Interviews

In Conversation with…TOOTHLESS

Toothless is the new musical project from Bombay Bicycle Club’s Ed Nash, widely known for his excellent bass playing skills, its actually the rise of his own material that sees Nash taking the spotlight. Skewering the conception of one-time success, Toothless proves that Nash has plenty more to offer the world and furthermore, was destined to take his aspirations into the land of fruition. Illustrating with great depth a willingness to expand his horizons beyond the typified norm, the music, just like Nash, is anything but one-dimensional.

Lyrically the themes of Toothless’ debut album ‘The Pace of the Passing’ are exceptionally obscure but equally just as personable and incredibly relative to modern society and contemporary culture. Nash creatively repackages tales from classic Greek myths (‘Sisphyus’ and ‘The Sirens’) and astrological themes also arise (‘The Sun’s Midlife Crisis’ personifies the burning star in metaphorical usage to express existential worries), references to relatable everyday situations crop up here and there but never in an obvious manner.

When Toothless made their first trip to Manchester earlier in the week, we raced down to Sound Control as fast as we could to catch a glimpse of the famed tracks that we’ve taken to so dearly over the past ten or so months. Meeting Toothless’ creator – Ed Nash – beforehand gave great insight into what was to come, at times allowing Nash to reflect on the whole process of the record’s creation, as well as informing us to its very unique and artistic process. We talked at length about his next steps as Toothless, his intentions with the first record and how touring feels all so new once again.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, how’s the day been up to this point?

I haven’t been on tour for about two and a half years and it’s something I used to do a lot, for months and months at a time, and I’ve kinda forgotten how it works I think.

I think I’m becoming a curmudgeonly old man – I feel like I’ve put my back out, I keep on complaining about the cold, I keep on forgetting where to put stuff and how to do touring properly so I think it’ll make me a bit of time to get back into it. But on the whole it’s good, very happy to be in Manchester, really happy to be out playing shows again.

To make a solo record, you’ve said, has been a dream of yours for quite some time. Now the album has reached completion, is the outcome what you imagined it would be?

I’m really genuinely happy with the record I’ve made. You know, I kind of had an unlimited amount of time to put it out and no one, at first, expected me to do this so I had the time to work on the songs and get them to where I wanted and I’m really happy with it. I think it’s a good album. You know that’s all you can really do, you can get something to the point where you’re happy and then you have to let it go and see what other people think.  Obviously everyone’s going to have their own opinion, some people will like it, some people won’t like it, but I think I did my part, I’m happy with what I’ve made.

I’m definitely a big fan of the album, and everyone at Bitter Sweet Symphonies is.

Thank you very much.  Thank you for all the support and kind reviews.

When it came to creating the record, you were quite meticulous in its design, spending every day in its year-long production working on an element of some kind that would feed into the finished album. Did you find this method of working to be very effective?

I don’t really know. I put in every day, as you say, but with music or anything creative you can spend three weeks and be working [behind the scenes] and have made stuff that no one will ever hear. Not every idea is a good idea [but] you kinda have to just follow it through and see what happens. But you know you can write a terrible song for three weeks and no one will ever hear it. So when I say doing it every day, most of the stuff I was doing in that time, although productive and it led me to the final point [not every idea made it through the process].

The other way of doing it would be to wait until inspiration strikes, and I think you’d probably get as much results from [that method]. Just staying interested, I think that’s important, staying as interested as you can with other people’s music, with other art, with reading, with books, and not necessarily writing music, just taking information in and then when inspiration strikes, using that. I think that may be a better way of doing it.

Working on music as Toothless has provided a host of new experiences and opportunities for you to grow as an artist, probably the most notable skill that has blossomed out of this project has been your songwriting. What would be your advice to those looking to find their artistic voice within an area that they’re unfamiliar with?

That’s a very good question and I have to think about it for a second.

I don’t know, there are so many different aspects to it. I think what I’ve just said is incredibly important, I think you have to stay interested in other art, especially in the area that you’re working in that will obviously inform you of what you’re doing.

Stay interested in the world and life in general, stay busy and then just keep working, keep writing and eventually you will stumble on something that you like, that you can pursue. I don’t think there’s anything in particular, like practising scales or practising writing lyrics or you know that kind of methodical way of working. I don’t think that will develop your artistic side, I think it’s just a general immersion in things that will help. I’d say I think that certainly helped me.

A few of the songs on ‘The Pace of the Passing’ have been inspired by Greek mythology, what drew you to focus in on this area specifically?

I started writing the album, and I’d made music for years and years so I’d always played bass and guitar and I was quite proficient in doing that, but as you’ve said before, I’d never written complete songs  or lyrics, at least lyrics that people would hear. I’d always written terrible lyrics but it got to the point where I was like ‘people are going to hear these, I need to make them good’ and when I was thinking that, I was like ‘I literally don’t know what to write about’.

I couldn’t really write about my life, I don’t write references towards life it’s a difficult thing to do, and I don’t think my life’s as interesting as some other peoples, you know there’s not much intrigue in there so I didn’t want to do that. All my favourite songwriters tell stories and use metaphors and other people’s stories to talk about their own experiences like Sufjan Stevens and Nick Cave and people like that, they create a world and within that they can relate and relay their own experiences to stories and I thought Greek myths was quite a good way into that. The framework all exists, it’s all there, there’s really clear cut messages and morals, so I just started retelling these stories and I’m not just retelling them as they are, there’s another level that relates to me within them.

