Toby Lightman

by Jess Grant

Toby Lightman may not be your average household name, but if you are an avid viewer of any of the following television shows, then there is a very good chance that you have heard her music playing, as she says, "at the end, when everyone's crying": Vampire Diaries, 90210, Bones, Desperate Housewives, and more.

Lightman has been playing music ever since she was six years old, when, inspired by Itzhak Perlman, the New Jersey native took up the violin. Thirteen years later, Lightman got her first real taste for live music when she enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It was here where she taught herself guitar, began writing her own songs, and started performing at the local open mic night.

In 2004, Toby signed to Lava Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic, and released her debut album, Little Things. She performed on Good Morning America, Late Show With David Letterman and Late Night With Conan O'Brien, the latter of which just so happened to have one very special viewer that evening: Prince.

Impressed by her powerful, albeit vulnerable, stage presence and vocals, the reclusive music icon invited Lightman to open for him on his Musicology tour in Portland, something which she tells us "was a dream." Not that Lightman's itinerary stops there. She has subsequently toured with Rob Thomas, Train, and Marc Cohn, whom she endearingly describes as "just a cool guy... and he likes scotch!"

Lightman parted ways with Lava Records in 2008. That same year, she formed her own label, T Killa Records, where she has been putting out music ever since, including her latest EP, Holding a Heart. Freed from the shackles of a major label, her career has flourished now that she is going it alone, with television and movie placements coming her way every week, something Toby doesn't think she'll ever get tired of - even if it means sitting through a whole episode of One Tree Hill.
Jess Grant (Songfacts): Tell me a little more about the new EP's title track "Holding a Heart." What is the story behind this song? The lyrics are really intriguing: "I'm turning myself, into somebody else."

Toby Lightman:This song is really about vulnerability. About putting your true self out there. All the ugly. We often try to put on that we are stronger or funnier or smarter when we meet someone new or just throughout life in general. This song is about putting your real self out there and being who you truly are, for the world to see.

Songfacts: "All this Silence" is incredibly tenacious! "I'm here underwater holding a gun, pointing it at you, knowing it won't go off." What, or who, inspired you to write this song?

Toby: This song is mainly about how we always feel the need to talk. To have the last word. But when there's silence, you usually find the answer you're looking for. I know I have that nervous habit and as I've gotten older, I've realized that I like the pauses more than the talking! Talk is cheap, so shut up!

Songfacts: My personal favorite song on the EP is "Lost." It's gorgeous, but so tragic! Can you tell me any more about this song?

Toby: Lost is mainly about that place of loneliness. When you can't find yourself, you don't know who you are. We always look to other's to fill that void, but the void is really in ourselves. "Lost" sings like a love song and it is! But it's also about the desire to find the person you want to be.

Songfacts: "Waking Up" is such a feel good song! The lyrics feel like a continuation of "Lost," actually, since you go from "falling asleep," to "waking up." Was that intentional?

Toby: It wasn't! But I love that! "Waking Up" is really about just motivating! Enough whining and complaining that things aren't happening for you. You have to take control and make some sh*t happen!

Songfacts: I'd like to ask about your breakthrough single "Devils and Angels." What is this about? Who were "the devils" that were knocking at your door?

Toby: I wrote this song during my second year of living in New York City. People are tough in this city! They'll tear you down if you let them. So "Devils and Angels" is more an alter ego that I created to stand up to the mess that we have to deal with everyday. I love writing with her in mind, she really gives it to you straight and sings about stuff that I would never do in real life, but only dream of!

Songfacts: How about "My Sweet Song," which I assume is about a break up? Do the lyrics still resonate with you and carry the same emotional weight that they did when you originally wrote them?

Toby: Well, sort of! "My Sweet Song" is about how we all have these songs in our lives that remind us of a time and place. I remember listening to "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman when I was at the Jersey Shore. Or Lauryn Hill's version of "Killing Me Softly." But sometimes those songs remind you of a person that you just don't wanna remember! Then the radio plays the same song over and over and over again, So you can't ever get away from it. That's what "My Sweet Song" is about.

Songfacts: What song of yours are you the most proud of and why, Toby?

Toby: I would have to say I'm the most proud of my song "Everyday." I started writing that before I got my record deal and I busted my butt to finish it in time to be on my debut record. No one around me thought it was good enough, but I stuck to my guns and made them let me put it on the record. It's now one of 3 songs that I get emails about from my fans about how that song has helped them through their tough times. I tear up every time I get one of those emails.

Songfacts: Why did you decide to go from a major to your very own independent label, T Killa Records, in 2008? Do you prefer the independent way of doing things? What is it like running a record label, day to day?

Toby: Well it was more out of necessity than anything else. I loved being on Lava, but Lava folded and I was put on Atlantic. The record industry is just a big game of musical chairs with them all just caring about selling millions, instead of making music. I love making music and feel as though I'm the most creative now than I have ever been on a major label. There are limitations to what you can do independently, but it's much more gratifying. I just try to stay focused and keep churning out honest music for my amazing fans.

Songfacts: In 2004, you opened for Prince in Portland. Amazing! So how did that come about Toby? I am going to take a guess and say that is a career highlight! What is Prince like in real life?

Toby: I did! He was amazing! So nice! He told me that he saw me on Conan and loved the way that I played and sang, and asked me to come open for him on his Musicology tour. It was a dream. My band and I hung out with him until 4am that night! It's a long story that I will hopefully tell my kids one day.

Songfacts: You have also toured with the likes of Rob Thomas, Gavin DeGraw, Train, Marc Cohn and James Blunt! What band or artist did you enjoy being on the road with the most and why?

Toby: I loved being on the road with all of them for different reasons. I loved the Rob Thomas tour. He was one of the nicest guys. He always watched my set and would tell me what a great show it was after I was done! The guys from Train were so funny and always pulling pranks. On the last day of the tour, during our last song, they all came on and slowly carried away the drum set, piece by piece, so my drummer was left just sitting on his stool with his drum sticks! Marc Cohn was just so cool. He's just a cool guy, and likes scotch! I've been very lucky to tour with awesome people.

Songfacts: Your songs have featured in a whole bunch of television shows. Do you ever get used to hearing your music playing on these huge shows?

Toby: Not at all. It's always so cool. Especially now that I own my records. The only thing I wish was that I could know when the song would air so I don't have to watch the whole episode of some of these teen dramas! But it's always exciting no less and I hope it keeps happening more and more. Oh and I've learned that the song always plays at the end when everyone's crying!

Songfacts: Finally Toby, what is next for you? I understand that you are currently working on a brand new album? Can you tell me a little more about that?

Toby: Well I am finished with my new record and getting started with planning it's release! Which I hope will be early fall. I think it's one of my best to date. Just a bunch of honest songs and I'm singing my tail off. So stay tuned!

May 28, 2013. Get more from Toby at
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