“When I said no one expects anything of the bass player, I think that’s true but I felt the pressure was on as opposed to off because people didn’t have the expectation to know I really wanted to prove them wrong.” Proclaims Ed Nash, bassist for the critically acclaimed Bombay Bicycle Club, but also artist in his own right. So, enter Toothless, the musician’s once side project, now full time venture, and it’s going rather well.
His debut record ‘The Pace Of The Passing’ is out now and weaves intricate guitars with subtle electronic sensibilities in an endearing yet accessible way, proving that perhaps people should expect the bass player to do something.
Clash caught up with Toothless in East London to get the lowdown on the new record.
- - -
- - -
Did you have any new year’s resolutions this year?
Actually I did have New Year’s resolutions and I stuck to them this year, I don’t know how long it will last, I’ve stopped drinking for January, I’m doing dry January...
How’s that going so far?
Well everyone I live with has stopped as well, there’s four of us, so they’ve stopped drinking and we’re just in every night and we’ve taken to watching The Walking Dead. It actually feels quite wholesome and nice, we’ll cook a meal and watch The Walking Dead for a couple of hours instead. I guess it wouldn’t be too different otherwise, we’d just be drinking beers, it’s not like we were particularly debaucherous before so I guess it’s fairly similar, maybe slightly more civilized and quite easy to do.
How are you finding The Walking Dead?
Yeah it’s good. I read the comic books a couple of years ago and I think they’re better than the show and I know what’s going to happen as well, because I’ve read the books, but it’s certainly a good show, it looks beautiful. Do you know it?
I don’t, I find it really hard to sit down and concentrate on TV shows or films...
I didn’t own a TV for about six years and I bought one over Christmas in the Black Friday sales because I wanted to watch Christmas TV and I’ve just got really into sitting down with the guys and watching The Walking Dead, maybe the sobriety is part of that.
- - -
I don’t know how long it will last...
- - -
Is the pressure off a bit now everything is coming out and being so well received?
When I said, ‘no one expects anything of the bass player’, I think that’s true but I felt the pressure was on as opposed to off because people didn’t have the expectation to know I really wanted to prove them wrong.
I really wanted to go and make this my full time thing, and choosing a name like Toothless meant that I had to make it good otherwise I would have looked like an idiot, so I really felt the pressure was on then. I’m still feeling it, I’ve only got two reviews of the album so I’m just twiddling my thumbs waiting for them, there’s not a lot I can do now. I’ve still got the drive, I’m not being complacent.
There’s going to be an influx of them soon isn’t there, are you prepared?
There’s going to be an influx at some point. I think so. I’ve done it before with Bombay and I’ve got more and more used to it, putting something out there and just accepting what people say, I’ve got tough skin. Having said that, this is all me, I wrote this album myself so I’ve put myself on the line, I’m certainly quite nervous and it’s weird being nervous when you can’t do anything about it.
Was there a lot of experimentation on the record or did you have a good grasp of what you wanted to do when you started making it?
I guess experimentation is a good way of putting it. I never did all of it by myself so a lot of it was a learning process, which I guess is kind of experimentation, learning to write and record whole, complete songs. I tried out a lot of things out that certainly didn’t work to get to where I got to. Lyrically, I’d never written lyrics before doing this album, I spent a lot of my time really thinking about it. I guess the short answer to that is yes there was a lot of experimentation and experimentation within learning the craft and learning how to put an album together by myself.
- - -
I’d never written lyrics before doing this album, I spent a lot of my time really thinking about it...
- - -
The title relates to the passing of time, how long did it take to make the record?
I guess it took 26 years to make [laughs]. You’ve got your whole life to write your first album and a year to write your second. It took about a year and a half to write this from the time that I was like, ‘I’m going to do this project’ to finishing the last song for it, which isn’t particularly long for an album actually. Having said that, for years and years beforehand I was playing guitar and collecting ideas, so in terms of actually starting the songs it was a year and a half before that it was probably five or six years just writing bits and bobs, ideas lyrically, just one or two lines.
Were there ever times with Bombay Bicycle Club when you would come up with a melody but want to keep it for yourself?
It was never, ‘I’m going to keep that for myself’, that wasn’t really how Bombay worked, Jack wrote those songs, there were a couple of bits I did for Bombay but for the most part I wasn’t keeping them to myself, I was just making music for fun and it was something entirely separate. When Kanye West started out he was a producer and there was a year or so where he was producing other people’s albums but when he’d make a beat that he loved he would just not tell them and keep the beat for himself, that certainly didn’t happen with me.
Going back to lyrics, this record is based on ancient myths, do you think in the future you would write songs based purely on personal experiences?
So the myths thing, as I said before I’d never really written lyrics, and these songs are written about personal experiences from a personal point of view but when I started writing I didn’t know where to start and I didn’t know how to write from a first person point of view and it not be cheesy and making it believable and poetic. The songwriters I love the most are the people that tell stories, like Sufjan Stevens, Nick Cave and Joanna Newsom, all of those guys tell stories and they retell stories, myths or fables but use them to reflect their own emotions and they put themselves within the framework, so I just use myths as a tool to get into it.
