Indie Rock Act July Talk Adopts a More Visceral Sound on Its New Album

Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay, the two singers who front the Canadian punk/alternative act July Talk, have more than music in common. They share a perspective about activism and self-motivation.

So what do they think about the rise of xenophobia in the world and the political meltdown taking place in the U.S.?

“It feels like its chaos right now,” says Dreimanis in a recent phone interview from a Phoenix tour stop. The band performs at the Grog Shop on Feb. 18. “Everything is in flux. I think the United States has been led by collaboration for decades, and I hope there’s room for that to happen in an inclusive way. I don’t think there needs to be division and picking and choosing who needs to come to a country. I think we should remember that we’re all refugees.”

The politically astute Dreimanis and Fay met a few years ago just as Dreimanis, who had been playing in another band, came from a European tour. He walked into a bar and Fay, whom he had never met before, was sitting in the back corner. She had a bicycle helmet on and was covered with face paint. She also had a guitar. He listened to her play and joined her to play a song the band would end up turning into “The Garden.”

When the two decided to form July Talk, they immediately knew they had no interest in being a “folk Simon-and-Garfunkel-type of duo.” Rather, they wanted to have a rock ’n’ roll band that was “loud and dynamic and something like Crazy Horse.”

Bassist Josh Warburton, who owned a film company, joined the band along with drummer Danny Miles. When they first had band practices, they did some covers, but they purposely didn't play songs that were duets. Rather, they played songs that were sung by one person. They did Leonard Cohen's "If It Be Your Will," an Antony and the Johnsons’ song and “Bernadette” by the Four Tops, all emotionally charged male songs.

“I guess we just did that because in terms of playing with each other, there weren’t the amount of songs that are sung by two people,” says Fay. “There’s some cutesy duet stuff, but the lack of duets probably helped to inform a lot of the way we wrote and the way we ended up sounding just because we have such different ranges. It was an enlightening process.”

The band cut its debut in a mere six months. That album, a mix of garage rock and blues, alternates between noisy numbers such as the aforementioned “The Garden” and retro-leaning pop. The two singers trade off vocals, creating a rather stark contrast between their voices.

The music has been described as garage blues, but Dreimanis says the band’s style has changed over the years. He says everyone in the band loves the Rolling Stones and anything with personality. They connect to people like punk singer Iggy Pop and punk poet Patti Smith.

“It’s so funny,” says Dreimanis. “I love the Stooges to death, but I’m more influenced by [Iggy Pop’s] actions and the physicality of the music. With the loss of the great David Bowie, I think everyone was influenced by that. On a musical level, he influenced so many things and produced Iggy Pop and Lou Reed and made these records that created the rock 'n’ roll that would influence bands like the Strokes and Kings of Leon.”

Fay says she thinks of her musical influences in a similar manner.

“Growing up, I liked music that was written by musicians who felt they could change the world,” she says. “I like that sincerity and that got to me in a naïve and idealistic way. I think music does have that power for people like Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson and Salt-N-Peppa. That expanded my world view. Now, I look to people who write from a perspective that is very political like  Father John Misty. He had an influence on the way we wrote the second album.”

When it came time to record the follow-up to their self-titled debut, the band decided to experiment more.

“We didn’t have any mandate,” says Fay. “It came from experimentation. All five of us worked things out and then threw things out. I guess we feel a specific privilege beause we can write about gender from two different perspectives.”

The group recruited Ian Davenport, who had worked with the edgy punk group Band of Skulls.

“He’s such a great human being,” Dreimanis says of Davenport. “We had been demoing for a few months before he came to Canada from the UK. He arrived, and we played him everything. He’s such a calming force. He’s concerned with capturing a certain vibe. You perform the songs with no click track, and he waits until you get to this point where you get him moving, and you’re dancing in the control room, and we’re playing from our hips and physically moving our body. That was a huge influence. Though the lyrical content was kind of dark at times, we wanted to make the music move, especially for people who aren’t used to moving. It was special to work with him.”

The album closes with the title track, a somber song that features a bit of piano as a choir joins Dreimanis and Fay.

“'Sex Song' was the working title of that song," Fay says. "It's about a human urge that we all carry with us from cradle to grave. We need human touch and love. It’s a common thread that runs through all of us.”

Dreimanis says the tune typifies the band's approach on the album.

“We started playing that song about four years ago,” he says. “The lyrics have shifted a bit, but it grew into itself in a strange way. We didn’t know what the song was about until we really needed it. As a result, the whole record started to come together as this idea of focusing on human touch. This song developed as a way to show what people are afraid of and making yourself vulnerable. It’s about just standing naked in front of somebody and why we are all so afraid of that. It’s about accepting that reality and restating it to poele and how sacred the vulnerability might be.”

The more immediate approach on Touch means the songs translate particularly well live.

“Our first album was really, really padded," says Dreimanis. "It was cool and sounded huge, but the songs on Touch were played live, and there wasn’t there the tendency to throw everything in the kitchen at them. The songs on Touch make it seem like you could be sitting next to us rather than in some dream world."

July Talk, Mona, Little Junior, 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $12 ADV, $14 DOS,