“We basically just set out to make a musical version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis as played by The Butthole Surfers and Tangerine Dream.”
Whilst spinning around in their own outer orbit London’s Teeth of the Sea speak to Behind The Wall of Sleep.
Named after the French translation of the film Jaws – ‘Les Dents De La Mer’ – Teeth Of The Sea are gnawing into your consciousness. Be aware!
How did Teeth Of The Sea come to be?
A combination of factors really. Jimmy and I had been knocking about in noisy garage rock bands for years, all of which had pretty much petered out by mid-2006, but we were still paying for rehearsal space which wasn’t getting used. At the same time Jimmy, Mike, John and Darren (who all worked together) wanted to get a drone/noise thing together, so it made sense to use our space. They asked me down to play some trumpet and that was the start of JAWS. Darren moved to Australia in 2007 which left just the 4 of us and about that time we changed our name to Teeth Of The Sea due to a few other bands with the name JAWS (JAWS was called ‘Les Dents De La Mer’ in France so we just went with the straight translation). That was the line-up that put out Orphaned By The Ocean at the start of 2009. That was also the time we parted ways with John and replaced him with Mat, which is the line up to this date and responsible for the Hypnoticon EP and Your Mercury.
Has the band developed in a way that you expected?
I don’t think any of us had any expectations at the start of the band, it was just a good excuse to get together, drink some beer and clear the psychic custard as it were. Musically the big inspiration at the start was Wolf Eyes and we were definitely aiming for something a lot more abrasive. We were using really distorted drum loops and it had a Throbbing Gristle, early-Cabaret Voltaire feel to it. Gradually, however, the shocking realisation came that we could put stuff together which sounded quite impressive and a lot more conventionally ‘musical’ than we had originally intended. I think since then the aim has been to occupy the space between improvisation, composition and fucking brain-bleeding, excoriating noise. The addition of Mat on drums was another big step in the development of the sound. Where Orphaned definitely had at least one foot in drone we’ve become noticeably more kinetic and dynamic on the 2 releases since.
TOTS sound quite diverse on record, can you tell us about the influences you have brought to this heady brew
Being 4 geeks in our 30s there’s obviously a huge amount of influences on what we do, too many to give a comprehensive list of, but here goes: I think if you’re talking classic ‘holy grail’ bands and artists, people who we all love and have undoubtedly shaped what we do then I’d say Can, This Heat, Boredoms, Hawkwind, Eno, Miles Davis and Throbbing Gristle would all have to be in there, as much for their approach and spirit as the way their records sound. In terms of contemporary bands Liars (‘They Were Wrong So We Drowned’ and ‘Drums Not Dead’ period) and Emeralds would have to get a mention too. Individually we all have quite varying tastes: Jimmy comes from a more metal background than the rest of us and would undoubtedly list Sabbath and Maiden in his guitar influences, as well as more out-rock stuff like Skullflower and Chrome; Mike tends towards more electronic stuff and has latterly introduced us to the likes of Skyramps, Keith Fullerton Whitman and Ben Frost, all of whom have made their presence felt on the TOTS sound in one way or another. Mat is an ex-mod and brings a huge wealth of knowledge about British Psyche and Beat, bands called things like Mandrake Paddle Steamer, July and The Cloude Shoppe, as well as jazz, performance poetry and, increasingly, black metal. I’ve a background in playing jazz on the trumpet and inept garage rock on the guitar, and have tried to fuse this high/low brow approach into something coherent in TOTS, sort of Jon Hassell meets The Count Five. I
Your Mercury has a very strong krautrock and psychedelic feel, how important are these types of music to you?
Whilst we are undoubtedly influenced by Krautrock bands – I mentioned Can above but you can easily add Neu!, Cluster, Harmonia and Aamon Duul II to that – I think that these are pretty fashionable influences to drop at the moment, subsequently you hear quite a lot of bland approximations around. It’s pretty easy to stick some repetitive stuff over a Neu beat and claim to be part of that lineage, which for me totally misses the point of what all those bands were trying to do anyway. This was something we’ve always been very keen to avoid, someone in the room will always call bullshit the minute we start sounding ‘too Neu’ or ‘too Can’. Likewise with psychedelia, which is a pretty loose term anyway, I think the spirit of adventure and technology-abuse are more important to us than lovingly replicating the classic Leslie rotary speaker sound. Irreverence is the key.
What can you tell us about Your Mercury – why that title in particular? What are some of the musical influences and themes explored on this record?
