Fergus Bailey & The Teeth chat new single ‘Death Roll’, ska music, and performance inspo

If you’ve ever caught Fergus Bailey & The Teeth live, you’d no doubt understand why I’m about to refer to them as one of Sydney’s most exciting new acts. The five-piece have just released the first single from their sophomore record, and we were lucky enough to chat with frontman Fergus about the new track, Death Roll.

PINNIES: Hey Fergus! How’s your day been so far, what have you been up to?

FERGUS: My day’s been pretty good, watered all my plants so can’t complain really. 

PINNIES: First off, anyone who’s seen you play live will agree that you have an incredible stage presence. Was your performance as a frontman inspired by anyone in particular?

FERGUS: That’s very kind of you to say. I wouldn’t say I aim for anyone’s style in particular (although I’ve had Ian Curtis comparisons quite a bit). I once read that Jagger said his cockerel walk was a natural thing, that the music started and he just felt that’s what he should do. I guess I try do a similar thing, just listen to what The Teeth are doing and channel it into my body. 

PINNIES: Keeping on the theme of inspiration, which artists inspired your sound on Unfurl, and are there any new sources of inspo for the new album?

FERGUS: Unfurl was inspired by quite a diverse roster of music, everything from 100 gecs to The Who. For the new record we definitely have kept more attentive to our own particular sound, albeit with the usual mish mash. In the second half of last year I got really into Fontaines D.C. and I think that’s had an impact on the directness of the songwriting. I also got into Paul McCartney’s first solo album, so that lean songwriting was also something I strived for. Instrumentally, we were really inspired by this new wave of British rock, especially Black Country, New Road. That scene tends to be less texturally futurist, paring effects back and focusing on creating emotive interconnected arrangements. We’re still using plenty of effects, but there’s definitely more of a focus on rhythmic and melodic interplay.

PINNIES: Is there an overarching theme on the new record?

FERGUS: When we were recording Unfurl someone asked me why I didn’t write any break-up songs, and I didn’t really have an answer. I thought it sounded like an interesting challenge, figuring out what a Fergus Bailey & The Teeth break-up song would sound like. I wrote this song about God breaking up with Lucifer, and over the course of it realised that what I like about break-up music is the excuse it gives you to tell stories and explore mental health. So I dived into that and wrote a full break-up album, complete with narrative arch and recurring characters. 

PINNIES: You recently posted a series of photos on Instagram of the band in the studio. Have you been playing around with any new sounds or production styles while recording this album?

FERGUS: Well yeah actually. We recorded at Golden Retriever in Marrickville and they have this vintage tape machine, so we recorded almost everything to tape which gave everything this warmth. It’s also a recording method that allows for that band interplay – they’re all playing live and responding to each other. In terms of vocal production, I used a special mic for my voice that has a tiny valve in it, and testing the movement of that was pretty fun for me. My vocals sound as close to how I think they sound as is possible, so that’s been pretty cool. In terms of sounds, expect to hear some synths, some feedback, some dance grooves, and some honest to god riffs. It’s easily the most ambitious record we’ve done, with both a 10 minute epic and 3 minute Motown song on it. 

PINNIES: Your new single, Death Roll, features a couple of ska sections in it. You know how much I love ska music, but what five words would you say to someone who isn’t on board with the genre yet?

FERGUS: Hahahah ska is the best man. People have this weird reaction to ska, almost the same as people have to country. The amount of people we’ve had say they hate ska but like that song is interesting. I think everyone’s hung up on when it was everywhere and not really used in an interesting way, but you go back and listen to the English late 70s stuff like The Specials, The Slits (although they’re more reggae/dub), or even like The Clash and you hear that punk edge. They played that stuff because a lot of that music (ska, reggae, dub) has its roots in political resistance. We’re all fans of The Congos, of Scratch and King Tubby. Once you remember that context and put it in there, I think you stop thinking of it as 2000s supermarket music and actually feel its positive, political attitude. That’s how we use it in that song anyway, and people have responded. 

At the same time, we kind of use that negative reaction to our advantage. The fact that a lot of ska is a bit cringe makes that section kind of thrilling, like you don’t know which side it’s landing on. It’s fun toeing that line, and feeling audiences coming along with us.

PINNIES: Are there any other genres you’d be keen to play around with in the future?

FERGUS: I mean I’d love to mess around with country but I don’t think we could pull it off – you need some special quality to make country work otherwise it just sucks. I think we’ll incorporate more 80s post punk/90s DnB vibes but honestly it’s hard to tell. So much of it is just where we feel the song is in the room, so nothing is ever off the table or pre-assumed. We like the organic collaboration. 

PINNIES: And finally, If you could only eat the same three meals every day for the next year, what are you picking?

FERGUS: Ooft. Marrickville Pork Roll Banh Mi, oysters (are they a meal?), roast chicken. I’m going to be so unwell, but so happy. 

PINNIES: Yeah oysters are for sure a meal! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat.

Death Roll is out now whatever platform takes your fancy. Check out the track below.