Gray Tolhurst of Topographies Wonders How To Live & So Does Their New Album

San Francisco-based trio Topographies could’ve hit the breaks once the pandemic hit, but instead they’re gearing up to release their newest album Ideal Form on Dec. 4 via Funeral Party Records. The new LP keeps things dreamy and emotional, with introspection at the core of its values.

Frontman Gray Tolhurst, son of original The Cure member Lol Tolhurst, says wondering how to live is the “thesis” of Ideal Form. Tolhurst says his father’s music is a great influence on him and the “closest thing to a family business,” but that he didn’t start listening to The Cure well into his 20s. He’s come around to being a fan of the pioneering post-punk goth rock band, but Topographies have a fresh sound all their own.

Read the entire interview below with Topographies’ Gray Tolhurst below and pre-order Ideal Form here.

BTRtoday (BTR): 2020 has been a wild ride to say the least, and I feel like a lot of the bands I’ve chatted with releasing new music this year had some very new and real problems about creating and also just releasing in general. What have been some of the thoughts that have gone through your head about releasing new music in such a chaotic time?

Gray Tolhurst (GT): Well, firstly, the last time we were all together as a band was early March. We were rehearsing for a short tour down to SXSW which of course never happened. We didn’t know how long it would last so we decided to use our initial lockdown time to put together a “remote” EP Not My Loneliness, But Ours to see if we could make music without being in the same room, without the energy that comes from proximity. And of course, as I thought more about the situation of the pandemic I realized it wasn’t just the pandemic that was making us lonely and isolated, rather the lockdown was revealing an essential loneliness that had been there all along. The pandemic just made it visible.

So the EP became about that innate human loneliness and the difficulties of connection lyrically and, in a way, literally by making it in our own bedrooms remotely, sending files back and forth. As the pandemic dragged on, I think we realized that we couldn’t really just bide our time either and so I’m very glad we have this album Ideal Form coming out. I think it helps us all feel some level of joy and comfort that people are continuing to make art to do this sort of impractical and absurd thing in an equally absurd time. The albums that have come out during the pandemic have been some of my favorites of recent years and I think they will remain in my mind for a long time.

BTR: How do you think music can play a significant role in someone’s current struggle or just the struggles everyone’s dealing with on some level right now?

GT: I don’t exactly know what the purpose of music is for anyone but myself. For me, it’s an almost unspeakable thing, the gift of music. Some chords, some melodies, some words they make the world disappear or glow as needed. Music brings my mind into focus, lends some meaning to the daily which can be fairly terrifying or mundane. I guess in a way music helps contextualize feelings that otherwise have no form or are too vague to even address. It lends shape to the experience of living in a way that helps me and I imagine helps others wrestle with their own being.

BTR: Tell me about this upcoming album Ideal Form. How was preparing it to be released into the world?

GT: Our upcoming debut album Ideal Form was written after our first tour in 2019. Our drummer had left after our last show to move to New York and we were initially kind of at a loss of whether to continue at all because she was the only drummer that really made sense for the project. A band is something that has to work at every level, every member has to be correct in my opinion. So the balance got thrown off and we had to regroup. We decided to continue without a drummer and see what we could do with drum machines, synths, etc which proved really creatively stimulating.

We worked very freely, not really sticking to whatever our instrument was or whatever, just contributing bits here and there. The music was definitely very collaborative, but I worked on the lyrics mostly by myself just singing nonsense over the demos until words come out and then going back and seeing what they’re about.

The process of getting it into the world has really been aided by working with wonderful people, Chris King our engineer, Rafael Irisarri for masters, and Brian Cole of Funeral Party for the release which has all been wonderful. You know there’s that phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child”—it takes the same to make an album. I feel like one of the beautiful aspects of music-making is getting to forge those relationships and see what comes out. The record is a bonus.

BTR: If your listeners could walk away only remembering one line from any song from the album, what line would you hope that would be?

GT: I’m obsessed with lyrics, I studied poetry and moved to San Francisco with the intention of becoming a poet but ended up playing in bands, so lyrics became a sort of focus of my poetry, though I still write poems that are not sung. But I really wanted the lyrics to have some of the things I found so compelling about poetry, especially the work of 20th Century writers like Paul Celan, Robert Creeley, Alice Notley, George Oppen, etc. I don’t think the lyrics reach the level of these poets but there are parts of it I’m quite proud of. I think if I wanted one line to be recalled it would be from the song “Image” [that goes like,] “I wondered, I wondered how to live.” The line is kind of the thesis of the album, how to make a life, asking the question if an “ideal form” of living/being is a possibility or should even be a goal.

BTR: Where do you see the future of live music and venues going?

GT: I have no idea where the future of live music venues lies. I sort of hope there’s a resurgence of DIY venues as rents go down in major cities. I also hope people get creative with outdoor concerts. I appreciate the live stream culture as a temporary solution but feel that ultimately going to a show is as much about the energy of being in a space with other music lovers as listening to music. I’m sort of an introvert and I think gigs have always provided me an excuse to get out and commune with others in a meaningful way. The ideal performance situation at this point is any.

BTR: Your father was a founding member of The Cure. How has that affected you creatively?

GT: Initially, I avoided my father’s music for fear of influence seeping in. I think it’s sort of natural like if your dad was a master carpenter and you happened to be a carpenter too you’d want to figure out a way to do that in a different way. So, I only heard what Cure songs they played on the radio until I was about 25 and decided to listen to it to see what it was all about and I was blown away. I had listened around it for so many years that I never realized how much of what I liked was influenced by The Cure. I think if I was anyone else I would’ve listened to it earlier and been obsessed but alas.

My dad has always been really supportive and never pushed anything on me but offered loads of gentle suggestions of things to listen to and experience. So I got all of his influences and contemporaries fairly early—bands like Can and Captain Beefheart but also Terry Riley and Kraftwerk. I was educated in music initially through weekly trips to Tower Records. Then, of course, I found things on my own but it’s somehow circled back. Now, maybe I feel like music and particularly the sort of music we play, emotionally driven post-punk stuff is maybe like as close to a family business as we’ll get. Of course, I was raised in Los Angeles, not England, with a different set of experiences. So, it’s different but maybe the root is the same, a need for a deeper connection to life, to joy, and sorrow—both.

BTR: If Topographies could have a one-line slogan or short life motto, what do you think that would be?

GT: We tried.

BTR: What else should we be keeping an eye out for in the future of Topographies?

GT: Hopefully more records! This one will be coming out Dec. 4 on the venerable Funeral Party Records. And also hopefully we’ll be able to play again in our physical forms or some sort of tripped-out holographic version. Whatever works.

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