Led by The Black Heart Procession’s Toby Nathaniel, and featuring a formidable gathering of Belgrade music figures, garage rock project, The Red Step, released their self-titled debut album through Chicago’s Pravda Records late last year. Following the release of the album, V13 spoke to Toby about life in Belgrade, the Belgrade music scene, and The Red Step.
Thanks for your time, how is life treating you at the moment?
Toby Nathaniel: “Absolutely, and thanks for the chat! Fortunately, things aren’t as bad as they could be. This past year has not been kind to many people, and my heart goes out to those who’ve suffered through these difficult times.”
So, you’ve got your project The Red Step releasing your debut album this month, what can we expect from it?
“What, and spoil the surprise? Kidding aside, I suppose you can expect something a bit more aggressive on the output side than say, The Black Heart Procession. However, from my perspective, the musical sensibility is not all that dissimilar. My approach to core concepts remains largely the same, it’s just wrapped up a little differently here.”
Can you tell us about the musicians you’ve worked with on The Red Step?
“You bet. We’ve got Vladimir Markoski (my brother-in-law) on drums, Rudolf Cibulski (My Kum, a sort of godfather and best man combo) on bass, Boris Eftovski on keyboards, and Sarah Jane Seatherton on cello. Vlada, Rudi, and Boris all played in the Serbian band, Kazna za uši. Vlada and Boris are a part of the current Black Heart Procession live lineup. Additionally, Marijana Markoska (my wife) takes care of everything on the visual end. If we’re not already family in a literal sense, we’ve all since become so in another.”
You’ve picked them from the Belgrade music scene, what was the reason for that?
“The answer is to this is fairly simple. I’d just moved to Belgrade to be with my wife, and started meeting people from the local scene through her. We eventually got to talking music and decided to get together and play a little to see what might happen. Beyond that, I’d seen Kazna za uši perform and knew that those guys were great players. Things just sort of fell into place from there.”
The Belgrade/Serbian rock music scene isn’t one we’ve heard much about. What is it like for a musician like yourself?
“There was actually quite a thriving underground music scene here in the 80s, back when the region was collectively known as SFR Yugoslavia. Some notable bands from that era would include Šarlo Akrobata, Disciplina Kičme and Haustor. Continuing on into the 90s—and the fall of Ex-Yugoslavia—there were bands like Laibach from Slovenia, Arhangel from Macedonia and Obojeni Program from Serbia. There is an active scene in Belgrade at the moment (aside from live performance issues due to the pandemic, but that’s pretty much universal). And for me, I suppose it’s like being anywhere else – write songs, record, practice, and play shows.”
How did the project come together? It was assembled in 2015, why has it taken until 2021 to release the debut?
“As mentioned above, the project came together fairly organically. Just getting together to practice, and then eventually playing shows once there were enough songs to do so. As for why it’s taken so long for the album to come out, one reason would be that I’m a fan of slow and steady. Making sure that the vision is being expressed as genuinely and accurately as possible. I suppose this can happen at varying speeds depending on the nature of the project, but for this one, it simply took as long as it took to get it done, and done right.”
Now the album has been completed, what are your immediate plans for the project?
“Under normal circumstances, we’d be doing the usual album release cycle, which includes touring. It’s quite strange having this aspect completely removed from the mix. So for now, the focus is on getting the album released and practicing (once we’re all properly inoculated) for live streams or whatever live-show-alternatives we happen to undertake. Otherwise, there are some new songs brewing, so we’ll likely be working on those as well.”
In terms of long-term goals, what are your thoughts on that? Have you thought about it beyond 2021?
“For The Red Step, I guess we’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing. As I mentioned earlier, things happen with us at a slow and steady pace, but they’re always happening. Other than that, when it’s possible to perform live, we’ll play shows. Connecting with an audience in person is a massive part of the story here, and I’m really looking forward to being able to do that once again.”
Aside from The Red Step and The Black Heart Procession, do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
“My wife Marijana and I have been talking about doing a collaboration together for some time. She’s an amazing visual artist, and the idea is simple – she’d do the visuals and I’d do the music. What that would entail, we’re not entirely sure, but it could range from static to video art, and more ambiance-focused to fully formed compositions on the musical side. We’ll have some time to get this started very soon, and I’m excited to see what ends up happening.”
What does The Red Step offer you as an artist that is different from The Black Heart Procession? Would you ever take the two bands on tour together?</strong
“Well, the most obvious thing would be that in The Red Step, I play guitar and sing live, while in BHP, I’m typically seated at the piano. The output energy is very different between the two bands, and it’s nice to be able to project in a more aggressive manner with The Red Step. Otherwise, writing lyrics and singing has been an adventure. I’d never done that before, and I quite enjoy the role. Though a tour with both bands would definitely be fun, I have a feeling it’d lead to burnout pretty quickly. BHP has a very specific energy live – there’s a power to it that can be very demanding for me, particularly when the piano doubles as the low end. And, of course, The Red Step isn’t exactly demure. All that said, who knows what the future may bring.”
You’ve worked with a number of artists as we’ve discussed both in the Serbian music scene and beyond Serbia. Which artists are on your bucket list to work with?
“Hmm. Tough question. There are many, but no one in particular springs to mind. It’d be cool to work with some people from the younger generation who’re doing interesting stuff.”
While live shows are on hold, do you have any plans to do any live stream concerts until they return?
“Until recently, I hadn’t really thought about it. However, my wife purchased a ticket to the Sylvain Sylvain tribute show, and it was great. Kinda got me thinking about doing something in the live stream context. Short answer, nothing is currently in the works, but I definitely intend to look into it.”
Thanks for your time, over to you for the final words…
“Of course! Thanks again for the chat. Nothing much more to say from my end besides that I hope everyone stays as safe and sane as possible through this rough period. Hopefully, we’ll return to some version of relative normality soon.”