Classic From The Start – July Talk Arrives

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sometimes the thing which makes a story engaging is a combination of the circumstances which helped to shape events and the personalities involved. Under the right circumstances, a perfect mess can just seem perfect; if one looks at Casablanca, for example, viewers can fall in love easily with the story of Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund and their doomed love affair, but what really makes the film a classic is the undercurrent which runs beneath every scene Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Berman share. The interplay between them is what makes the story classic and the experience superb (the glances thrown back and forth, the barbed dialogue) and, listening to Leah Fay tell the story of how she first met her co-singer in July Talk Peter Dreimanis, it's hard not to feel like you're settling in for an epic story. “I first met Peter in a bar in Toronto called Communist Daughter, recalls Fay with warmth and fondness. “When we met, it happened to be the anniversary of the big blackout and they had made the room candle-lit for the night It was toward the end of the night and my friend and I had started singing in a slow waltz and, when Peter heard it, he started hitting two empty bottles together to keep time. At the end of the song, the bottles ended up smashing and the rest is history [chuckling]! That was how we met. We knew we wanted to try and make a band together, so we started working together on songs as an acoustic duo in this dingy rehearsal space. Eventually, we decided that we wanted a fuller sound so, first, we got someone playing lap steel guitar, and then we decided we needed drums, and we became a rock band.”

That's the story of July Talk's past, but their present is even more exciting. Shortly after cementing their lineup [which consists of Dreimanis on vocals and guitar, Fay on vocals, guitarist Ian Docherty, bassist Josh Warburton and drummer Danny Miles –ed], the group began working in earnest on new songs and picking up shows where they were able, and quickly made a name for themselves on the Toronto scene for both their sound and theatrical bent on stage. “We don't really talk about it or try and lay the songs out in terms of theater, but I can understand how listeners would get the idea of a certain amount of drama and theater being in the music,” says Fay introspectively. “I mean, I went to school for contemporary dance and got really into performance art while I was there, so I know that plays a bit of a role in what I try to present on stage, and theater had always been an interest for me; it has been a tool that I use when I'm singing my parts in the song – not so much finding characters, but just putting myself in a state where I feel like I could give my most honest performance. Part of it helps me get into what I'm doing and where I hope to take a performance; like how I hold the microphone or screaming right before I do a take, or holding a cigarette or drinking a shot of whiskey right beforehand. In that way, a lot of the way it sounds has to do with the image I have in mind – you know? I don't know if we actively try to shape the band or our sound around those ideas – Peter and I don't talk about it in those terms – but that is definitely in us; Peter is a very dramatic and passionate person and, because of his other job as a cameraman and the fact that I've done dance and performance art, I'm sure some of those aspects of our personalities filter into the music, but it's not something we actively try to include, it's just there. As I say that though, I can also say that, in order to get the same sort of feel that we have on stage on our record, I did a lot of the exact same things in the studio to try and get a similar result as I do on stage.”

In listening to the record, there's no question that Fay really poured herself into the sessions which ultimately produced July Talk's self-titled debut and both she and the rest of the band have achieved something remarkable in the result. One listen will have any listener beaming that the experience of July Talk is profound; it's shocking and fantastic and violent and inspiring and, when it comes, those who are stricken by it will find themselves just left gazing, starry-eyed – because there is just no other way to respond at first. A series of moments like that begins when, after seething out a guitar figure that just bleeds passion and introducing himself with images of both living and loving fast and walking the line which sees some dying young, Peter Dreimanis growls out the words “I'm not asking for your love, I'm just askin' what your love is gonna take” in a tone steeped in whiskey and gravel before stuttering ecstatically into an explosive and orgiastic boogie woogie nightmare. It's a phenomenal performance (the sort you're never the same after experiencing) and, just in case you missed it, listeners are hit again right away with Fay's sweet, “straight outta wartime” voice, style and demeanor which both compliments and contrasts Dreimanis' scorched throat. The result is like the duets Tom Waits did with Crystal Gayle thirty years ago or the ones Johnny Cash did with June Carter before that – but made even better and more exciting by the fact that it would be impossible to mistake this sound for anything other than brand new; July Talk is a rockabilly-infused, soul-soaked, post-punk creature all its own which hits listeners hopped up on a healthy dose of pop for good measure. “I'm really happy with how the record turned out, but there was some process in getting everything up to where it is,” says Fay, as she remembers the process and work which ultimately went into July Talk. “At first, I think we sounded a lot different than we do now. We started recording some demos in a studio last October, but we didn't actually begin working on the record until January or February of this year – and it's been done since May. It was only after we got it all done and I listened back to it after we finished the record that I realized how much we've changed  since we started! The first show we ever played was in Montreal and we had a totally different vibe about us. When we started, I think we were a lot more reminiscent of Alberta country music; Peter is from Alberta so that may have had a bit to do with it, but we also had a lapsteel in the band and a lot of the songs had a different kind of swing to them. I mean, it has always been high energy and sort of gritty, raunchy music, but I think the album has taken a bit of a step away from that. We've always thought of the album as a collection of songs that we wrote more than a focused individual record; something to introduce ourselves and get things started. People have really responded positively to it though, so we're really excited that people seem to be interested in coming along with us for the ride. I'd like to test that and get out for some longer tours and I know Peter has said that he really wants to try writing some more on the road so we'll see what happens in that regard; everything's really exciting for us right now, so we all want to make as much of it as we can.”


Further Reading:
Ground Control Magazine
July Talk – s/t [Album review]

July Talk's self-titled debut is available now as a Canadian import. Buy it here on Amazon .

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