In the summer of 2000, David Bowie recorded a uniquely personal album, Toy, with producer Mark Plati and engineer Pete Keppler…and then shelved it [See Part 1 and Part 2 for more]. A two-decade journey towards its release began, complete with an album leak and later a massive effort to save the album from digital oblivion. Now, as the ‘lost’ album is finally released today as Toy:Box on the eve of what would have been Bowie’s 75th birthday, Plati and Keppler share what it took to rescue and release the collection (comments have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity).
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Plati: After Sear Sound, a lot of songs got to final mixes, some didn’t quite get there, and then David changed course, because we’d already started recording new songs that were basically the beginning of his next album, Heathen.
David Bowie [BowieNet Live Chat, April, 2001]: I’m finding EMI/Virgin seem to have a lot of scheduling conflicts this year, which has put an awful lot on the back burner. Toy is finished and ready to go, and I will make an announcement as soon as I get a very real date.
Keppler: Toy got shelved and then David changed labels. Mark got back involved with Toy again much later, [almost a decade] after the album leaked online in 2011.
Plati: I don’t know if I’m touchy about the leak—maybe a little. The best I can figure out is, we would make CDs at the end of the day of what we were working on, and somebody got a hold of one. That wasn’t the right way for it to come out, so it was disappointing that somebody felt they needed to do that.
Keppler: It sounded terrible! They weren’t finished mixes, and then there was the streaming quality; you’re at the mercy of data compression and a lot of other not-so-musically friendly technologies. To this day, I have no idea where that leak came from. Somebody pressed 500 copies on vinyl, too, which just cracks me up.
Plati: Warner has released box sets of David’s different decades over the last few years. In 2020, they assembled the one for the decade I was involved in, and Toy was going to be among the albums. We had to restore multitracks—and that was an adventure, because it’s not like baking a few two-inch tapes.
We had saved the Logic sequences and audio files to AIT [Advanced Intelligent Tape], a tape-based data drive. They had to retrieve the data so we could open the Logic files, consolidate the audio and bring that into Pro Tools. Sounds easy, but the files were Logic 6, which had to be converted to Logic 7, and then bumped to 10—but they were still in Sound Designer 2 format; Sound Designer was pre-Pro Tools editing software. Once I consolidated it all in Logic, I converted to .WAV, opened up a fresh Pro Tools session and imported all the audio, consolidated from Bar One, Beat One.
It was like being a time traveler to mix it. I was right back in the moment, with all that came with it, but from a musical and audio standpoint, it was fantastic. Pete did a great job recording it, and the band was on fire. There was nothing like, ‘Oh God, the snare sound….’ It was, ‘Who’s leading this?… Who’s the focus on this?’ Getting the balance between making it a vocal record, and making it more of a rock record where the vocals are part of the band, was the challenge.
Keppler: I really look forward to seeing this come out. For the true David Bowie fans out there, it’s going to be a real cool thing—a new Bowie record, 20 years in the making.
Plati: I was hoping someday it would happen, that it would be finished and finally greet the world. I feel like I closed the loop in some way now…like I finished the thought. I’m pretty happy about that.