Interview: Teeth & Tongue

“I tend to jump around a lot stylistically and I can’t ever settle on one thing, so the visual representation of the band is constantly changing,” explains Jess Cornelius, frontwoman of Teeth & Tongue. “I feel you’ve got a responsibility to your audience to provide something that they’re not going to get from listening to it on their stereo.”

Forward propulsion and a genuine interest in creating art that goes beyond the basic functions of a gig or a recorded work have typified Teeth & Tongue’s career thus far. This is exemplified by their upcoming collaborative performance with visual artist Keith Deverell, as a part of The Shadow Electric’s Visions series.

“I can’t really explain it, but Keith does this live video feedback loop from the desk and then it’s triggered by what’s happening onstage. It’s a video response to the sound,” Cornelius says. “When we’ve worked with him in the past he has these images that he uses, but for this one we’re creating our own images and footage for each song, so we’ve got a bit of work to do.”

As if this weren’t enough pressure for Cornelius – the band’s driving force and sole core member – much of the projections will be accompanying brand new songs.

“We’re working on a whole heap of new material that we’re going to be playing, which is really exciting and nerve wracking. It’s our last show for a long time ’cause we’re also making a record,” says Cornelius. “In terms of doing projections and videos, I’d love to do a lot more than we’ve done in the past. It would be great to have something like that as a permanent element, but of course with costs and logistics it’s not always possible. So this is a great opportunity for us to really go to town on it.”

The Melbourne-based songwriter has been very busy over the last year. Teeth & Tongue’s third album, Grids, was released last March to winning reviews, and the band followed-up with tours around the country, both as headliner and as support to Courtney Barnett. Cornelius also undertook a two-month artist’s residency in the small town of Skagaströnd in northern Iceland.

“It was a very unstructured residency. Every day you went to the studio and sometimes you’d just go and stare at the wall, sometimes you’d do some work,” she says. “You couldn’t do any walking; it was just really cold and windy. It was a six-hour bus ride to the nearest city, and no one had a car. My whole existence existed within about one kilometre.”

During her stay Cornelius managed to record and release a single, Cupcake, with layers being added by her bandmates via email, along with an accompanying film clip, shot largely on her iPhone.

“It’s funny because it was an open plan studio, nothing was sound proofed and nothing was private,” she says. “When I was at my desk I’d have headphones on, singing into a microphone and I’d just forget there’s this room full of people. The video was like that as well; everyone’s just doing their work and I’m lip-syncing to the song.”

Although an album’s worth of material was written during those two months, at this point the singer has decided to put those songs to the side and continue writing. “I thought I’d come back and be like ‘Yeah – let’s make a record,’ and I basically turned around and went, ‘I don’t think I like any of those songs’,” she says. “It was good to get it out of my system, but I’ve got a much more concise plan for the sounds now. In the past I’ve tracked everything myself and then we’ve put it together live, and this time I just want to get it ready as a band and then record it.”

It is interesting that after what must have seemed at times as quite a solitary exercise, Cornelius has returned with a desire for a more collaborative approach to making music. As it turns out, some of the more important experiences had in Iceland were in fact collaborations made with artists of other mediums.

“Just at the end these new artists came and they brought with them this amazing playful energy. We started giving each other little projects, we’d say ‘you have to do a painting or a drawing based on these two words’,” she enthuses, “and that was really incredible because I started drawing and print making and doing all these things that I’d felt like I shouldn’t do, because I’m not a visual artist.”

“So that’s what I’ve really brought back – one, that I needed to have a studio so that I could do music, but also where I could do art stuff, so for the first time I’ve got a studio outside of my house. The other thing was to keep drawing and doing printmaking, all this stuff that I’ve always loved but never felt like I should really do. If you let yourself just be creative in all these other different ways I think that kind of influences everything else you’re doing.”

Originally published in Beat Magazine on 27/08/2015. View original article.

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