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A conversation with Toothless

Ed Nash talks about his first solo project

The name Toothless first appeared on HumanHuman three months ago as a discovery by influential user Daisy Digital. Our community of new music obsessives were drawn in by a refreshing debut single “Terra”, but with next to no information on the artist behind this impressive song, we were equally intrigued to find out more.

What later transpired is that former Bombay Bicycle Club bass player, Ed Nash, had stepped forward from the background to front his own project, Toothless. It was long before this accomplished musician was labelled as a Promising Discovery, and we’ve since enjoyed his soaring second single “Kairos”. We took the opportunity to ask Nash more about his solo effort, why he chose the name Toothless and we also get a rather exciting hint of what’s to come next.

We’ll start off by talking about your debut song “Terra” with that distinctive rhythmic breathing, how did that idea come about for the opening sound?

I was waiting for someone to ask me that, because no one has and I think it’s a really cool sound. We were on tour with Bon Iver towards the end of 2014 and we had four days off in Manchester, which led to debauchery… A terrible time for everyone’s sanity, but I was writing “Terra” at that point, which was the first song I wrote for this record, and I had this idea for breathing that went along with the bass line. I had this microphone attached to my headphones and was listening to my music in this hotel and I just breathed into that. That’s the sound on the record. It was literally recorded on the headphone’s microphone. It sounds so bad.

It does sound kind of crackly...

Yeah! It made it sound cool. You know, if I found a proper microphone or had recorded it properly, it wouldn’t have worked out. You can hear all the clicks and pops from the headphone set. I could have re-recorded it, but I’m glad I left it.

There’s a lot of layered instrumentation going on in “Terra” and it makes it quite eerie at some points, I’m assuming a lot of work went into that?

Why, thank you! Yeah, I put a lot of work into that song especially. It was hard to write and hard to come up with all the sounds. There’s a lot of things, as I was saying with the microphone, that are recorded improperly or badly, which lend themselves to that eerie sound, because they’re quite unusual. Some of the sampling I didn’t do properly, so you can literally hear it going wrong, which is pretty cool. As for the tone of the song, I don’t know. I wasn’t planning for it to be eerie, it just became an eerie song it terms of the chords and melody, but I’m glad that I achieved that end result!

That’s cool though, that you let the song go where it need to go.

I guess you kind of have to. At the beginning, when you’re writing it, you’re pulling something out of thin air, so I guess I was in an eerie mood that day in that hotel in Manchester. [laughs]

Well that’s just one of the atmospheric feelings you get from “Terra”, because it’s also really emotional, is there a particular story behind the song?

There’s a loose story behind the record in that sense. I had this master plan when I was making it, because I didn’t want to write lyrics about my life, as it’s quite settled, so I think it would be quite disinteresting for people to listen to. I live in North London, I’ve played in a successful band, I’m starting another band, I’m good friends with my sister - there’s nothing to moan or whine about! There’s nothing interesting to write about! I came up with this loose theme for the whole record, and “Terra” was meant to be the last track, and it’s about the personification of the sun and the earth - terra being the Latin word for earth. It’s personifying those two things as if they’re having a relationship, so that kind of set the parameters for me, because I didn’t really have anything else to write about.

Toothless at The Great Escape 2016

You said there that your life is quite good at the moment and there isn’t anything to whine about, so does that mean for you that writing needs to come from a place of sadness or not feeling settled?

No, I don’t think it does. Although I don’t think I would be good or articulate at writing happy songs either. I just felt that because my life was in such a stable place, there was nothing to write about. I would either be forcing it, or lying, or people wouldn’t be interested in what I have to say because it’s so mediocre. It would be about living in a flat in North London, even if it’s happy, I don’t think I’d be able to do that very well, so I just made a story up! Everything on this album is based on that loose theme, and it’s changed a lot since then.

I guess it’s a continuing story?

Yeah, and the rest of the story can wait, but that one in particular is about the sun and the earth personified and in a relationship.

