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June 2020

Toothless: “No-one really expects the bass player to do something”

He’s already been part of one wildly successful British band, but now Ed Nash is stepping out on his own.
Published: 8:30 am, August 11, 2016
Toothless: “No-one really expects the bass player to do something”
Toothless is the dream-folk solo project of Ed Nash, bassist of Bombay Bicycle Club. Delicate debut single ‘Terra’ was produced by bandmate and BBC frontman Jack Steadman and mixed by Chris Coady (Beach House, TV On The Radio) after the indie-favourites announced their hiatus in January to pursue different solo projects. Now he’s got an album all but ready, Ed is treating Toothless as his full-time career, as if Bombay never existed…

Since joining Bombay Bicycle Club at 15, Ed has performed all over the world as the group’s bassist. During that ten-year plus period, his solo ideas remained in the background, but now they’re coming to the forefront of his creativity. “I’ve always made music myself; either playing instruments on songs, producing or being in different bands,” he says, from his garden studio in Hornsey. But it was when BBC announced their hiatus that Ed decided to start letting his creations breathe.

“When we finished ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’, I had all of this music that I’d been making just sitting, waiting,” he recalls. He originally thought of putting out just an EP, but after some time off, he recalls thinking, “I really need to do this full-time because I love doing it. Now is my opportunity. I had all the songs, I’d been getting ready for this for the last five or six years - writing songs and learning about the music business.”

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The first time anyone heard Toothless’ blend of dream-folk was when Zane Lowe premiered debut single ‘Terra’ on his Beats 1 show, and since putting some tracks out, Ed says he’s been thrilled by peoples’ compliments. “A lot of people have said they find my voice quite soft and breathy, which I’m flattered by.” In terms of the live shows his new band has played so far, those watching have been “incredibly generous and kind,” he says. “It’s starting from the beginning again, but the audiences have been incredibly receptive.”

So receptive, in fact, that they sold out their first ever show, at London’s Moth Club. “It was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever played. It felt like how people must feel on the opening night of their play or their art show, because it’s showing the world – and a lot of family and friends - what I’ve been working on for the last few years. Until then no-one had really heard anything. I felt like I was exposing myself,” he laughs heartily. “I’m finding it incredibly rewarding – to see people respond to it, even if it was just one person, it’s genuinely lovely.”

Whilst performing live is going well for Ed and his new band, that doesn’t mean he’s not nervous. “I don’t think you can separate being nervous and excited. It’s a huge step because now it’s all on me. All the songs are my ideas and it’s my face standing up there. It’s a weird place to be,” he confirms. “It’s something I’ve taken a long time doing and I’m very proud of what I’ve done – I want people to hear it. You’ve just got to take the gamble of people maybe not liking it in the long run. That’s why you do it.”

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Ed’s debut album has gradually pieced itself together from his garden studio. “It’s properly soundproofed,” he says excitedly. “So you can play drums all night long. That’s where I make music and get everything ready. I don’t really leave the house – or Hornsey – very often anymore.” As for the inspiration behind the record, which he says is “pretty much ready”, there’s a wide-ranging spectrum of influences.

Citing Kurt Vile and Sufjan Stevens as artists he’s listened to while making the record, Ed says: “Some of my songs sit in that world of being melodic and concept-driven with a lot of finger-pick guitar.” There are also some electronic influences; he declares that “a lot of Animal Collective went into the songs: crazy, looping synths over and over to build up and reduce momentum in songs. I think other people have picked up on that as well.”

Discussing the theme of the as-yet-untitled record, Ed refers to the passing of time. “I realise that’s very clichéd and very ambiguous too, but all the songs in some way touch on time, just observing it as it goes by – not necessarily in a negative way. A lot of the songs are very positive, but they’re all tied together by that idea.” He’s worked on it with most of his Bombay crew, getting Jack Steadman – who has a studio right around the corner – to work on co-production and Suren de Saram to drum on a couple of tracks. “It sounds a lot like a Bombay album,” he laughs.

Marika Hackman is also featured on the dreamy ‘Palm’s Back’. “She’s such a nice person. I love her work, I love her voice and I thought she’d be a great counterpart. It was really nice of her to say yes because no-one knew me at that point, no-one had a clue what was going on with the project but she signed up to it and had faith.” Further down the line, Ed says there are some more collaborations in store, but wants to keep those guest spots secret for now.

“I’m also trying to get a couple of people to finish off the album and do some singing, but I won’t say who they are in case they deny me and then I’ll look like an idiot,” he jokes.

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But what about the name, Toothless? “It came from an artist called Raymond Pettibon. He did all the Black Flag artwork and was a comic book artist from the 80s onwards. There’s a drawing by him that I saw years ago and it’s a picture of a tiger biting a boy’s head – it’s not a very nice picture,” he admits, laughing. “The caption reads ‘Even toothless she can still bite off a boy’s head’. I thought about the painting for a long, long time and it stuck with me…

“I like the idea of people underestimating something; this lion because it was toothless. Then when I started to put this project together I thought Toothless would be a good name because no-one really expects the bass player to do something – or one of the other members in a band that isn’t the frontman or guitarist. I thought it would be quite unexpected for me to come out and do it.

“Aside from that I thought it was a really cool name and no-one else has used it. Just as a word it looks good. It’s fucking better than Bombay Bicycle Club,” he chuckles. “It was such a passing thing when we were kids – we were literally 15 – you don’t think it will affect the rest of your life. We had to explain it for ten years, so I thought I might as well get a good name this time.”

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