Former Fish Tank frontman Ed Wetenhall offers a sharp and pithy indie-rock snapshot of reality for a confused and discontent generation
When a series of unfortunate obstacles obscures the path ahead, you can either shy away at the first hurdle or overcome these barriers. For Ed Wetenhall, the courteous and quaint mastermind behind lo-fi indie project Ed The Dog, there was only one option available. Following the dissolution of cult-celebrated Fish Tank in 2016, Wetenhall channeled his inner Darwin Deez to write, perform, record and mix a seismic debut record containing a string of blunt, witty singles packed with tongue-in-cheek attitude.
Born and raised in High Wycombe, Wetenhall’s passion for songwriting was bolstered by a long-held admiration of the Beatles shaping his early musical journey. Studying commercial music, he launched Fish Tank towards the beginning of his journey at Broadstairs University in Kent. Whilst Fish Tank initially garnered a great mass of hype, Wetenhall explains that the process ‘was very, very good fun, but it went as far as it could. We did Fish Tank for the whole of university and for three years after. It felt like it wasn’t going where we wanted it to. We had a bit of hype, but we still had university work. We never had a manger really and by the time we did have management, it was apparent that what we all wanted didn’t align.’
During the final year with Fish Tank, Wetenhall realised that he wanted to pursue ‘something on the side that wasn’t my whole life.’ The sense of constriction of being in a band became too much, and with mutual consent the band split up—appropriately, they did so on a day of global shock and awe. ‘Fish Tank died the night Donald Trump got elected [8 November 2016], and I think the next day was when I started properly working on the Ed The Dog project. Ed The Dog is therefore a product of the Trump era!’ Wetenhall’s newfound freedom had wondrous effects on the creativity of the young musician and, having pitched the prospect of a solo project to his management, he was told to go away and write some material. Little did his management know that he would return in May 2017 with a catalogue of around fifty tracks.
Despite having little experience in production, the complete autonomy of writing alone in his parent’s High Wycombe attic was an intriguing prospect for Wetenhall. With the brief to try and take the project as far as possible, he ‘just grabbed any old idea and ran with it. I never thought of myself as a producer before now, I just recorded [the tracks] as demos and recorded them really haphazardly, but it kind of lends itself to the scrappy sound to be honest.’
It wasn’t until the reemergence of a key influence, Darwin Deez, that Wetenhall was convinced that the solo approach was right for him. ‘Darwin Deez is a massive hero of mine. All his drum samples for example acted as inspiration for me to use drum samples on the album. He wrote an article called “8.5 Reasons Why I Record At Home and You Should, Too,” and I thought actually I could give it a go.’ Wetenhall’s ambitious new project had a rolling creative momentum behind it, and with the help of Charlie Lashmar (Ed The Dog’s future guitarist with an engineering background) the pair refined the mix over the course of a week.
At the beginning of 2018, Wetenhall presented the record to his management who subsequently gave it the green light. However, he says ‘they weren’t as keen to release the record as quickly as I wanted it to be released. The thing that annoyed me about Fish Tank is that we were together for six years and released only about ten tracks. I wanted to beat that in six months with this album.’ Wetenhall’s determination and eagerness paid off, and the gorgeously addictive Shame was released on July 27, 2018, combining an enigmatic DIY fuzz with a bed of warming melodies.
At its core, Shame is about growing up and into yourself, with winding loops tweaked to perfection whilst maintaining a true DIY roughness that comes from his parents’ High Wycombe attic. Thematically, the record explores years spent grappling with anxiety and guilt and contains an impressive deconstruction of his mental state. The title track of the record is a screenshot of Wetenhall’s battle with anxiety, detailing the interactions between him and his psychologist, against a backdrop that includes a scintillating cowbell-dominated percussion groove.
'Nowadays I strive to be as honest as possible about what scares me, what I love, what’s worrying me about the future, to permeate the next few records. ‘I’ve got a lot to write about now and I don’t want to cover it up.'
Wetenhall has a knack for injecting character into the very mundane aspects of life. Yes Men is a frantic and fervent bass heavy single chronicling his meandering experiences with part-time work. Surging with energy yet flowing with discontent, it highlights the ever-familiar battle of enduring a career you despise and wishing for a job of your dreams. Whilst Yes Men offers resentment towards professionalism, Television Era offers an introspection on the coexistence of childhood nostalgia with adult life, highlighting the lyrical yearnings of a hopeless romantic, a quality further seen on A Good Thing; a slower, tragic love ballad embracing the whimsical yet unstable nature of a relationship.
A key difference between Wetenhall’s solo career and his time leading Fish Tank lies within the lyrical motives of the singles. He is incredibly frank when analysing how he has changed lyrically. ‘I spent too long trying to mask my lyrics with Fish Tank and make them as abstract as possible which was a bit insincere, whereas now I’m trying to be a lot more honest with it. I started listening to a lot of Randy Newman, which incidentally taught me to be more frank and honest with other people and also see things from an outsider’s perspective.’ Funny Turns provides a concise insight into an artist at their most vulnerable. Highlighting past flaws, the ability to reflect on past moments with such clarity and honesty is something so rare in the current musical climate that it appears almost a shock when trying to decipher certain lyrics. Against expectations, Wetenhall is at his best when he lets his guard down. ‘Nowadays I strive to be as honest as possible about what scares me, what I love, what’s worrying me about the future, to permeate the next few records,’ he declares. ‘I’ve got a lot to write about now and I don’t want to cover it up.’
'If you restrict yourself from working with certain kinds of musicians or within certain genres, you’re going to miss huge creative opportunities.'
Following the release of Shame, Ed The Dog were invited on tour with Spring King, an enchanting experience for someone used to small venues. The duty of live shows led to Wetenhall assembling a band for the road, something which altered the dynamics of the project. ‘We try to make the live show its own thing and not like the record at all,’ he states. ‘If we can make us sound like a really loud, scrappy band, it would be more impactful than people turning up and having the record played back to them.’ Those who have caught Ed The Dog’s live show will agree on the distinct difference between the record and the show. Little ad-lib guitar sections and lengthened instrumentals twist various tracks from into a new identity. The ability of the band to experiment with their live sound was further enhanced following a sold-out intimate tour with indie heroes Circa Waves.
Wetenhall is immensely positive about what lies ahead. ‘We’ve got a great year ahead of us doing some festivals and with an album to be released,’ he beams. Despite a plethora of festival slots already confirmed for this summer, the band are still striving for more.
As Shame reaches its first birthday this summer, production for a follow-up is well under way. ‘The record is nearly there, we’re picking singles but we’re in charge of our own destiny on this so we’re going to go with whatever works and not worry at the moment,’ says Wetenhall, whose new band has shifted his outlook towards songwriting. Looking to the future, Wetenhall is focused on collaboration. ‘I’d rather be doing something in the style of Gorillaz where we can genre-hop, I’m open to writing songs with anyone. At the end of the day, it’s always about writing great songs. If you restrict yourself from working with certain kinds of musicians or within certain genres, you’re going to miss huge creative opportunities.’
By striving for complete and total honesty, Wetenhall has the world at his feet. The ability to sit back and bounce ideas around a room in the hope that a spark will ignite is a daunting prospect, but a bold success story. Ed The Dog as an experience is one of heartfelt sincerity atop a bed of DIY indie-rock scruff, with a tail-wagging helping of modern cynicism towards the current disjointed age. With a huge 2019 ahead, Ed The Dog look set to reach new heights.