Asher Roth & Producer Oren Yoel on Their New Pop Group Tofer Dolan & If They Plan to Return to Hip-Hop
"The music industry loves when someone does something well, and they do it over and over again. Oren [Yoel] and I kind of buck that trend," explained Asher Roth of the rising producer-singer duo, Tofer Dolan.
Before stepping into the world of pop, Roth was a former XXL Freshman who crafted a Top-20 record in “I Love College.” After a short tenure in rap, Roth bowed out as an MC and elected to test his luck in the pop circuit. After accumulating 826,000 Spotify streams on Tofer Dolan's breakout single, "Electric Heart (Extended Version)," his decision has garnered promising results. Tackling topics like the emptiness of romance in the digital age, Tofer Dolan's lyrical content is compelling and pleasant on the ears.
Billboard connected with the singer and his long-time producer Oren Yoel, to discuss placing their records above industry politics, international inspiration, the importance of person-to-person interaction, and returning to hip-hop. Become familiar with what fuels Tofer Dolan's unique soundscapes in their own words.
When did you guys decide to form Tofer Dolan officially?
Asher Roth: I believe this began around 2015. I was living in Los Angeles and had a dream of a gentleman who was sneaking out of a window. He was leaving a party. When he snuck out of the window, he ended up in this vast darkness. It was similar to an old MTV screen title, my dream said, "Tofer Dolan the obscurer."
The dream had this [unique] music playing in the background. I get a lot of information and ideas from my dream world. I woke up with the melody in my head, so I voice recorded it. I sat with it for a second, and said, "Yo! I gotta hit Oren about this."
The idea eventually became "Picassos on a Yacht." So, Tofer Dolan was born purely from a dream in 2015. We decided to stick with it. We kept chipping away at it, and here we are in 2018. It has finally come to life.
Asher, sonically Tofer Dolan tunes are much different than your initial, "I Love College" days. Can you describe this evolution?
Roth: Yes, Oren can as well, too. He individually worked greatly on Asleep in the Bread Aisle. He was responsible for I would say almost eighty percent of that record. So, he has always been familiar with my voice and with who I am as a person.
It was just one of those things that because of our involvement early on I have always trusted him when he pushes me. He challenges me, so outside of anything conscious, I believe it is a natural evolution as well. We are 9 almost 10 years removed from that project. So, once we have done something whether it is good or bad, [we try something new]. The music industry loves when someone does something well, and they do it over and over again.
Oren and I kind of buck that trend. Once we have done something, we move on to the next challenge. Tofer Dolan, for me, has been a natural evolution in discovering my voice. Similarly, with Oren and his sound, he is coming from the hip-hop world and sampling [since as far back as] fifteen years ago. He is now transitioning into making anthems. This music is a natural evolution of who we are as two artists.
"Electric Heart" is a viral hit and uniquely vulnerable for an electro-pop song. What inspired its' weighty songwriting?
Roth: The reason I am taking the lead, is because this is something that I brought to Oren. He has just helped shape the Tofer Dolan idea. "Electric Heart" was really about love in the 21st century and how a lot of people are moving away. I do not know if they realize consciously that they are moving away from person-to-person interaction.
They have more interaction on the web, you know? A lot gets lost online. It is very analog. When you are texting with somebody, that is the lowest form of communication you can have. You are missing out on a lot. So, understanding that some of my most successful relationships are when I am hanging out with people. I see [friends] every day, and there are times I may be awkward around them, I may be scared of certain things, but [real-life interaction] is really how you kind of grow as a person.
That was the motive behind that song. It is kind of a sad, happy song. It is very lonely, but at the end of it, Oren's orchestration is one of those things that makes me tear up. In the future, [I hope] people begin to realize the importance of person-to-person interaction. It is hard to say. I think people are becoming really comfortable with interacting with others via the web. I am a big believer in community. The song is just one of those songs that keeps that conversation alive. It discusses love in a digital era.
Oren Yoel: I love the opening there in ["Electric Heart"], “the connection is hard to find.” It sort of exemplifies the meaning behind the song. I love what Asher did on that. It touched me personally. Asher and I were friends and knew one another before the Internet. So, just to see what it has done, when we take a step back, made me love lyrically what he did. The song is just amazing.
Your singles’ artwork do not showcase your faces, but instead colorful photographs. Why the mystery?
Roth: I personally did not want this project to be celebrity-driven with an emphasis on what we look like. I come from that world where [previously] my name and what I looked like was so vital to a project. It was just getting to a place where I thought I wanted the music and the art to be first. So, we really wanted the music to prevail. I think Oren feels the same way.
Yoel: To add something a little different, I am not sure he and I have the most beautiful faces to put right on the artwork. I think this is something a little different for us. And a face isn't going to have something that a song just exemplifies. Well, not as best as we can, you know?
The track, "Baby Daddy," has humorous lyrics. Have either of you ever had to navigate past a woman's baby daddy?
