Interview: Teeth of the Sea

We’re never gonna persevere with something if we think it’s not up to scratch. A lot of ideas just get ditched because they don’t make your pulse race,’ say’s Teeth of the Sea’s Jimmy Martin.

Most commonly pegged as a psych rock outfit since forming in 2006 Jimmy, Sam Barton, Mike Bourne have in fact traversed a multitude of genres in pursuit of raised heart rates, be it through punishing beats or lugubrious brass.

The trio are now set to release their fifth record, Wraith, and as the title suggests their psychedelic influences remain at the core of what they do, even if the collection also marks yet another evolution in the band’s sound.

Working for the first time with a producer, Teeth of the Sea return with perhaps their most coherent and refined collection yet.

Ahead of the album’s release, we sat down with Jimmy to chat about the nebulous events that surrounded the recording of their latest record, the rewards of opening up their process to collaborators, and much more…

There’s been talk of supernatural happenings around your new record, can you tell us more?

I don’t really want to demystify it too much. Obviously, we’re not really sure exactly if it had an influence and what happened, but we were recording it in a strange location. We’ve always gone there, it’s on the Thames, East India Quay, it’s almost like being out of London but in London at the same time. So, you’re slightly disconnected from your everyday life, despite the fact that you’re still ostensibly in London.

It’s on a boat on the river, that we were recording on. I don’t know whether that maybe fostered some idea that maybe there were strange dynamics going on that we couldn’t entirely understand. I don’t know, I feel like when any kind of inspiration struck us while we were putting the material together in the first place it seemed like there was something driving us that was slightly inexplicable.

Beyond that, that’s how we came up with the Wraith concept, like the album had kind of written itself in a sense, and we were just kind of conduits. Obviously, I don’t want to sound too pretentious, but it was the overarching theme for the record. But we didn’t actually see any ghost, there were no supernatural happenings like that.

So, you recorded on a boat?

There’s this place called Soup Studios, we’ve done our last couple of records there. It really kind of suits the atmosphere of what you’re trying to do. There’s this guy called Ben, who bought it a while back and he hollowed out the whole thing, he’s one of those bizarre bohemians that likes to take jobs on like that. It seems absolutely ludicrous. He hollowed out the whole boat and converted the entire thing into a recording studio.

You’re on the water so it’s kind of a bit strange, and you get a little bit seasick while you’re doing it. But there’s something about being on there that’s a bit different to being able to just nip round to the Costcutter or to the pub if you want to. Because it’s slightly off the beaten track it does help, it focuses you, I think. It’s kind of exciting being there, it’s an interesting place to be. About 60 percent of the album was done there and 40 percent we did ourselves, because we always do a bit of home recording and the best bits of that end up on the record as well.

What was the process of recording the album like?

It took longer than any of the other ones, I’d say. I think, because we’ve been making records for a while now, we’re sort of perfectionists really. I think when we did our first record, we did that in more-or-less two or three days. That was all hammered out and we made the best of what we could do. It’s a cliché, but you’ve got to treat every album like it’s your first and your last. Everything’s got to really count. It was quite laborious at the time, sometimes it was incredibly inspiring, but other times it was like, ‘Oh god, have we got to remix this again?’ But looking back, now that I’ve got some distance from it, I’m very glad that we did.

How has your sound evolved since you last record, Highly Deadly Black Tarantula?

I think ever album you do is a bit of a reaction to the one you did before. When we did Master in 2013, that one was quite expansive. It was almost proggy in a way, very elaborate and very overblown. So, when we did Highly Deadly Black Tarantula we went the opposite way. We were trying to do something really stripped down and almost a bit brutal, a bit harsher. We put that one together a bit more quickly. That was cool as far as it went, but obviously now we’re doing this one, we’re going back the other way really.

That’s what I mean by the Wraith thing really, it’s almost evolved of its own volition. We‘ve certainly achieved more than we thought we could do and the sound’s gone in different directions. But we’ve all got very diverse tastes in terms of what we’re in to. We try and bring all of that to the table and fling it all in.

I think being a band that is slightly older than a lot of other bands, we’re very unselfconscious about all of that as well. We don’t really care about looking cool, anything we think is a good laugh, we’ll just throw in there and not worry about the consequences. That’s definitely what we tried to do on this one. On Gladiators Ready there’s that big Josh Wink-style acid freak out halfway through. We could have looked at that and gone, ‘that’s a bit silly.’ But we’re gonna do it anyway. It’s good fun for us and that’s one of the things people have singled out as a consequence. It does pay to be a bit cheeky sometimes.

