Playing music with the same group of people for a long time has proven itself to be a challenging feat. Bombay Bicycle Club made music together for about eleven years, first coming together when the guys were around 15 years old. As sad as it may have made some fans, Bombay Bicycle Club needed to be put on hiatus, allowing the band to figure out who they are individually as artists and adults. Luckily, the end of Bombay did not mean the end of new music coming from its members. That brings us to Ed Nash, the bassist for Bombay and now the mind behind his solo project, Toothless, and his debut album, The Pace of the Passing.
Intentionally, the name Toothless coyly plays at the idea that the bass player for a celebrated band is putting out a solo record. It’s not necessarily expected, and Nash himself speaks in a very calm, perhaps tame, manner. But there’s nothing tame about the music, which is full of shifting soundscapes, managing to explore a wide array of ideas, namely the passing of time, in intricate and compelling ways.
From the standout late track “The Sirens” to the catchy, cyclical movement of “Sisyphus,” Nash has put together an album that avoids sentimentality in favor of myth and strong instrumentation. Toothless feels like a fresh start for Nash: Tracks like “You Thought I was Your Friend (I Want To Hurt You)” and closer “Terra” feel intensely personal, while still maintaining a sense of the larger unknown force of time which haunts the album.
Nash finishes the album with the lyric, “All we can do now / Sit and wait / To fade away.” It’s not necessarily the most comforting idea, but the breathing of Nash that follows is. Breathe in, breathe out. Navigating friendships and commitments and aspirations can make time fly by and alternatively make minutes feel like years. As much as possible, returning to breathing in and out can feel like the only thing we do have control over.
Watch: “The Sirens” – Toothless ft. The Staves
A CONVERSATION WITH TOOTHLESS
Atwood Magazine: Hey Ed, wondering what your personal favorite track on the Pace of the Passing is?
Toothless: My favorite song is “The Sirens,” because that’s a love song. I’m just really happy how that all worked out. I wrote that track, which is the story of Odysseus and the sirens, who are kind of these beautiful women that lure the sailors into the depths with their sweet song, and then I thought I have to get The Staves to be on that – because the Staves could play the part of the sirens, it would be perfect, and I kind of started thinking about how to get The Staves into the studio to sing on the track, because I didn’t know them. And literally the next day we got an email from them and they’d just covered a Bombay Bicycle Club song and they asked us what we thought and said if we ever wanted them to sing on a song they would be very happy to, so I emailed back immediately and asked them to do the song and they couldn’t say no. So yeah, I was just really happy with the concept of that and then getting The Staves, who I really admire, I think they’re fantastic, to sing on it. It all came together in the end, which rarely happens so perfectly.
That’s great. I also wanted to ask you about Sufjan Stevens, who I’ve seen you mention a couple of times and who is also one of my favorites. Also being a fan, I’m curious if you have a favorite album of his or a certain piece of his that inspires you a bit more directly.
Toothless: Yeah, I absolutely love Sufjan Stevens, I love everything he does. I think musically he’s just a genius, he’s so intelligent, so intricate, the arrangements, the lyrics, everything is fantastic, and then a thing I particularly like is his use of storytelling and scene to get across a point or write lyrics about, all centered around, I absolutely love it. I would have said previously Illinois is my favorite record until Carrie and Lowell came out and I think I’ve got to say that’s the best one now, it’s just absolutely heartbreaking, its so personal, the songwriting on it is amazing, and as an album it works from track to track as a theme, I don’t think anyone else is really writing albums like that. That’s what I took away from his work, that cohesive idea of an album that’s based in something else, and you’re using a theme to tell your own stories. I absolutely love it.
With your album, you were writing your own lyrics. How was that process? Was that a new thing for you?
Toothless: It was incredibly hard. I’ve always made music in my spare time and kind of recorded it. I was really comfortable with that, but when I started writing this album the only thing I hadn’t done properly was writing lyrics. I’d always done bits in pubs, but I had never thought anyone would hear them so it didn’t really matter. Yeah, it was pretty daunting and again that’s why I kind of took the lead of Sufjan Stevens and started using stories and metaphors and things like that as a way into doing it. I couldn’t start writing lyrics. I find writing about my personal life or writing about home just really hard, it always comes out cliche and my life isn’t particularly exciting or interesting so I don’t think people would like it. So yeah, that’s why I started using stories and things like that, like Sufjan Stevens and Nick Cave and all those people. And actually it’s now my favorite part of the songwriting. I really enjoy it. I’m happy to write lyrics and show people. I’m very proud of what I’m written.
Watch: “Party for Two” – Toothless ft. Liz Lawrence
Plans to tour?
Toothless: Yeah, touring is the best part. You get to play your music you’ve written in front of people, have adventures, go and meet people in places you otherwise wouldn’t get to. I intend on playing as many shows as possible. If the demand’s there and if people want me to come, I’m certainly going to be there. I’ve just picked the UK for now because it’s all just picking up, and I’ve got to start somewhere, so starting small, but I’m going to certainly try to play as many shows everywhere that I can over the next year. This is only just the beginning.
