“No one expects the bass player to do anything,” laments Ed Nash. “It’s a shame, but if a bass player out of a band I loved went off and did something I, for no reason, would assume that it wouldn’t be that good.” It’s that exact preconception which Ed is challenging with his debut solo album ‘The Pace Of The Passing’, recorded under the name Toothless. “It was just a little joke,” he says of the name.
The project itself is hardly just a joke, mind. As Bombay Bicycle Club went on hiatus, bassist Ed decided it was time to bring some of his own music into the limelight. Having always written and recorded music himself, it provided the perfect opportunity to pursue his solo ambitions. “I always intended to do something with my stuff, but because Bombay got bigger and bigger it was a full time commitment,” Ed explains. “So when we stopped touring ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ in 2014, I immediately started doing this and jumped on the fact that I had the time.”
Although he had a wealth of ideas, Ed didn’t want to linger too much on work from the past. “I find it a bit weird though when people have the same set of songs and just plug away at them for five or six years,” he says. Instead, he took a couple of riffs and one or two lines and started transforming them into new tracks, buoyed by his new-found musical freedom.
“I think a lot of people thought I’d go off and make an obscure, noisy guitar record, but I wanted to make a pop record.”
But after spending 10 years in one band, it’s hard to remove yourself from a particular way of working. Ed just turned this into an advantage. “Loads of the songwriting, recording tricks and the way I think about music is influenced by that,” he says. “I think a lot of people thought I’d go off and make an obscure, noisy guitar record, but I wanted to make a pop record. That’s what I’m most interested in making.” As such, ‘The Pace Of The Passing’ is accessible to anyone familiar with Bombay’s work, but there’s more than a few little twists. Whether it’s the electronic swirls of ‘Party For Two’ and ‘Terra,’ the lo-fi harmonies on ‘The Midas Touch’ or the indie-disco stomp of ‘Alright Alright Alright,’ Ed has carefully crafted an alt-pop record that stands out from his previous work.
There was just one little snag. After not really having any song-writing duties in Bombay, writing lyrics was proving to be difficult. “When it came to writing lyrics I didn’t know where to start,” Ed admits. “I also didn’t want to write about my life in North London because it’s a bit boring.” For inspiration, he turned to some of his favourite storytelling lyricists, including Sufjan Stevens and Nick Cave: “with those guys they use the stories they tell as metaphors for their own lives.” Ed then realised that he could use stories from the past to frame his own tales. “I figured that myths were a good way to do it. They have a good story, there’s a clear-cut moral, and metaphors that you can use to get over your own message with a ready-made framework.”
“I didn’t want to write about my life in North London because it’s a bit boring.”
As a result, ‘The Pace Of The Passing’ is chock full of mythological references, using Greek legends as a foil to tell stories relevant to our everyday, modern lives. ‘The Sirens’ features the seductive harpies, who are “tempting the main character in the chorus.” Meanwhile, ‘Sisyphus’ draws on the story of the titular figure having to continually roll a boulder up a steep hill every day, which Ed says is “so relevant to modern life,” twisting the tale to be about a relationship. Ed even harnesses the Sisyphus myth in the music, using a constantly ascending and descending glassy tone to represent the metaphorical boulder.
The initial spark for the writing didn’t come from a mythological source though, but rather an astronomical one. “I was reading an article online, like a Brian Cox thing. It was saying that the sun is four billion years old, but it’ll live to be eight or nine billion years old, so it’s literally in the middle of its life,” Ed explains. “I thought that’d be a funny title, where you could personify the sun and do whatever you want with it.” Thus ‘The Sun’s Midlife Crisis’ came about. Its melancholic, folky tones doesn’t make it seem like a comedy about the sun buying a Ferrari though. “The added thing is that when the sun dies, we all will too, and all of our little crises do too. That’s why I ended up looking at it.” Cheery.
To bring his vision to life, Ed brought in a number of guest vocalists, ranging from Marika Hackman to Tom Fleming of Wild Beasts and Bombay Bicycle Club collaborator Liz Lawrence. “I didn’t intend for it to be a ‘featuring’ album, but because the songs are quite concept-driven I wanted voices that matched that,” he explains, “it should all match the songs and the story.” Because of this desire to use other voices as another storytelling tool, none of the guest spots feel gratuitous and each one has been hand-picked by Ed to fit the tone of the song. So, for ‘The Sirens,’ Ed needed the voices of The Staves to represent the title characters because of the tone of their harmonies. Each person became a vital part of the experience. “I couldn’t just replace them,” Ed says. “It had to be The Staves, it had to be Marika, it had to be Tom.”
‘The Pace Of The Passing’ might have more than a few guests stars on it, but that belies the confidence Ed has shown in carefully crafting this set of songs. Toothless has well and truly risen from the ashes of Bombay Bicycle Club as a fully-formed new project with some major bite. “We’ll only do Bombay Bicycle Club if we all together want to do it and if we only have ideas that suit,” Ed says. “Until then, this is the main thing.”
‘The Pace Of The Passing’ is out on 27th January via Island.