The Toronto native indie rock group, July Talk has released a brand new album following the release of their self-titled debut record in 2012.
Last year, the band won the Juno award for Alternative Album of the year for their first album, titled July Talk.
July Talk’s Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay took time out of their tour schedule to chat with the Times to discuss themes in music and differences between their first and second albums in anticipation of their performance in the Commons Theatre on Oct. 31.
Times: You played in Ottawa at the Dragon Boat festival before going on to the European tour. What is the atmosphere like for European shows compared to Canadian shows?
Dreimanis: I mean it varies a lot, it really changes. And it is changing a lot right now because this is the first time we’ve put out a record that is coming out in all the other places at the right time. The first record kind of came out in a really delayed, weird way where it came out a couple years after in the states then it would come out a couple years later in Germany or wherever and now Touch came out the same day all over the world. Everything’s a little bit better now and a little bit more coordinated, so in Europe, in Germany in particular it was really, really fun to play there, we love playing there. The UK is great, London is so much fun. It’s all really great, but as you can imagine just like the places, the people are very different as well. So you can really sense the difference as you play and maybe certain areas are super rowdy and crazy and people will be crowd surfing and jumping all over the place and all over each other. Other places are much more of a listening atmosphere where it’s much quieter. It’s really interesting to try and adjust as a musician and play the right show for the right room.
Fay: We really want to play in Japan. We’ve heard Japanese audiences are really, really quiet and then when the song ends they cheer like crazy and then they get really quiet again.
D: It’s really polite.
F: We’ve never been there, hopefully we’ll go there soon.
T: Why do you play Ottawa so often?
F: Because we love Ottawa
D: Yeah, to be honest with you, I think that when we started the band it was kind of our favourite Canadian city to play. It was so close to Toronto. I think a lot of Toronto bands would say that the crowds are some of the best. It’s kind of like the first place you go on tour from Toronto to. And I think Ottawa Bluesfest was the first festival to ever put us on the bill and y’know we kind of have traditions when we go there. Traditions of going to certain bars and certain places that we love. I think when you start a tradition with a city as a band you kind of get to cater to those patterns and really enjoy the city for that reason. There’s also a lot of good music from Ottawa. I kind of over the last five 10 years have played with so many awesome Ottawa bands like Poorfolk and Winchester Warm and a ton of people it’s a really special place.
T: What traditions do you have before going on stage?
F: We drink each other’s blood!
D: We drink each other’s saliva. Really peps us up, gets us ready to rock. No, I mean there’s always like a sip of whiskey and stuff but we try not to get to into those superstitions because I think sometimes they can throw you for a loop, maybe, I don’t know.
F: There’s certain songs that we avoid during sound check and will never play. And another thing we don’t do. We never play Headsick because every time we play it during sound check we play a really bad show and another thing we don’t do is have group hugs before shows. We’ve tried that before and it usually results in a bad show. So we save group hugs for after the show.
T: How do you keep writing songs interesting?
F: I don’t think that it’s something that ever really gets boring. Because to say that it would no longer be interesting would mean that you’re kind of no longer thinking and feeling and perceiving. I think that the ways in which songs come about differ so much too from song to song. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and you’ve had a crazy dream and all of a sudden you’ve written a whole song and you forget about it for two weeks and then you find it. Sometimes you’re drunk and strumming a guitar and you record something. Other times you’re trying to make a pointed statement and it’s something you’ve done research on and you’re thinking about it a lot. We write all together usually and that keeps it interesting as well because you kind of always have, and sometimes it’s annoying, but you kind of have the filter of five other people to go through in order for a song to come in to fruition
D: It’s also a huge thing about being in the band, you’re not necessarily the one that is usually bringing up let’s go write a song. Usually one of us is working on something and you go to the other people for opinions and that kind of spins it into another thing or whatever. You kind of have each other to inspire you when you hit a writer’s block or when you feel like you don’t really know what to write about. Usually one of us is up to something or has an idea, and it can push the others into thinking about that idea.
T: Do you have a specific place where you do a lot of the song writing?
