It’s always interesting to find out about something new, particularly when that something is a musical project.
Not that Tobias Ben Jacob and Lukas Drinkwater could be considered ‘new’ musicians…far from it. Having previously played in Roots Union alongside Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, Tobias has since been recording and performing as a solo artist, airing his distinctive vocal and guitar sound at Glastonbury, Green Man and the Secret Garden Party.
Bass player Lukas Drinkwater will probably be best known to FRUK readers as one third of festival favourites 3 Daft Monkeys and is in heavy demand as a session musician having already performed and recorded with a catalogue of acclaimed artists. He’s also a songwriter and solo-performer in his own right.
What’s ‘new’ is these two guys working together. Having performed alongside each other last summer for Tobias’ Glastonbury appearance, the pair are now on a joint tour during January and have plans to take their musical partnership further. I caught up with the chaps at a secret location in Hertfordshire to find out more…
FRUK: How did you gents end up working together?
Lukas: We’re musicians who lived for a while in the same town in Devon, and we kept crossing paths at festivals in various bands over many years. We happened to be both heading to Glastonbury Festival last year, so we decided to get together and for me to learn Tobias’ songs and help him with his show…
Tobias: We’d heard about each other and we knew about each other, but this was the first time we’d met…at a bar that we both frequent. Lukas learned most of my set in one evening before Glastonbury. We had a practice in a field at Glastonbury, trying to contend with circus performers, fireworks, sound-systems…we were trying to find a quiet corner, but we realised there are no quiet corners at Glastonbury! So we just got on stage and did the gig.
Lukas: We did our first gig at about 2am on the first day of the festival…
FRUK: And how was your Glastonbury experience?
Tobias: Well we’re both sort of Glastonbury veterans really…we’ve both done it quite a lot over the years … it was great.
Lukas: It was nice knowing that what little rehearsal we’d put in up to that point was being appreciated. People seemed to really enjoy it.
Tobias: It was exciting for me going back. I’ve done it solo a lot of times over the last few years…it was nice to go in with Lukas, having a bigger sound and more interplay.
FRUK: So how did you get from there to deciding to do a tour?
Tobias: Well we’d talked about gigging more together. Lukas has been playing with me since then; we’ve done gigs together…mainly local stuff. I knew Lukas was going to be free in January and I wanted to go out do something then, even though it’s a strange month to tour…I thought ‘I don’t want to be twiddling my thumbs in January, I want to go and do something, get set up for the year ahead’. Lukas was free and was really keen. It’s self-organised in terms of bookings and stuff…Lukas has got various contacts, I’ve got various contacts…we put something together and it’s been great so far.
Lukas: Helen Meissner from Folkstock has done a lot of the promoting for us, as it turns out we’re not really promoters!
Tobias: I haven’t toured for quite a long time…I mean I’ve never really toured solo. I’ve been in bands in the past so it’s quite new for me to tour. A lot of these places we’re going to, there aren’t going to be hundreds of people knowing who I am, so that extra promotion is really key to us.
FRUK: Is the set for the tour all based your songs then Tobias, or have you written new songs together?
Tobias: The way we’ve done the tour is that Lukas does a solo show himself… He also plays guitar and sings…so Lukas does the opening set on his own, then plays bass and backing vocals for me in my set.
FRUK: How did you find that Lukas contributed to your music?
Tobias: The music is much more driving. I was playing on festival stages and I was trying to get a bigger sound and get more energy into the music. I love bass anyway, I love the low-end…I used to EQ my guitar with a lot of low-end anyway before I was playing with Lukas…
Lukas: He used to use an octave pedal before I joined
Tobias: I do use that still when I’m playing solo…
Lukas: I could be redundant!
Tobias: I just found it added a much bigger sound, a depth of sound…and the chance to interact with each other on stage gives more of a stage show. Also one day we were playing a set and Lukas just started throwing in vocal harmonies and that was developing more and more. That lifted a new element into the music as well.
Lukas: I’m quite an energetic and percussive double bass player as well! Which fulfils a percussive role in the setup…
FRUK: What about your route to becoming musicians? Did you both get into music the same way?