Like the song ‘Sisyphus’ , it’s about the man that rolls the boulder up the hill every day but I kind of talk about a relationship and the way that someone will mess up and you’ll still be there for them, you know how these things go round and round. So I just use myths as a framework for starting to write lyrics because I couldn’t find another way in.

I think it’s a great area to focus in on as well, it’s something you learn at school and you grow up accustomed to. There’s a great universal aspect to it as well.

Well I guess they’re just age old stories as well, instead of Greek myths I could’ve used Disney stories. They would’ve probably seemed less poetic, but you know what I mean, like within Disney stories there’s a clear message and all of these different things to draw from. I guess Greek myths just seem slightly better but in essence, it’s kind of the same thing.

If a second album does arise, what do you imagine the area of focus would be?

I’m writing the second album now, I don’t really know what I’m going to do for lyrics, I don’t want to use Greek myths and do all that stuff again. Also a lot of stuff, even though I was telling a lot of stories, was personal to me, so I’ll probably just have to find a different way in. I’ve also wanted to write a concept album, as in the very basic sense of the word, where you have a story that plays itself out so I might give that a go.

Have you found songwriting to be an enjoyable outlet since working on the record?

It goes up and down, some days I think I’m a genius, other days I hate myself, I think it’s like anything creative. I used to paint, I still paint from time to time, I felt exactly the same thing, its ups and downs. It never remains steady. It can be a useful outlet when it’s going well, it is, when it’s going badly, you don’t feel great about yourself.

When it came to mapping out the players that would join you for the Toothless live shows, was it an easy task to complete?

No it wasn’t hard at all. They’re all my friends who are amazing musicians.  I wrote and recorded the album by myself for the most part and then had to get other people in to play the songs live. Suren from Bombay Bicycle Club is playing drums, he also played drums on the record; Liz Lawrence who is a really good friend of mine, a fantastic musician in her own right, is playing guitar and singing; and then I’ve got a friend of mine called Rosa Brooke playing keyboards and singing; and a friend of mine called Dave playing bass. They’re all good friends, they’re all fantastic musicians and they were up for doing it.

It’s nice to be surrounded by friends as well.

Certainly is. It’s like a school trip.

You will be taking the Toothless show to bigger stages this summer, having already announced to be performing at Secret Garden Party and Reading & Leeds. Will your approach to playing festivals differ from what we see at headline shows?

I guess not, no. They will be different because of the way they’re laid out and the stages…my idea is to have fun and do the best show you can every night, that’s the only thing, there’s no bigger plan to it. That’s all we can do.

No extra production or anything?

No probably not, just go and give it our all. Play the songs and I think that always translates well.

Texture and expanse are both essential elements that create the soundscapes on ‘The Pace of the Passing’, how did you transition the sounds that you made in the studio into a live format?

That’s a difficult thing to do and a good question. There’s such a balance between wanting to be faithful to parts of the record that you think are unique and exciting, while making something live in its own right and not just pressing play on a backing track and doing that.  So basically it was just a lot of trial and error, working out if we could play something on guitar and changing it a bit, or extending a section, or in terms of the sounds [would] someone [be] recreating it manually? Also picking out which bits were important and which bits were less important, which bits you needed to change to make it work as a live show. It took a long time, I’m not sure if we’ve got it right yet but I think it’s good.

What’s your favourite piece of gear that’s used in the live set?

Probably my guitar, I know that’s a really cheesy thing to say but yeah it’s the guitar that most of the record is recorded on. Normally people who look at it on stage wouldn’t think anything of it but I love it, it’s personal to me. I don’t think anyone else would treasure it at all but you grow such an attachment to these physical objects and I certainly have one to that.

Have you named the guitar? I know some people do.

No. Some people do. I’m precious about the object but I’m not attached in that way, it’s still an object to me. It hasn’t taken on a life yet.

Pre to this tour you sent out a search via social media for local supports to accompany Toothless on each date, the result has thrown up some great bands especially tonight with Blooms, they’re really great.

Yeah it worked out really well.

Is it an important aspect for you to nurture new talent?

I don’t know if anyone would respect my opinion with nurturing new talent but I think it’s important for new talent to be nurtured. I’ve certainly been in the position in the past where people have gone out on a limb for things that I’ve done and it’s meant a lot, it’s meant that I could do it and I think it’s important that it keeps happening. Putting out the call for support bands was incredible, there’s so many good bands, I went through and listened to them all and chose the best ones. I watched the band I chose last night called West Princes in Glasgow and they were fantastic. A lot of good stuff.

What’s the plan going forward with Toothless?

I think a lot of people still think of this as my side project and we’re going to go back and do Bombay Bicycle Club but that won’t happen anytime soon. We’re all very happy in doing what we’re doing now, so I’m just going to keep doing this. I’m writing another record, I’m going to play as many shows as I can and just continue doing it. Hopefully people enjoy it, and if they don’t, well I’ll still do it.

The Toothless tour runs until 5th March, culminating at Brighton’s Hope and Ruin. The full list of tour dates can be found here, alongside ticket links. Toothless will also be performing at London’s Heaven alongside ISLAND on 3rd May.

Toothless can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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