Local synth group Sharks’ Teeth has released more music in one decade than most bands put out in their entire careers. They’re entering 2019 with 18 albums and 15 EPs already in their discography, in addition to a plethora of other releases. In recent years, their output has ranged from vibrant pulsating pop on 2016’s It Transfers & Grows to cocktail lounge muzak on 2018’s Orlando’s Bloom, plus a wide array of ambient works and other experiments. In 2015, they even performed and arranged an entirely quadraphonic set for just one show at Saturn Bar, with speakers strategically positioned overhead in the room’s four corners. Most recently, the group spent the latter half of 2018 outfitting a room in the home of Sharks’ Teeth founder (and former Sun Hotel member) Tyler Scurlock. Christened No Orange Cats Studios, the home studio acts as a secret lair where the group records and practices their material. Demon Canal, the first of many planned releases for 2019, is one of the earliest projects to come out of the room.
With the exception of Scurlock, Sharks’ Teeth maintains a fluid membership, where bandmates have come and gone as they wish, sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes disappearing for years. During the time I spend with them, Sharks’ Teeth is comprised of Scurlock, Shelby Grosz, Emily Hafner, Spencer Darr, and Matthew Seferian. Members of the night’s diverse compound have performed in a multitude of other notable bands, including Pope, Treadles, Trampoline Team, and Sharks’ Teeth sister group, Shame.
When Scurlock opens the door to his Gentilly home to let me in, the sounds of deep emotive synths fill the air. Grosz and Darr are already busy in No Orange Cats. Droning vibrations take a more concentrated form as members stroll into the room, each taking their place at a chosen station. A dozen or so synthesizers, plus guitars, basses, and drums fill the space. Most of this equipment, such as a 1973 Roland TR-66 drum machine, far exceeds the age of their handlers. The brief jam session features three members on keyboards of various shapes and sizes, with Seferian on guitar and Darr on drums.
Afterwards, at a dining room table just outside the studio, everyone smiles warmly and laughs as we discuss the frustrations of working with malfunctioning antiques and the joys of leaving concerns about the music industry behind.
Sharks’ Teeth will be entering its tenth year, correct?
Tyler Scurlock: Yeah, technically. The first Sharks’ Teeth release was put out in 2009, although it has been redacted. I want to make that clear because it’s not available on the internet. I hope there’s no way to find it. It’s not because of musical reasons. It was a lyrically irresponsible collection of songs, so it’s been redacted… 2010 is where you can find the earliest stuff but there was one in 2009, so we are approaching the decade.
How does it feel to be a decade into Sharks’ Teeth?
TS: It feels great. I say that but I think at first, Am I going insane? Why are so many great things coming together the way that they are? And I think the real result is not just the stuff that I’ve been up to over the last ten years, but I think of everybody in this room and who plays in Sharks’ Teeth as a whole (which can be a long list)… all the hard work they’ve done over the last ten years. Everyone’s at a level with their musicianship, songwriting, with their chillness. Everybody’s got a lot of stuff that they’ve worked really hard on and are bringing to the table now. Less of the result of something horrible that happened, actually more the result of all these great things that have been coming to fruition for a long time. That’s how I feel about it, I guess.
What was going through your head when you started this project?
TS: Well, I guess what was going through my head was it would be nice to make something that was not tethered to a strict band member arrangement, whether it was just me or whether it was just me and someone else or a huge band or something like that. It could be a project that could release records, could do shows, [and] could do all kinds of things in various ways. That was just my main thought: it has to be something malleable.
Everyone else here: when did you get involved in Sharks’ Teeth and what do you see as your role?
Matthew Seferian: A Fan. [laughs] Number one fan and promoter, I guess.
Spencer Darr: I’ve been playing music with Tyler for 15 years, so we’ve been playing in different formats and arrangements for a long time; although this is the first year that I’ve ever played with Sharks’ Teeth in the sense of recording or performing live.
Shelby Grosz: I was a little bit before Emily but not too much, maybe 2012 or 2011 or something like that… I came in right before what would eventually be the songs that would end up on It Transfers & Grows.
Emily Hafner: I joined around Christmas time [a few years ago].
