Canadian Rock Act July Talk Makes the Most of a Contrast in Vocal Styles

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click to enlarge Canadian Rock Act July Talk Makes the Most of a Contrast in Vocal Styles
Courtesy of Sleepless Records
The members of the Canadian indie rock act July Talk felt the recent political election was so important, they promised to call and thank any young adult who voted. Turns out, they’ve had to make quite a few calls in the election's wake.

“It’s been pretty fun,” says singer Peter Dreimanis via conference call with band mate Leah Fay. “It makes phone interviews feel very different once you spent a day on the phone talking to strangers. We’ve had a blast doing it. We got a great response. I don’t know what the voter turnout is like in the States but in Canada, it’s really, really low. It’s under 40 percent. We wanted to do something about it.”

While the gimmick got the band a bit of publicity, voting is something the band feels passionately about.

“When you’re young, it’s easy to be apathetic because you feel as though you’re being alienated,” says Fay. “It’s hard to see yourself represented by the type of people running the country and all of North America. It’s hard to be like, ‘These people care about what I have to say and what I think.’ The first time I voted was because Puff Daddy said if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. I think at the time, there was an American election going on at the same time as the Canadian election.

The push to get young people to vote suggests that Dreimanis and Fay have more than music in common. They seem to really share a perspective about activism and self-motivation.

Initially, the two met cute, as they like to say in Hollywood. Dreimanis had been playing in another band that was coming home from a European tour. It had just imploded when we came home. 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,” he recalls. “She also had a guitar. To make a long story short, I listened to her play and I played a song we ended up turning into ‘The Garden.’ She took off, and I had to track her down. Once I did, she agreed to play some music and try some stuff. Right off the bat, we knew he had no interest in being a folk Simon-and-Garfunkel-type of duo. We wanted to have a rock ’n’ roll band that was loud and dynamic and something like Crazy Horse. [Bassist] Josh [Warburton] came through. He owned a film company. He is an incredible songwriter and musician. [Drummer] Danny [Miles] came over from the other band and it was a quick thing. We were into making an album in six months. It really wasn’t long. It was baptism by fire.”

The resulting self-titled album, a mix of garage rock and blues that alternates between noisy numbers such as the aforementioned “The Garden” and retro-leaning pop, came out three years ago in Canada. It’s just been reissued with a few additional songs here in the states. On it, the two singers trade off vocals, creating a rather stark contrast between their voices.

“The first day you sit down with this person and you’re playing through a song that was written by one voice,” says Dreimanis. “You change it around slightly and the lines mean something completely different. They hold so much conflict just because two people are singing them to each other. You can do that to any popular song. Quickly, that novelty grew into a bit of an obsession between the two of us and between the whole band. You can imagine writing for this band is so much fun. All the dynamics on the musical level have to match the conflict within the vocal conversation. It’s this Pandora’s Box once you open it.”

Fay says that they didn’t want to “create Johnny and June or these traditional duets.”

“When we first had band practices, we did some covers and they were never duet covers,” she says. “They were songs that were sung by one person. We did a Leonard Cohen ‘If It Be Your Will’ and an Antony and the Johnsons’ song and ‘Bernadette’ by the Four Tops. They’re all emotionally charged male songs. They’re not typical songs you would see two voices in.”

“When we started singing together, it was clear there was this harsh divide and everything we sing would come through that lens,” says Dreimanis. “We fought against that a bit. We don’t want there to be a pattern. With some of the newer material, we hit the nail on the head. Now, we’re writing new songs for our second album and we’re far closer to creating a well-balanced picture of what’s in our minds. That all came with the learning experience of doing it and doing it and seeing people’s faces. Sometimes, people see our shows and think we’re fighting and physically angry with each other. You don’t realize that every small move means something and is so important that we’re conscious of what we’re doing and use every one of our limbs and thoughts to shape what we’re saying to the audience. Once you put a man and a woman on stage, you’re automatically saying something. We’re really conscious of that.”

The music has been described as garage blues, but Dreimanis says the band’s style has changed over the years.

“The album has had a few live spans and alternate versions,” he says. “The American version of the album is a bit of a compilation. We boil it down to rock ‘n’ roll. Something that’s worked for most artists is not overthinking those things and not adhering to a genre. It’s where we belong. We love the Rolling Stones. We love personality. We connect to character like Iggy Pop and Patti Smith, people who have personality seeping through the music because they can’t stop it. That’s the rock ‘n’ roll we jumped into. There’s blues influence but that was born out of finding a common ground between indie rock in Toronto and country in Alberta. We end up in strange pop/blues conundrum. It’s like Harry Nilsson with this Delta blues background. We’re not tied to anything.”

July Talk, Little Hurricane, Texas Plant, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216-321-5588. Tickets: $12 ADV, $14 DOS,
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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