Even though I’d been aware of Teeth Of The Sea for a number of years, as Jimmy Martin used to work at the (sadly closed down) HMV on Oxford Street (London, UK) which I often visited, it wasn’t until I picked up the band’s third album Master that I became a fan. Describing themselves as an adventurous psychedelic rock outfit that blends influences from the likes of Morricone, Eno, Delia Derbyshire, Goblin, and the Butthole Surfers, Teeth Of The Sea have been roundly hailed as one of Britain’s foremost experimental groups and recently released their fourth album Highly Deadly Black Tarantula to critical acclaim. I caught up with members Sam Barton, Mat Colegate, and Jimmy Martin to talk about their band, and to also find out as to whether the band has any plans of following up its love for soundtracks with something slightly more substantial.
For the uninitiated, how would you describe Teeth Of The Sea to people who would like to know more about your band?
Jimmy: Well, we struggle to describe what we do. It’s almost like a psychedelic band to racket… It’s a lot of different influences.
Sam: It’s a lot of different things. These days especially, we struggle to… it’s a combination of psychedelia, electronica, film soundtracks, jazz…
Jimmy: Dance music, heavy metal, disco…
Mat: Often in the course of two minutes [laughs]. We basically end up being the product of whatever records we’ve been listening to and whatever bits of kit we’ve been buying. Everything comes from improvisation. Everything comes from the same sort of place.
Sam: It’s not willfully eclectic. We’re not one of these bands who suddenly go “let’s do two bars of heavy metal and two bars of electronica”. It’s not like that. We jam and we like to feel organic. But there’s no rules really as to what it’s going to sound like, it [could] sound like whatever. The best jam we had was then turned into a track…
You formed in 2006, yet your first album didn’t come out until 2009. I know that you guys have always been good friends, but why did it take so long?
Jimmy: It’s not really that long to be honest. A lot of bands have a gestation periods of about two years. We recorded a lot of that album in 2007 and 2008 anyway, so it’s really just the greatest hits of what we’d done up until that point. When we first made contact with Rocket, like as earliest as 2006, so it has been in the offing that we were going to record for them right there and then. But just life gets in a way with jobs and things.
Sam: The band definitely started off very much as an exercise in just having fun with your friends. There was never really any goal, and to release a record wasn’t one of those. We had rehearsal space we were paying for… “Let’s get in there and mess about and see what happens”. We got gigging fairly soon but we didn’t have anything that we would’ve been happy putting out until 2009. Which again, some of which was recorded before then…
Jimmy: Some of the tracks off the first album are 2006, and some in 2007.
Mat: We finished recording it by April 2008 anyway.
Jimmy: Yes, by which point we’d not even been together two years.
Sam: We were amazed anybody wanted to put our record out. We were amazed when anybody liked it, and when people like Julian Cope [from Teardrop Explodes] started liking it, who we’re actually fans of, we were flabbergasted.
Mat: Julian from Teardrop Explodes is kind of a psychedelic explorer par excellence.
Jimmy: He’s kind of an expert on rock music and all its littlest forms, in his own strange way, but in a way that we really like.
You guys have been together since 2006, and I know that Mat joined in 2009, but for a band that’s been going for about nine years with very few lineup changes… given your diverse influences, how have you guys managed to stay together and have a consistent line up when so many other bands haven’t?
Mat: Booze. Booze and we’re best mates. We like drinking and we like hanging out and so on.
Jimmy: It’s like a social club with added noise.
Mat: And it’s testament to the fact that we take the music really really seriously, but we don’t take the act of being in a band particularly seriously at all. Or ourselves. Being in a band is fundamentally fucking ridiculous. We’re always very at home to the fact that it’s just a laugh. But when it comes to making music, we’re dead fucking serious about it, but everything else is, you know…
Sam: And you have to mention that realistically, we all work day jobs and have lives outside of the band. We’re all in our late 30’s or 40’s, and it takes time to get these things together. We can’t take six months off work and put a record together. We don’t have that luxury.
Jimmy: We’re not trying to make money. We’ve never really had any ambitions beyond satisfying ourselves.
Mat: I think we’ve worked pretty hard. If you think our first album came out in 2009, we’re now on our fourth album, plus two almost album length pieces…
Jimmy: How long did Chinese Democracy [by GnR] take…?
Mat: Various tracks on 7” and compilation tapes and stuff. But you know we’ve got pretty good output. I don’t want to undersell ourselves and portray ourselves as a bunch of wasters, because we do work quite hard. We tour and we gig a lot. We gig overseas and things like that. I think we do alright really. Portraying ourselves as drunken wasters is maybe misleading because we do do quite a bit.
Jimmy: We’re, you know, highly functioning alcoholics [laughs]. We’re not drunken wasters.
