ACR-endorsed go-getters, Sink Ya Teeth are scaling fresh musical peaks with their new album ‘Two’. Second album wobbles? Not a bit of it… 

We’ve all been there – standing in one of a long queue for the loos at a show, and striking up a conversation with a stranger. Safe to say, most of us haven’t landed a gig with one of England’s best post-punk bands out of it though.

“We played with Chk Chk Chk [!!!] in Manchester a couple of years ago,” explains Maria Uzor, who along with along with Gemma Cullingford makes up Norwich-based duo, Sink Ya Teeth. “Gemma went to the loo and bumped into Martin from A Certain Ratio’s wife, and his wife was like, ‘Oh my husband really loves you!’. And then we met him afterwards and we just hassled him to get us to support them. We badgered the fuck out of him, and now they can’t get rid of us.”

It’s this intoxicating potion of elements – part positive attitude, part right timing, part take-the-bull-by-the-horns style ingenuity – that typifies Sink Ya Teeth’s approach to music, and to life. Over a three-way WhatsApp chat, Uzor and Cullingford are retracing the pinnacles of what has been a particularly fortuitous 12 months. The year culminated on tour with A Certain Ratio (who they have played with many times now and count as good friends). 

“On the last gig we did with them in 2019, we joined them onstage playing some percussion,” says Cullingford. “That was one of the highlights of the year. They’ve been quite inspirational to watch live. Their sets keep growing, they keep experimenting.”

Speaking of sets that keep growing, there was also Sink Ya Teeth’s unexpected star turn at last year’s Pohoda Festival in Slovakia. Booked to play one of the small stages, Uzor and Cullingford had just wrapped up their stint playing to around 2,000 people, when they were asked to step in as a last-minute replacements for Swedish singer Lykke Li, who had been forced to cancel her main stage appearance due to travel disruption. The sudden elevation to headline act made them a BBC News story, and saw them playing to a crowd of 30,000, with no time for stage fright to set in.

“Had we been asked the day before, or even a few hours before, that would have given time for the nerves to build up, but there just wasn’t the time,” says Cullingford. “It was just so surreal.”

“We didn’t have any big set up – it was a huge stage, we had no visuals,” Uzor adds. “We had one monitor each. It was like we were set up to play the corner of a little old dusty pub. I’d also had a bottle of wine beforehand as well, so I was just giggling.”

There’s a lot of giggling and laughter during a Sink Ya Teeth interview, and plenty of chat about wine (the band formed in a pub in Norfolk, after all). 

“We tend to have most of our meetings in pubs,” says Uzor. “You know, get the creative juices flowing.” 

Photo: Andy Sapey

The first time the pair met was in a rehearsal room. Both were involved in projects prior to Sink Ya Teeth. Cullingford played bass for a number of touring bands, most notably the noughties indie outfit KaitO, while Uzor started out in a garage-punk group called The Incidentals. Their paths crossed when they both became members of Girl In A Thunderbolt. When that came to an end, they formed Sink Ya Teeth as a two-piece.

Their self-titled debut album was released on Hey Buffalo in 2018, and was one of those commanding first records that pays homage to a range of influences – think ESG, Liquid Liquid, New Order and LCD Soundsystem. Their new album ‘Two’ is the sound of Sink Ya Teeth arriving at and embracing their own distinct musical personality. The references remain, but there are bigger beats, slicker melodies, higher highs and lower lows. 

Live bass and guitar also leave their hallmark on ‘Two’. Lead single ‘The Hot House’ throbs with guitar, while closing track ‘Blue Room’ features vocal harmonies layered over a beautiful, distorted bassline. 

“They’ve got a little bit of the debut album in them,” says Cullingford of the more guitary cuts. “But they’re also a bit progressive, in that they use guitars, which a lot of our tracks don’t use so much. For me, it was about bridging that gap between the last album and the next.”

A Roland TR-8 drum machine also found its way onto a few tracks, though Uzor explains that the lion’s share of the album was done using programming in Logic, partly due to practicalities. 

“Gemma has a music room,” says Uzor, “but I’ve got a wall in my living room so there’s not a great deal of space. Equipment is kept to a minimum in my case!”

While many bands with a couple of albums under their belt set their sights on the bright lights of bigger cities, Uzor still lives in Norwich, and Cullingford lives “pretty close, about 10 miles out of town”.

“I find Norwich a really creative place,” says Uzor. “It’s small and everyone is really supportive of each other. A lot of our friends are involved in creative industries, whether it’s illustration, or video production, graphic design or in bands. You can live anywhere and work from anywhere and just email stuff all over the world, so there isn’t this huge need to be in London or Manchester. We do have a train station. You can get out.”

