It’s been three-and-a-half years in the making, but now former My Chemical Romance guitarist RAY TORO is preparing to unveil his debut solo album. Slated for release Nov. 18, Remember The Laughter finds Toro writing all the songs and arrangements, playing nearly all the instruments (except where guitarist Tim Pierce, bassist Chris Chaney and drummer Jarrod Alexander were enlisted) and standing front and center at the mic.
The scope of the album is remarkably diverse, thereby pretty much destroying any preconceived notion of what people may expect from Toro. While not a “concept album” per se, Laughter is loosely framed around the story of an older man visiting his childhood home and hearing a familiar melody coming from the house. He follows the sound and discovers a box of things the man’s father left behind that sparks memories of his life and the lessons he learned. Musically, there are a few moments where Toro throws down sweet six-stringed shred, but Remember The Laughter really focuses on his songwriting skills, from the pastoral prog rock of the title track to new-wave energy bursts (“Isn’t That Something,” “Take The World”) to blues rock jams that would sound great on a playlist between the Rolling Stones and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. It’s ambitious, alluring and all Ray. Check out the lyric video for “Take The World” below and preorder Remember The Laughter here.
Jason Pettigrew spoke with Toro about dismantling preconceived notions about how a Ray Toro album “should” sound, enjoying the responsibility of being a parent and pondering what Laughter would sound like in a live setting. (Hint: Bring popcorn.)
It’s misguided to call this album “a departure,” because really, we’ve only ever heard you as one-fourth of a successful rock band. Are there any parallels to the kinds of things you are exploring on your solo bow and what you brought to the table in the context of MCR?
I think the parallel would be in the songwriting, hunting for interesting melodies that stick. One of the key things in writing with Gerard [Way] in My Chem was that we’d search for chord progressions that he could really do his best to. Me and him would work on finding the right notes to get him to that next magic note that would tie together that next magic melody—a vocal line or a chorus melody. I brought that aspect to the stuff that I was working on.
As far as the diversity [of the record] goes, all of us in the band said in interviews that we had a lot of influences that show up a little bit in our playing. But as you see in each [My Chem members’] solo records, they’re able to explore their influences even deeper and further. For me, I felt like I could tap into all the music that I like. [The title song] is my stab at something like [Pink Floyd’s] Dark Side Of The Moon mixed in with a little Beatles. “We Save” taps into my love of blues guitar, and that’s where that’s rooted from. In each of our solo projects, each of us have been able to explore who we are as players and songwriters.
As diverse as your album sounds, it’s remarkably cohesive as a body of work that’s free of pretentiousness.
Honestly, that was one of the challenges in putting the record together. I spoke with you sometime last year when I thought I was finished with the material. I had another 20 songs that are half-finished or complete that didn’t make the record. I looked back at the record and thought, “Man, this is almost too diverse. What’s the connective tissue through it all?” That was how it was in My Chem: We didn’t want to just release “songs,” we wanted to release a body of work. You’ll have tracks that stand out to certain people that are singles, which are hookier and catchier. But then you also want people to sit in their cars or put on headphones at night, hit “play” and listen to an album front-to-back and lose themselves in it.
That was the challenge with Remember The Laughter: I had a lot of diversity in the songwriting and I had to figure out the thread to link it all. It’s a collection of songs I wrote over the past three-and-a-half years. I became a dad right after My Chem broke up. That obviously changed my life and got me to grow and become a better person, better husband and better father. There’s so much you learn about life. I think you take notice of things in life you never previously did. There’s so much stuff happening in the world currently. All of this stuff with the election and what’s going down in Ferguson, Missouri, to personal things about my parents and the kind of struggles they went through and the lessons they taught me. That became the common thread through all of the material.
The album has an overarching theme of positivity, regret, optimism and resignation, as well as the father/son dynamic. It’s very popular for young listeners to refer to the works of older musicians as “Dad rock,” somehow signifying that age has somehow blunted any ferocity associated with said artists. But you don’t necessarily need to be a parent to be acutely aware of your life.
But I am older! [Laughs.] I don’t know if I’d say wiser. I’m definitely different from the person I was 10, even four years ago. Becoming a parent really humbles you because you’re put in charge with a life and you have to cultivate that. That’s what got me thinking about my parents and the responsibility they took on. I learned from them by watching them take care of me and my two brothers. The record is very circular and generational, in a sense. At the beginning [of the record], I’m reflecting on my parents and by the end of it, I’m saying goodbye to my son. Dad-rock, whatever: Being a dad was the best thing that ever happened to me.
In your mythology, were there any musical memories you shared with your family?
I remember at Christmastime, my parents would always play records by [Puerto Rican artist] Willie Colón. It was one of those joyous things; we had turntables and a big speaker set-up in the living room. I remember them putting on his records and having lots of dancing and laughing. More than anything, I think music is really special in bringing people together. You hear a song and you immediately remember where you were 10, 15 years ago when you first heard it. I feel that’s important in all of our lives. One of the great things that’s happening with My Chem is that a younger generation are discovering songs that were recorded before they were [even born], yet they still find something they can draw from. I hope I can capture that feeling in some of the songs.
How did it feel to be a lead vocalist?
Really weird. [Laughs.] It took me awhile to figure out how to do it. Every instrument has its subtleties, right? I know how to express myself on a guitar. I never learned how to express myself vocally, and the vocals I ever did were group harmonies or gang-vocal backups. I’ve gained an appreciation for how difficult and challenging it is to be a vocalist. I had a lot of learning to do. A lot of it was finding my comfort zone as to what keys a song should be in. Now, a vocalist would know that, but it was a bit of a struggle. Then there was writing lyrics. Sometimes I had days where it would come extremely easy, and other times I’d have to put the song away for a week and come back to it. The music side of the record was easy for me; vocals and lyrics took the most time putting the record together.
You are your own CEO, in charge of every aspect of your work. The record’s done. Have you even thought about playing shows?
I don’t have anything slated for this year. I’m looking at what kind of dates make sense for next year. Part of it is that I’d love—and this is my dream of dreams—to tap into some of the cinematic elements of the record for the live show. I have an idea of how a live show could be; I’m just trying to figure out how to make that happen. I’m not on a label so I have to manage how to self-fund it. When I listen to the record, I see a movie. Not an entire movie, but I see scenes and images. That’s how I’d want to present it. It’s the next puzzle piece for me to figure out.
There’s always something when you are in charge of your own destiny.
I know! [Being in control] is very freeing in some ways. In other ways, it’s like, “Holy shit, how did anything ever get done?” [Laughs.] I love learning how to do new things, but sometimes it just takes longer. alt