Since forming in 2012, Toronto’s July Talk have had an impressive string of success. Their two acclaimed albums have produced ten singles which became alt-rock radio staples. 2012’s eponymous album put them on the map with their first Top 10 hit “Guns + Ammunition”, and the 2015 follow-up Touch produced another five singles, all reaching the Top 5; and both albums earned the Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year. What they may lack in quantity, they clearly make up for in quality.
During that time, July Talk made regular appearances in Ottawa, like clockwork. A summer festival appearance (Bluesfest, HOPE, Dragonboat, etc.) and then another club show in the fall, year after year. That routine culminated in a blistering set on one of the main stages at the 2017 Bluesfest.
That’s not to say they purposefully avoided Ottawa, but rather the band spent much of the year off the road and in the studio, writing and recording new material for their much-anticipated third album. They’ve since hit the road again, having just completed a U.S. tour with Metric and Mexican band Zoé, followed by the western leg of their cross Canada tour with Metric. The second half of that tour will be bringing them back to Ottawa (finally!) this Saturday at TD Place.
We caught up with frontman Peter Dreimanis on his off day between tour legs to chat about the band’s rise, the current tour, and the forthcoming new material.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
APT613: Thanks for taking time to chat on your day off. You haven’t had a lot of those of late.
Peter Dreimanis: No, we did the American shows with Metric from February until the end of March and then started prepping for the Canadian dates and now we’re right in the middle of that. We had a bit of a long year of recording last year, so it’s been nice to be back on stage, remembering that muscle, and really enjoying performing, obviously. It was nice to do so, first in the states where it’s a nice place for us to play new songs and try out new things, and then in Canada to be able to do it at a new scale that we haven’t done yet, and bring a big show to town.
How do the shows differ between touring in the U.S. versus in Canada, beyond just venue sizes?
On this last tour in the states, we were doing beautiful theatres like The Filmore and House of Blues and that kind of thing. We were playing the first of three early on in the night, and we had great experiences. We really like the feeling of a crowd not knowing who we are, and we get to walk out with a blank slate, and try to track them down and shake them up a bit. Get them into the music and see if they’ll come along with us.
In Canada, it’s a pretty surreal experience of walking out on stage and understanding that the folks already have the context of your music, and they sing along and they’re delivering a ton of energy right back at you, which is so great. But often, as a human being, you just distance yourself from it because you don’t really know how to process that kind of experience. It’s a bit of a culture shock every time it happens, but I’m always very grateful that we have both experiences.
Then there’s the third experience when we’re headlining a tour in the states, we get to play smaller rooms and go back to where we started, where the people that are there are into the music, but it’s a sweaty club or bar atmosphere. It’s more intimate, and you can pause for a second and just talk to them like you would talk to your friends. When you’re on a big stage it’s harder to do that.
Last time you were in town, you had a monumental set at Bluesfest. But it’s been a year and a half now since you’ve been here.
Bluesfest was the first festival that had us play years and years ago. Ottawa is one of those cities that most Toronto bands play, and it’s a real home for that ‘first tour’, whether we played Zaphod’s or Mavericks or any of these clubs. It’s a real rite of passage for any band from Montreal or Toronto or surrounding areas. It’s one of the first places you go. So we feel really comfortable and we’re really looking forward to coming back.
Normally we can’t really bring a big show on the road like we would do in Toronto for our hometown shows. Generally we’d have more production, and we try to have a cohesive idea that allows the show to have a bit more context, but we can’t really afford to bring it on the road normally. But, because of this tour and the scale of it, we’re able to bring that larger-scale show.
As much as we play our songs through, and we’re not reinventing them, it’s pretty much just raucous energy.
Last year, we designed a show with Susanne Sasic from New York, who’s done stages for the White Stripes and St. Vincent, and started out as Sonic Youth’s merch person. She helped us design this show which is all around moons and solstice. It’s been a fun process learning how to make the best use of it. We have this giant backdrop behind us that we project images onto with cameras, and there’s this giant inflatable moon that comes out, like a nine-foot moon balloon.
For us, July Talk will always be a pretty loose, improvise-y kind of show. As much as we play our songs through, and we’re not reinventing them, it’s pretty much just raucous energy. We’re just trying to deliver something that feels really alive and human. There’s no click track or sequencing or backing tracks or any of that. It’s just five people on stage, or in this case, we’re bringing our friend Dani Nash with us, so six people on stage. We want the crowd to really feel like they’re in the moment with us. Anything can happen. Mistakes can happen. There’s just a real teetering-on-the-edge-of-a-cliff feeling, and that’s when we’re really able to deliver a performance like the one you mentioned at Bluesfest, that we’re in the midst of a hurricane, but we’re all in it together.