“It’s a really nice size,” agrees Cullingford. “It’s not too big and you feel safe walking around. There’s not too much hustle and bustle, but there’s just enough creative stuff going on.”

They both cite the presence of Norwich Arts Centre as an essential part of the city’s music scene. 

“They’re really nurturing there, and they’ve always been part of both our musical lives,” says Cullingford. “They also do a programme called Sonic Youths for 14 to 19-year-olds, which gets younger people on board with music, and they’re just really supportive.”

This desire to foster young talent is particularly important to the pair. Both Uzor and Cullingford work with young people – Uzor teaches music two days a week in a school for kids who have suffered from bullying or trauma, while Cullingford is a ukulele teacher for six to 10-year-olds. 

Whether making dancefloor focused bangers as Sink Ya Teeth, or passing their knowledge and passion on to a younger generation, Uzor says it always comes back to music.

“You get a desire to create music, you have that desire of something to say, and it always comes back to that,” she muses.

“It’s in your bones, isn’t it,” adds Cullingford. “We can’t imagine doing anything else.”

For a record that was self-produced and home-recorded in the peace and quiet of Norwich, ‘Two’ sounds like the kind of album that was crafted with the bursts of energy characteristic of a live jam. Was the writing process akin to a hedonistic house party, we ask?

“No, it’s not like that at all! Sorry to ruin it for you,” says Uzor. “We’re actually pretty antisocial when it comes down to writing the music. It’s very separate in that we do it completely on our own. The writing process is done remotely.”

“A fair bit of it, for me, was in between houses,” reflects Cullingford. “I’d split up with my boyfriend and I was living back at my parents’ house, so I was writing quite a lot in my old bedroom.

“It’s a bit backwards to how other bands usually do it,” she continues. “Maria and I kind of produce it, get it nicely mastered and everything, and then go, ‘Right, how are we going to play it live?’. Whereas other bands write together in a room, perfect it live and then record it.”

“Maybe some time we should try that actually,” Uzor chimes in. “With a bit of beer and a bit of wine.”

While the initial writing period may be a solitary pursuit, the pair are clearly on a similar wavelength, and in total agreement about doing what comes naturally.

“We didn’t really discuss what it was going to be like, or have a concept or anything,” says Uzor of ‘Two’. “We know that we’re doing music that you can dance to, and we’re both big fans of the bass, as well.”

“We both like a little bit of darkness too,” adds Cullingford. 

That darkness manifests on their new record in various ways. Across the album, Uzor sings about self-medication, heartbreak, and even problematic neighbours, often set to rousing four/four beats that simultaneously suggest dancing away all cares.

Foreboding drives the aforementioned ‘The Hot House’, which Uzor explains is a song about polarisation in the world and striving for unity in the face of division. It’s a political dance anthem that captures both the hedonistic pleasure and the counterculture spirit of Paradise Garage-era New York.

You can also hear gloominess in the industrial noise that grinds its way through the opening track, the slyly named ‘Sweetness’. Elsewhere, Uzor’s vocals take on the swaggering menace of Grace Jones, and on ‘The Rapture’ there’s a cold croon reminiscent of Bowie in his ‘Low’ era.

“I do love Grace Jones,” agrees Uzor. “A few people have said that, you know. I’ll take that! I can’t really see it myself, but I do love her so yeah, cheers. Bowie and Jones are like my surrogate parents. 

“The lyrics for ‘The Rapture’ were inspired by a book I read called ‘Our Lady Of The Flowers’ by Jean Genet. Incidentally, he is the author David Bowie named ‘The Jean Genie’ after. There’s a bit of a connection there. It’s a good book. I think it was Sartre who called it ‘an epic to masturbation’ or something, which is always a good sign.”

She pauses. 

“I think it was Sartre, I might have got that wrong.”

By now, Cullingford is cackling with laughter. 

“I thought you said Frank Sinatra.”

“God no, I don’t want to put that image in my head.”

Sink Ya Teeth exude an overall air of positivity and good humour that no amount of darkness can dim. We’re talking two days from Britain’s official withdrawal from the EU. Brexit is now an inevitability. Uzor and Cullingford remain optimistic though. 

“Music is quite cathartic in that respect,” notes Cullingford.

“If you give up hope, then there’s nothing else,” affirms Uzor. “You might as well just give up the ghost. You have to keep that positivity within you, otherwise there’s no point.” 

“That whole scene, New York and Chicago in the early 80s, that came out of adversity, didn’t it? That came out of the oppression of blacks and Hispanics and gay people. And look what that created! That was, ‘We’re going to have dance music as we know it’.”

‘Two’ is out now on Hey Buffalo

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