“Well summed up by that photo I think.”
I’m stood backstage at ArcTanGent Festival with math-rock heroes TTNG and – first question in – rather than using words to express his feelings following their performance on Thursday evening, drummer Chris Collis highlights the Birthday Cake For Breakfast smiling dog (above) as a visual representation. Vocalist and bassist Henry Tremain and guitarist Tim Collis erupt in laughter, Tim adding further explanation.
“For the listener – Picture is dog with Birthday Cake, looking gleeful.”
Having had time to adjust (with Henry suggesting that TTNG would be the dog in the situation, the cake being the audience), Tim reflects further on their performance – commenting at one point that it was likely their best ArcTanGent set to date.
“No, it was great. Really great to play in the UK again, ‘cus I guess it’s been a while.” He says.
“Yesterday’s response was fucking incredible, like seriously.” Adds Henry. “One of the new songs we have this quiet build up and everyone was clapping along. It was pretty amazing.”
It’s fair to say that ArcTanGent is becoming a regular entry in the social calendars of those with a penchant for math/post/alt-rock and everything in-between. Growing in size year upon year, the organisers outdo themselves when curating incredible line-ups every time. TTNG have become a staple of the festival, having appeared at three of its four outings, matching the likes of And So I Watch You From Afar and Maybeshewill.
“We had a break, caught our breath and then we came back to eat some more audience members.” Laughs Henry.
Much like TTNG are becoming a regular fixture of ArcTanGent, so too is the inevitability that the weather will be foul. This year’s festival featured particularly outrageous weather. Almost at Monsoon levels, Fernhill Farm gave Manchester a run for its money with the amount of downpour. It almost made watching bands and drinking beer unbearable…
“It’s getting wetter and wetter each time.” Nods Tim.
The spirit of the attendees is always high, mind, and tents are always suitably rammed whatever the weather. Though the main stage has a slight ‘open-air’ issue, as many found out whilst watching Russian Circles a while back.
“The first one was awesome, then the second was crazy wet…” Adds Henry. “I remember seeing Russian Circles and getting totally drenched.”
Prior to their return to UK soil and triumphant showing at ArcTanGent, TTNG had been stateside on a run of North American dates throughout August and July with the likes of Lite, Mylets and GIRAFFES? GIRAFFES! A mammoth journey through America, made even sweeter with a number of dates across the run selling out. The secret?
“Well we actually have a fan base over there…” Says Henry with a laugh. “It was a good tour, the sales were a lot better than we were expecting – the pre-sales beforehand had us kind of worried. We were feeling like that’s gonna be our last trip out to the states, but it actually went completely in the other direction.”
Sargent House mainstay and running mate of both And So I Watch You From Afar and TTNG (as discussed recently with the former in this interview), Henry Kohen a.k.a. Mylets was along for the ride during their stay in America. There’s an obvious bond between both bands and Henry, the younger Kohen popping up regularly on their various social media accounts whenever they’re in the US. It’s almost as if both bands have taken him under their collective wings, though TTNG jest that it’s likely the other way round.
“I think he’s pretty much an integral cog in our machine.” Say Tim of Henry. “He’s awesome to have on tour. He has a multi-functioning role on tour, so he TM’s and drives, plays and techs. It’d be really difficult to do it without him actually. He’s awesome and his music’s great so it’s always cool to play with him.”
“He writes these amazing compositions on the fly in the van…” Adds Henry with a laugh.
This is again another period of the interview which would benefit from video evidence or similar, with the trio sharing a laugh reminiscing about the songwriting talents of both Henry’s through the use of a music memo app on an iphone, allowing them to write such improvised van hits as ‘Mummy’ and its sequel ‘Daddy’. A suggested special improvised song for Birthday Cake For Breakfast using said app sadly never materialises.
Away from improvised van recordings, the North American Tour coincided with the release of the band’s third studio album, ‘Disappointment Island’. Recorded live to tape over a ten day period, the trio got together at the infamous Electrical Audio studios in Chicago with Greg Norman, before it was mastered by Bob Weston of Shellac. It was actually in America where TTNG got to shape the eventual album, during a tour with The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die and Foxing. Though the album itself had some uncertainty in the lead up to its completion, as Tim explains.
“I think it was good to get it done, for sure. I think there was a time before that we weren’t sure that it was gonna happen. It was kinda pressured to do it like that…” He says. “We kinda just went for it – it’s gotta be done by that time, so… It was helpful to have that.”
“We had kind of finished writing just before the tour and then we used the tour to rehearse the material, get it tour ready so that by the time we were in the studio, we’d kinda ironed out all the kinks and actually learned how to play the songs well enough, with enough energy.” Says Henry. “I think throwing them out in front of an audience is the exact environment where the pressure’s on where you have to get better and play them… I’m sure it led to some right stinkers during some of those shows, but it helped the album.” He laughs.
“Possibly another reason why we didn’t think anyone would show up for this tour – hey, here’s the new stuff and it’s all terrible.” Adds Chris with a smirk. “But no, it was a good method. Psychologically I personally felt actually ready to be in the studio, wherein other times it’s just chaos and being really anxious. Sort of knowing that – ok, in theory this is ready, I can play this – was a huge benefit going into the studio.”