D: Yeah, I mean, what’s kind of a funny thing is that when you’re growing up you see these incredible photos and footage of grant parsons or whatever the rolling stones or someone backstage and writing these songs. But to be honest on the road when you’re touring there’s not enough privacy, there’s not enough time, and there’s not really enough–I think privacy is the best word for it–to really work on songs together. It’s not like you get to really play through stuff at sound check really comfortably. Any time you really want to do so somethings wrong with the gear or something goes wrong. You don’t really ever get a chance to play through stuff with the band on the road. And so what we realized is, and it can be very frustrating to me but, you kind of realize that you have to book time where you just do like a week in like a secluded cabin or like even in Toronto but just in a studio where we are just booking time to go through all of these ideas. So while you’re on the road, writing becomes very much an individual battle where you are going through your own ideas and sort of making lists of stuff that you want to go through and then we kind of find time that we can go away, we want to go to Joshua tree really bad to go do this, but we’ve done it outside of Ottawa in Burnstown near Perth. We’ve done a bunch of different times, so I think that that’s something we’ve learned a lot. You need to give yourself that space and time to really look at each other and say “okay this is my idea, what do you think, here we go” and we hash everything out. And when you’re on the road you kind of just have to find your own little moment of quiet to work on your own stuff.
T: Where do you get inspiration for your songs?
F: I think that every song is different, like we said, sometimes they just come out of nowhere. They come from staring out a van window, sometimes they come from dreams sometimes they come from conversations. Sometimes, I think probably more times than not, they come from some sort of feeling. Whether it’s you have a fight with someone or you realize your view is different from other people and you write about it. You want to express yourself
T: Why is there such a strong focus on conversation/relationships?
F: Well it’s pretty easy because we have two voices, and I think at the beginning we really liked to use the fact that we have two voices to express different views and I think on the new album they’re kind of more about not making that the emphasis of everything we do and more just focusing on the fact that we’re two humans with our two voices and with the five of us and all of our ideas we can make songs that nobody else can in our one little specific July Talk way.
T: What themes did you want to bring through in the new album?
D: yea it kind of happened pretty naturally. We tried to analyse what our band meant to us and what we thought our band might mean to people that loved it and came to shows. We kept on coming back to things like vulnerability and things like this, humanness. The idea of really being the imperfect, vulnerable, mess of a human being. And so I think we were really trying to focus on that. We were trying to focus on humanness and things that kind of come in between us and each other. We had a focus on what makes us human and what connects us and what pushes us apart and our sort of anger for things that push us apart. I think generally, as a songwriter you gravitate towards anger a lot, or at least I do. I think there’s a real feeling. It’s easier to write about things that really piss you off. So when we tried to make an album about human connection and touch what we also ended up doing was organizing a bunch of stuff that we felt make us less human and less interesting and less imperfect and vulnerable.
T: I noticed that there are some darker tones in the first album with songs like My Neck. Do you have any personal connection with these and how did you push through it?
D: I mean, the first album was a little bit different because we were in our early 20’s and we were in a tornado of angst and depression and overindulgence. There is a certain amount of darkness that comes with that time in your life because you allow yourself to be the center of the cosmos. You think that the whole world kind of revolves around you. And I think that that pain that was felt on songs like the garden or my neck is very real, there’s nothing easy about it, but it’s a very singular and unique place to write songs from because all of a sudden we had this platform to put pain onto and ideally have other people that are going to hear about it. I think there was a lot of anger in my neck in particular towards friends that we’d lost to depression and really wanting those people to have the option when they are feeling such sadness to reach out and talk about it rather than hurt themselves. We had been through quite a few scenarios where that friend had got mad and that was really scary for us and I think that alcohol and drugs in that age group had a huge… It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire. So when you are experiencing that kind of darkness or you are within that sort of depression you’re sort of just pouring gasoline onto the flames and sometimes that can really end up leaving you in a state of mind where you feel like hurting yourself can be the right idea.
F: I think that creation is the best way to battle that darkness and I think what a lot of what; I say you know that probably 50 per cent of the populace think that just managing is darkness because that’s the society we live in and the world we live in because there are just as many dark memories as there are for our happy memories. I think you are kind of fooling yourself if you’re not admitting that to yourself. For whatever reason, everybody experiences pain and suffering and darkness differently and in the depths of it you can wake up, breathe in and out, remember to nourish your body and go outside or something like that I’d say you’re not too far off from being able to write a song about how you’ve been feeling or paint a picture or have a conversation with someone and try to work through it with that.
T: Why was this year a good time to release a new album?
D: I think it just happened that way. We had wanted to put it out in the spring, because we thought it was going to be ready, but in the end I think we all felt really lucky to have the extra six months to finish it and get all the videos ready and all that kind of stuff. It had been a long time since we made the first record but, nobody really tells you this when you start a band but there’s not really any rules on how quick you have to put out your second record. I think a lot of bands kind of get forced into putting it out to song and being forced into doing it before they’re ready. We were lucky, because of the success of the album outside of Canada, we just sort of had the time to write it, which we all felt really lucky about. I think 2016 was the right year for us to put out a second record because it was about god-damn time.
