Ray Toro is in a reflective mood. The former My Chemical Romance guitarist has spent the last three and a half years processing his life up to now; his childhood, his family and his time with a band who, at their peak, were one of the biggest names in alternative music.
Those thoughts and emotions have been put together to form the basis of his first solo record, Remember The Laughter. An incredibly personal record, it’s not only full of hope and positivity, it sees Toro, a guy who always seemed more ‘rock’ than ‘emo’, grow as a musician- taking on lyrical and vocal duties for the first time, and doing a pretty good job of it too.
In the years since the break up of MCR, Toro has become a father and, in the year when the band’s seminal album, The Black Parade, turned 10 years old, seems perfectly happy to admit he’s all for a bit of nostalgia – as long as there’s always one eye on the future.
Remember The Laughter has been a long time in the making, how does it feel to finally release it?
I can’t wait for people to hear it. Like you say its been a long process and kind of a long journey for me, not only as a musician and a song writer but also as a father – I had my son, a few weeks before I started writing for the record so that was very integral to the process. So, it’s a very exciting time for me.
It’s been three and a half years since people got a first glimpse of you as a solo artist with the track ‘Isn’t That Something’…
Yeah, three and a half years. It’s been one of those things where writing and tracking was an off and on thing where I would have a few months of heavy tracking and inspiration and then go quiet for a while until another idea sparked. But what was cool for me was that over those three and a half years I was going through all these changes as both a songwriter and a person – I was able to translate those experiences into a new song.
So did you set out to make this record from the beginning, or was it just a matter of getting those tracks down individually?
No – I think the first song ‘Isn’t That Something’ was a song to deal with the break up of My Chem – it’s not 100% about that, but there’s definitely some of that in there. So that was the first song that I wrote and then it was sort of like an organic process – when I wrote that song I never had the intention to write an entire record, I didn’t even have an idea where the record would end up – it was just me processing feelings that I was going through at the time, moment to moment.
One of the songs is about what was going on in Ferguson in 2014, and that was a very timely song – I never had the intention of “this is going to be for a record”. So I think after about a year and a half I did see that I had this really cool body of work, that I felt I could put together on a record and start building the concept around it.
What would you say was the main concept that ties Remember The Laughter together?
Well, the overall concept is – an older man is returning to his childhood home and he hears a familiar melody coming from the attic. He goes up into this attic and finds a memory box that he never knew existed. So he goes through it and each of those items in the box spark memories of his childhood – his parents, of him growing up and each of the songs is connected to that. So that’s kind of the overall concept of the record. The themes are related to family and the idea of generations passing and the passing of knowledge – a lot of the lyrics are drawn from the things that my parents told me when I was a kid, and also some of the things I hope to pass on to my son as well.
Has having a child heavily influenced your outlook and approach to songwriting?
Having a kid really does change your world and changes how you look at the world – I feel I became much more conscious about the state of the world and my responsibility to help him navigate it. It can be a very confusing and scary place. I think that’s reflected in the overall theme of this record – things I would tell my son to help him get through how crazy the world can be.
You mentioned the memory box before – are you the sort of person who tends to keep hold of physical mementoes from your life – are you a bit of a hoarder?
It’s actually kind of funny – I’m really not! I have a very small cardboard box of things that mean a lot to me from my years in the band and before that too. So what was cool about the process of writing the record was that it got me to start going through my parents photo albums and going through my high school year book and seeing some of the things my friends had written to me at the time and trying to correlate it to where I am in life now. But yeah – I’m definitely not a hoarder, and my dad is the kind of similar to that – he’s constantly throwing things out , and we bagged on him when we were younger, like, we would be looking for toys of ours that we were playing with at the time and he just decided we didn’t need them any more so …! (laughs) So I guess I’m like him – always trying to clear out and get rid of things! And so the record was a nice way to get me to start thinking again about my past.
Well you were pretty non-stop from the beginning of My Chemical Romance up until the split – did it feel like you finally had a moment to stop and gather those thoughts up?
Yeah, you’re exactly right – when you’re in a band as active and popular as we got, you don’t get that chance to sit down and take stock of everything – I feel like that didn’t happen for me, in regards to the band, until about 6 months after we broke up. I don’t think I ever fully understood what it meant to people and how special the band was. So I think having time to reflect and process definitely got me to see those years in a different light. You have a certain appreciation when you’re in it but because it’s moving so fast it’s sometimes hard to see what you had. So that time after was a good time to reflect and come to terms with the end – getting to the other side of it. We did an incredible thing together, but now it’s time to put that away and move on to the future.
So after being a part of a mega band like My Chemical Romance, was it a welcome change of pace when it came to writing this record? Less pressure from a label, fans, band mates?