You’ve got some interesting collaborators on the record, how did they come about and what influence did they have on the songs?

They definitely had an influence, we’ve not really had that many guests on our records before. We had a few vocalists on Master, but they were kind of a bit more incidental in that case. There were three main collaborators, and there was Erol [Alkan], obviously. Erol’s been a friend of ours for quite a long time and he’s a top bloke and he likes the band. We were quite surprised he was as up for it as he was, that was an exciting thing for us to be able to do I’d Rather Jack with him, because it was stepping outside our comfort zone really. It’s the first time we’ve had a producer, rather than an engineer, we’ve always essentially produced ourselves. The engineers always had an input, but this was the first time someone’s really taken control of the process, and I couldn’t think of anybody I’d rather work with than him quite honestly. That was really exciting. The way it turned out was just great. We knew exactly what we wanted, but somebody else’s input was pushing it further than we could have managed.

By the same token, we didn’t have anyone playing drums on this record, so we looked around and went for broke. We thought, ‘who’s our favourite drummer in London if not the world?’ And it’s Valentina Magaletti, who’s in Tomaga and Vanishing Twin and various other things, and she’s just a fantastic drummer. You can watch any gig where she’s drumming and pretty much watch her all night. Luckily, she was up for it and just came in and aced it, she basically did the whole thing in about two or three hours, and then went off to do some other project [laughs]. It was pretty amazing watching her doing her thing.

Chole Herrington who’s on there is a friend of ours and she’s just an ace musician, somebody we wanted to get involved with. And Kathy Gifford I’ve been a fan of her stuff since the nineties, since Snowpony and Sterolab, and she’s a friend of mine. We wanted these plaintive, English sounding vocals for Fortean Steed, and again it went beyond my wildest dreams what she came up with. So, I think that was really rewarding, we didn’t want to be too insular on this record. The last record was too much us just hunkered down in a room, we wanted to be a bit more expansive on this one.

The record is very varied but also cohesive, what does the album format mean to you?

It’s really important. I know there’s been a lot of chat over the last 20 years about the ‘death of the album,’ but I think whenever we’re putting stuff together, we think in terms of side A and side B. I honestly feel that it’s the format a lot of artists are judged on.

I know it sounds like cultural grandstanding, but I think the album format does have legs because it’s a really big cohesive statement by anybody, which they can stand or fall on. The idea of putting something like that together that has its own identity, I don’t think the convenience or streaming or downloading is ever gonna eradicate that to be honest.

How do you go about translating the record to live performance?

There are certain things we aren’t going to be able to do live. Some of the more obvious bangers, it’s always been like that really, there’s always been three or four songs that we end up doing live. Some of the other ones are just a bit impractical. Obviously, they’re two different disciplines and you try and make the best of both. Some of the more upbeat ones are going to end up being done live, and we’ll rework them so they’re a bit more visceral and work better in that environment. It’s not something we tend to think about, we just come to that after the event. After we’ve made the album, we’re like, ‘shit, how are we gonna make this work?’ That’s where we’re at at the moment, as we’re going on tour in a couple of weeks. It’s amazing how much you can cheat with modern technology and such like.

What does the rest of the year hold for the band?

We’ve always got more irons in the fire than we’ve got time to do, we’re all very busy. We all do other musical projects and we’ve all got day jobs, and we all do other extracurricular stuff on top of that. It’s been great focusing on this a couple of years. After Highly Deadly we didn’t really do an awful lot. So, we’ll probably take a bit of time to do something that’s experimental. There’s talk of us doing something that’s almost like library music. I can’t really see that far ahead to be honest. I want to play live more, we’ve probably only done about eight gigs in the last two years. It feels like we’re a bit out of practice, so I really want to get back in the saddle with that before we think about anything else.

Wraith is released 22 February via Rocket Recordings

Forthcoming 2019 tour dates

Feb 25 Supersonic, Paris, France
Mar 01 The Soundhouse, Leicester
Mar 02 Moth Club, London
Apr 13 Soup Kitchen, Manchester
Apr 27 Rough Trade, Bristol
May 24 Cardiff Psych & Noise Fest, Cardiff

teethofthesea.bandcamp.com

Photo Credit: Al Overdrive

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