Vohn Toe: “Music Is Made to Live Outside Its Composers”

Vohn Toe, the new musical project of Alex Turcu and Vlad Constantin, is the proof that no one, absolutely no one doesn’t know how to let things go. And sometimes, like in this case for example, not letting things go is the right choice.

They founded their first band (Running Clouds) six years ago, which progressed quite slowly and eventually faded 2 years later. More than 1 year after that, they dusted off the long lost tracks and decided to properly record the songs, along with the newly composed ones. The feeling they must have had doing this, the emotion, give me the shivers; rediscovering their own origins and understanding them, maybe better than before. You’d think this was going to be the big hit, but it wasn’t. Alex and Vlad “ruminated” on the pile of songs and inner ambitions for another couple of years, while their flame kept smothering. Until last summer.

“I think music is made to live outside its composers and be shared”, says the band, as a motto, “and I had the distinct feeling ours would turn against us if not handled properly. We never wrote a happy song during our entire collaboration, we found an outlet in the universal language that is music. Long story short, we had to let our music out!”. So they decided to release their first music video, Cardiology – the unplanned, unexpected experiment.

Vohn Toe: “We did the mix and master with Michael Massier and we slept on Cardiology for another year. In the meantime, I met Ioana Calimanescu (she’s booking & PR for a couple of bands) and I let it pass that I need a visual for my first single. So she called Alexandru Das (Valerinne) and a week from that – bam! – we had our first draft for the video”.

Intrigued by their story, I decided to question the two. I learned, while doing it, that their plan of not having any expectations sounds more like a plan than what the guys-with-plans have in mind. Kind of a Ledger’s Joker attitude. While reading their answers, you’ll keep hearing this mantra: “Do I really look like a guy with a plan?…”. Here’s the interview:

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Chronological, nothing makes sense […] this is an experiment.

Baldo (Cultartes Magazine): Hello, Vohn Toe! This name sounds like you will take forever to scratch or it pops up in a moment of high dadaism inspiration. How it actually was and what it represents?

Vohn Toe: We actually pulled a A.S.I.A kind of thing: we were sitting in a coffee shop and thinking about how we should name the band. Fast forwarding an hour and two mugs of black coffee later, we came up with John Doe, for a couple of reasons: (a.) we’re bad at naming (b). we don’t want to be famous (c). we write universal stories about people that we will never meet.

Of course we couldn’t leave it like that, because the Gods over at Google wouldn’t index our band in a million years, so we decided to give it the old acronym spin and replace the first letters with our own initials: we considered on both Tohn Voe or Vohn Toe, but the latter won, as it sounds more pompous and hilarious that the other. I guess the name was just waiting to be discovered, because it suits us like a glove.

Your video is intertwined with the song so well that I’m not sure if it gives you headaches, but it gives you for sure some heart palpitations. Is “Cardiology” a sort of remedy for insensitivity?

Turcu: We love your take on this and that is exactly what I love about music: the interpretability of it. The fact that if a thousand people listen to a song or read its lyrics, they could see it in exactly one thousand distinct ways and interiorize it differently. Music is an experience and our life experiences will let us perceive different translations of it. To return to your question, for me, Cardiology is about freedom of expression.

Vlad: The video gives you the visual perspective of the rottenness life “humbles” you with and sometimes gracefully throws in your way. Cardiology is a scream for help. If you look at unfairness as insensitiveness, than yes, it could be some sort of remedy.

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You guys have a very professional-like air; I saw you have worked with a number of well-meaning people on this musical area and not only. Was this a hidden purpose, like, let’s make some waves or it’s rather everything by chance?

If we were to listen to the great Zen masters or some Facebook quote, nothing happens by chance. Our plan was not to have a plan, but we were lucky enough to have great people by our side from the get go. We didn’t become professional by chance, but because we grew enough to know there isn’t any other way of doing things. Some of the people that helped were already our friends, some joined because they really liked the project. We’ll list them below, as if we were giving an ultra long Grammy acceptance speech:

George Ionita (drums) was our third drummer in our former band. Highly talented, he adds a kick ass-metal-swag to everything he does. Yap, we said metal-swag, deal with it! He would still be our drummer today if it weren’t for his damn studies in the UK. And we’re still not so secretly hoping they will kick him out of uni for getting drunk and blasting Sepultura at 4 am in campus or something. Geo, we’ll be right here, waiting for you with open arms, fuck education!

If we assume that humans will still have feelings in the future, art will always be around to comfort the spirit.

Stefan-Ionut Georgescu (bass) – what a character! Our love for Circa Survive, South Park and weird morbid jokes will forever unite us! Not to mention his groove, you’ve seen the guy in White Walls, c’mon, he’s the shit!

