Talking Live Music and the Tragedies of the Postmodern with July Talk

While Atari Teenage Riot and Refused share the title for the most impressively progressive live acts of the 1990s and the live music champions of the first decade of...

While Atari Teenage Riot and Refused share the title for the most impressively progressive live acts of the 1990s and the live music champions of the first decade of the 21st century would be The Sounds and The Ting Tings, the most impressive live shows of our current decade would seem to come courtesy of ultra-heady dance punks YACHT and ultra-scruffy blues rockers July Talk.  And while PHILTHY MAG has introduced itself to and familiarized itself with the former five acts, this is our first round with July Talk, who will be headlining Boot & Saddle this Wednesday, February 15th, and who we (okay, I) first encountered strolling into the First Unitarian Church mid-way through their set opening for The Rural Alberta Advantage in November of 2014.  They had the sexy garage swagger of The Kills, but with a lust for life more reminiscent of… Lust For Life.  They embraced the communal, not only between each other, but between themselves and the audience… and in a way that was far more gloriously rambunctious than we generally think of things characterized as “communal.”

The Toronto band, fronted by Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay, released their self-titled debut in 2012 and has since toured well over a dozen times, become a mainstream, major radio success in Canada (selling out mega-rooms, going platinum, and winning a Juno), and earned a plethora of loyal music aficionado, barroom-dwelling followers in America.  Last September July Talk released their sophomore effort, Touch, which sees the band getting even more brash, both in their delivery and subject matter, confronting the pretty postmodern poisons of pop culture much in the same manner as ATR and Refused were famous for, although sonically more along the lines of something that should be opening for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.  The band was also handpicked by Catfish and the Bottlemen to open their recent UK arena tour (leading them to reschedule their current US dates from last November).  Last week I got a chance to chat with Peter Dreimanis about Touch and the last six months of July Talk, in addition to what they have planned for 2017.

Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, I have to ask your thoughts on the city.  Any particular favorite experiences?  You’ve played here a handful of times now.  Your show with The Rural Alberta Advantage a few years back at the Church definitely left a lasting impression on me.

Peter Dreimanis: We love Philly! We can’t wait to get back to the Boot & Saddle and do our very best to tear the roof off of it. One of my favorite Philly hangouts is Pho 75 on Washington. I love Vietnamese food, and there is something incredibly cinematic about this place. They only serve pho (Their menu is brilliantly minimal.) and it has this giant, fluorescent cafeteria vibe like somewhere Tyler Durden would go for a self-help focus group in Fight Club or something. The food is incredible and I look forward to it every time I come through.

That show with The RAA was really special, there was a real sense of the legacy of the space in the basement of that church. If I remember correctly, they were about to stop doing shows there after years of touring bands coming through. That made the show feel sacred in a way, and I think both bands really felt that we had to etch ourselves into the walls a bit.

Izzy: What is it that you think most influences your live show?  You’re definitely one of the best live bands on the planet at the moment.

Peter: Leah and I are comfortable with one another. There is a deep seeded trust that exists between us that comes from years of 24/7 time together on the road. Because we’ve always been really physical performers, we constantly interact on stage and there’s nothing strange to me about licking Leah’s face in the middle of a song or her covering my eyes as I play or sticking her shoe in my mouth because that comfort level is so high. It’s a blast because it feels like we can construct narratives that run through the set by performing these bizarre actions. They can grow into stories, each of which is perceived completely differently by each member of the audience. What influences the show? The biggest influence is probably the baggage we carry as we step on stage. Did we get stuck behind an accident on the highway and rush into the venue just before the crowd? Did we laugh our faces off over children’s cartoons in the hotel room all day? Did we drink too many whiskeys in the green room? Are we nursing a road injury or sickness? Did we scream at each other in the van that day? We play over 150 shows a year, and each of these factors has an ability to control the tone of our interaction on stage each night. That doesn’t mean that we’re inconsistent, but every show is definitely different.

Izzy: Are there any performers that you’re especially fond of?

Peter: It’s funny, the best thing about watching your favorite performers can actually be the anticipation going into it. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Iggy Pop a few times, his performance style is absolute legend to me, and I get so excited in the moments before the show that it can be hard to tell whether I am reacting to the intention and motive behind his specific physical movements when he finally hits the stage, or if I’m responding to the mind-altering fact that I’m actually sharing a space with him at all. The way he moves his body hypnotizes me. It’s as if he is able to thrust all of his ungendered, unaffected, vulnerable sexuality, anger and joy into the audience with every contortion. He spins the crowd on his middle finger like a basketball.