T: Was it easier recording the second album? Were there still challenges?
D: Easier than the first one? I don’t know man. I was such a different person when we did the first one and we were just happy to be making a record at all. Really didn’t think anyone was going to hear it. So that record was really, really fun to make because there was no weight on it or anything but we also had no idea what we were doing and there’s a lot of the record that I don’t like. We wanted to make a new one that was really easy, and moved really fluidly, but there was also so much more weight on it and we really wanted to make something that we felt could add or contribute to the world in a unique and new way.
F: The other thing is that I think that in 2016 the quality and the quantity of the music that’s being made is just at such a higher level. The standards are higher, the stakes are higher. Anyone can make an album in their basement and release it and have their songs blow up on blogs or on iTunes or whatever. And the other side of the is you have people on The Voice covering famous songs that were written by 12 people in some room in LA and those songs are also the top selling, playing on iTunes or whatever. So you have those completely opposite sides of that where there’s a machine that’s making music, there’s also people taking back ownership over that creativity and making really, really, really, brilliant stuff and not needing to rely on multi-million dollar production. People can make what they want to make and I think that it’s a good thing because it just pushes the quality of the work that everyone’s making to be better and better.
T: What is the biggest difference between the first album and the latest one?
F: We recorded it to tape, so I think it sounds warmer. There’s kind of an emphasis on trying to create the live sound on this album, and the energy of the live show that we didn’t really think about or know was going to be important with the first album. I think that it just kind of breathes and it has a heartbeat and it functions the way a human body functions as oppose to something more glossy and to a click and overproduced. Not that our first album was overproduced, I think that it’s a really great rock and roll album, but I think that this one is just a little bit more human.
T: How is the live show different from the recorded performance?
F: It’s just live, real time moments. It’s like the difference between watching the recording of a theatre piece and being there in the room, I think it just has everything to do with energy. You can only put so much kinetic energy into a record because at the end of the day you are still just recording a moment in time that is going to be played and it’s going to sound the exact same every time someone hears it. When we play live we are pushing ourselves and we’re pushing the audience and we’re constantly trying to break open the songs and the sounds and ourselves and figure out what else can be there to put on display and if anything good can come of it.
D: I think that there’s also a… You have no reference on a live show. When you’re playing a live show you are putting as much energy and as much of yourself as you possibly can spare into every song and with a record I think that it’s like the musicians core soul, or whole career, or point of doing it all is to really capture something on record that feels like them. That’s a lot harder to do because at every step of the process you’re analysing what you’re hearing and changing it. With a live show it’s happening so quickly and you’re not thinking about anything; you’re not overthinking it. I think with our band there’s a huge difference between the way we play live, and we’re not simply trying to replicate what’s on the record, we’re just throwing ourselves and our bodies at the wall and seeing what sticks.
T: Why did you decide to film the music video monochromatically?
D: We decided to do them all in black and white in the beginning cause Josh and I had been in film school together and had made a bunch of music videos together and we really liked the idea of doing something that sets our music apart, or set our videos apart and make it seem like only July Talk could have made this video or it could only be for July Talk. I think also we were really afraid, as I think a lot of artists are of their music videos feeling dated, so in a few years have people watch them and make them feel like they are totally obsolete. To do them all in black and white allowed us to feel like we were creating a body of work that could survive beyond our little bubble that we are living in right now. Maybe in 10 years when they watch they can still be taken seriously.
T: At Algonquin, we have a music industry arts program. Do you have any advice for students looking to make it into the music industry?
F: We always kind of say that the thing to find out what makes you weird and interesting and vulnerable and put that forward because no one wants to watch something that’s been done hundreds of thousands of times and no one wants to listen to something that is replicating something that already exists. Aside from that, try not to work with people you hate.
D: I think what Leah is talking about there is more from the artist’s perspective, but I think that no matter what you’re doing I think you just have to be ready to work 24 hours a day and not really focus on your time off. I think the sooner you recognize that your work is playing and that there’s no part of your life that shouldn’t really be relating to what you’re doing professionally, I think the faster you will have success in the music industry.
T: Why is the band called July Talk?
F: The band is called July Talk because the song The Garden used to be called July Talk and then we didn’t have a band name and we thought that was a pretty good band name.
A condensed version of this interview appeared in the October 27 print issue of the Algonquin Times.