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A Quietus Interview

Direct Approach: An Interview With Sink Ya Teeth
Patrick Clarke , February 20th, 2020 08:47

Norwich's very best post-punk-dance-duo Sink Ya Teeth speak to Patrick Clarke about their remarkable drive to keep creating, and how they headlined a massive Slovakian festival at one hour's notice.

Before Gemma Cullingford was recruited as the guitarist for Maria Uzor’s project Girl In A Thunderbolt, she was on the verge of quitting music altogether. Having previously found moderate success in the late 1990s and early 2000s with frenetic art-punk band KaitO (whose Nik Void would go onto form Factory Floor), by 2015 she was working an office job, all but prepared to turn her back on playing in local bands. When she was sent an EP of Uzor’s music, however, everything changed. “Certain bits of it just shouted out to me,” she says. “The simple guitar lines, stuff I hadn’t heard for so long… I felt like, ‘she just gets me, she gets the kind of stuff that I like’.”

For various reasons, Girl In A Thunderbolt fell apart after four gigs, but as Uzor puts it the pair “had hit it off. As a solo artist no one was willing to pay attention to the drive [I had], apart from Gemma. So after that band fell apart, we decided to start something completely new.” Taking the cleanness and simplicity that Cullingford had so admired in Girl In A Thunderbolt alongside a love of post-punk, dance and bands like LCD Soundsystem who so joyously combine the two, they stripped their sound down to bass and electronics for a no-frills two-piece called Sink Ya Teeth. Their first gig was on December 11, 2015 – Uzor remembers the exact date – in the backroom of a pub in their native Norwich.

Sink Ya Teeth's first single 'If You See Me' came in spring 2017, a song that set something of a template for everything they've since – a sharp and simple groove that’s atmospheric, hypnotic and complete, but still leaves plenty of space for the occasional jab of electronics, and serene sweeps of Uzor’s voice; a pop song that thrives on the gaps in-between. It was entirely self-recorded, self-produced and self-mixed, as were the procession of mesmerising singles that would follow – the rapturous ‘Pushin’’ being the standout – and their self-titled debut album the following year.

The total control the pair take over everything they do is partly, they say, for financial reasons. With no major backing they’re funded mainly by their day jobs - Uzor’s as a support worker and textiles teacher, and Cullingford’s as a children’s ukulele teacher - and doing it all yourself is “a hell of a lot cheaper,” as Uzor puts it. It’s the same reason Sink Ya Teeth remain a somewhat Spartan live operation, says her bandmate.
“It’s easier to tour on a train without a drumkit, and it’s so much easier being in a band with just two of us.”

That said, there’s more to Sink Ya Teeth’s straightforwardness than the logistical advantages. They share a certain kind of dedication that it’d be hard for a third party to match. The pair schedule the time they work their day jobs to exactly match, in order to free up as much space as possible to focus on the band. They share an email address, text constantly, and are sending ideas to a Dropbox so frequently that they’re trying (and failing) to implement a 9pm cut-off time. “I think if we got another person involved, or a manager, we’d just get frustrated,” says Cullingford. “If anyone’s a bit slow we’d just go ‘Oh, we’ll just do it ourselves!’”
“We work at a fast pace, and we have really high standards,” Uzor adds bluntly. “We expect things done in a certain way. Some people have other commitments, and I guess that’s alright, but it’s not what we’re looking for.”

Uzor and Cullingford share the same intense drive to keep creating. “It’s a calling,” says Uzor as Cullingford nods in agreement. “You’re drawn to it, you’re called to do it, and whether you’re great at it or shit at it, you’re gonna keep doing it because there’s no other option. You can ignore it but then you’ll just end up hating yourself….”
“…Or working in an office job like I did,” Cullingford agrees. “It’s always there, you have to do it. When you meet someone with similar interests or hear music that gets you sparking again, like when I heard Maria’s, you’re like ‘oh shit, here we go again!’”

Cullingford remembers watching Glastonbury on TV when she was a teenager, a moment she recalls as confirmation that she wanted to play music. “When I was 13 I saw The Levellers,” she says, whispering the band’s name out of embarrassment. “It wasn’t necessarily because of the band, but it was the camera angle from the back of the stage. I thought, ‘I fancy that one day!”

Through quite a remarkable sequence of events, last summer Sink Ya Teeth found themselves in circumstances not dissimilar to that teenage dream. At Pohoda Festival in Slovakia, the pair had played a solid early-afternoon set on one of the smaller stages, with the festival’s organiser Michael Kascak among the 2000-or-so that were watching them. Later that evening, the event's headliner Lykke Li dropped out at an hour’s notice due to transport issues, and Kacsak asked in desperation whether Sink Ya Teeth might be prepared to play again in her place, this time to a crowd of some 30,000. They performed the show with their usual minimal set-up; the only thing new were the colossal LED screens behind them. “It was literally just what we’ve got here” she says, gesturing to a small pile of gear that fits easily onto the pub bench next to her, with which they’ll be playing a small private show later tonight.
“We had no visuals apart from our own faces, so it was as if we were playing the first gig in a pub again, except to 30,000 people,” Cullingford says.

Though she admits she’ll get stage fright “if you put me in front of a few people playing the ukulele,” Cullingford saw Pohoda s as proof that “we could play a big stadium and survive.”
“Not that we thought ‘right, now we play stadiums’” Uzor interjects. “But thinking about the first time I saw those bands at Glastonbury, on TV and thought ‘I want to to that,’ that was our moment,” her bandmate continues. “And we did it without having a panic attack! It wasn’t scary at all. It was funny! A, because we were pissed, and B, because it was so big. When an audience is that big it’s less personal. The scary gigs are when you can see the whites of their eyes and they’re on the same level as you. When you’re in a tiny band on a massive stage, it’s not believable, really.”

What’s more, the Pohoda gig serves as proof of just how brilliant Sink Ya Teeth are as musicians. Their passion for what they do is infectious, but there are thousands of passionate people whose music would wilt in front of a crowd of 30,000, none of whom are there to see it. The duo’s second album TWO is released at the end of this month, and is yet more proof of the band’s ability to find the most immense energy in the most simple groove or riff. It might be due to the necessities of life as two uniquely ambitious musicians, but Sink Ya Teeth’s directness is also the source of their power.

Sink Ya Teeth's new album TWO is released on February 28. They are on tour throughout March, with the full dates available here