September 01, 2007

Toby Gad - American Dream

By Lavinia Jones Wright

With new, hard-earned American hits in hand, German producer/songwriter TOBY GAD can finally get to work

Toby Gad

Toby Gad

Toby Gad is comfortable, sipping on seltzer with his feet up. "Do you know, back home they have invented a machine that turns tap water into soda water? And it tastes just the same!" He announces excitedly. I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell him that Americans just aren't as into seltzer as the folks in his native Germany.

But while his effervescent water might not ever be a hit, his bubbly pop song collaborations already are. With tunes that Gad produced like Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry" holding tight to the top of the charts, and his contributions to Disney's sensation Hannah Montana charming tweens everywhere, Toby Gad is proving that he knows what Americans want from their music. He's earned this American success with seven years of hard work, completely re-starting his career after abandoning his life and publishing deal in Germany to relocate to New York.

"I'd always wanted to move to New York," says Gad, "and my opportunity came when I won a court decision regarding a copyright issue. I was paid enough royalties to support me in America for two years, and within the month, I left for New York." After abandoning his dream of a generous loft space in the dangerous Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant (Gad witnessed a shooting and a robbery on his way to sign the lease), he settled on a studio space in Midtown Manhattan, which now houses his Strawberrybee Studios.

In Germany, Gad was raised for a career in music. His parents were established figures in the Munich music scene, and they taught Toby and his brother Jens music from the age of four. The two brothers formed an original rock band called the Gad Rollers when Toby was just seven, scoring a recording deal with hit-producer Gunther Mende which their parents turned down in favor of them finishing school. The boys began touring, playing clubs and festivals in Germany and caught the attention of producer Tony Monn who opened his studio up to them. It was there that the Gad brothers recorded their first three releases.

Although their first album, Q, produced a friendship and a concert with George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, fame as a musician was not in the cards for Gad. In 1986, German producing powerhouse Frank Farian flew Toby and Jens to Frankfurt and a week later they had placed three of their songs on Milli Vanilli's debut album, which went multi-platinum.

Toby produced Mauritian singer Jacqueline Nemorin's first album on BMG and continued to collaborate with her for ten years. The duo produced music for dozens of successful TV shows, commercials and movie soundtracks. Gad then contributed production to Enrique Iglesias's third album and signed on to produce records for Ruth Jacott, Oli P, and Nino de Angelo.

As much success as he was having in Europe, Gad was eager for international renown. But parlaying his German career into an American one was no easy task. Two years in New York passed without a breakthrough, and the savings started to run out. Knocking on cold doors at American major labels finally brought Gad a stroke of luck. Lava records gave him the chance to work with MTV host Willa Ford, and he immediately proved his talent with her single "Toast to Men" that appeared in the movie Barbershop II. Ford's manager took on Toby as a client, and he was finally back in.

The past three years have seen a whirlwind of emerging artists pass through Strawberrybee Studios' doors. One of Gad's talent discoveries, Kaci Brown released her debut album Instigator, R&B act Fatty Koo collaborated with Gad on their record for Columbia, Australian girl-rock sensation the Veronicas tapped Gad for both their double-platinum debut and their upcoming sophomore record, and Columbia records signed Gad's protégé Meleni, placing their song "Happy" on the soundtrack to Hitch.

This sudden onslaught of hits allowed Toby to expand Strawberrybee to a second floor in the same building, and also to launch a groundbreaking new arm of his company called Gad Films.

Toby jumps from his seat to load up some of the films on the computer screen. Each short video is a behind-the-scenes look at the music writing process, featuring Gad as he collaborates with his artists. His current favorite is a montage of a session with Kaci Brown that takes place on Venice Beach in California. Gad is a patient mentor, gently nudging Brown's lyrics until they are just right, and setting them to music. To him, that is the key to being a producer, "I help them to express their own story. When I met with Fergie to write ("Big Girls Don't Cry") she had just gone through a difficult breakup, and I just got her talking about how she felt and what it was like for her."

As we talk about his current work, Gad grows more and more excited at the possibilities of the future. Not wanting to be rude, I wait until he's finished talking about the films to ask the question I've been holding onto since the beginning of his story – what happened to all the Gad Brothers records from the seventies? They must be incredible. "I threw them away!" he laughs. His greatest accomplishments are ahead of him, not behind.