Peter Timmis spoke to Mandy Toombs and Beth Taylor of GOLDDIGGER
One of the most exciting acts to emerge from the vibrant Sheffield music scene in recent years are contemporary electro pop duo GoldDigger. Late last year, after several EP and single releases and a number of line-up changes, the group released their excellent debut album 'If Destroyed Still True' which contained smart, sassy songs such as the Cross Rhythms turntable hits "Bad Habit" and "Emotional War". The duo - Mandy Toombs and Beth Taylor - also operate a girls' ministry, I'm The Girl I Want To Be, aimed at tackling self-esteem issues and the pressures today's young women face. I recently spoke to Mandy and Beth and began by asking them about their new album.
"It's brilliant to finally have an album out almost a year after we finalised this line up," explained Beth. "It was great to really be able to get into writing the songs for the record and being able to take a fresh look at the issues that are really affecting young people, and hopefully bring a new and vibrant slant on them. We've already had some great feedback from fans about the album and we've really enjoyed being able to gig the new songs and see people respond to the messages that they convey."
Beth continued, "We work a lot in schools with non-Christian young people, as well as with churches and festivals where we have a Christian fanbase, so it's sometimes a challenge to write songs that relate to both demographics. We totally believe in sharing a hopeful and positive viewpoint that for us is really rooted in our faith, but one that is also really accessible and appropriate to perform in a school lesson too. Hopefully this album has something for everyone; tracks like 'Fix To You' and 'I Can't Pretend' are much more obviously about having a relationship with God, whereas 'Emotional War', 'Bad Habit' and 'The Princess Song' are conveying biblical values but in the context of relationships - something that's a huge issue for teenagers and adults alike. With songs like 'Hanging On', which is all about self harm, the power of recorded music is really obvious. We know that we can't always be with every young person who is struggling with harming themselves, especially when it tends to happen in secret, but we love that our music and the message of there being another way can be present in that young person's bedroom or iPod. It's just another way that God can speak to those who are suffering wherever they are at."
'If Destroyed Still True' was recorded with Sheffield studio whiz Andy Baker, who has worked with artists such as Philippa Hanna and The Gentlemen, and has a bang-up-to-date electro pop production with a rock edge. What are the girls' memories from the recording process? Mandy: "I love the process of making an album more than anything. The whole idea of crafting a product that says what you want to say and documents where you are at the time is so exciting, but it's very consuming. My favourite place to be is in a studio layering vocal parts but I really enjoyed all the planning and structuring of 'If Destroyed Still True'. We knew we wanted it to be a strong album but it also had to work at our gigs. So many bands have a great stage show and can really entertain a crowd on the first time of hearing their music but sometimes, when the songs are really catchy, the album doesn't work on your stereo at home because it's lacking any real content; you can have a great album but the songs wont win over an audience at a gig if they've not heard it before. We needed to reach both of these audiences and I really enjoyed mapping out what sort of songs we would need and thinking of how to keep them catchy but full of substance."
Beth spoke about her favourite track from the album, "'I Can't Pretend' was the last song we wrote for the album and because we knew that it would be the closing track it was initially only going to be an acoustic number. I'd wanted to experiment and take a slight change of direction from the normal GoldDigger sound. The whole song was written in an afternoon when Andy Baker and I sat down in his production room and jammed a bit. I had an idea for how I initially wanted the song vibe to be and played it on the piano, which Andy then took and came up with a great Ibiza chillout type track. I had a few lyrical ideas floating about but really wanted to write a song that was about relying on God and committing to follow his plans, but also being scared and the reality of how difficult that is to do. 'I Can't Pretend' is basically about being honest with God and saying, 'Look I'm trying, but this isn't easy', about being really honest and raw. I like the line that says, 'The silence is deafening, I can't tell if you are just missing/Or if you are speaking and I'm just not listening at all', I've so been in that place where you really need God to speak to you and you feel like God's just missing. I wanted to write something that was a bit vulnerable."
