In Conversation with…TOLIESEL

Oxford band, Toliesel make sweet indie pop  that is deep rooted in americana and showgaze sounds. Their music is just as comforting as the dawn breaking, that glint of light beginning to shine through the darkness. I cannot recommend checking out their début EP, Contours more, it is a beautiful rush of feeling and emotion bursting with indie sounds, lush harmonies and a vocal that will sweep you away to some place better. Click here to get your hands on a copy of the EP and most importantly enjoy the music.

I caught up with the band’s frontman, Jack Olchawski, to talk about everything from the music scene in Oxford to the band’s début EP, Contours, and much, much more. Read on to hear what he said.

Hi. Firstly, I’d like to say thanks for this interview. Can you all introduce yourselves and what roles you play in the band?

We are Toliesel, a band from Oxford in the UK. I am Jack and I sing, Tom Jowett and Adam James are on electric guitars. Gabs Catalano is our bassist and producer, and Nick is our lovely drummer.

How would you describe your sound for the readers that may have never heard your music before?

Our sound is a meeting point of indie rock and alternative country, with some shoe gaze. Some of it is super loud and abrasive, and some of it is very intimate and reflective. Fans of Neil Young, Death Cab For Cutie and Deerhunter should all find something to enjoy.

What’s the story behind your band name, it’s very unique, and how long did it take you to settle on it?

The ‘Liesel’ actually refers to the main character from the wonderful novel, ‘The Book Thief’. In the novel, Liesel is watched over by Death, during World War 2. The first song we wrote did the same thing, and we called it ‘To Liesel’, we liked it and chose it for our band name, and somewhere over time, we squished the words together, although I’m really not sure why!

You recently released your début EP, Contours, how has the response been to that so far?

The response has been amazing. Every review has had lovely things to say about it and it’s made us a really familiar name in our hometown, which in Oxford, is a challenging thing to do.

What’s the story behind each of the songs on the Contours EP?

‘Whispered Half Asleep’ is inspired by the futility of an argument, and how in the best relationships, it’s only ever a temporary state until you’re back on track. I am lucky enough to be in one of those relationships, so this song is all about that. It is also a bit of an ode to the album, ‘Narrow Stairs by Death Cab For Cutie, which puts me in a more measured state of mind every time I hear its opening notes. If I’m feeling low, it’s the first album to go on.

‘The Light’ takes the idea of a few clumsy decisions, and unseized opportunities, and turns it into something at least bittersweet. In the song, I accept that I may never achieve some great state, but that I’ve had a blast trying.

I’ve always been very pleased with the lyrics of ‘Lighthouse’. On the surface it is a love song, with two lovers torn apart by the ocean, and the passing of time. But the element I like the most, is how it explores the idea that every person you encounter, even the guy talking gibberish at a bar, has lead a life, with their own experiences and encounters, which to them, feel completely profound.

‘Brothers’ is about the morning breaking through after being awake with friends all night. I wanted to write something that was inverse to the usual, romanticised idea of youth, and party culture. I think ultimately, it’s a positive song though.

Do you remember the first song you ever wrote together and if you do, can you tell us a bit about it?

‘To Liesel’ was the first song that Rob, who co founded the band, and myself really pinned down. But it was ‘The Light’ that really made us all connect as a group. It was the first time we were all really excited by our own music, and has spurred on everything else that we’ve done.

Who are your musical influences and do they have any influence on your sound?

The previously mentioned, Death Cab, Neil Young and Deerhunter all set the Toliesel blueprints, but bands like Wilco, The Weakerthans and Fleet Foxes all have an influence over our sound too. Something that ties all of those bands together is a sense of adventurous experimentation, all the while encased in a pop sensibility, and that is something we aim for with every song.

You played a headline gig recently to launch your début EP, with two other great bands, Maiians and My Grey Horse. How was the gig and do you feel like you gained some new fans from that night?

That show was a true highlight of our time as a band so far. Maiians and My Grey Horse were both excellent, particularly considering it was Maiians’ first ever show. I think a lot of people were there out of curiosity, as we had some really nice press building up the show, I’d like to think we won them over!

What’s a show for Toliesel normally like?

Something we focus on is plenty of energy, and a positive vibe, no matter how big the show, how busy it is, or where we are on the bill. I think a lot of bands forget that they have an audience to consider, so while it’s important that we test ourselves creatively, and stay true to our ambitions, we always make sure the audience has a good time.

What are your thoughts on the music scene in Oxford? Is there quite a buzz around the city surrounding the music scene and are there any venues you recommend checking out?

The Oxfordshire music scene is without doubt, one of the most exciting in the country. Without fail a band breaks out into the national consciousness every year. People often refer to it as a ‘buzz’, but to be honest, it’s been like this for so many years now, it feels like it’s simply the norm for this city, and long may it continue.

We’re big supporters of new music here at Bitter Sweet Symphonies. Having said that, are there any new artists that have caught your attention recently that you’d like to share with us?

A band that have struck us with their great approach to songwriting and effortless live show is Empty White Circles. They also tackle americana, but definitely have their own identity. Annoyingly, they are far more handsome than us.

As we are approaching the end of 2013, what’s been your stand out moment of the year and do you have any goals for the New Year?

That’s a tough question. This year has certainly felt like the best for Toliesel. I suppose it’s been a series of small, but important moments for us. Great support slots with bands like Dawes and Sweet Baboo, along with the headline show, and the release of Contours has made 2013 great for us. 2014 looks to be even better though.


A special thanks to Toliesel for this interview and for more info on the band, check out the following links below.

Website . Facebook . Twitter

Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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