INTERVIEW

Teeth Of The Sea discusses epiphanies and what’s very wrong with modern Doctor Who scores

teethofthesea

A bunch of friends go to a Wolf Eyes show, have their minds blown to crumbling matter and form a collective musical pact that night. Some five years ago, this is how Teeth of the Sea got started and it is still a story that Jimmy Martin recalls with both passion and glee. “It was like an epiphany in a weird way,” he beams. “You don’t get many of those. We all had eyeballs like saucers, swaying back and forth, just being deafened by this incredible racket. The thing that really got us about it was that it was really hedonistic but really Avant-Garde at the same time – I think that was a central principle.” It’s a principle that has spearheaded the groups’ own incredible racket over the years.

The moment when ‘Reaper’ erupts on Teeth of the Sea’s latest LP ‘Master’ has to be one of the most earth-shifting, seismic sonic moments of the year. It is something that tears and ignites beneath you, leaving a vision of a wrecked, scorched earth, nothing but desolate, barren wasteland left in the trail of the unexplainable force that has passed through it.

‘Master’ is as intense as it is immersive. It marvels in creating both euphoria and paranoia – on ‘The Servant’ the brass is refrained so tactfully and with such wonderful malevolence that gone is the warm embrace of the familiar-sounding trumpet. Instead it is used to create an atmosphere that replicates both the sound and sensation of being locked within a seething swarm of insects.

Over the space of three albums and one EP, the band have wriggled and squirmed like a genre-evading snake. Just when you feel they have settled into a place long enough to catch a grip of them, they embark again on an unpredictable, volatile and mysterious journey, while seemingly hell-bent on destroying any tracks they have left in their path. I speak with Jimmy as the band land home fresh off a Quietus-sponsored tour with Esben & the Witch and Thought Forms. Speaking with him in 2013 however, the drug-charged epiphany that led to the band’s cementing and proper formation is not something that carries them through collectively today. “We’re not a very druggy band to be honest,” he says. “I mean none of us are young men anymore. We’re definitely a psychedelic band and I would love it if people had taken drugs and had those kind of experiences at our shows – that would be amazing! It is about altered states, I suppose, that’s what we do – to try and transcend reality to some degree, but I’d never put it as pretentiously as that.

“To be honest, in terms of taking drugs to make music to take drugs to – we’ve always been more into taking Kronenbourg 1664 to make music to take drugs to!”
Teeth of the Sea are, by Jimmy’s own description, a “strange band”.

“I know most bands don’t like to be categorised but it’s really hard to lump us in with other people,” he says. “We’ve always been hammering away outside of any clique or genre, really. So to have people just get it when we’re throwing everything we can into this sort of demented crucible that we’ve got, be it Slayer or [Throbbing] Gristle or disco stuff, and for people to understand it at the end of the day, is incredibly gratifying.”

‘Master’ has brought the band a critical lavishing they never expected and Jimmy also reflects on the change in audience that has come with their ever-shifting musical output and increased popularity. “It’s changed quite a bit – I mean we’re always grateful to have an audience at all – but initially it was just drug casualties and wasters, and aging Hawkwind fans and blokes that compared us to Santana and stuff.” He laughs. “Now it’s changed a bit, we’ve still got the drug casualties and wasters but we’ve also got a lot more younger people now, a few more girls too.”

But what hasn’t changed is the band’s self-sufficiency.

“We’ve never had a producer, for example. Nobody has ever told us how to put our records together; I can’t even really imagine what it’s like to have a producer or what a producer does.” And it would appear there is not even a dream producer out there either. “I was thinking about this,” Jimmy Recalls. “I did think of someone the other day but I can’t for the life of me remember who. I mean, there’s not really anyone, no. I think it would just cause more arguments. You’d get somebody else who wouldn’t have a clue what was going on. We’re a strange, tight-knit bunch; we don’t really have many arguments. We’re all quite pig-headed in our own way but we know when to back off from each other to let someone get their own way, all for the sake of keeping the wheels in motion. So I think if you introduced somebody else into that scenario it would be catastrophic.”

While Teeth of The Sea seem impossible to categorise, influences are something the group not only speak openly about but fervently so. They’re not about to say that they’ve never heard of Throbbing Gristle or this or that post rock group. “Unfortunately, if you try and make out that your music is like some snowflake that has fallen down from heaven and you haven’t got any influences at all then people are just going to give you reviews that say it sounds like Mogwai or Hawkwind or something like that. To be honest, being in a position of seeing it from both angles (Jimmy works as a journalist too and also wrote the band’s press release) I just think ‘what have you got to hide, really?’ I’m sick to death of bands making up some false mystique about what they do, like as if they gave away any of their secrets then it would somehow disempower them from whatever strange mountain they’re trying to create. I just think it’s a load of nonsense.

“Also, speaking from experience as someone who has discovered a lot of bands through other bands – I mean I was one of the kids who during the ’90s got into Krautrock via Stereolab and things like that – I think being open about your influences can only be a positive thing”. It helps when they are informed, impassioned and genuine influences too. Jimmy crams so many music and film references into our conversation, it’s clear the group are not only unabashed in their love for other people’s work, but also in a position to stand behind them with authority.
One word banded around when describing Teeth of the Sea is ‘cinematic’. Aside from the grandiose-meets-eerie ambience of their work leading to such a description, they’ve also been involved in live score work, or, more accurately, reimagining and reworking sound to accompany film. This includes a performance that supplemented Neil Marshall’s 2008 Sci-Fi thriller Doomsday, and a forthcoming performance to live remix Ben Wheatley’s 2013 historical thriller A Field in England. Of the latter, Jimmy says: “When we got the email, we were just like, there is no way we’re not going to do this. This is such our home turf. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think it will be really rewarding. I’m generally very disappointed by a lot of scores these days if I’m being completely honest. The 21st Century Doctor Who is a classic example – there’s this sub-Hans Zimmer-like score where everything has to have thundering strings to signify tension. Just these orchestral scores being ladled over everything to try and signpost things for the viewer, which I always find really frustrating, especially when you compare it to what Doctor Who was like in the ’60s and ’70s when it was some of the most innovative and experimental music being made at the time. I’ve always personally felt the need to readdress the balance as much as possible, really, even if that sounds a bit cocky. There’s a kind of fire in your belly to do something to show people up, for doing weak scores for good movies [not meaning the existing A Field in England music].”

The intensity of absorbing yourself into a subject to excruciating degrees is something that Jimmy and the group have come to relish. “I mean, I’ve done that with most of my favourite films anyway,” he reasons. “I was watching Performance again the other night for about the 460th time. We’re doing a book about Performance that took it to pieces and detailed all the history of it. I’ve done the same with the Wicker Man and I listen to that soundtrack and I pick that to bits, and to an extent the film was also an influence on A Field in England, too, so I don’t think it spoils it at all really. I don’t like to nerd out too much, but again, speaking as a Doctor Who fan, the degrees to which people will go to nerd out over those things, I don’t think it ever really affects your enjoyment of it.”

Teeth of the Sea can also be seen leading the rather tasty looking Rocket Recordings (their label) 15th anniversary compilation. Featuring a wealth of intrigue and talent from the likes of Goat, GNOD, $hit & $hine, Blood Sport and Vision Fortune. “I’m really pleased with that track [‘Red Run’]. I did sort of question Rocket’s sanity by deciding to open the album with it but at the same time it’s very sweet. It’s a great compilation and it’s very forward looking too.”

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