That’s essentially the heart and soul of rock and roll – it’s supposed to feel dangerous.
Of course, and danger now feels more and more like a lack of structure. A lot of music today is so reliant on a particular grid, so anything that makes people feel like they’re able to get out of that grid and makes them feel alive and more human, I think it sends people more into that world of rock and roll.
You mentioned that you spent a lot of time last year recording, so the big question is, when can we expect new music?
You know what? I have no idea. It’s one of those things where we’ve done our part, now it’s about figuring out how it’s going to come out, and with whom, and all that. We want it to come out as soon as possible, and we’re really excited about it, but unfortunately your guess is as good as mine.
Will we be getting a sneak peek at the new stuff on this tour?
We will! We’re really enjoying that. We’ve been playing three songs live from the new record, and really enjoying the process. It’s a real part of our vibe. We love to try things out and see how they feel on a crowd, and we notice nine times out of ten, as soon as we finish the first run of it, we know ‘oh this chorus has to move this way’ or you have an immediate idea of what needs to change about the tune, which is always interesting.
For us, as much as it may feel backwards, it’s really great to have an opportunity to play the stuff before we put it out, and we appreciate the crowd giving the energy back to us in different ways so we can learn how we feel about the new pieces of ourselves that we’ve decided to put forward.
One of your interesting ventures on this tour is you’re hosting meetups at local record stores, including one at Compact Music here in Ottawa. How has that been going so far?
It’s been going really well. We had talked about having an opportunity to catch up, and these kinds of venues are pretty terrible for actually having a space to do that. You can’t just walk out to the merch table like you would at a theatre. We just talked over the best way to pull it off and all of a sudden it became pretty clear we were just going to try this record store thing. We’ve done it in the past and it’s just a nice way to chat about music with folks. We just pull in and set up shop and just chat for as much time as we have. I’ve worn through the budget that I could afford to spend on music after the first few stops. It’s just a good way for us to be able to say hello and chat, and get us where folks are at. We’re very used to it—for every tour ever we’ve always gone out to the merch table and chatted with folks after the shows.
It would feel very unnatural for us to play a show and get back on the bus without stopping and saying hello.
But there’s a sense when you do the stadium thing that you have to fit into this machine of exactly how things are done, and you get a lot things like ‘we want to put signs up all over the venue and have them welcome people and a statement on inclusivity’, and the response you generally get back is ‘well, it doesn’t really work for this venue’. You can do that in smaller places, but now it’s not really going to work. In general, you get that response because you’re joining in on this tradition of getting in to this place which isn’t conducive to music at all, and put on a show, so as much as it’s a hell of a rush to be up on stage and be looking around and seeing so many faces, and performing in that scale is such an honour and a trip, it’s been important for us to figure out how to be ourselves within it. The record stores were our way to do that, and feel more at home to be able to go out and chat face-to-face before we got on that stage. It would feel very unnatural for us to play a show and get back on the bus without stopping and saying hello.
And from the record stores you’ve chosen on this trip, they certainly have more of a community feel to them.
Absolutely, and ones that we relate to. That’s where we bought records. The one we did in Edmonton is I bought records when I was in high school, and some of the records I bought in that particular shop, Blackbyrd Myoozik, completely changed who I am today. So we relate to that far easier than standing in a giant stadium. Standing in a giant stadium to me means I get to watch a hockey game.
It’s a really fun experience for us, it’s a learning experience for us, and we’re figuring out how we fit into it and what that is, but I think it leaves a void in actual connection. Fans are generally pretty far away from you. We’re coming to terms with it and learning from it. I’m so grateful for Metric since they’ve done it for years and years, and they’ve provided us with this opportunity to learn about it, and figure out how we fit and how we feel about it before we put out this next record and go play some shows. We get to open for a band we really respect, and have written an unbelievable amount of great songs, so every night we get to watch them do their thing, which is pretty special to have that opportunity. We aren’t taking it for granted by any means.
July Talk will be hanging out at Compact Music (206 Bank St) from 1–2pm on Saturday April 27, collecting non-perishable food bank donations. They’ll then be heading over to TD Place for their show with Metric. A few tickets are left online for $36–66.