We actually had the track title ‘You’re Mercury’ first, which is a line from Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. There then followed an intensely frustrating period of trying to come up with a title for the whole album (we actually had over 100 suggestions between us that we discarded, no joke). Eventually someone suggested ‘Your Mercury’ with the different spelling and it just seemed to fit. (I’ve always liked it when bands have self referential puns in things, eg Saints have a song called ‘Know Your Product’ and another called ‘No, You’re Product’. I think it’s the crossword buff in me). In terms of significance the title works on a several levels. There’s the outer-space connotations of it and the fact that the music is dynamically pretty mercurial too. Also, Mercury was the Roman god of trade, and it’s no coincidence that we all work in shops. Lastly, it’ll give tabloid newspaper sub-editors a field day when we inevitably win the Mercury Music Prize in August.
In terms of musical influences, I’ve gone over a lot of the specific artists in previous answers, but the aim with Your Mercury was to create something really all encompassing from these, combined with all the film, art and literature we’re into too. We’re really into ridiculous over-arching concepts, sci-fi films and novels and London psychogeography. We basically just set out to make a musical version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis as played by The Butthole Surfers and Tangerine Dream. For me, the idea of the City is very important in what we do, it’s definitely urban music. But it’s a London seen through the eyes of people who’ve read too much Iain Sinclair and JG Ballard and watched Tron and Flash Gordon a lot rather than some tedious ‘authentic’ notion of what London is.
How do you feel Your Mercury compares to Orphaned by the Ocean or indeed the 24 minute Hypnoticon?
We all feel that it’s a definite step up for us. Orphaned was put together very piecemeal and was really a snapshot of where we were at the time. It’s the sound of us learning to write and record together really, but I’m still really proud of it. It has a nice murky feel which is part intentional, part ineptitude. Hypnoticon I suppose was a great stop-gap release between the two. It was Mat’s first appearance on a TOTS record and it introduced us to Southern Studios where we did Your Mercury. I seem to recall it being pretty effortless in comparison to the two albums, the material was pretty much laid down straight without too much beating ourselves up over overdubs, mixing etc. In contrast we really slaved away on Your Mercury. For starters it was composed far more as a complete piece than previous efforts. We spent ages making sure every single detail was right, from a long period of hibernation at the start of the year when we wrote the thing, to being perfectionists in the studio recording and mixing. We also took pains over running order, segues, track titles, even down to fonts and credit lists. Subsequently I think the record is far more consistent than either of the previous releases both in terms of the quality of the music and the thematic feel of the thing.
It seems Your Mercury has been well received in the UK, ending up in some end of the year lists, how has it been received outside of the UK?
To be honest I’ve no idea. It’s appeared on a couple of European blogs so there’s obviously one or two people who’ve heard it, but I don’t think we’re in Depeche Mode territory just yet. Hopefully we’ll get to play in Europe before the end of the year, and obviously we’d love to get further afield, it’s just a question of time and money really.
I think TOTS are quite difficult to pigeon hole, are there any bands you feel a great comradery with?
In London there’s very few bands who I think we operate in a similar way to. Whilst there have been some decent bands coming out of our neck of the woods in recent years (Factory Floor, Bo Ningen, Hyrst) we don’t really hang out with any of them. The 2 bands who we have spent the most time with and probably played the most shows with are Gnod from Manchester and Thoughtforms from Bristol, and I think there’s definitely some common ground there. Both bands fuse an experimental sensibility with a gung-ho attitude to performing and this is something we’ve always prided ourselves on.
What are your touring plans? Will you be staying in the UK or straying further afield?
We have some dates with British Sea Power in February (Leeds, Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester) which we’re really excited about. It’ll be interesting to see how we cope with larger spaces. I’m also curious as to how BSP’s fans respond to us. They’re very much an indie band, but a really good one, and I think their fans are pretty broad minded so hopefully some of them will be into it. Other than that everything’s up in the air at the moment. There’s a few promising ‘maybes’ in the pipeline that I don’t want to jinx by talking about just yet and we’re definitely going to try and get to Europe later in the year. As far as full UK tours go it’s just a question of what the best option is, I’m not sure enough people really know about us to embark on a headline tour of our own just yet, but we’ll see how that goes.
What have you got planned for the immediate future?
Other than the British Sea Power dates (February 12-15th) we have an appearance at the Roundhouse Rising festival at the end of Feb (24th), then probably some more London dates in early March. We have a couple of mooted festival appearances we’re just waiting on confirmation of too, all these will be listed on the usual my**ace, f***book channels. Other than that we have a video to make and some remixes to do, again watch this space for details