Interviews - Music >
Feature Interviews K to O > Toby Lightman
devils and an angel
by jay s. jacobs
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
February 12, 2004.
The music biz is always hungrily searching for
the next big thing. Theyre trying to find an artist that has the talent
and the vibe and the chops to make a huge splash in the choppy waters of
popular culture. It should be someone who has a unique point of view and
something interesting to say.
A lot of people are looking in the direction of Toby Lightman.
Before her debut album Little Things even hit the
racks, the seductive single Devils and Angels was sparking listener
curiosity and radio airplay. Who is it with this soulful voice and
quirky songwriting chops?
You ask her and
shell tell you shes just another girl. Lightman grew up in Cherry Hill,
New Jersey. She had a pretty average suburban childhood. Friends and
family and school were the focus of her world. When it came to the music
world, she was strictly a consumer.
as a little girl, her parents saw musical talent in Toby. They drove her
across the Delaware River to Philadelphia to play violin on Al Alberts
Showcase, a long-running local show spotlighting child talent.
It didn't make a huge impression on her, though.
really young, Lightman says. I dont really remember that much about it,
but, its like a talent show.
Over the years her musical tastes developed and she started
following a wide range of acts. When she was young, Lightman started out
listening to what was on the top 40, Madonna and Def Leppard and whatever.
Her older sister turned her on to classic rock. Her dad introduced her to
doo-wop. She discovered alt rock, R&B and hip-hop. Then, there was Stevie
Wonder. Wonders vocal style and music thrilled her.
Still, Lightman never tried her own voice until relatively
started singing when I was in high school, she recalls. So, I was kind of
a late bloomer in that aspect. It was just kind of like a chance thing. I
took a vocal class with a friend of mine and ended up liking it.
So when she went off to college at the University of
Wisconsin, she started mining her talent. When she was in her junior year,
she was offered the chance to be the lead singer in a band with a record
contract. The problem was it was in Thailand. She thought long and hard
about it, and then decided to take the chance. Lightman spent five months
in Bangkok playing covers six nights a week.
The experience just made Lightman surer that she was on the
right path. She realized that it was important to seriously work
songwriting. After graduation, Lightman
decided to take the leap of faith and move up to New York to try to make it
as a singer. Like most of the young hopefuls who try to make it in the Big
Apple, she had to find other work
-- tending bar while looking for gigs.
A chance meeting with former Fugees member Wyclef Jean led to
him producing a demo for her.
One song that really
encompassed everything I was trying to do stylistically, Lightman
explains. I sent it out to a management company, Nettwerk Management
[which handles Sarah McLachlan, Coldplay and Barenaked Ladies amongst many
others]. I didnt really realize how known they were at the time.
The manager that heard it had a meeting with me and had been friendly with
Peter and set me up with him.
Peter is producer Peter Zizzo, who was riding a hot streak
after discovering Avril Lavigne and Vanessa Carlton.
Obviously, because he was
doing pretty well that year, a lot of labels were looking at what he was
working on next, Lightman says. One of which was Lava.
Records (which is distributed by Atlantic Records)
Lightman up and she and Zizzo started work on her debut album, Little
Things. Happily, this is one of those albums that live up to the hype.
Her music has been compared to that of Sheryl Crow and Nelly Furtado and
Alanis Morissette, and while all of those comparisons have some validity,
she has created a musical world of her own.
It Inside has a sultry Mary J. Blige vibe coursing throughout, mixing in
tastily with some folk/rock textures. The first single is the wonderfully
funky Devils and Angels which weds a soulful backbeat to modern rock sensibilities.
There are some beautiful but
subdued and hopeful ballads like Voices and Frightened. She earns her
pop/rock stripes with The River and mines her bluesy side on Coming Back
In. She even experiments with jazzy scat singing on Front Row.
(Yeah, in my own way, she laughs.)
Even though she embraces so many styles, Lightman feels there
is a thread in her music that ties them all together. I
like to write different kinds of songs, she explains. It wasnt really
adventurous stylistically, because every song has the same elements, you
know? Acoustic guitar, programmed drums, a lot of programming, and a
lot of instrumentation. So everything pretty much has the same kind of
composition. But it was dealing with the music, and the music was so
different. Thats why things took on a different form.
Lightmans voice has an amazing range, but one of the
greatest things is that she does know when to rein it in. Too many young
vocalists who have grown up with Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera and
American Idol feel that they have to show off their voices.
Over-singing a song, using ten notes when one will do, it has become an
epidemic on the airwaves. While Lightman does enjoy letting loose
sometimes, she is confident enough in her vocals that she does not have to
rely on the showy fireworks.
Ive always been somebody who has to sing for
the song, she says. I cant put riffs all over something, because I feel
Im just soiling it. There are certain songs where its appropriate. A
song like Front Row I felt like I was able to sing out a
little more and interpret it differently. But a song like The River just
really didnt need it. Its the same as any instrument. You dont want to
put in something that doesnt belong, and I didnt think it belonged in
mostly examines relationships. She tells intricate aural
stories of love lost and found, people getting in their own ways while
searching for happiness. Even when she explores good relationships, like
the lovely ballad Frightened, she gives them a bit of a spin. In that
song the protagonist is afraid that things are going too well and coming to
terms with how much the connection is affecting her.
Unfortunately, some of the better songs come from unhappy places for me,
Lightman laughs. Its fun to write a song about happy-go-lucky stuff.
Going out with your friends, blah, blah, blah. Most of the songs that
really capture people and are long lasting are songs that are darker.
People tend to go to music when theyre going through a rough time. Thats
why writers tend to write songs when they are going through a rough time.
happy that there is a growing audience for artists like her who may not fit
exactly into some cookie cutter radio format (for the record, she rarely
listens to the radio) made up by market research.
I think people are looking for something that
is a little more unique, Lightman says. Not so run of the mill, a bunch
of guys sitting in a room deciding what this girls going to sing...
Hopefully, theyll think my stuff sticks out a little bit and will change
things up. Ive been getting a lot of comments like that from DJs. People
are excited to play it, because it isnt like what theyre playing. Its
gotten to a point where theres alternative rock stations and top 40
stations that just play hip-hop. But top 40 isnt all hip-hop. Why isnt
Dave Matthews playing on these stations? Its kind of unbelievable.
Mostly, though, shes just glad that the people
are getting a chance to make up their own
minds. As Devils and Angels gets more and more airplay it will hopefully
open up more eyes to her work. Lightmans
label has said that the album has four potential singles they feel could all
I just want people to get their own
interpretation. It may not be for everyone, but I want people to know that
if they like it; thats me. If they dont like it, then thats cool, she
Its looking like a lot of people do like it. In the
meantime, Lightman is taking the whirlwind tour of a breaking artist.
Releasing a debut album. Touring clubs with artists like Howie Day, Fefe
Dobson and Edwin McCain. Making a video. Appearing on Total Request
Live. She knew she was hitting when she heard Devils and Angels on an
episode of MTV Cribs.
So, what does she think about the whole idea of being the
next big thing?
Lightman admits. Im still just another girl from Cherry Hill. Nothing
has changed for me. Im still the same person. Its exciting. But its
not really something Ive gotten my head around just yet.
us Let us know what you
Return to the features page