Toby Sebastian

Multitalented actor and musician Toby Sebastian is ready for the next chapter of his career.

For those who haven’t heard of Toby Sebastian, he’s carved out an impressive name for himself in a myriad of industries. His onscreen roles have seen him play the likes of Trystane Martell in Game of Thrones, portray Andrea Bocelli in the biopic The Music of Silence and also play the leading role of Johnny in All You Need Is Me featuring Carl Barat, Pete Wentz, Elvis Costello, James Cordon and George Michael.

Although it’s been a decade since Sebastian’s debut album Into The Light, he explains to 1883 that everything that follows his new single “Down the Westside” represents his current self and where his life is now. Described as a song that “came out of nowhere,” “Down the Westside” sees Sebastian at his best: soulful sonics paired with a natural swagger and knack for capturing a unique soundscape.

Following a huge announcement of a European tour, Toby Sebastian — with a certain British charm — chats with 1883 Magazine about creative inspiration, collaborating with his sister Florence Pugh and how he’s learning to trust the process.

I listened to, and loved, Down the Westside. Is it inspired by anything or perhaps anyone in particular?

It’s actually not, which is such a boring answer. There are some songs where they are deeply inspired by something, and then there are others where the vibe, the feel or the tone of the song completely dictates what I write about. We played around in the studio, with Matty, who’s a great songwriter and producer, and Donny who’s a fantastic guitarist and songwriter. We were having a jam, exchanging ideas and this riff came. We just went back and forth and kept on turning the dial and trying to make things hit harder.I think it was one of those days where the whole song just kind of came out bursting at the seams and just happened. It just felt anthemic.

This is the first song from your new album which will be released later this year, tell me the story behind the album.

I felt it in my heart that I wanted to get a nice body of work out since releasing an EP that I did in 2019. I did that with Matthew Benbrook, who has produced this album as well. 

With the album years and years ago, it was a lovely feeling getting it out. But, by the time we did it was a few years later and I had kind of moved on. After the EP in 2019 with Matt, we continued working on and off. In 2022 we recorded this album. I was actually really lucky that he was free, he comes up with some incredible sounds and he completely understands it. It was very homegrown. He and I had basically done loads of stuff on it. We’ve had a couple of other people help who are brilliant, but there has also been songs where Matty’s played the drums, he’s played the bass, played some guitars. It’s a real collaboration.

I wanted the album to reflect and show all the things I grew up listening to. I wanted it to be genre-bending. I wanted to use this moment in time as a form of opportunity to express myself, in a way that I felt my audience, or the audience that I hope to find, hasn’t heard yet.

So, who was teenage Toby listening to? You mentioned your inspiration when you were young. Who would you say they were?

There’s got to be contemporary people that were new and exciting, such as the early Kings of Leon. Also The Strokes, particularly the song ‘‘Is this it’. I know that record moved a lot of people.

We had an amazing indie period when I was a teenager. Bands like the Guillemots and obviously the likes of Franz Ferdinand, the Maccabees… There was so much good guitar music. Then on the other side, I was just so moved by artists that really made me feel. People like Damien Rice and Bon Iver. Then there are artists I really find quite remarkable, the likes of Mark Bolan or Lou Reed or Bowie. My mum introduced me to soul: Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding. I think I just find it extraordinary that I still love listening to those key songs as much as I did when I first was blown away by them when I was a kid.

There are some artists that really inspired this record and I’d say that those ones are the people that I was listening to pre-teen, the likes of Crowded House, Al Green, Mark Bolan, Bowie, those people.

Who or what has been your biggest source of creative inspiration?

I left school for an album deal and spent quite a bit of time studying in America. I was kind of always on my own little adventure or mission. I was feeling so many things because I was very much on my own doing it. Going to America, the people I’d be recording with would often be in their 30s or 40s, whereas I was only 18 to 22 years old. On those one-month trips, experiencing life with few people outside of the working environment, I found myself incredibly inspired. It’s the same thing now when I’ve gone off and done a film or a TV show.

Travelling. Meeting new people, seeing new sights, new landscapes and different cultures… basically life itself. I get itchy feet when I’m in one place for too long, my creativity dries up a little bit. Keeping moving, seeing things, meeting new people and experiencing things that either I haven’t for a while or haven’t before, keeps my creativity going. 

Where are you based at the moment?

I’m in London but I still go back to Spain quite a lot as I lived there when I was a kid, as did my girlfriend. I have family in Oxford and in London, so I’m able to move a little bit. 

What’s your relationship like with London?

I love London, but like anywhere, I don’t want to be here full-time. I think that there’s such a buzz, honestly, I think it’s incredible. I don’t really have any complaints apart from occasionally the grey weather. When the sun comes out, it’s amazing. 

In 2019 you released a song with your sister, Florence Pugh. How did you find working with another artist, is it something you’d consider again?

