Creeping from the from the disparate embers of a Roxy Music tribute act, barren rehearsal spaces, experiments with Rachel Stevens drum samples and a joint desire to play the Flash Gordon soundtrack in its entirety, London instrumental quartet, Teeth of the Sea – a translation from the French title of Jaws: Les Dents de la Mer – construct innately animal, avant-noise dissonance, drawing upon influences as far flung as Wolf Eyes, for their “hedonist, noisy, full on and unpretentious atmosphere” and the broader noise remit of Liars, Black Dice and Lightning Bolt.
Later this year we’ll see a third self-produced album through the cottage-industry Rocket Records imprint and they’ll also take their ferocious cheerleading troupe on a tour of Europe. Their methodology is summed up by multi-instrumentalist Mat Colegate, who astutely puts it as “an approach of a complete and utter lack of pretention whilst still making difficult music.” Unsurprisingly, for a band with such an articulate (albeit skewed) vision, all four wax incredibly erudite about their process as Glass meet them at an east London flophouse.
Your way of making music seems pretty unfettered. Do you assign yourself instruments or roles?
Sam Barton (mainly – but not only – trumpet): Well the plan was always to have a fairly open ended approach to that… to have delineated roles. Over time this has solidified a little bit. I originally said I’d just take my trumpet down and run it through a wah-wah pedal … Like a 70s Miles Davis.
Mat (on the surface – drums): We’ve all kind of had a rock that’s been dropped on us and are each finding ways of slithering out from underneath. I’m kind of ostensibly the drummer but I also I’ve also got a non-input mixing desk to the side of me that I get to whack and make a horrific noise. We all find ways of making sure our instruments don’t sound like what we’re meant to be playing.
Do you compose the music or is it mainly improvised?
Mike Bourne (at first glance – keyboards): We used to just get into a room and make noise. Things (recently) have been brought in, really skeletal ideas, songs that could work but with no kind of direction.
Is this a strategy that you’re using in the making of your new album?
Mat: The use of the word strategy is really interesting. We like strategies. We’re really into the idea of… “This is the stuff we’re doing in a proper paid for studio and this is the stuff we’re doing just by ourselves with a Dictaphone and a load of paper bags”. We like taking ourselves out of comfort zones and recording stuff in different ways and then putting it all together again to make an album. This is a much richer experience. And that is strategy.
Sam: Stuff solidifies. Things start out improvisationally, Mike may bring in some prepared loops and things like that but still, where that then goes is based upon improvisation. It’s a long process. We record everything we rehearse, listen back to it – we’re very self-critical with the editing – and by the time the material’s on the album or we’re touring, the (ideas) are quite solid.
Where have you recorded and what’s your usual production process?
Sam: We recorded this album in an amazing studio called Lightship 95, which is a boat moored on the Thames, at the Trinity Buoy Wharf. We’ve never used a producer, (though) we did have an engineer. Jimmy Martin (definitively – guitar): The first track on our first album (Orphaned by the Ocean – 2009) was literally one mic in the middle of our rehearsal room.
And do you work upon themes for your albums? How do you combat the lack of obvious narrative and personality that lyrics can supply?
Mat: Things seems to drop in quite naturally … We’re listening back to a piece of music and we could say “that sounds like a mountain”! We all think very visually about music and I think because its instrumental you do end up thinking quite visually … Jimmy will use the word dystopia and then the floodgates open.
On that note, it sounds very much like the city has informed the tone your music. Is this something you’ve aspired to?
Sam: Personally, I think massively I do but it’s about avoiding the pitfalls that very often come with it. I think the word Psychogeography has become so massively overused. It’s something I’m interested in but I wouldn’t want to have a tune called Psychogeography.
Mat: I would hope that we came across as an urban band because we are from an urban area. I would hope that translates into the music we make. If it didn’t I would think we were doing something wrong. If Traffic went into the country to record Mr Fantasy in 1967 and it came out sounding like it could have been recorded in Crouch End, then they would have f**ked it up.
Mike: Next year we’re planning on staying in a kibbutz.
Is there any movement that you ally yourselves with?
Mat: To be honest, anyone that goes into a studio and says, “Do you know what I’m going to do today? I’m going to make a piece of Krautrock!” is so apathetical to the spirit of making music, it’s disgusting.
Jimmy: We’ve always been more defined by what we don’t want to do than what we do want to do anyway, the rest will just take care of itself. We’ve all just got such a broad range of interests…
Mat: It’s almost ridiculous. We’ll come into the rehearsal room and one of us will be listening to disco, the other one will have been listening to heavy metal, the other one will have been listening to power electronics and then we’ll all play that music at exactly the same time. It would honestly be the most comfortable thing in the world for us just to hit a Neu beat and just put a lot of droning noise on top and just fall into that.
Mike: A.C.R.O.N.Y.M (Your Mercury album track) is a good case in point. It’s probably our most popular tune up to now. It could have quite easily just sounded like an 80s Sci-fi soundtrack but we consciously didn’t want it to sound like that. (Though) it can still have that element in there.
Sam: There has to be a broadness of viscerality that pokes it head above the parapet.
Therefore, do you see yourselves as being more aligned to Miles Davis or Throbbing Gristle?
Sam: Both! Noise is jazz though. Noise is avant-garde.
Mat: I think with the upcoming record, I think it’s going to be apparent how much we’ve taken from both.
Of course live is a different beast. What different facets do you take to the stage?
Jimmy: There’s a rock and roll element to how we do it live. It’s supposed to be a very visceral thing. It’s supposed to be really boozy and hedonistic …
Mat: But we’re goddamn tight! We’re not slackers, we’re tight! We do those tunes pretty much the way we do them on the record but the fun comes in the performance. It’s hella-hella psychedelic music played by hella-hella psychedelic people but in quite a tight, confined space. It’s insane music played by insane people but for sane reasons.
Is making people feel uncomfortable when they’re watching important to you?
Mat: To be honest, I’d like people to feel more uncomfortable when listening to the albums than when they see us live …
Mike: I rarely feel uncomfortable when I’m listening to music. I feel exhilarated, I feel excited …
Maybe challenged then …?
Sam: I think, unsettled. If it’s conscious, the idea of making somebody feeling unsettled in the way good avant-garde music does, that works.
Do you consider yourself to be “of this era”?
Sam: Personally, I don’t think it’s important …
Mat: None of us believe in anything such as linear time anyway. I think slipping the boundaries of chronality is something we intend to do with our music.
Perhaps Teeth of the Sea’s drummer is joking here but this is indicative of the collective as a whole. Funny, provocative, yet serious as hell. That’s all part of their cosmic shangri-la.
by Benjamin Lovegrove