SG: Yeah. I was at that Christmas party. That was great.
TS: Yeah. Emily takes things to the next level… I think that would be her role in Sharks’ Teeth: stepping it up that notch, which is awesome.
Clockwise from left: Tyler Scurlock, Spencer Darr, Shelby Grosz, Emily Hafner
Shelby mentioned you were performing the songs from It Transfers & Grows before the record actually came out. Simultaneously, Sharks’ Teeth is constantly releasing stuff. Do you guys prioritize certain projects like that? Were those songs something you decided you were going to focus on?
TS: Yeah. I think at the time, Devin [Hildebrand], who’s not here—he is essential to this band. We stand on his shoulders tonight. [laughs] It’s true… When we were getting really more focused with Sharks’ Teeth, we had an idea that we could put together this kind of cohesive dance pop album that was very much influenced by the pop dance electronic-sounding albums that we were really into, especially older ones you consider the classics. We were influenced by the whole vibe of putting this cohesive thing together and went too far into it. When I listen to it, I can hear how much Devin and so many people put into it. I think after that, it’s been a free-for-all. Now we know how to use all this stuff. Every time we play together, it’s going to be different and whenever we play a show it’s going to be what we’re working on right then, regardless of what’s being released… We were starting to get into that stuff right before we had finished It Transfers & Grows, the record that we worked a long time on and did very intentional things on. Right after we made that, we got wrapped up with this idea to perform a fully quadraphonic set, which was one of our [first moments where we said] “Let’s just do something completely wild!” Whatever concepts that you feel we have to go by, whatever your goals are at the time. Our goal at the time was to have a quadraphonic show at anywhere we could do it that would allow us. The Saturn Bar allowed us to do it. It was really fun.
That was a good show.
TS: You were there. It was really awesome. There were some other really great bands who played that night. Whom Do You Work For? played that night, which was wild. From then on, we’ve just been chasing whatever idea or vibe that we were getting into at the time. We went through some stuff on Orlando’s Bloom, where we kind of turned into this… Americana version of [Air’s] Moon Safari: organs and analog drum machines and got into that vibe. But now, we’ve gotten much more into soft rock, Carpenters style. [We’re making] lots of song songs but with so many synthesizers on them.
SD: And an occasional Will Hagan [guitar] lick or two in between.
TS: I forgot to mention that. Will Hagan is another core member of the group. Lots of people come and go out of that room just based on who’s around, who I consider people who collaborate with Sharks’ Teeth for sure; and they’ll be listed on other releases, like Andrew Landry or Phil Stafford or Michael Arruberena.
“It’s really cool to have a creative space that’s not bound by rules or expectations of what a release should be.”
You were talking about all the different directions that Sharks’ Teeth has explored over the last ten years. Is there any sort of mission statement or objective that Sharks’ Teeth holds to as it goes in all these different directions?
TS: That’s what I was going to say.
SG: Let the gear do the talking.
SD: I would say let Neil take you where he’s going to take you.
TS: Neil guides us in all things. That’s true. That’s obviously Neil Young. We often thank Nick Stefan, who was a guy who used to play in GIVERS (or still plays with them live). He lives in Lafayette and he works on pianos and synthesizers for a living. He is too generous to us and has fixed up gear for us, modded gear for us, and done it with so much care, so much quickness. He gets us going. When we break tines constantly because we’re playing the Rhodes so many times a week, recording over and over, he’s sent us multiple replacements this year. It’s way cheaper than if I were to buy it online.
SG: His labor is valueless, which means so valued. [everyone laughs]
MS: It’s invaluable is the word you’re looking for. [laughs]
SD: Its priceful! [laughs]
TS: I only bring him up to say that he is a big part of the different directions that our band has taken. As he has repaired gear, often multiple keyboards at a time, we’ll drive to Lafayette to do a pick-up-and-drop-off, come back with stuff, leave with stuff. When we were playing shows off the It Transfers & Grows stuff, some of the frustrations were playing with a bunch of 45-year-old instruments and—oh shock!—they’re not working right. It’d be really frustrating. Now when we do play, we make sure we’re using very reliable stuff. That forced us to get stuff repaired and get new equipment. That made us sound different. We just took things in the direction of the instruments we had at the moment. Right now, we have surplus. We have more upstairs and are just going by whatever we feel we need at the moment. That’s been cool.
