Exclusive Interview: Black Tooth

Black Tooth are a Canadian band shrouded in mystery. Sound familiar? R&B superstar Abel Tesfaye (you may know him as The Weeknd) did the same “guess who I am” trick back in 2010 and look how that worked out for him: The Weeknd now sells out national tours in a matter of hours and regularly guests on Drake albums, reportedly signing a multi-million dollar debut album deal. Black Tooth, on the other hand, might be doing for indie what The Weeknd did for R&B.

BT’s sounds both tense and ineffably relaxed on the few songs they’ve released – anonymously, mind you – over the last several weeks. Their sound can best be described as the type of music you’d be most likely to hear drifting off to a novocaine induced surgery: equal parts relaxation yet with an oddly claustrophobic vibe. It’s sort of like The Notwist meets Aaliyah.

Death and Taxes got an exclusive sit-down with the Canadian trio, one of the first outlets in the world to report on them, let alone interview them.

Why go anonymous?
As artists currently working in the industry we felt constricted by social, media and political laws when experimenting with the music making process. We didn’t want to carry the baggage or expectations from our other projects. Preserving our anonymity allowed us more freedom as we were able to break from today’s paradigm without people expecting a certain sound or identity. Also, this cult of personality is too prevalent in today’s culture. We want to focus solely on the music and product. In an era where no one cares whether Big Brother is watching them, we prefer to remain hidden behind the music.

In an era that is (almost) defined by social media, why choose to go against it?
It’s more an outcome of our ideology and we’re not going against social media, per se. It’s just that we’re not focused on personal profiles. We don’t think you need to know what we ate that day or have a picture of our dog. We’d rather use it just to share the music and to connect with fans about what really matters to us. Spending 15 minutes on Twitter can sometimes make you lose faith in humanity.

“We’re going to try to keep our anonymity as long as possible.”

I think it’s great you include an art director as part of the band. Why don’t more bands do this? Which other bands out there do you think nail it in terms of the visuals? Who do you think could use some art direction?
We want to be storytellers. The visual side of the project is just as important as the music and makes a “whole.” We want to carry you into our world.

Because we have access to so many powerful tools, we want to use it all to help convey our message. It is another means of expressing ourselves and an important one when you consider that aesthetics often yield the most visceral reactions.

We believe that this is where it’s all going. It helps to have our art-director as a partner because it allows us to be more protective of what we create. We trust each other and its a mutually beneficial relationship that let’s us step out of certain responsibilities focusing on what we’re each good at – which takes a big weight off of our shoulders! We’re not really sure why more bands don’t do this, perhaps because it’s a relatively new concept that people haven’t really built on and its not easy to give that responsibility to someone. Maybe its a trust thing – maybe its laziness.

We really appreciate bands/groups like Boards Of Canada, The Gorillaz, WeDidIt and James Blake but we appreciate design more outside of music. Like, graphic design, contemporary art and architecture. That’s really the idea behind such a cohesive image for Black Tooth, it’s the emotions we want to evoke that we’re concerned with.

We think an artist’s art direction is very personal, an expression of themselves, so it’s hard to say who needs more. It’s cool to see gangster rapper’s image change as they make more money, to see that evolution. Mixtape art is especially intriguing right now, the cut and paste, photoshop style covers.

You’re kind of doing a similar thing to another Canadian artist The Weeknd in terms of keeping yourselves anon while the music is still brilliant. Are there any plans in the future to reveal yourselves?
We think that time may come. We may find that we inevitably need to reveal who we are. We’re not sure under what circumstances that would be, but on the other hand, they may never come.

This has been something interesting for us to think about in terms of our live shows and performances. We want to keep them more or less anonymous too using silhouetted projections, masks, or even cloth to keep our faces hidden.

We’re going to try to keep our anonymity as long as possible.

Musically, who are your influences?
Production: Boards of Canada, XXYYXX, Jai Paul, Fly Lo, Peter Gabriel
Songwriting/Vocals: Shlohmo, James Blake, Ryan Hemsworth, Nicholas Jaar, Brian Eno, Freddie Gibbs, Trae Tha Truth
Art Direction: Bonobo, Valleys, Aphex Twin, Hufschlag und Braun, Lorn, Shigeto, COMA, Junior Boys

Visually, who are your influences?
Our most recent photo-shoot (the results of which we’ve been using for single artwork and promotional images) is a clear nod to the work of photographers Herb Ritts and Robert Mapplethorpe. In particular, we’re all drawn to their deep understanding of black and white imagery, as well as their use of textiles.

That being said, we think you’ll definitely see our aesthetic evolve. It was the result of a very organic process, insofar as there was “Black Tooth” music before the group had either a name or an image. We think that our singer/songwriter and our producer had an idea of what “Black Tooth” would look like as they were making the music, and our art director developed his own ideas for an image as he was listening to that music. Ultimately, when we actually sat down and talked about how each of us envisioned the Black Tooth identity, there was a lot of overlap.

Each of us wanted the visual aspects of the project to explore notions of isolation, alienation, and the contrast between such ideas as urban and rural, future and past, etc. Ultimately, the group’s aesthetic had (and has) to be a vehicle to promote the music, compliment it, and, if need be, exist independent of it.