part of your world and are they also a thirst for knowledge?
I listen to music from all over the world. I like finding new sounds. They find ways to creep into my playing. Sometimes I intentionally let them in. Other times they find their own way. However, I don’t listen to that much music, I like to focus on my own.

- How were the alterations in your instrument so that it could adapt to your body and musical imaginary?
The guitar handles my unusual tunings very well. Allows me to play the music I want to play. I find it doesn’t limit it me at all, but instead opens up new possibilities.

- Your reclusion is a little bit like Henry David Thoreau’s trail, a search through the wildest of trees while you wander within the deep and rough forest. Can I conclude that that is how you live your live, in a tranquil search of the Self?
No. I don’t live by myself. And although where I live is rural, there is a strong sense of community in many of the towns and villages. I have lived here all my life. I don’t live here for any sort of purpose. It is home.

- Each album reflects the circumstantial factor of life. Speaking in terms of creating, where do you find yourself at this moment?
Like many people, I am thinking about the future more than I usually do. I am still writing music, and enjoying improvising. Not sure what the next project will be. We will have to see. I am recording a new album with my friend, Jim Ghedi, at the end of the year.

- Bade Ustad Ghulam Khan said: “When God created us in this world, notes and melodies were allocated among the polis.”, the author alludes to the anthropological factor and the diaspora of melodies that travelled from one place to another. You mix American folk with some reminiscences of Indian folk. Does that fusion arise from your discovery and interest for other American musicians that found their space in raga, like Robbie Basho and John Fahey? Curiously, some Portuguese and Brazilian guitar players also have an affectionate relationship with the instrument. When do you start to expand folk to other levels (darzas) and melodies (gayaki); as a prime example we have the song The Summer the Sky Cried for Rain from your record New Music for the 12 String Guitar.
I think I found myself writing longer and longer pieces of music. Then I found myself using more improvisation within my music. Slowly these ideas began to sound more ‘Raga’ like. I like the way you can create a sound world, and play music within that for as long as you feel it is right. There is no rush to get to the end. And you can immerse yourself in the feeling the whole way through.

- The fusion between american primitivism and raga creates an enigmatic, solitary, and profound nature that recalls the hermeticism of reoriented Sufism. In what way are spirituality and esoterism present in your life? And are they conductive for some kind of isolation?
I don’t live by any rules, I just try to live in the present, connect to what is going on around me. I find music helps me do this.

- Robbie Basho associated a colour to a state of mind and revivalist musicians of British folk like John Renbourne and Bert Jansch also compose songs for 6 and 12 strings. Do you believe there is a transversal aura around all these solitary guitarists that somehow connects all of you?
I’m not sure really. I think that the main thing they all have in common in the guitar. But the guitar is such a versatile instrument. I think this is why so many musicians have been able to find their own voice on the guitar.

- There is a transversal state of mind in folk guitarist, various fragrances of culture are mixed with spirit and emotion. A silent liberty that does not stop the inner voice, passing through the shadow of feelings to the creative and emotional freedom. Indian classical music has always payed attention to the feelings and soul within the music, just like the dervishes dance in constant rotation to connect themselves to the creator, the Indians also make their melodies sound like a vibrating path for the soul to ascend to its creator, do you also have that intention?
I’m not really sure what my intention is to be honest. Making music is a strange thing to do. Music is endlessly fascinating. How can noise have feeling? or meaning? I don’t know. But I know I like it.

- We live in scary and mistrusting times. A lot of musicians lived their lives disconnected from the real world of their days and the reoriented sufism in the occidental world arises from the spiritual lenses of the orient that sees this era as the Kali Yuga, an era of darkness and primitivism, the last frontier before the return to an are of illumination; how do you perceive these times we are living in?
I’m not sure, but I think I might delete my social media accounts soon. Music can feel a little pointless, but maybe that is when we need it most? I think learning to grow my own food seems like a good idea...

- The album New Music for the 12 String Guitar ends with Auld Lang Syne, a known melody, but whose lyrics were not sang by heart by many until the end, curiously yours is also instrumental even though the vocal melody is present. It is a theme mainly sung at New Year’s eve parties in the west, a lot of people gather around to sing it, so is it like a new hope for you for the next year? Some sort of return to the roots?
Auld Lang Syne is a tune I enjoy. It’s relatable and well known and a song for listeners to find comfort in familiarity. That is why it’s on there.

- Can you name 5 guitar players that are a reference to your work? Here are 5 records have been enjoying recently (not all guitarists).

- Would you like to leave a message?
Thank you and keep healthy!

Text and Interview: Priscilla Fontoura
Interviewee: Toby Hay
Translation: Cláudia Zafre
Production: SP