Lukas: I grew up in Falmouth, Cornwall, and there are a lot of pub folk sessions and things like that, so I grew up doing that as a teenager, and busking…I went travelling around Europe in my teens and just busked because I didn’t have any other way of making money. So that’s how I got into music really. Then I just took it more seriously in my twenties and decided to try and make a living out of it…and I’m still trying to make a living out of it now! But I’m refining the projects I do rather than just chasing money….rather than just going for paid gigs now I’m really enjoying doing good projects and making good solid music.
Tobias: I’ve always loved singing since I was a child, but I only really started playing guitar quite late when I was at college, so I was about seventeen I think. The reason I started playing guitar…well there’s always been guitar in my house, my father and my uncle played guitar. I remember going to a party…it was actually for my Mum who was emigrating…and I remember my uncles and people playing guitars, playing Dylan songs and the like. I remember being so emotionally moved by the music and the setting and realising how powerful a medium it was…I think that’s when I decided I had to learn guitar. So when I went back to my uncle’s house, he couldn’t get rid of me! I went every day after school until he’d pretty much taught me everything he knew…I think his wife was sick of seeing me!
FRUK: You’ve both worked with a lot of different musicians. When you work with new people, as you have been in this project, do you find that it develops you further as an artist?
Lukas: Totally. I do a lot of collaboration…not always long-term collaborations, but one-offs where I play on someone’s album. I’m doing it next week, I’m playing bass on Steve Pledger’s album, I’m just going in to the studio for one day. I’ve learned his songs and I’ll go in and play…but just the process of learning anything new, learning new music and the different interaction, informs you as a musician. There’s no better way of developing than just playing more.
Tobias: I’d say yeah. I’ve just started making an album and I’m experimenting with different textures…it’s exciting to see what different people bring and see where you can take the music. This project…it’s not a static thing…it’s interesting to see where it can go this year I think, sonically with different instrumentation. Other people might become involved, we’ve already spoken about certain musicians that are interested and who might be getting involved. A lot of that’s going to start coming together in the spring.
Lukas: So this is just the beginning of the project really.
FRUK: What’s your take on the folk scene in the UK at the moment?
Lukas: I don’t really feel like I’m involved in a ‘folk scene’ as such. I play with various people considered to be folk artists, and I do play a lot of folk festivals and clubs and I enjoy dipping into traditional music. There’s just so much of it…it’s not one thing is it…folk music isn’t a single thread it’s very broad.
Tobias: There’s always interesting things happening in the scene. I’m lucky to have worked with Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin in The Roots Union a few years back…Phil is an old college friend and I know they’re recording at the moment; I’m excited to see how their sound develops. I’m not strictly a folk artist but I’ve been involved around the folk scene for quite a few years. We play on a broad range of scenes…we play Glastonbury and places like that where it’s a different atmosphere, but we find the folk scene offers a really receptive audience and we have felt the support of the scene with the help we’re getting on this tour, and seeing people’s interest in discovering and sharing our music.
Lukas: Approaching an established scene can be a bit daunting as an outsider. I’d be fearful of, say, doing a folk club tour with this project because a lot of the clubs do prefer trad folk or something that leans more towards traditional music. But it’s always changing and people are very open-minded generally…
FRUK: Are you both full-time musicians? Do you do this for a living?
Lukas: I am, and I feel very privileged to be able to make a living doing the thing I love.
FRUK: I was going to ask what you find as the hardest thing about being a full-time musician?
Lukas: Just trying to keep the diary under control. I think to make a living as a full-time musician it helps if you can do more than one job in the industry, unless you have a really strong product to sell…if people love your music so much that you can just get by selling your own music that’s great. I don’t really have that as a solo artist yet, I’m still developing it, so I’m involved in lots of different projects, playing bass with different bands, playing guitar with different people. For me the toughest part is trying not to let too many people down by saying ‘Yes’ to loads of things and then being unavailable. There are a lot of apologetic phone calls I have to make!
