Photograph by Karen McBride

Photograph by Karen McBride

Back in July, as I perused the Mememachine, I came across a cover of the insanely infectious ‘Sleepyhead’ by Passion Pit. I was interested to see how the song could possibly be covered with its fat layered synths, Irish harp samples, and window-breaking falsettos. It certainly was not the typical candidate for a remix, let alone a cover. To my sweet surprise, a band I had never heard of had breathed new-gentle life into the track through its lead singer’s delicate, trained vocals and the use of xylophones, a cittern, a violin, and what looked like an old as nails Casio MT45. The band turned out to be Run Toto Run, an up and coming trio from the burgeoning music scene of Manchester, and the song turned out to be one of my favorites of the Summer.

A few weeks later at Lollapalooza, I realized the true magic of the song. As the exhausted, red bull-fueled youth gang that I attended the festival with sat in our hotel room in the wee hours of the night on Day 2, I played Run Toto Run’s cover of the festival’s anthem. By the track’s end, we were all fast asleep with silly smiles on our faces. I realized that unlike the original, Run Toto Run’s cover had the ability to evoke the mood of the song’s title. The cover became the soundtrack to my last waking minutes of each day for a good month and I soon discovered the Plastic Gold EP, a breezy 5 track debut fusing together the instrumentation found on the cover with gentle electronic beats of the Postal Service variety.

I corresponded with lead vocalist Rachael Kichenside to ask about the influence of fairytales on the band’s music, Manchester’s evolving music scene, and what’s to come for the band.

Run Toto Run – Catch My Breath
Run Toto Run – Plastic Gold
Run Toto Run – Good Coat

Sal: First off, who are Run Toto Run and how did you come together?

Rachael Kichenside: Run Toto Run are Rachael Kichenside, Matt Farthing and Mike Kelly. We had a fourth member Cazz until a few weeks ago, but sadly she couldn’t keep up with all we were doing so we’re down to three again. We were all playing in various bands around Manchester and recognized similar sensibilities in each other, so over time we got together and started our own band.

Sal: Toto, the rambunctious Terrier canine from the stories of Oz was one of my favourite characters because he had the ability to speak, but simply chose not to – a playful observer and thinker. How would you say the character of Toto relates to the band’s musical aesthetic?

Rachael: It wasn’t so much the specific character, it was the idea of relating to something whimsical and a bit magical. It was also a bit of a playful thing. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.

Sal: Beyond the world of Oz, it seems like many of the Run Toto Run’s promotional pictures, live sets, and videos draw from children’s literary fiction. I love the picture which has you dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, Cazz as the White Rabbit, and Matt and Mike as a menacing bear and bull. What kind of themes are you trying to portray with these images? Is theatricality something you carry over to your live show?

Rachael: I especially love to dress up and we do want to bring a performance element to what we do, live and in stills. So many times I’ve been disappointed by bands who don’t perform. I think it’s great to see creativity in a band beyond the music, in artwork and costumes. When we play live we do tend to dress up and I’ve got things like hand held glitter cannons I set off. We sometimes plant those sorts of things in the audience as well. Nick Bentley, the director of our new video, which will hopefully be ready in a few weeks, hit the nail on the head with the aesthetic and it’s going to be really surreal and magical. You can check out some behind the scenes shots of the shoot on our facebook page.

Sal: The fantastic seem to be recurring themes with bands from Manchester – Joy Division and The Smiths in particular come to mind. How has Manchester, the city, and Manchester’s history of music influenced your sound?

Rachael: We’re pretty different from old school Manc bands, there’s not been many female fronted bands from Manchester and our sound isn’t all that comparable. The city’s love of music and the opportunities to play live in Manchester have definitely shaped how we are though. The strong scene of up and coming acts also helps you raise your game and bands such as Everything Everything currently coming up through the ranks give us something to aim for as they’re that bit further on than us.

Sal: Many musical scenes across the globe are reverting to a trend from earlier eras wherein bands and artists from a particular city are tending to work with each other almost incestuously. We certainly have that in Toronto with collectives like Broken Social Scene. How does Manchester’s music community interact by comparison, and does Run Toto Run blur the lines between band and community at all with fellow bands like Stickboy?

Rachael: Funny example as Cazz was playing with Stickboy before she played with us and Craig from Stickboy and I have been good friends since we met a few years ago whilst playing the same gigs. Craig really helped push me forward as well and he played on and produced some of my early tracks before Run Toto Run even existed. The first of my tracks which got played on Radio 2 by Steve Lamacq was a track recorded in his living room. We’ve also got a site called Dance Toto Dance, which has featured remixes by Manchester bands such as Magic Arm and Dutch Uncles as well as Manchester DJs and Stickboy himself.

Sal: You’ve cited The Postal Service as an influence in the past. Gibbard and Dntl’s recording process was quite famously disconnected, using the postal service to mail bits and pieces back-and-forth to one another. How does Run Toto Run work on material – together or apart, in pieces or all at once?

Rachael: We’ve worked in different ways. Quite often I bring the lyrics and a musical skeleton to rehearsals and the band work it up and flesh it into something good. Other times it comes from just playing together and seeing what develops. We sometimes camp up in one of our kitchens for a whole weekend, get some food and drinks in and see what happens. It’s been great to see what comes from those times, usually at 2am after my brothers come in and plied us with whiskey. The lyrics usually develop on public transport with me singing them into my phone, very quietly.

Sal: I first came to hear of Run Toto Run through your Passion Pit cover. The cover, while beautiful, has a distinctly different aesthetic from the rest of the EP. How did the idea to cover ‘Sleepyhead’ come about? Has the popularity of the cover influenced any of the bands notions about what sound to seek in future recordings?

Rachael: The only reason we did the cover was because Manchester International Festival wanted us to do one as they wanted something in their gig we had never performed before. As we put it on YouTube and it ended up on national radio before the MIF gig, we ended up having to think of something else for the festival, so we shot ourselves in the foot a bit. We never thought anyone would ever see it, so we ended up having to arrange a string section to play with us as our “something new” as it were. The stuff we write ourselves isn’t quite as stripped down and I think it was just a little magical how half a day in Mike’s living room ended up inspiring so many people. We can’t try and replicate that since we stumbled on it. We weren’t trying and I think people can see when you’re trying too hard and forcing things. We are doing another cover at the moment which is going to be quite pretty, but this time a bit more developed and not just recorded with one mic stuck in the middle of the room.

Sal: What is next for Run Toto Run?

Rachael: We’re recording a new EP , gigging as much as possible and have a single coming out in November which is also getting a release in Japan. So fingers crossed we’ll be getting further afield before too long. We’ve been invited to play Canadian Music Week, but we’re just trying to get the pennies in order.

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— , September 24, 2009    Comments Off on Run Toto Run