Absolutely it was. I think that’s something that any band on a label that sees some success will eventually run in to. Where as if you start out smaller the number of people that rely on you and looking to you to produce music aren’t so much in the mix. So you feel a little bit isolated, but it’s easier to perform.
So did you find it a liberating experience?
Oh yeah, it feels nice to be able to take your time. But it also poses dangers too – cause there’s something about music where, ultimately, recording is about capturing a moment in time and capturing it in the best way possible. That can get tricky if you have too much time – you can find yourself going back and re-editing and re-working things and going a bit overkill. So there’s a fine line you have to walk – but for me it helped cause I was still developing, you know? I had never written lyrics before, never sang, never wrote songs entirely by myself, so the time I had to do that allowed me to develop a lot as a musician and songwriter. If I had a label breathing down my neck I don’t think I would have been able to do it.
Although there was no label pressure, did you feel fan pressure at all? We’ve had solo efforts from Gerard and Frank – was there a sense of “Come on Ray, you’re next! Where’s your stuff?”
(Laughs) No, no, you know, the fans have been incredibly supportive and extremely patient, and I think if anything there was just excitement about what I might possibly do. But I never felt any pressure to rush something out – I’ve always been of the idea that when things are ready, they’re ready. Musicians or artists, whoever, everybody needs their time to be able to work to their best ability. Sometimes that can take a short amount of time and sometimes it can take longer. But for me, in this instance, it took a little longer.
The album comes at a time of renewed attention on MCR, with the 10th anniversary of The Black Parade suddenly upon us in 2016. It’s generated a lot of nostalgia over the past few months, especially among the fans, culminating in the re-issue/special edition release – are milestones like that important to you? Does it really mean anything that it’s been 10 years since The Black Parade?
I really didn’t ever realise it until some emails started being sent around about the re-issue and the putting together of a trailer for it. But it relates back to what we were talking about before – a milestone allows you to reflect back and I feel that’s what has been happening with the press and the fans as well. So it has been interesting, and the timing of the 10th anniversary being so close to when my record is coming out too – a record about looking back at the past. It’s just one of those funny coincidences. But it is cool to see the love people still have for My Chem. It reminds me of when I was younger, in high school when I started getting into the Misfits – that was a band I never thought I would be able to see live.
Did you manage to get to any of the Riot Fest shows for the Danzig/Only reunion?
No, I didn’t, but I think Frank was playing one of the shows, so he was sending me videos of it and yeah, it was fucking rad! But at that time, back in school, I never thought I would get to see them and so in some way the Misfits were like this mythical thing. So I’m starting to see how, in a similar kind of way, people are talking about My Chem, in particular The Black Parade, as this mythical thing. So that’s cool – reminding me of how I felt about some of my favorite bands in high school who weren’t around any more.
So what do you think it was about The Black Parade, more than anything else, that just resonated so much?
It’s so hard to put a finger on it. I think the themes of the record resonated with the audience. There’s a lot of truth on the record. There’s a lot of processing of death and trying to understand it, but there’s a lot of hope on there too.
I think it was maybe the record that, musically at least, broke free of that ‘emo’ tag, to reveal a great rock band – one that could hold their own on the bigger stages and, with that added stage presence and spectacle, invite comparisons to the likes of Queen.
Right, and I think at that time it was a free and creative environment for us, and any artist or any band works their best without limits to possibility. And I feel people responded to that as well – they saw a band not trying to be pigeon holed to a certain sound or label.
So with the 10th Anniversary re-issue of The Black Parade, and the date stamped trailer – to which the fans went mad for, almost falling over themselves in expectation of something more – was a reunion show or tour ever on the cards? Was it ever discussed as a possibility?
No, nothing like that. Our focus was just the re-issue – to celebrate the record. We never discussed any thing like that.
If Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only can get back on stage together, surely My Chem can, eventually.
Yeah, maybe, but I cant really say for sure. I think for each of us individually, the new stuff we’ve got going on is our focus, and that’s where our excitement and passion is right now. The great thing is that everybody is doing some really great work – Gerard and his comic, Frank with his new record and Mikey with his – so everybody is focused on that.
And what are your plans after the record comes out? Seeing as you’ve recorded and played everything on the album, will you be looking to get a band together to perform this stuff live – go out on tour?
Yeah, I’m planning on getting to the UK next year – the first half of 2017, if possible, but I do have to find guys to play this stuff with me! I’ve got a few people I’m actually getting together with in a couple of weeks and doing some preliminary rehearsals – there’s a lot I have to figure out myself like what I can play on guitar and sing at the same time, so that’s the first step for me in terms of how the live shows are going to feel like. But its very exciting – to bring a new life to it, cause its mostly all me playing for myself, so, I think the songs will take on a different life and I’m very excited for that.
‘Remember The Laughter’ is out now