Tobias: I’m not a full-time musician. I’d like to be…this is what I love to do, we’re touring now, and I want to do more of it. I feel like I’ve been out of the scene a bit for the last few years, I’ve had various other things going on, and so I’m really excited to build this up. It feels like we’re starting to get a bit of momentum with this project at the moment…
FRUK: What are you both looking forward to most in relation to this tour?
Lukas: The music’s developing all the time because we’re still a new project, so every gig we play we get stronger. And playing to new audiences. A lot of people have heard about us and what we’re doing, so they’re coming along to shows with a curiosity. It’s great getting to the end of a show and seeing people’s reactions. People are really receptive to what we’re doing.
Tobias: We’re meeting a lot of musicians as well because we know various people around the scene…around different cities. So we’ve just set up a gig at short notice with a friend of Lukas’, a band in London, Tankus The Henge, so we’re doing that tomorrow. It’s nice to get out meeting people, and jamming with people…
Lukas: We’ve just sorted out a collaboration with Kelly Oliver that we’ll be performing at a couple of shows, which is sounding great…
FRUK: Tell me about the itinerary for the tour…how did you decide where to go and play?
Tobias: I booked the dates, starting with “Who do we know? Who can we contact?”. We definitely wanted to come to London…we can always get plenty of work where we’re based, so we’ve booked shows around Devon and Cornwall…but we wanted to move along the South and the South-East. We had offers in Norwich and Kent…so it was just about joining the dots. We’re heading back West after that…
Lukas: We’re still finding new places, new venues at the last minute…tomorrow night in London and we’ve just added one, a Sunday morning gig in Kent… so there’s a great deal of spontaneity going on.
Tobias: Yeah we’re doing a breakfast gig at 11am…
FRUK: What’s your voice like at 11am?!
Tobias: I don’t know…it depends what the night before was like!
Lukas: Depends on how many Pina Coladas we have!
FRUK: So have you discovered each other’s annoying tour habits yet then?
Tobias: He gives me hiccups quite frequently!
Tobias: Just by telling awful jokes and being generally silly…our discussions in the car range from being deeply philosophical to ridiculous!
Lukas: We don’t seem to fall out, thankfully.
FRUK: Have you recorded anything together yet?
Tobias: Just a demo. Jolyon Holroyd, the producer that made ‘The St Sidwell’s Session’ (Tobias’ EP released in 2014), Lukas went into the studio with him and put some bass and backing vocals on one of those tracks, so we’ve just got that on Soundcloud at the moment…we’ve been linking to that to promote the tour, and we’ve got some live demos coming through from this tour already. So we’re putting out things like that as a taster but we’ve not properly been in the studio, although we are just starting on that.
FRUK: So recording is part of the plan?
Tobias: Absolutely. That process has begun, but it’s not going to happen immediately…it’s going to be track by track over the coming weeks.
Lukas: If anyone’s got a large sum of money they’d like to put into the project, then it could happen really quickly!
FRUK: What’s next?
Tobias: We’ve got the rest of this tour that’s going on across the whole of January. We’re doing a stint now where we’re away and on the road, but we’re going back to the West and doing shows here and there, and Lukas has got various other recording and gigging commitments throughout the month…
Lukas: After that we’ve not really planned a great deal but there are festivals that we’re both going to be at…there’s Glastonbury…I tour with 3 Daft Monkeys a lot, that’s been established for a few years, so I have to see what the tour plan is with 3DM before I can commit to anything else.
Tobias: I’ll be touring again, I may be doing some work solo and hopefully with Lukas when he’s free, but yeah…I’ll be touring again in March, some Summer festivals, and as much as possible in the autumn. I’m releasing new music throughout the year as well.
Lukas: And a world tour this time next year!”
Interview & Photos by: Rob Bridge
You can see Tobias and Lukas for the remainder of January at the following venues:
27th Jan – Bristol – Live@The Lion’s Den, The Golden Lion
29th Jan – Wellington – The Dolphin Inn
30th Jan – Plympton – The Brook Inn
31st Jan – Exeter – The Globe Inn
This is part of an ongoing new series of photo / interview features on Folk Radio UK from Rob Bridge, a photographer, writer and film-maker specialising in folk, acoustic and Americana music. You can contact him on twitter@redwoodphotos