Izzy: What would you consider to be the band’s most significant non-musical influences?  You would kind of seem to have a lot of them.  I’m a humanities professor and I feel like a lot of your music, especially on your latest record, discusses a lot of the same things I discuss in my classes.

Peter: I guess we are influenced by what is happening in the world around us. The first album felt pretty insular. We were writing songs about ourselves, our regrets, our fears, our flaws, our anger, our love… To put it simply, we were singing to each other, about each other. When we moved on to the second record, we began to look outward together and speak about our impressions of the world. For better or for worse, we began discussing a sort of lonely nihilistic vision of a world that relied more heavily than ever on honest human connection and touch, but didn’t seem to realize it, and instead continued to ignore that need by putting more and more focus on self-centered progress that seemed to be driving us further and further apart. The worst part about it was that we felt like we were dead smack in the middle of the problem. We would discuss things spanning from the systematic inequality displayed in television shows like The Wire to the dystopian terror imagined in the British version of Black Mirror and draw ideas for songs and videos from influences like that. For the final title track of the album, we tried to be honest about the necessity of human touch and connection while acknowledging the sacred, fragile nature of it as well.

Izzy: I’m a big fan of your music videos, especially “Push + Pull” and “Picturing Love.”  What is it that influences the visual elements of ‪July Talk?  Are there any filmmakers or visual artists of whom you’re especially big fans?

Peter: Absolutely, with the amount of insane visual content coming out right now, it’s not hard to get inspired. Sitting down and watching Beyonce’s newest visual album, Lemonade, left us itching to get to work on the videos for this record. We collaborate a lot with a director named Jared Raab, who is one of our best (and most talented) friends and spends a lot of time with us on the road. He directed “Picturing Love” and co-directed “Beck + Call,” as well as directing the road diary series called “From The Road.” There is nothing more fun than sitting in the van as we blast down the highway brainstorming a video idea with Jared. It’s almost as if the conversation picks up momentum as it goes, our excitement growing exponentially with every word, the idea forming gradually within the chaos of our conversation. We constantly draw from the greats (Jonze, Gondry, Daughters, Gavras, Cunningham) but also from the wealth of videos for other bands we worked with Jared on before we started July Talk. With him, we are always trying to take it far further than the line where the expectations lie. It is such a blast to have a relationship like that where we are always pushing each other.

There are a number of fantastic directors working in Canada such as Emily Kai Bock (Arcade Fire, Grimes, Grizzly Bear), Nadia Tan (dir. “Push + Pull”), Scott Cudmore (Spoon, Alt J, Timber Timbre). I think the filmmaking scene in Montreal and Toronto in particular has provided such an incredible community for these artists to grow through government funding and collaboration, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Izzy: Touch has been out for close to half a year now.  Have there been any personal highlights of the band since then?

Peter: It’s been a hell of a ride. We’ve travelled to Europe twice, through the States twice and through Canada once, all since September of 2016. I think the personal highlight for me was to have a chance to tour with Catfish and the Bottlemen in the UK. We met them at Austin City Limits Festival in Texas and they offered us the opening slot on their sold out arena tour. It felt incredible to play the songs from Touch in such epic environments as London’s Wembley Arena and Dublin’s Historic Olympia Theater. I also just felt like we were lucky to meet them, because we share a similar outlook on rock + roll, and it felt like we really found some allies in an industry that can often feel like a shark tank.

I think I also just learned so much over the last six months. It has been so liberating to get the second record out there and feel like we can move forward. I don’t think I would have told you that I felt pressure to knock the second record out of the park at the time we were writing it, but now that it is released, I can recognize the weight that was on our shoulders before we released Touch.

Izzy: Finally, what are you most excited about in 2017?  You have a ton of really big shows coming up throughout the first half of the year.  Any plans to work on new music in that time as well?

Peter: Absolutely. We’re taking the first half of April off to put together a bunch of ideas that arose on the road over the last six months in a secluded cabin outside Toronto. Danny and I gave up our apartment last August and have been living on the road since. I’m planning to continue that lifestyle through 2017, staying at Air BnB’s around the world between festivals and tours to write and explore. I’m very conscious of the fact that the majority of the material that I wrote for Touch was written in my home in Toronto, which was fine at the time, but I think it also lead me to write through a lens where I was playing pretty central role in my own existence. The more I travel and write in areas that feel unfamiliar, I more I feel insignificant to my surroundings. This makes writing a far more fun, grounded and balanced experience for me, so I’m excited for that.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.