Alexandru Das really amazed us with his take on Cardiology: after an initial talk, we gave him complete control and freedom of the process, because we believe in the power of collaboration between artists. We believe the imagery builds up to the story, creating a dichotomy between something that’s quite raw (the beating heart, the nature shots) and the depth of the lyrics.

We owe a couple of things to Ioana Calimanescu, our fairy godmother: not only did she introduced us to Alexandru Das, but she kindly spread the word when the single was finnally out. Prior to that, she took it upon herself to hammer and convince us we should release Cardiology. She’s a great professional and a very encouraging friend.

Michael Massier showed us how to transform something really bad into something really good. Both nerve wrecking and amazing to work with, because he’s really meticulous.

Razvan Rizea housed us in his studio for one summer and he was actually the first one to encourage us to record a whole album, not just a song.

Chris Devour took it upon his camera to make us look less ridiculous than we felt: we’re really camera shy and dread having our picture taken, but he eased the process with his jokes. He’s really talented and gives his photographies a very poetic vibe.

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Since we’re here, let’s talk about how the things happened with your present collaborators and whether other future plans you have. I was thinking about some interesting stuff between Vohn Toe and Valerinne. Any opinions?

Turcu: We still don’t have any plans and we’re quite zen about it. With one little exception: we decided to release another single by the end of the year. A collab between Vohn Toe and Valerinne sounds post-rockishly awesome, we wouldn’t say no.

Vlad: I believe we first need to establish ourselves as an entity, but we will always be open to experiments.

Most people tend to often mistakenly place what they see or hear in a particular landscape. On the principle we were used to “enclose yourselves so I won’t have to”, tell us more about your approaches, inspirations or the like.

Turcu: I’ve always been a die-hard fan of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree. When we wrote Cardiology, I was listening to all things progressive (King Crimson, Yes, Tool, A Perfect Circle), post-rock (Leech, Long Distance Calling, Maybeshewill, God is an Astronaut) and drone/ambiental (Bass Communion, Ulver), but my biggest influence at the time was Circa Survive, I’ve interiorized a lot of the lead singer’s anguish and channeled it into my own writing. I’m not a big fan of encasing music into genres, but, for the sake of the question, I think you could meet us on the alternative w/ a progressive twist side.

Vlad: At first, Turcu and I came from two totally different directions. He was a rock minded type already, while I was still experimenting with pop/pop-rock/latino/pop-opera/R&B. Although coming from oftenly perceived as contrasting backgrounds, we somehow clicked and got to inspire eachother.

Why the fuck can’t people just enjoy the music? Here’s the thing about breathing. It has no importance I breathe the Bucharest air or the one in New York, as long as the gesture itself means you live.

Turcu: People need patterns to function, and references to work with. As for genres, I think they don’t actually matter, as long as the music is good. And, as long as a song stirs something in me, be it happiness or loathing, I think it’s good.

Vlad: This is where the social standards, implemented in years, take over. It is the result of programming people that the dream is meant to happen on one continent, or some few places in the World. It’s about where the modern idol was brought to life, and where the attention is drawn.

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When was the primordial though that made you consider music isn’t such a bad path to follow?

Turcu: When I flunk the UNATC admission and I realized I’m better at music and music makes me better as a human being.

Vlad: For me, the passion came around when I managed to apply some theory to my singing. That happened in 2007.

What was the first album you guys have heard of while you were child and it actually blew your brains out?

Turcu: Nevermind – Nirvana

Vlad: Taxi – Jumatate de album. The year was 1999.

How a world where imagination is the only way to live would look like and what place Vohn Toe would have in such Universe?

Vohn Toe would be the void to that world, because it represents stories of people that are there, but you won’t ever get to see, hear or feel.

What was the weirdest place or moment you had an idea for a song?

Turcu: I never composed outside my home, that’s my safe space. I sometimes get ideas when I’m driving and I have to choose what to focus on. It’s usually the driving.

Vlad: While having sex with a girl I didn’t love, thinking about the one that I did love and had just dumped me.

The world is evolving like really fast and we’re becoming increasingly torn by history, living only for the moment. In these conditions, can art/music be something passed down the generations to come?

Vlad: If we assume that humans will still have feelings in the future, art will always be around to comfort the spirit.

How would Romania look like if art, culture and common sense would be fashionable?

Turcu: Like Berlin.

Vlad: It would look like no other country, because Romania is such an unique place, primarely due to its diverse curves (geographically speaking, of course).

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In the end, let’s play an imagination game. Considering your track list, sounds, artworks, how a material would look like inspired by your photo album? You know, those dusty, notable forgotten albums in your grandparents’s attic.

Turcu: Never thought about it, but I can tell you what I look for in an album, besides the music: a small window to the artist’s universe or an added piece to the story, something you can access only through the physical copy.

Vlad: I think that it would look as real as our music is, having stood the test of time.

All photos: (c) Chris Devour. Follow Vohn Toe on Facebook and Bandcamp.

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