It’s not every day you encounter a band like July Talk. A band that’s as visually striking as it is musically intriguing…one that simultaneously makes you wish you were around for the days of Johnny and June and cling to everything good about the indie rock scene. One that’s so hard to categorize it’s best to just listen and not even try.
So when it does happen, you appreciate it.
If you haven’t yet been introduced to the gruff vocals of Peter Dreimanis, balanced by the sweet lilt of Leah Fay, you likely will soon. Along with their fellow bandmates Ian Docherty, Josh Warburton and Danny Miles, July Talk is a Toronto fivesome quickly garnering attention, not only for their powerful self-titled debut album but also for their ability to put on one hell of a live show.
Having spent the past year playing alongside such artists as Billy Talent, Sam Roberts and Arkells, July Talk opened for Frank Turner at Toronto’s Sound Academy last week. I sat down with Peter and Leah before the show to chat about their origins and the growth the band has seen since.
“It took a little while,” recalls Dreimanis, who first heard Fay’s voice in a Toronto bar and, blown away by what he heard, set off to find her. “There were probably quite a few months of just getting together weekly and talking about what we were doing. I was kind of going through a bit of a harsh time…so I think that by the time I came around, the one thing that was really solid in my life were these meetings that I was having with Leah and another friend of ours, Ian…it all ended up turning into this band. And I think that watching our lives develop since then, it comes out of a blind faith that we all had – that ‘this is really something I should give the time of day to, this is something that I think we can make really good’. And so we just worked away at it since.”
“Peter was kind of like a breath of fresh air to me too when I met him,” says Fay. “He was from Alberta and just came from a different musical background. He moved to Toronto very young and had success in a lot of projects…he was a filmmaker, making music videos and playing in a lot of different bands. There was just an honesty and a sincerity with him – so that although maybe every inch of my body was screaming, ‘Don’t trust this person’, there was just something about the way that he was very devoted to the project that it was like ‘I’m in good hands’. I knew I could trust him.”
Described as “conversations”, the band’s songs are a collaborative effort put forth by all members.
“All five of us write our songs together,” says Dreimanis. “I think the songwriting process has developed a lot and we’re starting to get to something where we feel really comfortable and that we might be able to repeat. Because until now it’s been in a constant state of change…but all five of us write together in terms of the actual music and structure of the songs. And then Leah and I work together on the lyrics.
“The thing that you realize is that collaboration is slower than ‘autocracy’, you could call it,” he continues. “And it’s the same thing with a political situation as it is with a band…if you want to write a song yourself and lay everything out and get a whole bunch of people to play it…yeah, you can go and do that and you can do it in ten minutes. Writing a song with a band is much more accountable. Every lyric that I sing has to match, has to be completely explained. Every guitar line that Ian plays has to be completely explained. And you come out with this immensely intricate song. And we can be working on a song for like seven months. Which is awesome; frustrating and absolutely essential to our process.”
July Talk’s self-titled debut was originally released in October 2012, but the band just issued a re-release of the album this past October 15 with four additional songs: Headsick, Summer Dress, My Neck and Black Lace. The decision came out of a need to finish something they weren’t quite done with yet.
“I think that when we first dropped the album…it was a bunch of songs,” explains Dreimanis. “And it was the beginning of our band. We started recording it right after we joined; it wasn’t even after we toured. So for us to go on the road for a year after recording and play those songs...they became something totally different. And we really felt like we could push on and create a next album, but didn’t feel like we were done introducing ourselves to these people. So it felt like this perfect medium…we’re going to take this album that we’re proud of for sure, but add to it, add to the conversation, add to that introduction, so that people have a chance to listen to it and get to know us. And by the time we go on to Album 2, we’ll feel like there’s a bit more leeway for us to evolve and develop into something new. Whereas right now I think we just want to keep on the road and see how organically we can grow.”
The live performances themselves are becoming something of legend. Whether it’s the use of water or fake blood or a feather cannon, the audience is always in for something unique, besides the energy the band brings to the stage.
“We have kind of a pocketful of tricks,” says Fay, “where if I feel I’m losing contact with an audience I know I can always pour water over my head or I can scream or lie down on the floor. I can go out and lie on the crowd or just really intensely make eye contact with someone for a very long time…Peter will maybe scream at the audience or hit himself in the face…and those are just things that we always have that are like a way of hitting refresh.”
“And you need to do it, just to keep yourself present,” adds Dreimanis. “You can lose that composure and it’s scary. A lot of comedians talk about it with standup comedy – if you lose that rhythm, you can go to a really dark place. I’ve been to that place, musically I think to an extent, and it’s tough. And so those actions, they really kind of help to keep me feeling like I’m me, you know? And I’m able to keep myself grounded in that immense amount of chaos. Because if I’m not feeling chaotic, then it can take me to a pretty dark spot.
“Golden, BC, for instance, last tour, was such an unexpected show,” he continues. “It was one of my favourite shows of the year. We thought there were going to be 5 people and there were like 100…and it was a drunken mess, it was so fun. That’s what I’m striving for, is to find those unexpected experiences. That kind of barn-burning attitude that we can bring into a room is taken with surprise and it feels organic and it feels real and it feels honest, you know?”
“We told the audience that our lead singer had left and that I was our replacement who had just got there,” says Fay. “And then realized, ‘We’ve never been to Golden, BC, these people might actually believe it!’”
As for their success to date, Dreimanis and Fay could not be more humble.
“This isn’t a science,” he says. “It’s been totally luck and we’ve been allowed on a lot of tours with bigger bands that have seen our show and decided that they wanted to take us out on tour. We’ve just been so lucky with who has supported us.
“The only thing that I think we did that really helped the band grow is we tried to keep things feeling really cohesive. Anything that we put out, be it a video, a photo, a song, an album, any artwork, any show…it feels like a July Talk show. I think that it’s really important to us that a body of work be judged as a whole and so everything that we put into the world, we really check it twice. The exciting part comes when you have time to look back and it’s grown so fast. We couldn’t ask for anything that we’re getting now and I think that by now it’s all just icing, right?”