We had the good fortune of connecting with Toby Karlin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Toby, have you ever found yourself in a spot where you had to decide whether to give up or keep going? How did you make the choice?
For me, music is both a choice and it’s who I am. I chose music at 12, and I’ve continued to choose it every day since. I’ve molded my brain around how to create and harmony and rhythm and melodies…so much so that even if I wanted to give it up completely, I couldn’t. That said, I’ve looked at whether or not I should continue music as a profession, and each time I’ve considered “going straight” I’ve been pulled back in. This is what I’ve been put here to do and I would say to keep faith in your calling.
If something isn’t working, try something else, but I always try to keep the picture or feeling of myself as an old man on my death bed (morbid, I know) and whether I regretted not doing more to ensure that I got to continue creating and playing. That picture is very motivating to me.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, editor, engineer. I’ve been fascinated with recording for a long time, and with music since I learned what it was. I’ve always wanted to identify the sounds I’m hearing, what made them, how they work in their context, not just in music but in life. Birds, construction noises, the drone of a refrigerator…it’s all music to me. I hear the complete composition, and I strive to create music that I want to hear. A friend recently reminded me about Ira Glass’s quote about the gap between your taste and your abilities when you’re first starting out, (Google the quote, he says it better than I can) and if I can’t play an instrument that I want in one of my compositions, then I try to learn at least the fundamentals of it to understand how to use it. I’ve always been fascinated by all the instruments in the orchestra or a band.
I am currently most excited by the breadth of what I have access to creating at the moment. I can create music that a rock band would play, or program beats and synths to my liking, or compose an orchestral score. I feel like I have a wide open map in front of me, and I get to chart the course. That can, or course be terrifying and exhilarating, but to know that I get to look at the language of music and it’s many dialects and know that I will always be learning new things…it’s magic.
I’ve been very fortunate to have a family and friends who believe in my place in music, I haven’t had anyone saying I can’t do this, except myself. I’ve wondered what it would be like to not have music as a constant force in my life, and as scary as that is, I try to maintain perspective. Being a musician necessarily means having a different perspective on life. It shows you different facets of humanity. People I may never have spoken to have told me that my music has touched them in some way, and that’s a strange and beautiful feeling…to connect with someone over the ethereal.
I’m here because I can’t walk away from this, and I don’t want to. I have a music studio, with all the instruments I need, and the most essential part of music and life, time. I have time on this earth to do whatever I want with. We all do. I understand I’m speaking from a place of privilege when I say that, but it is true. Our lives are our own. We have to follow what our calling is.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well, I would have answered this question differently pre-Covid.
I’d start by driving up PCH to Zuma beach or point Dume and having a Pacific Ocean dunk, because you just gotta. I’d then drive them up through Topanga Canyon and stop at a bunch of weird hippy shops and take them back to my place to recoup state from traveling. I’ve baked some sourdough bread and Kyle’s made soup or a roast chicken or something, so we have a nice homecooked meal with some wine,d they can rest.
Next day we hit up LACMA because it’s one of my favorite museums in LA, followed by the Getty. You really can’t beat that view, unless of course you’re at the Griffith Park Observatory. Later that night we hit the (now deceased) Satellite and The Echo to see some underrated indie band play, and the hit up the Thirsty Crow for a nightcap.
Day three is a walkabout in downtown LA, eating at grand central market, and then hopping over to Disney hall for the LA Phil….not to be missed. After that, we are probably tired, so back home!
Day four they’re probably wanting some time to chill so we take a slow day, maybe jam and make some music, have some friends over, enjoy the time together without the need to “do” anything. Food and drink are prevalent.
A trip to Los Angeles would be incomplete without a live concert at the Hollywood Bowl, picnic included, of course.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have to give my shoutout to Kyle Creative. I happen to be married to her, but I wouldn’t be where I am without her. That’s just facts. Her encouragement, her gratitude, and her example of how to work hard and maintain creativity in the face of hardship are all why I’m still creating music and producing and working towards my musical nirvana, whatever that ends up looking like.
I’d also like to shout out Invertigo Dance Theater, a dance company that is so much more than just theater; they are community engagement and outreach, education, integrally linked to Dancing Through Parkinson’s, and they gave me my first composing gig while I was still in college, and I’m still working with them to this day. Oh, and my sister Laura Karlin founded the company, and if you want an inspirational character, I invite you to pan the camera over to her because she’s a firecracker.
All photos taken by me.