Bratislava, Slovakia – Over the past few years, the formerly rigid pop music scene in Slovakia witnessed the rise of several alternative music acts like dream-pop sextet Tolstoys, bringing a breath of fresh air to the popular music standards with their soft, melancholic soundscapes and ethereal atmosphere.
I still remember to this day when their first single Agapé popped up as a promise of a new direction in alternative pop music the Slovak scene needed so badly. And though it might seem like yesterday, Tolstoys are gaining recognition, becoming a well-established band with their second studio album on the way.
Extravagant stage appearance and smooth, soothing sound grants Tolstoys an initial memorability some of the other up-and-coming bands lack; no wonder their impact on the scene came faster than one would expect. The Tolstoys have a character. Assembling influences of their internationally acclaimed counterparts like Olfur Arnalds, Aurora or Of Monsters and Men, they managed to enrich the genre with a unique touch of their own.
From high school to the stage
Fronted by charismatic singer Ela Tolstova, the ideas behind the Tolstoys (great pun though) started to form in high school, where she met drummer Matej Herceg, who continues to handle the percussion section to this day, and their original piano player Marek Votruba, who left shortly after to focus on his own band Riava (yet another musical promise from the same high school).
Followed by violinist Frederika Camastra, co-mastermind and double bass/bass player Michal Smetana, and pianist Pavol Rehák, the Tolstoys were always out of the ordinary, a band that relies on the untraditional instrumentation. Violin, double bass, and piano, blended with subtle electronica elements, the Tolstoys are leaving out conventional guitar textures, so typical of modern music.
No wonder this musical constellation had a potential to shine from day first. First gigs, introductory singles, and a handful of ideas paved the way toward their debut album Botanika (2017), which was selected as the debut of the year by RadioHead Awards, and brought them the opportunity to perform at prominent festivals, such as Pohoda, Grape, Waves Vienna, Eurosonic Noorderslag, or MENT Ljubljana.
Time has passed, and the Tolstoys are still thriving with the new album Mirror Me on the way, now as a sextet, since a new drummer Lukáš Brabec joined the band, while the original one switched to ableton live and percussions.
“I‘m very happy about the release of our new album Mirror Me, which comes out next February,” Ela Tolstova told us. “It’s very exciting, because since May we kept on releasing something new each month. We decided to progressively release one music video each month, made by young visual artists, and right after that the remix version by one of our befriended music producers comes out. I’m delighted that we chose this nontraditional tactic of 10 stand-alone singles.”
“It seems as if each one of them had its own universe,” she explained. “This way the listeners can relive the album to the full extent step by step, and understand it much better.”
Atmosphere and sense of detail
Thinking about the success of the Tolstoys, I wondered what exactly made their music stand out, but a conclusive answer is hard to come by. First of all, the Tolstoys are a band which isn’t single layered, in spite of the easily accessible compositions. Their sound could be described as sophisticated minimalism, where simplicity meets ingenuity.
While they mainly focus on conveying wistful emotions veiled in a well-crafted atmospheric soundscape, another facet of their art is represented by its meaningful and brooding lyrics – mostly sung in Slovak. With each listen, the Tolstoys give the listener the certainty that the band puts a strong emphasis on the writing process, embellishing their songs with subtle touches to the very last detail.
Another aspect that plays a significant role in the band’s prospects is their dedication. In several interviews, Ela stated that the band is a priority for her and although she’s in her early twenties, she and the rest of the Tolstoys already managed to claim an utmost professional attitude toward their music. Needless to say, the fruit they reap is well deserved. After having started their career at such a young age, we can only wonder what else will the future bring for the talented group.
Lastly, the Tolstoys don’t shatter the paradigm of pop music, even though their attitude towards slightly unconventional instrumentation is worth considering. They simply recreated the dreamy melancholy, before molding and shaping it at their own image, providing a nostalgic emotion with multiple atmospheric levels.
If only we had more such bands around.
Main photo credit: Martina Mlcuchova.
By Pavel Šoral