TS: Another big contributor I’d like to name: Andy Plovnick. Andy Plovnick and Nick Stefan. Every record that comes out of this studio is dedicated to them because their effort made this all happen, on top of everyone’s collective effort as musicians.
SG: He mastered Orlando’s Bloom or engineered it.
TS: He was really great. We were already friends with him and we got really close over that. It was fun having him work with us on it. When he was moving back to New York and offered to sell us a bulk of his gear for a lump sum that was unreasonably cheap, I was like, “OK. I’ll buy it.”
MS: You can’t say no to that!
TS: I got it and came here. We realized as the pieces were coming together that this is getting pretty legit. We started to record stuff and things started sounding good. We’ve been doing this for five months now. We upload every session to Dropbox and, after five months, you can see it all still there. The progression is very visible. You can hear so many different changes that the studio has taken… like we decided to use the ribbon mics for once, finally. We didn’t use them at first and now we’re only using them.
MS: The ribbon mics are tight.
A lot of the Sharks’ Teeth recordings have been done as home recordings. How has that environment been advantageous or disadvantageous in comparison to a more traditional environment?
TS: With It Transfers & Grows, we did pretty much every single thing except vocals through direct in. We did not mic any amps. We were plugging synthesizers through pedals and effects and processing stuff into the computer. We could be laughing, clinking bottles, high fiving, being ridiculous in the studio, going crazy—because we were in our room mixing through monitors in the room together. [We were] playing takes together so it was very open, and that was great… Now that we’ve spent so much time honing everything, we’re able to go in there and turn everything on and produce really good stuff in a couple hours, no problem. It makes my head spin sometimes but I couldn’t be happier about it.
I was listening to “Fiends in Human Space” from Demon Canal earlier today. At one point, I could hear somebody open a door and start talking.
TS: Yeah. That’s Jenna, my wife.
So would you say the recording atmosphere is very relaxed, then?
TS: Oh yeah. If Devin is coming over to help mix—and he has a lot more of a production-based angle—his mixing notes are like, “Take out talking noise in the beginning.” I’m like, What? Absolutely not! [laughs] Devin is right about so much. When he records us, it’s like another band. He’s magical. But when we’re doing stuff in here, especially when I’m engineering in the room, it’s like someone said, “Ahhh yeah!” at the beginning of the take? That’s perfect!” [laughs]
SD: It’s a regular tradition to have stuff playing through the monitors and put another take over it with live mics going.
TS: People walk in there very frustrated: “What about bleed?” There won’t be that much bleed! [laughs] It’s an effect. Phil Spector did it.
MS: Bleed is sick, actually.
TS: We’re flipping the narrative. Bleed is sick!
SD: Bleed’s in boys! Bleed’s in!
TS: Turns out half the record is bleed. [laughs]
MS: If you’re not OK with bleed, you don’t like anything. Get out of the playground. If you don’t like bleed, you don’t like any of the music you love. [laughs]
SD: Neil didn’t mind bleed.
“When we’re practicing with Sharks’ Teeth and recording, there is an element of work to it—work that we love and take seriously and is emotional. But when we’re doing Neil Young, it’s like, Hell yeah dude! Let’s play that part again!“
You mentioned Neil Young. A lot of Sharks’ Teeth is now in a Neil Young cover band. How has that impacted the way you approach Sharks’ Teeth?
TS: It’s great to have that band as a vessel that plays live. We do get together and practice but that’s more like a party. When we’re practicing with Sharks’ Teeth and recording, there is an element of work to it—work that we love and take seriously and is emotional. But when we’re doing Neil Young, it’s like, Hell yeah dude! Let’s play that part again! I just want to play that part for myself. I want to hear you guys do that one more time.
SD: Take lead vocals on this one boys. [laughs]
TS: Learning the Neil Young songs has helped me as a better songwriter.
SD: It’s also fun to practice songs and get good at them because, with Sharks’ Teeth, it’s always new songs, new arrangements, new players; so there’s always these elements coming through. With Neil, it’s just like, damn, we’re tight on that one, boys.