The song was remixed by Wayward, how did that come about?

Yeah, Wayward! They’re good friends of mine. We went to the pub and I had two or three beers with them and at the end they were like “why have you asked us to come to the pub?” and I was like “can you listen to this song? Tell me what you think, because I would love for you guys to do a remix. I really like everything else you put out.” Nicely enough of them, they did it.

What was it like to hear that song in an EDM light? It’s very different!

I fucking loved it! They did such a good job. You can hear that they put their time and their heart into it. With a lot of remixes, you send it off and you get something back where you can tell that no one cared and they’re just doing it for the money or for the sake of it. Those guys did it, because they were helping me out and they liked the song. They smashed it! I’m a big fan of Wayward.

Obviously, Wayward are an electronic outfit and a lot of their instruments exist within tech and on laptops, and I was wondering what do you think about the increased digitisation of the music industry as a whole?

It’s fantastic. It’s an amazing thing and I won’t go too far into it because I can only use myself as an example, but I made this record in my living room over the course of a year for very little money. I had a laptop, I bought some software and I made this record. I didn’t go into any fancy studios. I re-did the vocals in Jack Steadman’s studio who also works on a computer, there’s no big mixing desk there, no expensive microphones, none of that.

I really wouldn’t know that listening to your music!

Oh, thank you very much! [laughs] I spent a lot of time trying. Well, that goes to prove my point, you can make those sounds and do all of the things you want on a computer nowadays. The Bombay Bicycle Club record, So Long See You Tomorrow, was made on a laptop. If I can do it, then anyone else can. It opens up all these doors, and you don’t have to have loads of money or be signed to a record label to make an album, to make music. Then because of the Internet, people can hear it. Obviously, there’s inequality everywhere, but it levels to playing field quite a bit. Having a laptop and having access to the time is a huge privilege. As long as you have those things, you can make the music you want and show it to people. It’s far easier now than when I first started making music, which isn’t particularly long ago, maybe ten years. People who are down on that and want to go back to the “good old days”, and although there are good parts of that, are so short-sighted and so dismissive of new, interesting music. You can’t just write something off because it’s new or because it’s made on a laptop, that’s absolutely ridiculous.

I agree, I think so many artists and so many people who work within the industry now owe their career to the Internet.

Oh yeah, completely! I owe my career to the Internet. I’ve made this album on a laptop, and in the past I’ve made albums on a laptop. I couldn’t have done any of that without it. Just using myself as an example, I think it’s fantastic.

Is there a piece of tech or software that has really changed your sound or changed the way you approach music?

There’s a digital audio workshop called Ableton, which I think is absolutely amazing. Ninety percent of the people making electronic music use Ableton. I think it’s the best and it’s what I use. I guess it’s like everyone’s liking their mum’s dinner the best; you’re going to stick to what you know.

You’ve already mentioned your previous project, but do you think it’s important for musicians to evolve, change, move on to new pastures?

Yeah, I think it’s incredibly important, even if you’re still a part of the same band. I can only speak as someone who’s been in a band that’s changed a lot, but it must be incredibly boring making the same record with the same sound every single time, trying to match what you did before. You’ve just got to do what interests you and you’ve got to keep changing and evolving, otherwise what’s the point?

You’ve just got to do what interests you and you’ve got to keep changing and evolving, otherwise what’s the point?
Toothless

How does it feel to have your own project and be at the front of that now?

I love it! I’m getting my head round it now, but it was quite daunting to begin with. If this fails, I live or die by it. No one else is to blame, because it’s no one else’s ideas, it’s literally all me. Now, I like it, but it took a while to get there.

How so?

Just the idea of doing something creative and standing behind it, it’s incredibly daunting. People are so quick to criticise nowadays, but they have no idea what it’s like. I can take the criticism, but I think a lot of those people put in the same situation wouldn’t be able to do it. Making something that’s part of them and releasing it into the world. I can’t imagine that most people could, but if they can, then do it!

