In the dim light of St. Louis’ Mississippi Nights, a few hours before show time, a beautiful young woman with long blonde hair sits inconspicuously in the corner; her is face lit by the glow of the laptop placed before her. She is singer/songwriter, Toby Lightman, and her music is a passionately soulful blend of rock, R&B, folk, and jazz, tied together by her powerful voice and relevant lyrics. To see walk onstage, she’s just a petite little girl and a guitar. But then she sings, and it’s amazing to believe such an expressive voice can come from such an understated presence.
Toby Lightman is at the start of her career, getting lots of video play on VH-1 and building a steadily growing number of fans. While she claims to love everything from Ella Fitgerald to Mary J. Blige to Led Zeppelin, Toby Lightman says, “I don't think you need to like one type of music. I try to use all of it when I'm writing. I like music that incorporates a bunch of different elements, so that’s what I try to create.”
As inspired as Toby Lightman may be by these greats, it’s the depth and beauty of her songs, as well as her hip, powerful delivery that is inspiring others. Toby Lightman gives credit for her own success equally to education and fate. “I would say to just let it happen if it's supposed to happen,” she says when asked about giving advice to other musicians. “But I would definitely say that an education is very important. I don't think I would have been able to handle any of this if I wasn't in school. It gives you more experiences to draw from, not to mention the ability to deal with everything this business entails.”
Lightman’s songs are full of stories and deep, complex images. She says that the content doesn’t always come from her own personal situations (although it sometimes does), but rather thoughts, feelings, daydreams and things that have happened to friends. “I want to create songs that people can relate to so I try not to get too specific.” she says.
Her first single, “Devils And Angels” is already a hit. She says that she started writing it a couple years before it was recorded. “It’s still a little strange to hear it on the radio,” she says, “but it’s cool too.” Her personal favorite is "Everyday.” “It’s a song with just guitar and it builds and builds and has some strings. It’s very basic, but that’s what I like about it,” she says.
A lot of musicians write from deep places of pain and huge personal obstacles they had to rise above. Is this also true for Toby Lightman? Nope.
“There wasn’t really anything I would say I had to overcome,” she says. She talks about how she never really thought of a career in music as a real possibility, until the day that she sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at her high school graduation.
“Well, I guess I was really shy about singing in front of people at first,” she admits. “The performance at my graduation was really my first time in front of a lot of people. Eventually, I began to see people’s reaction to my songs. It’s one thing for other people to say I was good, but it’s harder to think that of myself.”
Toby Lightman seems to be taking everything that goes along with fame in stride.
“It’s crazy and exciting,” she adds. “I don't think anyone can gracefully take it all in. But it is a lot of work. Sometimes I get excited, sometimes I realize it's a lot more work than I thought it'd be. But it’s cool and I'm having fun with it.”
Toby Lightman’s humbleness and simplicity offer audiences a refreshing alternative to the post-punk schlock currently suffocating the airwaves and MTV. In an industry saturated with cookie-cutter pop stars, Toby not only breaks the mold but shatters it to pieces; proving that you don’t need to compromise your artistic integrity to be a success. She may be just be a girl and her guitar, but from the moment she takes the stage, it’s clear that her talent is no little thing.
To learn more about Toby Lightman, you can visit her website at www.tobylightman.com.