Give and Take: Norwich post-punks Sink Ya Teeth
Norwich post-punk electro-funk duo Sink Ya Teeth are finally getting to share their pre-pandemic album with the world – we catch up with them ahead of two Scottish dates
Left to their own devices, Sink Ya Teeth might never have taken a rest. Since 2017, the Norwich duo had worked non-stop, entirely self-recording and self-releasing their two albums of addictive post-punk electro-funk and then booking their own tours to support them. The second album, Two, which snuck out just under the COVID wire with its February 2020 release date, was denied its on-stage life by the pandemic, but after what turned out to be a much-needed period of respite, the record is finally set for its moment in the spotlight with an upcoming run of October live shows.
The enforced break offered vocalist Maria Uzor and bassist Gemma Cullingford a rare moment to pause for breath. “We live in a society that really reveres output,” reflects Uzor. “You’ve always got to be doing something. But everything should be give and take. Even breathing is just inhalation and exhalation, but our society doesn’t focus on the inhalation. So it was nice to have that time to just be and catch up with yourself and just exhale.”
As well as a return to Glasgow’s Broadcast (7 Oct), the tour will include the duo’s debut Edinburgh show at Sneaky Pete’s (8 Oct), and, according to Cullingford, Sink Ya Teeth are “fully energised” by the prospect of bringing the songs back to life.
Where their self-titled 2018 debut album’s sassy, wiry machine funk had a detached coolness at its heart, Two – which uncannily has tracks titled The Vaccine and The Rapture – leans more heavily on the duo’s interest in classic strains of house and no wave disco, while retaining their distinctively sparse, no-clutter approach to composition. “There is quite a lot of space,” says Cullingford about Sink Ya Teeth’s tendency not to over-stuff their songs’ arrangements. “I personally like that when I listen to other music. I like space as much as I like the notes. Silence is better than notes sometimes.”
Few acts at Sink Ya Teeth’s level operate as truly independently as they do. Releasing everything through Uzor’s own Hey Buffalo label, they cover all the administrative demands of being in a band themselves, while also maintaining day jobs (Uzor works in a school, while Cullingford teaches ukulele). While the workload is undeniably demanding, it allows them complete artistic control over their careers, something they cannot put a price on. “I think it would be really difficult for us to give any of that independence away, really,” says Cullingford. “If you’ve got an idea, you just want to get it out and work on it without having to go through too much red tape. That can kill creativity a little bit.”
If lockdown offered the opportunity for a total break from such strains, then it is no surprise that their drive and thirst for creativity found an outlet of a different form in 2020. Both Uzor and Cullingford began work on what would turn out to be respective solo releases: Uzor recently released her debut EP, Innocence and Worldliness, just a few months after Cullingford released a full album, Let Me Speak, under her own name.
Both releases find the musicians flexing their experimental muscles a little more liberally than on Sink Ya Teeth’s records, with Uzor especially tapping into a seam of freeform, nocturnal frenzy that reveals a love for vintage techno. “I wrote those songs as an exercise,” she says, “and as an exorcism as well. When you are in a band there is an element of compromise, because you’re working together, so you have to take aspects from both to make one. But when you’re writing something independently, there is no compromise.”
Evidently, Cullingford too felt the sense of freedom from flying solo. “I realised that everything I was writing, I was almost censoring myself, thinking, ‘what would Maria say to this?’ So you end up holding yourself back. For this, it became, ‘what can I do without anyone else’s opinion mattering, who am I, what is my voice?’” Let Me Speak is highlighted by a chilly, spoken word rendition of Bobbie Gentry’s 1967 hit Ode to Billie Joe that revels in the latent nihilism in the song’s subject matter. “I didn’t realise it was such a big song,” Cullingford says now with a smile. “I genuinely had never heard it before.” Anyone who hears her rendition will never hear it the same way again either.
With individual artistic explorations now under their belt, their imminent return to playing together on stage again is an exciting one for them both, and after agreeing to take a break next year – a real one, not the uncertainty of an enforced one – they fully intend to be back in Sink Ya Teeth mode after that for a third album. For this duo, every reward they get they have worked hard to earn, and the celebrations at their October comeback shows are sure to be a prize that was worth waiting for.
Sink Ya Teeth play Broadcast, Glasgow, 7 Oct; Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, 8 Oct