I would absolutely work with another artist. That song in particular is very, very dear to me because I wrote the idea years ago.  It came out of nowhere after a really awful long trip back to England from having been away for a few days.I was singing a melody and it kind of just burst, I was actually kind of too scared to touch it because I didn’t want to force it or rush it. 

Three years later in 2021, I spent several sessions coming in and out of a studio in Oxford at the end of lockdown. It was finished and it was ready to be mastered. Then I suddenly got a job in Ireland the next day to go and do a TV show, and my sister was back home. I hadn’t seen her for ages because we’d all had COVID and no one could travel. She was kind of singing it a little bit in the car and we went and saw my mum who was like, you should get your sister on the vocals.

We went to the studio and literally had 40 minutes for her to come back and get a COVID test because I was travelling the next day. It was the speediest collaboration that you could imagine, and completely unexpected. Collaboration is so important because people open your eyes to things that you can’t see. Down the Westside I’d say a testament to collaboration because, without collaboration, it wouldn’t exist. So, yes, in a nutshell, I would say 100 percent I would love to collaborate with more artists in the future. 

Mum knows best, right?

I know, they really do. You always think,’ Oh, God, Mum’, but actually, they know.

I read that all three of your sisters are actors. There’s clearly something creative in your genes! What do you think led both yourself and your sister to the entertainment industry, did your parents encourage you all to follow this path?

Well, my dad’s a designer, he’s had restaurants, but design is his true passion. My mum used to do dance classes and went to dance school, or performing arts school. I’d just say that we were just encouraged to do what we wanted to do. We all liked to act, we all liked to make music, we all liked to perform, we all liked to do art. It was a real priority as far as my parents were concerned to allow us to perform and our stuff. They backed us all the way and they’d encourage us. We all spent a lot of time working on it but not out of necessity, not because we were told to, it’s because we loved it. And then we were encouraged when we would do so. 

I would say that we 100 percent owe it to our parents because without it, there’s just no way we’d be doing it. We were really lucky and fortunate that we had all the backing in the world. 

You left school having got a record deal when you were still so young, what would you tell your younger self with the benefit of hindsight?

Stop worrying. I would say just try not to plan things. I think I was like 17, and I created this list of the most extraordinary, ridiculous aims that I had, or that I would achieve. It was a stupid pressure to put on myself because ultimately you can’t control that. I’d say just, um, work hard at whatever you’re doing. That’s it.  Trust in the process and try not to put ridiculous kinds of pressure on yourself. I mean I still need to try and listen to myself a lot more.

You’re not only a talented singer, but an impressive actor too. Do you prefer acting or singing?

I like them both equally. With acting, I love being able to escape one’s self, play dress up, take on a character and kind of obsess about how this person that you’re playing is and how they live their life. It’s fantastic fun and collaborating with brilliant people on a set is just magic. Music… I would say that I love writing songs. Wherever I go in the world, I’d always have my guitar. They’re both, for me, a means of expressing myself, they both make me very happy. 

Your acting work has been really varied, do you have a genre you prefer and has there been a particular project that you enjoyed most?

I’ve got a film coming out in the next few months in which I play Andre Agassi, the American tennis player. That was amazing fun. It’s great getting into someone’s thinking, reading up on them and researching. But obviously, that comes with a huge amount of responsibility. I would say that my ultimate favourite thing to do is comedy, which is funny really, because I’ve done far less of it than drama, but it’s certainly something that I am planning on doing more of.  

You’re about to go off on tour, what can those who are attending expect?

There’s quite a lot of range in the set. There are big songs, full band, quite a big sound, especially something like Down the West Side, which we’ll be playing live for the first time. Then there are more intimate songs, so quite varied, I think for someone that hasn’t heard my songs before there’ll hopefully be some that you’ll find yourself singing to.

Tours can be pretty crazy! How do you keep yourself grounded and feeling motivated whilst on the road?

I’ve only been on tour once before, which was last year, and it wasn’t the size of this tour. But I think that the people around you probably make a huge difference. These are some of my best friends that I’ll be touring and playing with, which in itself is a good solid foundation to help us to stay calm and enjoy the whole thing. 

Sounds like, like, the road trip of a lifetime with all your mates around you! If I were to go on your Spotify now, which songs would be your last 3 played?

“Real Love Baby” by Father John Misty, “Mariella” by Khruangabin, and “Hot Tears” by Leif Vollebekk.

A strong mix. And finally, what are your plans once the tour is over? What’s next?

We’re going to have another single coming out in the summer. Then we’ll be going to some festivals, a couple of small ones that have been announced, and we’ve got some more that we’re waiting to kind of be confirmed over the next few weeks.

There are a couple of acting projects that are circulating and I’d like to do one of those pre=summer, and then around that time get another single out. If I have any time, maybe get a holiday and then release the album at the end of Summer / September time. 

Down the Westside is out now.

Interview Bex Whitley

You don't have permission to register