July Talk: The Blues-Rock Band Challenging Gender Norms

Toronto five-piece July Talk are all about defying expectations: their Blues/alt-rock sound blends both the masculine and the feminine, and vocalists Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay say they’re preoccupied with subverting societal gender norms  – something not often heard of in rock n’ roll. We caught up with Peter and Leah after their performance at The Bowery Ballroom.

We loved your performance at The Bowery Ballroom; it was definitely an experience in terms of on-stage entertainment and aerobics. Tell us about the night that you first met in the bar in Toronto and decided to form the band together? Did you guys come up with the name ‘July Talk’ that night or at a later stage?

Peter: I walked into a bar in Toronto called The Communist’s Daughter just before last call and heard two voices singing harmonies with an acoustic guitar. I walked through the crowd to see Leah sitting in the corner wearing a bicycle helmet and covered in face paint. When she looked up at me I couldn’t decide whether I should run away terrified or kneel at her feet. I guess I decided to steal the guitar and play a song for her called “July Talk” that I had been working on over the few months prior. The next thing I remember is asking for her number so we could sing together and her riding off on her bicycle into the night.

Leah: It’s true, I shot him down. The way we came together a few nights later is less blurry for me though. I met up with my roommate/bandmate for a milkshake at a 24-hour diner around 1am some weeknight. We weren’t tired so we headed to a basement bar around the corner to see a band and ended up running into Peter and his friends there. He popped out from behind a pillar and said “HEY LEAH, DO YOU REMEMBER ME?” with such urgency. I told him I did and he said he hadn’t been able to get my voice out of his head. I really admired him for that. I could relate to that kind of transparent honesty and it was so rare in and around the Toronto “scene”. He sent me some songs and when I listened to them the next day, I knew I had smashed into something special.

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Your blues/alternative rock sound that you have created together as a band is unique to you: your voice, Peter, is very low and husky while Leah’s tone is very sweet. It’s refreshing and a perfect musical match. How did you manage to merge your sounds together so successfully?

Peter: We didn’t give too much thought to merging sounds or trying to emulate a genre or band or whatever. I think we tried to play music on our own at first and it seemed pretty monotone and boring, so we got a band together. I think we initially imagined our bipolar vocal conversation being surrounded by a hurricane of rock and roll. We were searching for chaos then and I don’t think we’ve really stopped searching since.

Leah: That’s just how we sing. The “merging” comes from broaching the subject of co-existing in sonic space in a way that hopefully doesn’t suck and conflict with what everyone else in the band is doing. We all have different opinions and tastes but we compromise in hopes of doing what is best for a song.

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What is your favorite song on your album? What was it like to write and what is compelling about it to you personally?

Peter: I think Gentleman is one of my favourites. It was one of the first times that the band got closest to the song that only exists inside our heads. The initial song came from something that Josh (Warburton, July Talk bassist) and I worked on when we were in university. I think I enjoy it because the lyrics hit you right between the eyes and illustrate how fucked up gender dynamics can be. When we finished that song, it opened up a world of new subject matter to July Talk. No topic really scared us after that.

Leah: Yeah, mine too. We used to play it when the band first formed and I’d  always loved it. At that time it was a romantic song about substance abuse and we only played it in rehearsals. We left it alone for a few years and then re-wrote all the lyrics in the back of the van while on a cross-Canada tour. It was the first time we actively wrote using the voices of satirical characters to convey our thoughts. Although it’s not humorous because it deals with abuse and codependency in relationships. It’s more like a use of “sad-tire”. We re-visited it at a time when we were constantly in conversation about societal gender norms and how to subvert them on and off stage. We were fascinated and disgusted by how many relationships function because one person is in constant need of ego-stroking and the other person mistakes being needed in that way for being loved and cared for. Why do some people always get involved with partners they wish to “save”? Why is the way we interact with sex viewed and judged so differently depending on our gender? These are some of the things we were yelling about in those days. We usually dedicate Gentleman to “shitty men” when we play it live but I like to point out that anyone (not just men) can be shitty in this way.

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Your song “I’ve Rationed Well” (one of our favorites) was featured on one of the ending episodes of sci-fi drama ‘Kill Joys’. This is such a great track. Are there any exciting features or future projects on the cards that you are aware of and are currently working on?

Peter: Well we’re just finishing our new album right now, and although I’m too close to it to know what it could fit with, it definitely has more cinematic moments than our first album. “I’ve Rationed Well” works within a desolate landscape that I think films and TV shows often have to create in order to isolate their protagonist’s problems to an audience. I love the idea that we can contribute that kind of vibe to another piece of art, so I hope we can keep doing that.

Leah: Peter and I both worked on a film called “Diamond Tongues” that came out about a year ago. Peter shot it and I acted in it and we had so much fun working with the two filmmakers who wrote and directed it. It’s entirely unrelated to the music we make but allowed us to work together and build trust in an entirely different field. I hope we make another one at some point but for now our priority is finishing and releasing the new album.  Someone asked us to contribute to the score of a horror film about a killer beaver but unfortunately we don’t have time right now.

 

  • Check out July Talk’s music here and their video series by Jarad Raab about life ‘on the road’.