TS: There’s no one looking around for what to do next. Everyone’s just looking around at the next guy soloing, going, Nice! Hell yeah, brother!
SD: One of our favorite expressions at Neil practices is “You’ve got money falling out your pockets.” That’s when you’ve really got a hot lick going: Look at him go! He’s got money falling out of his pockets!
One word that comes to mind when I try to describe Sharks’ Teeth is prolific because so much work has been released. How do you guys feel about that label? Do you agree or not?
TS: I just want to say that these guys are on a ton of releases that are already done and coming out next year. Joke’s on them.
SG: I actually went back and put you guys back on all the ambient self-released stuff! [laughs]
JS: You’re the George Lucas of Sharks’ Teeth! We’re going back!
SD: In past years, Sharks’ Teeth has released Wissenschaftslehre, which are typically 40-plus songs, 3-plus hour affairs. Easily, a record could drop this next year that is 40 tracks, many hours that are multi-member, almost like a Bob Dylan collection of alternate takes on different songs, because there’s just a wealth of material.
MS: I think prolific is a fair statement to describe Sharks’ Teeth. You’re very prolific.
TS: How do you feel about being in the band now?
MS: It’s great. I love it. I might not be in it tomorrow, though.
TS: No. That’s not true. You’re in it for life. I do mean that. We had someone in our band who moved away. Since our band started playing around, we’re still in each other’s lives in different kinds of capacities, whether or not people are available for different stretches of time. Devin moved to Baton Rouge for about two years. That didn’t change anything. He’s still just as much of a member as he’s ever been. Mary [Dumler] left and has not come back but, when she does come back, I still consider her a part of Sharks’ Teeth just as much as when she was playing shows with us. I know that we’ll end up playing with more people and there’s more people on the records that aren’t doing the work every week, at what we call the No Orange Cats Studio—it’s a very literal name because we constantly remind everyone to not let that cat in there. We shorten it to NOCS and then you’ve got NOCSville.
With Sharks’ Teeth having done so much stuff, Is quality control ever a concern for you?
TS: Yeah. We don’t use everything. We throw so much against the wall. I stopped counting the tracks a few months in when I saw what we had recorded and thrown on Dropbox. We had done like 150 tracks. I never want to look at this again. I’m going to get sick. [laughs]
SG: It’s like 25 minute jam sessions.
TS: Exactly. There’s so much stuff. There’s like one minute of Will doing a sick bass riff and me just doing the simplest drum-stoner-metal parts over and over again on the bell of the ride. I’ll be like, sick! Then I’ll listen to it later and be like, this is never being released! [laughs] Even though we’re going to be putting out a ton of music next year, I really feel like it’s been the stuff I’ve been the most excited about and proud of. I think it’s all going to be great and I can’t take credit for it because there’s so many people working on it and bringing their things to the table. I was telling Matt in our texts the other day: I’ve never been so ready for 2019 to start because we’ve formatted it within the year that we want to work on this framework, having the first release on New Year’s Day as a part of that. I’m like, God! Get here 2019! I’m ready to do this. I’m so excited!
SD: I’ve been excited for Demon Canal for a while now, just as a fan of Tyler’s music. It’s something that is thrown together from all these different sessions, but when I listened to it for the first time, I was kind of shocked at how cohesive it all sounded and how whole it seemed. I know from being around as this was recorded how many people were at different sessions and how things that were recorded just 15 minutes before other people arrived changed the format of the day. Hearing it all together, I was like, “Woah! I can’t believe us jamming has led to this.” I think there’s definitely something to be said for developing these muscles, these non-verbal cues as you play with people more.
TS: I’m trying my best to write almost every day. It’s my favorite thing to do in the world. It’s so comforting for me with anything I’m going through, so it functions in a great way in my life. Being able to throw that at these guys rapidly; and they’ll just take it and make it so much better. We have so many great things coming out because of all these things.