The song ‘Sisyphus’, the myth is the guy that rolls the boulder up the hill every day, that’s a really clear cut message, moral and metaphor and that’s a starting point, I can do with that whatever I want, but there’s something there to get words onto a page. In that song I use the metaphor for a relationship where you’re always there for someone no matter how many times they mess up, you still persevere. I would say it’s writing from personal experience but hiding behind the myths a bit, or using them as a tool to get where I want.
I guess it allows your fans to interpret the songs in their own ways as well because the meaning behind it isn’t so direct...
Yeah totally, all of those myths can be interpreted however people want, I just use them to do what I want. In ‘The Sirens’ the myth is about temptation to me and temptation to peer pressure, but it could be something completely different to other people.
- - -
- - -
Would you say literature is a big inspiration to you?
I wish it were a bigger inspiration. I don’t read that much, I listen to a lot of music and I really study other people’s lyrics, I’m not as well read as I’d like to be. With the myths they’re something I knew from my childhood and I read them while I was making this album but outside of that I wouldn’t say reading comes into it a whole lot. Other people’s lyrics do, stories, just day to day life and science, little things like that, using tools to write the songs.
What was the last piece of artistry you consumed that was particularly inspiring to you?
That’s a good question, I don’t know about the last but there’s a bunch of things that really, really inspired me with this record. The work of Sufjan Stevens and everything he does, and Nick Cave who I said before. There’s a song called ‘18’ by The New Year and that one song is everything I was trying to do with this album in terms of lyrics and themes. The Eames exhibition at the Barbican last year really blew me away and all of the artwork for the album and the singles is based on that, so I guess that’s the most current thing that really stopped me in my tracks and made me think about it.
There’s not going to be a Walking Dead inspired track any time soon then?
Maybe on the next album, now I’ve used all the myths maybe I’ll have to go to television shows, I’ll do a song called ‘Breaking Bad’, a song called ‘Walking Dead’, it would be good fun actually.
- - -
I listen to a lot of music and I really study other people’s lyrics...
- - -
The record works incredibly cohesively as a whole product listening from start to finish, with the internet and streaming, do you think listening to an album from start to finish is becoming a dying art?
I think people are doing it less and less certainly. I made and album to be an album and I’m the number one fan of listening to an album in full, but I often find myself cherry picking songs. I think some people still put their time into it, I made this album to work as an album but I’m sure people will listen to it as individual songs and to their favourite songs. Having said that record sales are going up and up and that means people, unless they’re cherry picking songs within a record, which I don’t think they are, they’re listening to the album as a whole so that’s a very positive sign, that means people are still paying attention to it and people still care about it, unless they’re just hanging the vinyl on their wall.
They might just be fans of the artwork...
I can get behind that, I think it’s an all-encompassing experience, you have the album and the artwork and once it’s digital or on a CD the artwork is more of a throwaway thing and as a result I think people put less effort into artwork than they used to.
Was it easy to choose the singles from this record?
Yeah I guess so, I don’t know if I made the right decisions. There’s songs on the record that I think are far more accessible singles than what I’ve put out. The first song ‘Terra’, I put that out and it’s probably one of the least radio-friendly songs on the album but I wanted it to go out as a slow burner and people to understand what I was doing then put out a few other songs before the big singles. I think if someone were choosing singles they would not choose what I have done.
- - -
It’s such an adventure and it’s such a privilege...
- - -
Are you looking forward to taking the record on the road?
More than anything, it’s what I like doing the most. I toured really consistently in 2012 and 2014 and I loved it, I like the lifestyle, I like meeting people and playing shows and as much as I loved making this record I want to take it on the road, I want to play the songs in front of people and I want to see people’s reaction and talk to them about the record. It’s such an adventure and it’s such a privilege, I’m so fortunate enough to be able to do it, so I want to do it as much as I can.
There’s some great collaborations on the record too, do you have a list of dream collaborations?
I have a list of dream collaborators but that’s separate from who I would ask to sing on the record. I didn’t want to do a features album or ask a lot of my friends for the sake of it, so all the features I have are there for a reason, they fit in with the concept of the song or they add something that I couldn’t do. I asked Tom from Wild Beasts to sing on a song with loads of harmonies because his voice is far, far different from mine, it’s far lower and it stacked up and with Marika Hackman that song was a conversation between a guy and a girl looking back at a relationship and I’ve always loved her voice and what she does, I thought it was a good counterpart to my voice too, it had a place, they all fit in conceptually.
Outside of music, are there any other projects you’d like to pursue?
I paint, I always painted when I was younger and I fell out of the habit when Bombay got busier, so I don’t know if I would have the time but I’d like to get back into painting. I intend to paint the next record cover for Toothless. Painting is the next thing, then I think that’s about all of my time used up.
- - -
- - -
'The Pace Of The Passing' is out now.
Words: Shannon Cotton