photographs by Levon Baird at The Artist Group text Tina Summers

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Tora is the supremely talented up-and-coming Byron-based four-piece making chill waves in Australia and abroad despite their relatively geographically isolated existence. Comprised of Jo (lead vocals, guitar, keys), Shaun (keys, bass), Thorne (drums) and Jai (vocals, guitar, keys), they make “a considered blend of pop, R&B and electronic synthesis wrapped in a warm blanket of organic instrumentation,” in the words of Thorne. Just before their European tour, we caught up with them to find out more about how their lives have changed since their first album — which gave them fans in Sir Elton John and Milla Jovovich, and led to Jai being ‘discovered’ and winding up a Saint Laurent, Prada and Lanvin runway model — and what to expect from their highly anticipated second album, Can’t Buy The Mood.

How has your life changed since your first album Take A Rest? Thorne: Take A Rest created new opportunities for the band in all directions but two of the biggest changes would be time spent abroad — writing and collaborating — along with the development of our creative workflow. The later has seen wonderful improvement in how we approach decisions as a team and the input that each member has in the music creation. The same is true for the visual and design components which we still create and manage ourselves. Jo: To be honest life has become more relaxed… Around the time we released Take A Rest our lives were quite chaotic as we had a very intense touring schedule, but now we’re able to be a bit more selective about which opportunities we accept. It’s really a good time for us actually, we’ve found our stride creatively and we’re just enjoying the ride.

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How has your approach to music changed? Thorne: A very strong collaborative effort has grown out of Take A Rest and some of the problems we were dealing with around that time served as great lessons in helping us develop as friends and musicians. As far as sound design goes, perhaps more dance-orientated elements are being used than before, but this has only expanded the scope of what we do; all of the original, more spacious soundscapes are still present but we’re very interested in growth and development. For our enjoyment and also that of our fans, we hope our sound will always be a pleasing evolution of what we’re enjoying in the moment. Jo: It feels as though we are expanding in many different directions at the same time, which is why each song has its own unique feel to it. In some ways we are becoming more dance-driven in our production and grooves, but on the other hand some of our songs are actually becoming more focused on lyrics and quite stripped back. It’s quite a polarizing creative process!

What were some of your favourite places to perform during the Take A Rest tour? Jo: We always love playing in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium. The crowds are often very friendly and attentive, and the venues are usually well managed with nice staff who take great care of us.

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I read that Milla Jovavich a fan of yours — how do you know? Have you guys hung out? Thore: It would seem so! She’s left a few comments enticing us to play in the states again. We haven’t meet her just yet, but we look forward to it. The Fifth Element and Resident Evil were favourites of ours growing up!

What can we expect from your next album, Can’t Buy The Mood? Thorne: Expect the unexpected. The scope is wide and we’ve explored new instruments and new directions but we’ve left a few breadcrumb trails, so you can always find your way back home. There really is a little something for everyone in this body of work but the real magic can be found at our upcoming live performances. We’ve given extra attention to how the album can translate into the live space and our new set will have a lot of surprises, visually and sonically.

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What were your goals going into the studio with this one? Jo: It took us quite a while for us to actually align for this record as we were spread across various parts of the world for much of the time, but there was a general feeling amongst us that we didn’t want to write a record just for the sake of it. The main goal was to create a conceptualized body of work that was more than just a bunch of music. We also wanted to maintain authenticity and write songs that we all find interesting and meaningful, not just songs that would appeal to radio or the commercial world. It’s always been our intention to give our songs equal opportunity, rather than designing hit singles to steal all the streams and attention away from the rest of the album, we love that everyone seems to have a different favourite song on our previous releases, so we were aiming for the same this time around.

Do you have a favourite track from the new album? Thorne: A personal favourite for me would be ‘Mother Forgot’. It’s a unique composition in that the tempo modulates pretty drastically; it’s like a force that pushes and pulls, and it holds a certain power over a listener I feel.
Jo: For me it changes all the time, but right now I’m feeling stoked on ‘Similar’. That song is one of the easiest songs I’ve ever written; I didn’t labour over it much, it just came out right and I’ve been happy with it ever since.

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How do you guys work — do you all write together, or is it different for different songs? Jo: Every song is different, and that’s speaks true to the entire Tora catalogue. Sometimes we will start an idea together, or sometimes someone will bring an idea to the group which we finish of together. But generally, we will just write songs both together and apart until we have a big pool of ideas, then we get into a space together and listen through. Whichever ideas everyone’s most keen on are the ideas we work on first. We tend to take shifts, each chipping away at different aspects of the tunes. We all produce and engineer, but we have different tastes and influences, so by the time a song has been through all of our hands and ears, it’ll usually sound like it’s a Tora song.

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And Jai, how did you wind up modelling? Jai: We were at Glastonbury and I met a scout from an agency; a few months later I got some interest from Saint Laurent and did their show in LA and it all sort of went from there.

What have been some of the best experiences you’ve had modelling?
Jai: There’s been some amazing experiences in Japan and Europe, meeting some amazing people and working in great cities. I really enjoy working in Japan as it’s a country and culture I love.

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Do you want to do more work in the fashion realm? Is it something you’re into? Or is it fun when it happens but not something you pursue? Jai: I’d like to continue working in the industry for sure; it’s always an incredible experience, and I love seeing the creative process and meeting the designers and stylists while being a part of their vision… but it’s definitely not my primary interest and I plan to focus more on music as time goes on.

How does working in fashion compare to music? Jai: Some aspects are super similar but obviously it has major differences. Sometimes fashion week has the feeling of touring as you go to city to city and are running around trying to juggle things logistically while having an inspiring feeling of creative and financial accomplishment. The main differences are when you’re a musician and playing or writing music you have full creative control and are completely your own boss - at least to a certain extent. While with modelling you’re completely at the whim of agencies, designers, casting directors etc. Both have incredible sides to them!

190424_Doingbird_Tora_Film_01.jpg Compared to touring, what is living in Byron like for you guys? Does it give you space to be creative, or is it isolating? Jo: Byron is a lush, great place to come back to but not somewhere to stay all year around. As a songwriter, you need stimulation and new experiences to inspire new ideas, so Byron is a perfect place for us to digest our travels and convert them into songs.

What have you guys got planned for the next year? Jo: We’re gonna keep writing like we always do! We’ve just arrived in Berlin so we’ll be playing shows around Europe and promoting the album for the coming months. Later in the year we’ll return to Australia for a tour and then aiming for a festive summer.