You speak about criticism then, but how do you think the overall reception has been? I see it as something that’s been really positive!

Oh no, it’s been incredibly positive! I’m so thankful for everyone who has supported it and listened. I was talking more about being apprehensive about doing something creative and putting it out there. Just the idea of making something and letting other people judge it, which I guess is the downside of technology, that people can so easily criticise it in a second or dismiss something that you spent years and years working on.

I think for listeners and bloggers your music happens so quickly for them, it’s however long the track is, even though it’s something you’ve worked on for a long time. They’ll all have their own ways of depicting your sound, but what would you describe it as?

What would I describe it as…? I have no idea! It sound like the ex-bass player of Bombay Bicycle Club sitting in his living room with a laptop.

Wow, that’s quite self-critical!

That’s what it is. I have no idea, I can’t remove myself from it at this stage.

I had a think about what the name Toothless could be, and all I came up with is that stereotypical dream of loosing your teeth which is supposed to hint some kind over anxiety in your life. To avoid further speculation on my part, can you tell me what the meaning behind Toothless is?

It basically goes back to the last point I made, and I was joking when I said that, but there’s this picture by Raymond Petitbon of this cartoon tiger biting a boy’s head, and above the picture it says, “even toothless, she can still bit a boy’s head off.” I saw it years and years ago, and it really stuck with me, the idea that something very unassuming can still be powerful, so it was a nod to that. Most people have said it about this project and about me that they didn’t expect me to do this, so it’s like beating people to the joke. It’s like someone reviewing my music and saying that it’s “toothless”, it doesn’t have a bite, it’s got nothing to it. I guess it’s self-deprecating in a way, but it was getting to the joke before other people could. It doesn’t happen much for the bass player, the person in the background of the band, to step up and do it. It’s partly a joke, and as a word, it looks good. I mean, I was in a band called Bombay Bicycle Club and there was a name like Toothless lying around!

You say that no one expected it, but you’ve been working on the project for a long time, apparently your latest song “Kairos” was six years in the making?

Oh yeah, well until now no one would really know that I made or wrote music. It was quite unexpected I guess for fans of the band. “Kairos”, I wrote that melody at Glastonbury in 2010, so yeah six years ago. I’ve always written music and played in a band, but people’s perception of band’s in general is that if a band breaks up, that’s the end of it, but that’s not always the case.

Yeah, you guys all seem to be doing something now.

Yeah, Surem [de Saram] is here today.

You said that “Kairos” was first written at Glastonbury, and obviously the name means “supreme moment” in Greek, does that link in with playing at Glastonbury or does it come from another time?

Oh no, nothing from that, I didn’t have that much foresight. I just wrote the melody and tune then, but I only wrote the words last year and it’s been lying around since then.

Do you think you’ve had that life peak moment that’s sparked the kairos theme, or is it still something you’re hoping for?

Who knows, that’s kind of the point in it. Tomorrow could be your life peak, or today, or you might have had it a long time ago. You have no idea, and that’s more what I was getting at, which is a fucking terrifying prospect in itself! The fact that you might have had the best time in your life already, and it’s all downhill from there, or is might not be so pessimistic, it might happen tomorrow, it might still yet to happen. I was thinking along those lines and I good way to do it is a favourite day or just one day in time. Yeah, that’s fucking terrifies me that it might have already happened, but I don’t think it has… at least I hope not! [laughs]

So far we’ve discussed the only two songs online at the moment, but what can be expect from the next release? Can we know the name of it?

The next song is called “Palm’s Back Side”. It’s far poppier and more upbeat than what I’ve put out so far. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this, but I got Marika Hackman to sing on it. She’s fucking badass! She sounds wicked, so it’s very nice of her to come sing on my song. A lovely person with a fantastic voice, so it’s Toothless featuring Marika Hackman, “Palm’s Back Side”.

This article is written by Hannah Thacker and was published 10 months ago.

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