GoldDigger's first releases were a pair of excellent EPs (also recorded with Andy Baker) released in 2008: the electro pop 'Doll Factory' and its acoustic companion 'Very Own Life'. Cross Rhythms noted that the group offered "danceable songs which critique contemporary pop culture and offer an alternative set of values to a generation desperate for identity and respect." Mandy recalled the recording of the EPs, "We wanted to represent both musical styles but they wouldn't have sat well together on one release so instead we brought them out separately and allowed them to be total opposites - although a couple of songs crossed over and were represented in different versions. 'Doll Factory' was a lot of fun to record - we had a great time playing around with the irony in the songs. 'Very Own Life' was just gorgeous to record. We did some of the tracks in Steelworks Studio, some in a beautiful, big old empty house and the cello was recorded in one of the upstairs bedrooms in my house. I remember working away on graphics for the inlay while completely loving listening to the takes over and over."
At this stage GoldDigger were a three-piece - Mandy, Rachel Scott and Clare Altamura - but for family reasons Clare left the group in the summer of 2008. This left Mandy and Rachel praying for another member. Beth joined the group at the start of 2009 and they continued as a trio for around nine months. Autumn 2009 saw another change in line-up as God called Rachel to go and work in Tenerife for the Grassroots Trust at The Living Room - a project working with nightclub workers. At this time Beth and Mandy took a leap of faith and focussed on GoldDigger full time. "We've really seen God's blessing on everything that's happened in the 14 months since," said Beth. "We're still very good friends with Rachel and are so glad that she's utilising her gifts and talents out in the scene where she was saved. We're a little bit like the Sugababes without all the fighting!"
Mandy continued, "I think people expected us to find another member, and we did consider it, but the opportunity to become a duo fitted well with the music we were writing and the fact that we wanted to develop our full band performance. Performing with a full band as a trio was always a bit awkward but with two of us it's great. It loses the 'girl band' label which can be really negative but keeps energy in the performance as we're switching between the lead vocal. Someone said it was a bit like watching No Doubt but with two Gwen Stefani's instead of one!
GoldDigger's relationship with Andy Baker stretches back a long way as the producer is actually Mandy's brother. The pair were in pop dance act Elevation who released the album 'Psalms From The Third Floor' in 2001. "It goes back further than that," laughed Mandy. "I have tapes of songs we were writing together when we were probably aged three and seven. Our first collaboration was a song called 'Help The Environment, Do What Is Best For You-Hoo', so I was harping on with an agenda even back then! We were in Elevation together between 1999 and 2003. Other members included Andrew Hawley, who is now acting in various TV and film stuff, and Nicholas Noble from The Gentlemen. It was a lot of fun - we wore some crazy things and did some great gigs. We had a great time and loved travelling around telling people about Jesus."
Who makes up the GoldDigger fanbase? "We've always had a female fanbase, especially with the girls' ministry that we do across the UK," explained Beth. "Since we swapped to a more rocky sound though, we've found that we have just as much of a male fanbase too - which is quite hard for a female-fronted band to achieve. We obviously work mainly with young people and each of our CDs and shows are aimed at communicating with teenagers, but we constantly get adults relating to our music and being surprised at how much they enjoy it. We try and get the balance right between communicating challenging lyrics and writing really good music. Lots of the issues we talk about, relationships, self image, etc, aren't issues that disappear once we turn 18 anyway, so lots of adults really love our music for themselves as God's truth is truth whatever age you are. At gigs, we tend to perform to youth and young adult audiences, especially at festivals and youth work events, so our performances are high energy and interactive to suit a youth vibe whilst maintaining musical integrity with live vocals and instruments."
Concluded Mandy, "We're very honest about who we are and the experiences we've had. We want to use that to open up dialogue where people need to talk about stuff they are going through and we want to unwrap and expose a lot of the rubbish that people just accept. Some people have described what we do as prophetic - which I suppose fits well. Our agenda is honesty: we're into communicating truth to both Christians and non-Christians and uncovering truth where it's been blurred. The music has never been exclusively aimed at girls but the principles in our songwriting are to use our own experiences and our own story to provoke thought, challenge misconceptions about the pressures and expectations put on us and to see value and freedom released in people's lives."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.