I saw that you had an open call for openers on your upcoming tour. What led you to do that? Was it fun listening to submissions and contacting people?
Toothless: Yeah, I loved it. It’s been a long time since I had the luxury of doing that because with Bombay we were playing bigger shows and we couldn’t just ask people to support. I just did it because its fun, its fun having people from every city, you get to check out new music, and it would be a good vibe for the night if you have a local band and some of their friends there as well, it would be fantastic. I had a great time going through everything as well. There’s a lot of really, really talented people out there. And because of the internet and because of the way everyone communicates you can go out and listen to it and find it and I certainly found a lot of really, really cool bands I hadn’t heard before.
You’ve been making music for a long time, since you were 15 or 16 with Bombay. Do you have any advice for younger people who are looking to pursue that or are pursuing it?
Toothless: I guess my only advice really would be, it sounds really cliche, but just have a good time and enjoy it. You see loads and loads of people who want to do this as a job and who want to be the next biggest band in the world and the irony with that is if you’re not having fun, if you’re taking it that seriously when you’re young, it comes across, people can tell in your shows and your music. You’ve just got to have a good time. I think that shows, people can see all that and people respond to that very well. And the other thing is, if you take it too seriously, if you’re not having a good time, most of the time it doesn’t work out. Its so rare and I’m incredibly thankful that I got to make music and I’ve been making music for a long time, but I never thought I’d be doing it when we started Bombay. It was just a lot of kids having fun, making records and then something good came of it. I think just don’t take yourself too seriously and enjoy it. And whatever the outcome, whether you make it or not, you’ll have a good time.
A slightly different question, but in the UK and the US there is a lot of political unrest with Brexit and Trump. What do you believe, if any, is a musician’s role in speaking about politics or being political?
Toothless: When we finished doing Bombay Bicycle Club, Jamie, our guitarist, made a documentary on protest music, we played it through Radio 1 over here. It’s a really, really fantastic documentary, I recommend it to anyone who has time to check it out.
What’s the title?
Toothless: I can’t remember what the title is. It’s by Jamie MacColl. It’s called modern day protest music or does protest music have a place nowadays or something along those lines. You’ll find it if you google it. (We Googled it. It’s titled “Is Protest Music Dead?”) That will answer the question better than I can now. I think there is a place for protest music. I think there’s a place for politics in music. I also think if its not your thing you don’t need to make a stand, you can also just make music without voicing your opinions. I think sometimes people expect too much of musicians. It’s a fantastic platform but if that’s not someone’s thing or someone doesn’t want to talk about it or say what they believe politically I think that’s fine as well. I certainly don’t sing about politics or talk about it particularly or my opinion really. But I think there’s a place for it and there’s a huge amount of positives that have come from it over the past in the 80’s and nowadays with hip hop. I guess that is kind of the modern day protest music. Hip hop now is incredibly important.
Watch: “Sisyphus” – Toothless
Is there anything specifically you miss about Bombay Bicycle Club that is different than Toothless. How do those projects differ in good or bad ways?
Toothless: What do I miss? I miss, well, most of it I don’t miss. Because everyone, we did it for so long, everyone needed to go do something else. Everyone was kind of aching to go and do their own thing and be free and create outside of it. I don’t miss that side of it. I’m incredibly fulfilled making this kind of music. I get to make all the decisions, I can do what I want, its very undemocratic, I can be selfish which I really like. I miss the social aspect, being together with the band every day, being together with our touring crew. We spent a year on the road with the car techs and sound guys and the band. It was a bit like a school trip. You kind of had these close bonds and relationships that kind of aren’t there anymore. That’s what I really, really miss. But in terms of making music and creativity, I think everyone is fulfilled now and everyone is having a great time. It was a long time that we did Bombay.
You’ve mentioned Courtney Barnett as one of your favorite lyricists. Wondering if there are any current pieces of lyrics that are sticking in your mind from anyone in particular.
Toothless: That Courtney Barnett record, all the lyrics on that are so on point, they’re kind of like throw away but at the same time they’re incredibly poignant, there are pop culture references, it can make you laugh or make you cry, it’s unbelievable. The song “Depreston”, the lyrics on that, they can bring you to tears. It’s a song about mortality through looking at this person’s house through kind of throw away aspects like the coffee pot and these silly day to day things that kind of adds up and amounts to something much more. I think that song’s fantastic. There’s a song by a band called Chameleon which is called “Eighteen”. It’s just a song about growing old and how the guy feels like he’s eighteen on the inside but on the outside he’s not. The song has literally eight or nine lines in it and it’s the most heartbreaking thing ever. That is actually my whole inspiration, that one song, about what I was trying to do on this album about the passing time, it felt pretty perfect, quite lovely.
The Pace of the Passing
an album by Toothless
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cover © Island Records