Thursday, May 14, 2009
In the old stone-frameddining cavetucked into the back of the Sardine Factory, Lord Toph snacks on battered squid and red wine. A candelabra flickers dim light at the end of the long table. Off in the bar, a pianist takes on “Hotel California” with zeal and unfortunate timing.
Toph tells the servers he wants to take the wait staff home with him. People say cute things like it all of the time, but when Toph says this in his mesmerizing, sensuous tone, one gets the sense that he might really mean it.
There’s a reason for that. The painter and Goth musician, whose paintings show in Carmel and whose songs are on YouTube, will not publicly discuss the obvious question – is he, as rumored, indeed a vampire. Distinct aspects of his persona suggest he is cultivating a decidedly para-human image. But where does his image end, and reality take hold?
His face reflects on the glass of the old “Sea Captains” painting that looms over the long, oak table, and he seems abnormally long in the tooth. To lull to the methodical pace of his voice and catch the arcane glimmer in his eye in a certain light gives one the shivers.
He’s a tall, elegantly attired (black on black suit coat, silk shirt, trousers) classicist who looks somewhere between Jimi Hendrix (up close) and equal parts Prince and Martin Lawrence (from afar). As a painter, his work extends from Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism and Cubism.
Much of his painting is bright and vividly colored – in stark contrast to the surreal, haunting dreamscapes of his music and the music videos he produces. As a Goth musician, Lord Toph is considered by some to be a burgeoning force, on the same early ascendancy as crossover successes such as Marilyn Manson, NIN and The Cure. He’s gifted with a knack for atmospheric carnage, perpetuated by fear-seeding instruments and animalistic lyrics. Themes of dark, forbidden passion, betrayal and monstrous revenge emerge.
“The Vnbelievable” [sic] is his latest song and video. It’s a saga about Jack the Ripper being stalked and dealt with by an even more unbelievable creature, one who cannot stand to see The Rip-vic’s precious beauty, and blood, wasted.
“It is very filmic, grainy,’’ Lord Toph says. “Black and white. It shifts between Jack the Ripper’s time and the current time, and you get the sense that this Unbelievable is from both times. It is a great video.”
Sipping his wine, Lord Toph leans forward, his eyes bright and mischievous. The bar scene has erupted around the corner at the restaurant, and the crooner lays it all out on the high note of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which booms in from the open archway into our dungeonesque stone nook. For a split second, the singer links up with the original frequency of the song, but the true pitch is fleeting, and quickly skitters off into a miserable dissonance, amusing Toph.
“He almost caught it!’’ he says. “But he swatted at it. You have to breathe on that particular note.” He spent part of his youth playing classic rock covers, an interesting distinction for such a somber musician, which leads to a discussion of artistic balance. “I’ve got a lot of happy songs. I’ve written children’s songs, poppy songs, piano concertos. Some sprite and colorful pieces. I think of it as turning on one valve, while turning off another.”
While he declines to discuss much of his personal life, he says he resides primarily in upstate New York, and that his legal name has been changed to Lord Toph, which originates from a title that he has been bestowed with. (By whom is not clear.) Along with working on his new music video and doing some writing, one reason Lord Toph is here is to visit the White Rabbit Gallery in Carmel, which currently displays and sells a collection of his paintings. He is also seeking a fine art representative who will expose his works to major collectors.
Don Herron, a local artist who works in the space that once barely contained the creative madness of Salvador Dali in the ’40s, also co-owns the White Rabbit, which doubles as a gallery for his own Alice in Wonderland-themed artwork. Herron thinks the distinction between Lord Toph’s outwardly dark persona and fog-bound music and the levity and brightness of his artwork is artistic balance. “Dark personalities don’t necessarily want to make dark art,” Herron says, adding that the multiple worlds of Lord Toph collide at the concept of romance. “Goth came out of the Romantic Era. The artists were responding to nature, which was interpreted in a much more scary way at the time.”