MS: It’s really cool to have a creative space that’s not bound by rules or expectations of what a release should be. There’s not this weight, this expectation; and I feel like some of the best music I’ve been involved in for a long time has been coming out of this room. It feels weightless when I hear it, because when I play in other groups or things, I get very weird about my own writing, about everything. This is a nice place. It’s been recorrecting my mind a lot. It allows me to calm down. Coming here and being a part of this makes me approach my solo music and other music that way, not overthinking it. It’s a learning experience to have this and I feel like it’s a form of therapy… I still play in stupid bands that try to make money and I think all the time, Uh, what am I doing? This is so shitty. I don’t feel good about this at all, versus I do feel good about things that happen here. I feel good about playing when it doesn’t have that weight. I can hear the weight in the music.
SD: There’s no competition. Everybody wants the best things to come out of these sessions.
SG: There’s enough gear in there to find something to play. There’s no interruption. Everybody knows their lane.
MS: There’s no rules. There shouldn’t be any rules and there’s no rules in there. You can play whatever you want if you can play it.
TS: And you can release it whenever you want.
MS: Everything else is stressful.
SD: I would just say anything you do for money, anytime you involve capitalism with a passion—it changes it. I’m so happy. I talk to my family all the time around the holidays and it’s like, “How’s life in New Orleans? What are you up to?” I have my job but being able to do this is one of the most important things for me. I get a huge part of my life that’s on its own, hanging out with friends and making stuff. How fucking cool is that?
MS: It brings infinite happiness.
Would you consider Sharks’ Teeth to be an anti-music industry project in that respect?
SG: I would say yes.
TS: Hell yeah. [everyone laughs] Our Facebook page shows us as a health and beauty spa. I don’t want to announce ourselves as some other operating force other than a band. [With] the framework of operating under a band, I think we can do lots of cool things that are beneficial for us and hopefully for someone else—emotionally, not financially.
Let’s talk about the Wissenschaftslehre series of ambient releases.
TS: I took a German idealism class in 2011 at Loyola and it was a very important year to me in learning about a lot of things. I found out about a lot of things and was like, I already agree with this. There was a name for all the stuff I already felt very strongly about. Wissenschaftslehre is a book written by Johann Fichte, who was a German idealist philosopher. It was philosophy of science of the way he thought, wrapped up in this huge text. I don’t pretend to Wissenschaftslehre but I like the symbolism of it as a huge, almost unreadable thing. I was in late college when I put out the first Wissenschaftslehre, a big sprawling ambient project. Those have been really fun to put together. They’ve taken different shapes and different moods. The fifth one came out last year and the sixth one is one of the things we’re planning to release this year. A lot of tracks have come together already, out of some of the more ambient and cool jams.
Is his theology in any way related to the type of music on those releases?
TS: He’s one of my favorite philosophers. He was mostly related to [Georg] Hegel, who has much more of an influence on how we work and how I feel about art. The Wissenschaftslehre itself was really just: wow! That’s a really great name for that concept of a book you wrote! I’m 21 sitting in my college philosophy class, writing that down like, great ambient title. [everyone laughs]
MS: That was a practice you started ten years ago.
TS: I did that today. Many times, I’m reading a poem [thinking], if I write down every line from this poem as a separate ambient title, is it plagiarism? They’re all so good!
TS: It feels great. I compare it to the relationship I have with my wife. We’ve been together for almost seven years. It’s really cool to get to levels with people where you can accomplish things. I’ve been friends with Spencer for so damn long. It’s scary! Almost 20 years! We’re closer to 20 than 15, which blows me away. It feels like nothing at the same time. Not that you can’t do amazing things with people you’ve just met or that you collaborate with on the internet that you’ve never met, but I love being able to work with something and within something that has been going and building on top of something for so long. I’m also happy with my progress and everyone’s progress as songwriters and musicians. I think everyone’s on an upward trajectory and it’s so great to see all my friends constantly doing cool stuff and wanting to do that too because of how much satisfaction we get from making a song and recording it together.
Demon Canal by Sharks’ Teeth is out now. A new EP entitled Brighter Candle comes out February 2. For more information, check out sharksteethband.com or sharksteeth.bandcamp.com. Year of the Horse, their Neil Young cover band alter ego, performs at Gasa Gasa on Thursday, February 28 with Berlin Taxi performing a Tom Petty cover set. For more information, check out facebook.com/yothnola.
photos by John-Carlo Monti.