Born Anew: An Interview with Bombay Bicycle Club’s Ed Nash

Once a member of the mighty, shifting Bombay Bicycle Club, Ed Nash now branches out on his own in gloriously unexpected ways.
The Pace of the Passing

First steps are never easy, and for Ed Nash, leaping out of the comfort zone of playing bass on the widely acclaimed Bombay Bicycle Club to front-man an entirely new musical project, Toothless, was nothing short of a rebirth.

Having famously agreed to help the other three BBC members play a single gig while they were all gathered for a funeral of a mutual friend, Nash soon became a permanent member. The band went on to break out into the indie scene with their debut album, Flaws, getting an infusion of electronica on A Different Kind of Fix and going even deeper down the sampler rabbit hole on So Long, See You Tomorrow, but the songwriting remained very much in the hands of Jack Steadman. Even though this never caused much tension within the group, since the release of their last album, Nash has said that he was itching to go solo.

And even though BBC is technically no more, Nash’s first album as Toothless, The Pace of The Passing, was partially produced by Steadman, and features drumming by Suren de Saram. However, that is not to say that Toothless is just a continuation of BBC. This time Nash has the creative reins, and he is just getting started.

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How do you feeling after finally releasing the album?

Yeah fantastic actually, it’s good to finally get it out. I finished this album in September or so and then you’ve got it and you’re waiting until you finally get everyone’s opinion on it, you know, whether it’s good or bad. It’s lovely to hear what people have to say and for the most part, at least what people have been saying to me, it’s been incredibly positive.

Since you’ve said that you’re already planning on writing your next album, are you still going to pursue the same kind of hectic writing schedule as you did with the first one?

Very much so, yeah, no time to waste. In fact, having released this album I’m really, really keen just to get going and that kind of galvanizes me. I’ve already written four or five songs for the next one. I’ll go on tour as much as possible and I’ll try and write while I’m on tour, although I’m not sure how productive I’ll be — I’ve never done it properly before.

Now that you’ve had some time adjusting to the role of the band figurehead, would you say that you’re already comfortable with that role or do you still find it strange?

I felt pretty comfortable with it, you know, in terms of songwriting certainly — I spent the last two years getting that down, so in that regard I do feel very comfortable. The only thing I don’t yet feel comfortable about is, you know, talking in between songs and things like that, it’s kind of an art and I don’t think I’m very good at the in-between-songs banter. I used to never think about that particularly, whereas now I find myself finishing a song live at a gig and then I’ll wait for someone else to talk or say something. I think it’ll take me a while to get there, to get comfortable doing that. Besides that, everything else is fine.

And how is the tour coming together?

It’s coming together pretty well, we’re playing at small venues so there’s not much you can do. I’ve worked on a little light show, but yeah, we’ll probably have one of the smallest light shows on this tour. Songs have come together really well, I guess we’ll have to do most of the album because there are only about 11 or 12 songs, I think people would be annoyed if we played any shorter than that. I’ve always wanted to play the Lexington in London. So yeah it’s going really well and it’s just the start you know, we’ll see how this tour goes and just keep going from there, hopefully build up the live show and the rest of it.

Considering how different the BBC albums were and how you guys evolved over the years, do you still feel like your music taste is in flux and are you planning on experimenting with different genres on future records?

The change in sound with Bombay, the thing with that was that it wasn’t really thought about, we were just making the music that we wanted to make at the time and it just sort of happened, especially since we were so young at the time, that as we made new music our tastes changed and it kept on changing like that, it wasn’t necessarily a thought-about, planned thing.

I think the same thing will happen with Toothless, you know? I made one album and that was my first go at making an album myself and I’m writing the second one now and can already tell you that it’s a bit different. I mean you can only write the songs that come out, I think the idea of forcing it is quite strange. I mean I know bands that have had one successful album and then they tried to make the same album again and again, I’ve got no interest in doing that. I’ll just kind of ride the wave. It’ll be different, but only because it’ll have naturally evolved.

So you’re following a very organic process, you’re not consciously trying to shift and change.

Yeah I haven’t really thought about it. If my sound will change it’ll be completely natural, certainly with Bombay that wasn’t a thought-through thing at all, we just did what we wanted to do at the time and it worked out.

I wanted to ask you about your creative process, do you do a lot of research before writing a song?

You know I think good ideas aren’t always there, they come every so often and I think it’s very important to stay interested as much as possible in other art, in other kind of music. Through that, through digesting all of those surrounding influences your brain will just work in the background and it will come up with good ideas, I think it’s just important to stay interested in everything. So like with this album sometimes it’d be two or three weeks between ideas I thought were good and in the meantime it’s good to not rush it. It’s important to stay positive and stay interested in everything and eventually something good will come along.

The process with the songs is I’ll write all the music, I’ll write all the melodies first, which I find to be quite easy, but ideas for lyrics are kind of hard to come across, so I have all these songs written down and then an idea will one day pop into my head and that will fill the lyrics for the song. So yeah and then it all comes really quick, it’s just that initial spark of an idea.

Since Greek mythology features so much on this album, could you talk about why that particular subset of literature inspires you so much?