Roth: Oren, I am really eager to hear your answer. [Laughs.]
Yoel: I haven't. [Laughs] Well, yeah, I have not ... but I've definitely at some points dated a couple of older ladies. Still, I have never had that experience, but I am curious what Asher has to say. [Laughs.]
Roth: I mean I write, and honestly it is [habitual to] write what you know. Right? So, that does come from personal experience, nothing that I had to get too deeply involved in. I kind of exaggerate in regards to [songwriting,] I ended up taking that relationship further than I wanted to.
I had a woman in my life that had a kid. Lucky for me, the situation did not get too romantically involved. But, it was interesting. She had another man in her life that she would complain to me about. That was the father of her child. So, it was fun. Mainly we were friends, but I was able to kind of take that situation and turn it into a fun song. So, for the most part, I haven't really had to take that [dynamic] head-on, but I definitely did have moments of what it would be like if I did have to.
So, there was a "Baby Daddy" muse.
Roth: Always! There is always a muse. [Laughs.]
Yoel: It is hard for Asher and me to just take something out of nowhere. The personal music always creates the most honest songs. And, that is all we have, our experiences. I think there is a little embellishment, but it comes from a genuine place. So, I do not know if the goal is always to be fun, but it is, to be honest, and from a real place.
Can fans anticipate that your future records will be equally as upbeat as "Baby Daddy?"
Yoel: Well, we have stuff in the works; I think it is definitely still fun music. The most important thing is for us to learn as much as possible. We then add interesting sounds, ideas, and lyrics. I think the goal is [music] has to be honest and from a real place.
Roth: For me, I love when music either makes me move or makes me think. We want to relate to people through the music. I think the exciting thing about Oren and I with what we do through Tofer Dolan, in general, is we cover a broad spectrum. I believe what I do on my solo tip as far as Asher Roth rap stuff is [different].
It is not to say that I cannot express more [on that end], it is that the premise in which Tofer Dolan was created was to have a little bit more freedom. We have no rules. It makes it exciting for our creative process. We are not limiting ourselves to any expectations. So, it is safe to say there are a lot of upbeat moments. But there will be [more serious] moments. Hopefully, we can make people cry. We are going to try it all with the music.
Asher, you are a part of a significant freshman class in hip-hop. Will the world ever hear you rap again?
Roth: Oh, absolutely. Well, it has been really nice for me because I remember being young. A lot of rap artists, when they were youthful, with the exception of [LPs] like Nas' Illmatic, in general, made music geared towards the adolescents. For me, I just felt like as I was growing up, after turning thirty years old you begin to feel like you do not truly belong.
I now get back to the lessons that I learned then. Being able to pass them along to newer artists is starting to make me feel like I have a place in the conversation again. So, I am back in Philadelphia, and I am working on hip-hop music as well.
When we talk about a muse or inspiration, Philadelphia is the place that really inspires me. So, yeah, there are unquestionably more rap records in line. There is an array of Tofer Dolan music in line as well. Also, there is other songwriting that I have been doing. All that work will soon be floating around the music world [soon]. There is a lot to be excited about.
There are alternative fuses in both your recent releases. Which genre inspires you the most?
Yoel: This is going to be random as fuck, but I feel like a lot of the early '80s and late '70s music [resonates] with me. Also, some of the music from that era, this is not American. As funny as it may sound, I am into European-type shit. I appreciate it because it takes me out of my element. You know? I listen to records from all around the world. It inspires me.
Roth: Yeah, I am in the same boat. I do not really listen to music that is in English anymore. And, it has been entertaining that way. I think it is cool. The Internet allows us this opportunity [to search], where we used to have to go to record stores and dig for hours years ago.
We can hear songs from across the world. Oren and I may sit for an hour listening before we can entirely get into anything [for Tofer Dolan]. We explore music from Russia, or Bulgaria -- tunes of that nature. So, as far as getting songwriting going, there is also another form of the process.
What is next for Tofer Dolan?
Roth: I think we want to get more music out there. Yeah!
Yoel: We have some new songs already lined up. We want to get those out to the public as soon as possible. We are going to follow those up with an LP. We want people to hear more and more of our tracks. We are working really hard to get the best possible music and ideas into the world.
Roth: Yes, it is totally fresh. Again, this music came from a dream. We had no idea what it was going to be like when it got moved to the physical world. It is cool because "Electric Heart" was our first offering. It is almost a ballad. The sound is completely different from where we went with the song, "Baby Daddy." It seems like people are responding well to it all.
That was our first test. We said, "Hey! Let's just put this out, just for us.” So, here we are getting to talk to you about it. We are starting to get more and more people involved in this world that he and I are creating. Then there is some of the more celebrity-driven stuff we will leave for the Asher Roth rap world. With Tofer Dolan, we are going to continue to experiment. I think we will be pretty happy at the end of the day.