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It’s been a long time since we last spoke to Toby Marks, almost ten years in fact, around the release of his 2004 album You Are Here (see earlier article here), but as his latest album Apollo has been more or less welded to the office CD player since it first dropped though our drafty postal slot the general consensus was that it was high time we checked in with the brains behind Banco De Gaia again, and kicked off by asking why has there been no brand new Banco material for the last seven years?

Toby: “Well, after Farewell Ferengistan in 2006 I continued to do live and DJ shows, and I worked on the covers and reworkings for the next CD Memories Dreams Reflections which took up a year or so to 2008, then we moved house in 2010 and I built a new studio from the ground up which took another year. I also started, and recently completed, a Masters degree in music and media technology specialising in electroacoustic composition, which has of course taken a while. And at the same time I wrote and recorded Apollo, so actually I've been working on music most of the time except for building the studio.

Total Music: The last time we spoke you had done some live shows with some of your old band from the late 90's which you described as ‘Purely self-indulgence really, we enjoyed it but I think the audiences were a little bemused!’ Has there been any band work since then?

Toby: “Sadly no. If there was solid interested for a number of band shows then we could put the time and money into working up a set, rehearsing etc. But I haven't had the spare time to do it just for fun and no real opportunities have arisen. That's not to say it won’t happen in the future, though.”

Total Music: Also the last time we were in contact you said that you were working on material that was ‘way off the deep end of experimental electroacoustic and acousmatic composition which probably wouldn't appeal to that many Banco fans’ did this ever surface?

Toby: “Yes, that was the stuff I was doing for the Masters. None of it is released but there are a few bits on Soundcloud for anyone who's interested, and I'm currently working on trying to get funding to take my latest 12-speaker immersive installation piece around the country.”

Total Music: After getting your rights back from Disney in 2001 you then had problems with your distributor going bust and a parting of the ways with your long-standing US label have you now got your worldwide outlets worked out so that people can buy your albums ok?

Toby: “As far as I can tell, yes. Digital makes it a lot easier, anyone anywhere can get everything direct from our Bandcamp site or www.banco.co.uk, and downloads are available from the usual iTunes, Amazon etc worldwide. We also have CD distribution covering most places - UK, Europe, North America, Australia/NZ with imports elsewhere. This is the first release 100% worldwide on my label with no local sub-licencing, it's going to be interesting to see how it works out. The signs so far are very good.”

The Orb: Dr. Alex P and Kris 'Thrash' WestonTotal Music: There is a reference on your website to several of the tracks on Apollo being linked to a film called Ancient Skies, can you tell us any more about this?

Toby: “It's a 5k full dome feature made for planetariums and full dome theatres, i.e. projected onto a dome above and around the audience. It's about archeo-astronomy, the study of ancient man's relationship to the skies and the neolithic stone monuments they built, particularly in Britain. Sadly I missed the premier recently but it is now going into circulation, although obviously only in limited places. there should be more info on the Ancient Skies website.”

Total Music: To these ears there’s a definite nod back towards your earlier work on this album, was this conscious or are we way off base?

Toby: “Definitely a conscious decision. After a break from writing new Banco tunes I had to stop and think about what they are actually supposed to be. Whilst I have been developing interests in other areas, I was very clear that Banco de Gaia has already been defined and it would not be appropriate to suddenly introduce dubstep, electroacoustic, or any other radically different style into it. That's not to say I didn't use new software or techniques, but I wanted it to be a clearly recognisable continuation of the Banco de Gaia 'tradition'. There was an interesting review recently which said more or less that the style was very much of a certain era and not 'trendy', but also worked really well. I think the fact that people are still listening to my old and new albums, and sometimes still discovering them for the first time, says a lot about the value of not being 'fashionable' but rather concentrating on writing good music.”

Total Music: Can you tell us the story behind the cover art?

Toby: “I had a conversation with my long time designer Dave Whitehead, kicking around ideas about the history and mythology surrounding Apollo, and we drew on various different areas to come up with images and meanings, a lot of which are really obscure and probably only make sense to me, anyway. It's quite light-hearted, in a serious kind of a way, and I certainly haven't been precious about historical accuracy as such. For example, there is an idea that ancient Britons left these shores around 1159 BC when an Icelandic volcano erupted and made Northern Europe a rather unattractive place to be. A few historians and researchers have suggested that they may have ended up in Greece, and been the founders of what we know as the classical Greek civilisation. This 'myth' may not be immediately apparent in the imagery of the artwork but it was represented in the system we adopted for numbering the tracks. (There is actually a carefully thought out reason why the first track is numbered 'IXs', the second 'IX' etc, and there is a clue to help explain it hidden in the artwork).”

Total Music: There are also several angels and a church in the booklet, is there a spiritual aspect to this album?

Toby: “There has always been a certain spirituality in what I have done as Banco de Gaia and that continues. In the I Ching (or possibly Tao Te Ching, I forget) there is a line something like 'music is the bridge between man and the gods', and I tend to feel something like that connection occasionally when I work. It may not be the gods speaking, but something other than 'me' sticks it's oar in from time to time, maybe it's just my subconscious flowing. Whatever, it adds a sense of 'otherness'. Don't take the album imagery too seriously though, the tin church on a stick may not be there to represent 'god' or 'religion'.”

Onstage in Moscow

Apollo is out now on Disco Gecko records as is the digital EP of remixes of the track 'Apollon' which is available on Bandcamp and both Amazon and iTunes, you can keep up to date with live shows all things Banco-ian by toddling along to www.banco.co.uk

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