Well it’s certainly something I was always very interested in since I was a child. My parents used to read all the stories to me and I thought they were fantastic. When I started making this album I felt comfortable writing and recording music, but I wasn’t comfortable writing lyrics, you know, I never had to do it, I never had to write lyrics other people would hear. So I really struggled initially with writing about my life or things directly related to me, so my way around that was kind of using other stories as a base, which I could then use to tell my own stories. And I thought Greek mythology was fantastic to use as a base because you know, that’s a very expansive framework to build upon, all these clear-cut stories and morals that are there and can be used as tools.

So for example the story of Sisyphus, you know, the story of the guy who rolls the boulder up a hill every day, only to see it roll back down. Within that there’s so much, like the idea of repetition, the idea of doing the same thing every day. It didn’t necessarily have to be Greek myths, it could’ve been any other kind of stories, I just found Greek myths to be a very, very wide pool of resources I could pull from.

In this album you tackle certain topics in ways that are not really conventional in pop music and I wanted to ask whether you feel that the current atmosphere of pop music is in a way over-saturated with the same themes and ideas being repeated over and over?

Yeah I think you’re right, unless someone’s really good at doing the same thing again and again, especially with love songs, I think it gets really boring and cliché. Unless someone is a master and can pull it off, which I certainly am not. So yeah, within the songs that aren’t about mythology I try to talk about things that people don’t talk about so much. Like talking about a past relationship where you’re actually in a better place now and everyone’s happy, no one really sings about that: love songs nowadays would be like, you’re really unhappy or you’re really happy or you really want to get back together with someone, but they’re never about this acceptance that everyone’s in a better place afterwards, I thought that was an interesting theme.

The song “You Thought I Was Your Friend (I Want To Hurt You)” is a pop song, it has a pop melody, but actually it’s absolutely horrible, the lyrics are about wanting to hurt someone, you know, you rarely find that in really upbeat music, which sounds really happy, but has kind of dark and horrible lyrics. I think it’s just about finding the bits and pieces that no one really does, you know, you have to stand out, you have to make your words and your music stand out somehow.

How was it working with Chris Coady, since this album is so much about putting you in the driver’s seat, were there times he wanted to take it to a place you didn’t want to go?

No I didn’t disagree with Chris at all. I recorded the songs with Jack [Steadman] for the most part and we were looking for someone to mix the album. I always loved Chris Coady’s work, especially the mixing of like Beach House and the Grizzly Bear stuff, I thought he was amazing. So I sent him the songs and he said yeah I’d love to look through them. I went over to LA and sat there and we talked through the songs and he said he’d love to help. His work really gave the record the extra kick it needed.

Since the visuals were so much of what made the last BBC album great, could you talk about the process behind making the artwork for The Pace of The Passing?

Yeah, definitely. I put a lot of time and effort into that. There’s a video called “Powers of Ten” by Charles and Ray Eames, which was made in the 1970s. It starts with a bird’s-eye view of a field and then the camera zooms out and you see the whole field, and then you see the state of Chicago, and then the Earth, and then the Solar System, and it goes all the way out. It shows you how insignificant you are, and then it starts zooming back in. It zooms all the way back into Chicago and back into what it had started as and it keeps going down to the microscopic level. It basically shows you the scale of things and how they relate to one another. It shows you how significant people are and yet how small they are, which I kind of thought was a very cool way of representing one’s place in the world and the passage of time.

So all of the shots that I used for the songs are done from a bird’s-eye view. They’re all zoomed at different levels, so you’d have like humans, then once you’ve zoomed out enough you’ll see a road map and so on. It fuses that idea of zooming in and out, but each will also depict something to do with what the song is about, so like for Sirens we got a modern-day siren in a swimming pool, the album itself has a shot of a group of all these different people from all kinds of walks of life just passing one another, with their shadows going in different directions.

How novel was it to start this solo project and how does this experience compare to when you just began in BBC?

It’s actually completely different for a number of reasons. One is that this time it’s just me you know, if something goes wrong it’s all on my head, whereas with Bombay it was a group of us, it was all very democratic with a lot of people’s ideas going into everything. The other thing is that when Bombay started I was 15, whereas now I’m 25, so I’ve got 10 years of experience in music and in life to kind of draw from.

Does it feel daunting to bear the responsibility for the entire musical project?

Yeah totally, it’s really daunting, but you know, the only other option is not to do it, so like it’s kind of daunting and overwhelming, but I’d much rather try and go through it all than not do it.

Do you have to consciously distance yourself from BBC to create as Toothless?

I’m trying to not think about it too much and make it as organic as possible. It’s hard you know, because I love Bombay and I don’t want to distance myself from that because I had a really good time, but this is something completely different as well and I’ve got to treat it as such. It’s difficult getting people into the music because people are going to automatically compare this to Bombay Bicycle Club.

If someone doesn’t like Bombay they might automatically think they won’t like this or if someone likes Bombay Bicycle Club they might come to this with the idea that it will be the same. It’s kind of hard to get people to treat it in its own right — it’s different, they might not like this, or people who hate Bombay might really enjoy this. While there are some similarities, they kind of exist in different worlds, so that’s kind of a struggle, because I don’t want to totally distance myself from Bombay, but I do want to point out that this is something different so that people can treat it as something separate.