Sam: [Laughing] I don’t want to remove the drunken part of that. That’s really important.
Mat: You can work hard and still be drunk, kids. We do that. It is possible.
You’ve talked about how you guys are fundamentally first and foremost close friends, but there are all these other bands who still decide to stay friends afterwards, but they are no longer a part of their band anymore due to musical and creative differences. Yet, you guys have still been pretty consistent…
Sam: The thing is, we don’t really have great differences. What does happen is we tend to have a very high threshold of understanding each other when something works. We’re all very open minded. It’s not like there’s a member that’s going to be really pissed off because the track doesn’t sound enough like heavy metal or doesn’t sound enough like disco. If something works, then we would just go “that works”, and we’ll be happy with it.
Jimmy: We all respect each other and we’re all cocky fuckers as well. We’ve all got big egos. Every single member of this band has been a lead singer in another band at some point. We’ve got enough self-belief to know that we’re doing the right thing, and we’ve all been in bands long enough to have a kind of instinct about what we’re doing and that we’re pursuing the right direction.
Sam: I think the fact that we’ve been together so long, and we’ve spent so much time in shitty rehearsal rooms or in the back of transits vans together, means there’s just this really intuitive understanding between us all. That transports itself to when we actually make music as well. We’re not going to do anything if somebody in the band isn’t happy with it. There’s a hive mind and a collectivity about how we go about things…
So it’s not some Axl Rose inspired megalomania diva complex?
Jimmy: [Laughs] No, not to me. The thing is, you’ve got to be ego-less to a degree, but everyone has got to have an ego. I think we’re all confident enough to fight on own accord, but we don’t really have to because we respect each other to know that if somebody’s got an idea then it’s worth pursuing. We all trust each other to make the right decision.
You mentioned how you didn’t expect Rocket Recordings to jump on your boat…
Jimmy: Well, I was surprised anyone wanted to put our record out to be honest. It wasn’t so much Rocket. It was a pleasant surprise that anybody wanted to do it.
Sam: I’ll be honest… I didn’t know anything about Rocket Recordings until Jimmy told me.
Jimmy: What happened was I was a fan of The Heads and I went to see The Heads play. We’d made this one track demo, and it’s the first track on our first album, and I was just giving it out to random people in the crowd, and I gave it to the DJ that night who turned out to be Chris from Rocket Recordings and he really liked it and played it to his business partner. He really liked it and it sort of went from there really.
At the time, you didn’t think that anybody would put you out. But the fact is that with the internet being the way it is, and Jimmy… you’ve worked in a record shop, and made all these contacts with people who know a lot about the music industry. With your history and insight of how the music industry operates, why did you decide to not go DIY?
Jimmy: And put our own records out? Because it’s so much more nicer in having a label that your trust. We couldn’t have a nicer situation than being on Rocket. It’s still kind of DIY. We’ve never signed a contract.
Mat: It’s the same reason that the band gets on… there are a bunch of people at Rocket that we really get on with. We trust them. They’re totally a part of the band as much as any of us are. And if you’re working with people you trust, and some of us who have been in loads of bands in the past, and been in situations where we’ve been working with people that we don’t necessarily [trust], it’s refreshing and rare to be in a group of people… not just the label, not just us but also the people that we’ve got doing our promotion for us for these albums… we trust them. I think once you’ve got that, you stick with it. There’s no reason not to.
Jimmy: We’re lucky lads.
Sam: I think if we’d gone a year further down the line and nobody had expressed any interest and we’d actually got some stuff together that we were reasonably happy with, then we might have thought of something like that. But it wasn’t a choice to go one way or the other. The choice never presented itself because somebody came along and went “We want to put a record out”. I mean, I’m old school. I love the history of music and labels. I love good labels and Rocket are a good label. They’ve got this design aesthetic, a vision about what it is that they want to do… in the most low-key way. But they do have a really good aesthetic and musical sense about their identity. To me that’s a great thing in the musical history, from everything from Chess Records to Factual Records. What you like about them is this kind of combination of musical direction and incredible design aesthetic and a sense of drive. Like a right kind of drive. An art-driven entrepreneurialism. Rocket would laugh at me for saying that it has art-driven entrepreneurialism, but they have. So you’re on-board straight away. So it never even came to the point where we had to consider doing it by ourselves.
Jimmy: I can’t really imagine being on any other label…
Sam: It may well happen. If Rocket suddenly go “Actually, we thought this last record was shit. You’re on your own, lads”. Then we might well think about it. But it hasn’t happened.
Jimmy: We did have another label interested… Riot Season wanted to put something out, but they just didn’t answer their emails and they weren’t as enthusiastic as Rocket were. So we went with Rocket, and I’m very glad we did. As much as I like the records on Riot Season, I think it’s just ten times better than what it would have been. No disrespect to Andy from Riot Season.