Cramming everything into these ten day sessions clearly proved fruitful, though potentially took years off lifetimes, as the mention of their experience in the studio is greeted by a slight sense of dread between the three-piece. Flashbacks of the whip being cracked visible in their eyes.
“Stressful.” Confirms Chris when approached on the subject. “I found it stressful.”
“I found it incredibly stressful throughout, because the last thing to happen is the vocals.” Adds Henry. “That, for me, is a massive stress. The bit that I really enjoy, which is playing the music bit, was really enjoyable, but there was still this high pitched violin string running in the back of my mind. I was still tense throughout. But, having said that, Electrical Audio where we recorded it is the best place. I absolutely love that place, it just feels like home. Greg, who’s our engineer, is one of the best humans ever. Made us feel totally at home and he’s just funny as fuck. I was having a really bad time doing the vocals, but he’d always manage to say something down the headphones that would put shit in perspective and make me feel good again.”
“Get your head together!” Says Tim with a laugh, before summing up his own experience. “It’s kinda nice as well, because it was a fairly long tour before that, so it wasn’t a very sterile studio at all. It would’ve been weird going to that sort of place after quite a stressful tour. It was really homely, so it was kind of a really cool place to chill out – for the most part. I know I had an easy job, I only had to do one thing, so I had a pretty good time.”
“I felt kind of bad at the end of the session, I felt like I was moving out of home.” Adds Henry with a laugh.
“It’s got a really nice, homely vibe to it so it’s very relaxing.” Agrees Chris. “Which is good obviously, when you’re in a somewhat pressured environment or situation, I should say.”
Disappointment Island marks the first TTNG album recorded as a three-piece. Following the departure of lead singer and guitar player Stuart Smith and bass player Jamie Cooper over the years, the band transformed and Henry, Tim and Chris carried on as a trio.
“It’ll be the last” Comments Chris with a laugh when we discuss the album being put together as a trio. “No, it was great. We’ve been a three-piece for a long time, but obviously trying to play that first album that had four people on it was difficult. So this was great.”
With more room to breath, this allowed for more experimentation, including a new instrument busted out by Henry (though sadly not a ‘Daxaphone’, much to the chagrin of everyone in the band).
“Yeah dude, check out the Daxophone. It’s a real instrument.” Laughs Henry. “But yeah, I built this six-string bass baritone guitar that I play, and it was nice to actually – instead of using it to play the space between guitar parts and bass parts – to actually write for that instrument. It was super fun.”
Teasers for Disappointment Island began showing up online in early May in the form of picturesque little vignettes, accompanied by the outline of an island and coordinates. Brilliantly, Fecking Bahamas not only kept track of each individual video but looked up the coordinates online and pipped TTNG to the post regarding the album name (as did a fair few other not-so-lazy fans). The title itself goes back a number of years, with Google acting as inspiration. Much like the artwork that adorns its cover, Disappointment Island was something the trio were unable to forget.
“I’ve always wanted to visit.” Confesses Tim with a laugh.
“As soon as you find a place like that, there’s so much mystery behind that name.” Adds Henry. “I found it on google earth probably about six/seven years ago, by chance ‘cus I was working as a graphic designer in a print company. We had a slow period, so I would just fly around the planet, checking out Tokyo’s rail networks and then just checking out how big the Pacific Ocean is…”
“Turns out it’s pretty big.” Smirks Tim.
As anyone with access to YouTube, Google Earth or countless time-wasting platforms will attest, it’s relatively simple to become obsessed in pointless searches and get lost down a rabbit hole. This became Henry and his virtual flights across the globe, becoming obsessed with minuscule landmasses in the middle of the abyss. It was one such search that resulted in the discovery of ‘Disappointment Island’.
“We’ve kind of been joking about it for a while. After the session we recorded with Greg, we went out for some drinks. Tim suggested it jokingly as a title and then it’s like – that’s hilarious, no wait it’s actually kind of perfect. The more we thought about it, the more it made sense.”
“It all ties in with quite a few things.” Adds Tim. “I guess Henry can back this up, but perhaps lyrically on some of the topics and subjects he’s writing about. It’s pretty neat really, which is the total opposite of the previous album, which was just random chaos but seemed to also work out.” He laughs.
Similarly, the aforementioned striking artwork for Disappointment Island was practically found out of various fruitless google image searches, trawling through the internet in search of inspiration. The intricate, slightly oddball work of Ukrainian artist and illustrator Irena Zablotska came as love at first sight for the trio, with Henry commenting that the decision was made as soon as they’d caught sight of her work.
“She’s incredibly talented.” He says. “There’s some amazing character to the work that she does. We went through and we found that illustration and thought it was perfect for what we wanted.“
At the time of writing, TTNG have finished off their year with a trip to Japan to play with Lite – the cherry on top of a monumental 2016. Their current line-up is stronger than ever, with the trio highlighting this through Disappointment Island. Throughout the interview, the Collis siblings and Henry are joyful, taking the piss and are clearly a tight-knit group. All is going swimmingly then?
“We all put on brave faces for these kind of interviews…” Jokes Chris as the others laugh. “Things are going really well. We wanna write some new music I think.”
“I’m saving up for a Daxophone.” Grins Henry.