A Chat With Teeth & Tongue

Words by Rosa Coyle-Hayward.

Give Up On Your Health is the fourth release by Melbourne project, Teeth & Tongue and continues to show a unique output. This atmospheric release takes the listener through a ride of emotions with the guidance of Jess Cornelius‘ incredible vocals, nostalgic synth sounds and intricate instrumentation. We were lucky enough to chat with Jess ahead of the album’s tour which follows her third appearance at BIGSOUND.  

I was listening to your new album, Give Up On Your Health. Give me some background on the album, did you approach making this album differently to how you have done in the past?

I guess it was different in the sense that we kind of arranged it a bit more as a band. I didn’t layer it up on my own as I have done with the other albums. ‘Small Towns’ and ‘Are You Satisfied?’ were a bit more of a solo enterprise, but the rest of the album was quite collaborative. We tried to record tracks like a band, rather than layer by layer. We still did a lot of overdubs but it was a little bit more live in that sense.

It was interesting to me that you mentioned ‘Small Towns,’ and ‘Are You Satisfied?’ which you wrote by yourself because those were the songs I gravitated more towards, because they felt more personal.

I don’t write so much with the band, it’s more arranging. When I talk about doing it more collaboratively, it’s about arranging the tracks. 

So you have worked more by yourself previously and also with different combinations of band members, why did you do more of this album collaboratively?

Because the band is more collaborative now, it’s more of a band now. I have been playing with these guys for about three years. Previously I didn’t really have a solid lineup in that way so it was a really good opportunity to use the talent that I had at my disposal, I guess!

On this album you did a rework of my favourite song, ‘Cupcake Revisited.’ Why did you decide to rework this and put it onto this album?

Well, because it didn’t have a home really. We released it as a single in it’s original form but it wasn’t on an album. We kind of thought it should be on one, but it wasn’t going to fit in it’s previous state. So it was either rework it or leave it off – but then it wouldn’t have ever have a proper, physical release. So I guess that was the decision behind that. We didn’t know if that would work, we tried quite a few times to do different things with it. It came about very last minute, we finally figured out what we were doing right in the middle or recording and we worked out a direction for it. There was a lot of trial and error with that one.

I read in an interview with The Music that the making of Grids was a bit fraught, did you find the process of the writing/recording of this album easier?

You can’t really talk about the writing and recording process in the same breath because they are different things. I can’t remember what I said to be honest, but with Grids it was recorded over a longer period of time. So I was just going in there and recording once a week or once every second week – something like that. So there was writing that was not in the studio but around the same time as I was recording. Whereas this album was all written before we went into the studio so I guess that was a bit different and you don’t really stop writing in the sense until the albums done. You are still adding little bits and pieces of overdubs -but I kinda see that as arranging. I mean anything that comes up as the song got a structure and a life of its own, is arranging really.

Do you find that writing songs just happens all the time, whereas when you sit down to actually arrange it, the song is heading towards a release?

Absolutely, the arrangement sometimes doesn’t get finalised until you are halfway through mixing! I mean it can just keep changing until you master it basically. Which is slightly stressful. I guess it depends on how you write and I think that’s what happened with Grids, I writing some of the songs in this kind of vertical way, where you are arranging at the same time so it becomes part of the songwriting process. That is when you are writing mostly with computers and you are writing with other people.

I think with this album I just wanted to get the songs right in a linear, or a horizontal way from start to finish without thinking too much about arrangement. I still had a lot of ideas in my head when I was writing about how I wanted them to sound and how I wanted them to be worked up into a full production. But I wanted them to work just as songs to be played on a single instrument. That was my challenge on this album and I spent a lot longer working on the songs in that way before taking them to the band or trying to work them up into a full arrangement.

I noticed a lot more of these synth sounds on this album, where there some new instruments or elements that you were using on Give Up On Your Health?

In the band, everybody has their particular instrument. Damien plays bass but he also plays synths – so we used a lot of his skills and in that area. I was kind of beginning to experiment with arpeggiators and things. I have always used a synth live for some songs but we just used that a little more; especially arpeggiation to have that driving kind of feel. We definitely had an idea of the sounds that we wanted to use. Then we recorded and mixed it, Hamer, who was co-producing the record with me, likes to re-amp or re-synth the sounds in a way. So he ran a lot of the sounds through his Korg MS-10s and MS-20s – so there was a bit more consistency with the types of synth sounds we were using as well. But this is the thing, when working on ‘Small Towns’ and ‘Are You Satisfied?’ they were written in the way I used to work on songs, in that more vertical arrangement. We still haven’t played them as a band so it’s gonna be an interesting challenge.

Teeth and Tongue have been chosen for the BIGSOUND artist showcase again, for the third time. How are you feeling about playing there this time around?

Well, the last one I don’t remember that much of! I don’t think I was entirely focussed on it really, we just played and then it was a blur. The one before that I was slightly more conscious! This one I will be fully present. The thing is when you are performing, it’s very hard to do a lot. Previously I have been self managed and that’s been a challenge – because you have to keep being different people. Now I have someone to do that stuff, so it’s gonna be great. I can focus on playing and wrangling my band instead! Otherwise it would be difficult to do things. I mean it’s always really fun, but it can be pretty overwhelming. There are so many bands and everyone’s good as well so it’s daunting. It’s fun though we get to play lots of pop up shows, like the instores and other random stuff.

You did an artist residency in last year in Iceland. Tell us about that?

I was mainly doing music, I am also a writer but I wasn’t doing a lot of writing there. I was trying but I am not a particular prolific writer so I was mainly there doing music. That was what I went there to do.

It seems as though it was quite isolated, did you find that affected your songwriting?

It was weird because that’s all I had to do really. I would just get up in the morning and all I had to do is write music. That’s quite a lot of pressure, self generated pressure really and it was weird. I loved it for the first couple of weeks. I had this huge creative epiphany (or I thought I did) and I was like ‘I could do this forever.’ I wanted to be alone and write in weird places, but I think I had a lot of expectations of what I would achieve while I was over there. When you are writing sporadically between all your other obligations in life, I think your brain has it’s own kind of filter system. The stuff that makes it out in your limited time is of a higher quality than when you have all this time to write. You just kind of write all this garbage and that’s sort of what happened with me. It wasn’t all garbage but I haven’t used a lot of it. None of it really ended up on the record, it’s an interesting process to do and it’s very good to practise songwriting in that way.  

Maybe there are parts of songs that will find their way into future material?

I think it all feeds into each other and like I said it’s all practise. It must have an effect and must feed in in some way.

Did you find that the different landscape in Iceland had an effect on your writing or yourself more generally?

I don’t think so, I don’t know if it has an effect in some strange abstract way but I don’t really write about landscape so much. I am sure that the environment had an effect in terms of the isolation. There wasn’t a lot of interaction with the outside world. So I just internalised a lot of stuff and while that sort of self examination is good, but it got a bit boring. I was bored of writing about myself and I think that’s way I didn’t use many of the songs – I just started again when I got back home. That wasn’t a conscious thing, it was just what sort of ended up happening.

Check out Teeth and Tongue at BIGSOUND as well as Multiple dates around the country. Give up on Your Health Is Out Now.