Sam: I think it’s because Rocket is small. They don’t put out lot of records, so when they do, they really… and I’ve seen this in the way they treat their other bands. They have this really familial relationship with all their bands. They really look after them, and again, they’re really good guys – Chris and Johnny. They have that real sort of paternal care for the bands they put out. It’s a lovely thing to be part of to be honest.
Obviously Teeth of the Sea’s becoming more renowned and celebrated within indie underground circles. If you look at Sub Pop for example, they had a lot of bands that went on to become big and who signed to major labels because Sub Pop couldn’t necessarily take them to the level that they were capable of. With Teeth Of The Sea getting so many accolades from critics, and you mentioned that Julian Cope is a fan, have you ever had any interest from major labels?
Jimmy: No, and I think you’re talking about an outmoded business model there.
Sam: It’s a particular time and place in music that that happened in. Sub Pop bands were selling more records than Sub Pop could produce. It was the biggest feeding frenzy in the music industry history at the time in that grunge period. That clearly isn’t the case with Teeth Of The Sea. Rocket are quite capable of dealing with the amount of product that we need to produce to satisfy our minimal fanbase.
Jimmy: It’s not going to happen. The other thing about getting a major label deal, is that it was a 90’s thing. It’s a 90’s way of thinking… even into the noughties. There’s not that level of money that used to be in the record industry to ensure that happening, and it hasn’t existed for well over ten years now. You could look at a band who’re maybe on a similar level to us, but bigger, like Hookworms signed to a Domino offshoot. We wouldn’t bother to do that either because we’re just happy with Rocket. We don’t really care about that shit, and I don’t think they necessarily had any more fun from being on that label than they would have had being on the label they were on before.
Sam: In all honesty, Rocket did have their moment where a band suddenly surpassed anything that had happened before with Goat, and they were perfectly capable of dealing with it.
Jimmy: Even if we were mega big, which is never going to happen…
Sam: We’re not going to sell as many records as Goat…
Given the abysmal state of the music industry, where indie bands getting on major labels is a thing of the past, what difficulties have you guys had on being on an indie label?
Sam: None… None whatsoever.
Jimmy: There’s no negative side to it.
Sam: I think a lot of the questions you’re asking sound like they’re referring to bands whose music is their career and where it’s their source of income…
Jimmy: We’ve never done this to make money. We don’t take any personal income from this at all.
Sam: Nobody in this band has ever made a penny from this band. We’ve had bits of money coming in, but it always just goes into an account where it gets spent on hiring vans for tours or shit like that. We’re all pretty pragmatic about the fact that we’re never going to be in a position where this is going to be our [main] source of income. It’s hard to give an answer which reflects the question because…
Is that because you’re slightly older and jaded?
Sam: No, it’s not that. It’s just that we don’t make money off it.
Jimmy: A lot of those rock star dreams are bullshit to be honest. Bands that signed to major labels in the 90’s, and there were dozens of them… The idea of making a career in music… I think more bad came out of the feeding frenzy from those labels in the 90’s than good. I think a lot of times it just compromised people’s visions and led them the wrong way. But we’re not interested in any of that at all. We’ve never done this to make money. We’re not interested in making money. We’re not interested in doing it for a career. We have one of those day jobs for this.
Sam: And it’s not even that… We’re all just realistic about the fact that it won’t happen. People don’t buy CDs because they are £10 and that’s too much for them. That’s the world we live in now. You can’t make a living if people don’t want to spend £10 on a CD, and I’m not saying that remotely in a bitter way. That’s just the world we’re living in now. So you have to look at your reasons why you’re doing it, which is why we are doing it, which is it’s an artistic pursuit essentially. We’re all fully aware that we have to hold down day jobs while we do that.
You’ve previously re-imagined film soundtracks for ‘A Field in England’ and ‘Doomsday’. Have you ever considered taking this artistic passion to a more professional level, such as what Trent Reznor or Daft Punk have done?
Jimmy: We’d love to, we’d have to wait to be asked unfortunately. Maybe it will happen at some point, but you know…
Sam: That’s one area where we haven’t ever really solicited, other than to do the work, and I always see those soundtracks… I think we’re visible enough now, and I think people are aware that we do that kind of thing now. If there’s anybody that would be interested in finding us, then they’d know where to find us.
Jimmy: It’s not a question of trying to do it. You have to be asked really…
What sort of film would you most like to be associated with in an ideal world?
Jimmy: If we could resurrect Ken Russell to do a movie…
Sam: Get Ken Russell to do a remake of ‘Weekend at Bernies’… we would just fucking bang that out.
Jimmy: That would be the ultimate Teeth Of The Sea score.