Exit Interview: Ed Nash Farewells Bombay Bicycle Club & Says Hello to Toothless

With Bombay Bicycle Club scattered to the four winds by indefinite hiatus, the indie quartet has made clear in no uncertain terms that fans shouldn’t be expecting new music anytime soon. While it might be little surprise that frontman Jack Steadman has taken this opportunity to release a steady stream of solo tracks, bassist Ed Nash has also been turning out some equally arresting material as Toothless.

A multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist in his own right, Nash’s tracks cut a seductive blend of brooding ambiance and ethereal indie-folk. Tracking down the London local at Brisbane’s Foundry Records of all places, we talked to the Bombay bassist about stepping into the role of frontman as well as the influence of Beach House and Kurt Vile on his forthcoming LP.

Ed: All my favourite music is coming out of Australia, all the people who are really killing it with guitar music are all seemingly from this area of the world.

Rock music might be a part of our DNA.

I agree!

You’ve spent the last 10 years as part of the rhythm section of Bombay Bicycle Club. Has it been difficult stepping into the role of frontman in Toothless?

In terms of the making of the music, I’ve found that quite easy. I’ve enjoyed being in creative control, writing the music and all that. That’s the side I’ve found enjoyable. The side you’re talking about, the public side I’ve found quite difficult. I’ve enjoyed playing bass in Bombay Bicycle Club. You get less attention, but it’s good because you can stand on stage and play some great music.

So you’re a reluctant figurehead?

I don’t know about reluctant, maybe just unpractised. The other thing is that I haven’t had that much chance to do it, I’ve only played about six or seven shows…

One of which was the Glastonbury Festival…

I’ve played some good shows, but that side of things, especially at shows, it’s harder. You know I don’t know how people can be so witty. You go to shows and people are so quick, but maybe that comes over time. Then again maybe it’s built into the personality.

The vocalist can generally be a little more melodramatic than the rest of the group. Is building that persona something you’ve had to work upon?

It’s still something I’m working on. Because I’ve played so many shows with Bombay I never feel nervous on stage. I don’t think anything I’ve done with Toothless has looked awkward like it can be with new bands. But I probably need to step up more. A lot of people like being the centre of attention, but I more enjoy writing music. It’s my prime reason for doing this.

Bombay Bicycle Club bandmate Suren de Sarem has been filling in on drums for Toothless live. What are his strengths as a percussionist?

It’s funny and it’s strange; you build that tightness over a period of time. I guess he’s not really officially in the band because it’s just me recording and playing everything but he’s done all the live shows and I wouldn’t even think about doing it with anyone else. He’s a classical musician originally so the way he plays and the way he practices is very rigorous. He likes to be on top of things and he doesn’t make mistakes, which is absolutely fantastic! It means I don’t have to put in all the work. If I was to play with anyone else it would be sloppy.

Terra, Palm’s Backside and Sirens. There are folk-leaning undertones and a certain sense of downtempo sparsity to these tracks. Are these elements that you’ve been trying to bring out in your music?

I haven’t intended to, but I agree with you’ve said there. A lot of people compare Toothless to what we were doing with Bombay, but I didn’t write the songs in Bombay. They were Jack’s songs, so I think the way we all write outside of that band is going to be different.

The folk influence is certainly there. The way I play guitar is fingerpicked. I really got into Kurt Vile’s albums at an early stage, he has certainly influenced the album.

Terra is something you’ve only recently written. But what about the other tracks? Are there these musical ideas you’ve been sitting on for a while?

There are some musical ideas that have been around for some time like a little riff or parts of a song. Things like that have been kicking around for six or seven years but I’ve always been so busy with Bombay Bicycle Club to put them together. Creating concise songs is only something I’ve been doing recently. Before it was quite instrumental, technical guitars and things like that…it’s definitely not what this is.

You worked with The Staves for Sirens and Marika Hackman for Palm’s Backside. Are there any more collaborations up your sleeve?

I’ve got one or two, I’m not sure whether or not I should say.

I’ve got one of the guys from Wild Beasts to sing on a song! the guy with the low voice, Tom [Flemming]. I love Wild Beasts. They’ve both got fantastic voices, but I’ve always wanted to hear more of Tom’s voice on their records. It’s so good.

Would you say that your forthcoming LP is a collaborative album?

All the songwriting and ideas are from me. When I’m getting people in it’s to do the things that I can’t do myself or raise a song to another level.

Is there an element of being a fan to some of these collaborations?

Very much with Wild Beasts. Tom’s got this low baritone which isn’t something I can do at all *laughs*. His voice could so perfectly do what I wanted. With The Staves there’s this song called Sirens and the story is about these beautiful women luring these sailors to their deaths. I thought, “It would be amazing to get The Staves to come and do that!” obviously, I couldn’t do that! With Marika Hackman it was a duet, I love her voice. I don’t feel it’s been collaboration for the sake of it.

Producer Chris Coady has mixed and mastered five of the tracks from your forthcoming LP. Coady has recorded with everyone from Beach House to TV On The Radio and turned out some absolutely fantastic albums in the last five to seven years. What drew you to record with him? He hasn’t worked on any Bombay stuff…

The way I wanted to do it was I make the album in my London studio. I wrote the songs, then Jack [Steadman] and I recorded and produced the album. The idea was then to get someone else to mix it and add their own thing to the album. I’ve always loved the mixing on the Beach House records.

I feel that Beach House’s style of production has really come through in your music. There’s this sense of space…

What Chris does, it’s unreal. Even before he saw them the songs were good all the same. Jack and I were happy with what we did as rough mixes, but we sent them off and what we got back was just unreal! It’s like all the bits sound the same, but they’re in 3D or something. I don’t know how he does it, it’s like a dark art! We literally couldn’t do what he does and we’ve been working in studios for years. His Beach House stuff sounds absolutely fantastic.

Would you rate Beach House as an influence on what you’re doing?

I think some of it. Certainly, in both the style of the music and the production which Chris has done with them.

What else can fans expect on the debut record?

What can they expect? This is probably an incredibly cocky thing to say, but I feel like I’m just getting started. There are ten tracks on the new record, it’s a good album all the way through. The three songs that are out now will be on the record of course, but I’ve also withheld some stronger songs.

So you’re already thinking of a follow-up?

Very much so, I’ve finished this one and the way I like to work aligns with the way music is right now. People want the next thing almost immediately! I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’m going to start writing really soon and see what happens!

Image: Toothless