How Peter Dreimanis forged a band that you will like
by James Brotheridge
“Paper Girl”, the lead single off July Talk’s self-titled debut, conveys the band’s style in its first minute. There’s the group’s grand indie-rock with blues-rock undertones. There’s Peter Dreimanis’ singing — low, rough and rumbly with great control — contrasting Leah Fay’s calibrated sweetness. Then there are the lyrics: a spectacle of churlish sexist entitlement shut down by firm, calm confidence.
By the time the song’s first arc concludes at exactly 1:00 we get what July Talk is about.
That collection of elements is what Dreimanis had in mind when he started July Talk, and they’ve fallen into place nicely. Dreimanis, an experienced musician who’d moved to Toronto from Edmonton in 2007, had the idea for something like this for a while. “I really wanted to do a band that was about loud versus quiet and black versus white, and having the dynamic of the music represented in the visuals,” says Dreimanis. “Having all our art reflect that was really important to me.”
Dreimanis and Fay –– with guitarist Ian Docherty, bassist Josh Warburton and drummer Danny Miles –– nailed it.
I talked with Dreimanis about the band’s origins in advance of their Regina show. The story starts with meeting Fay. The first time he saw her she was tearing up a Toronto bar with an impromptu performance.
How did you meet Leah Fay?
This girl was covered in face paint, wearing a bicycle helmet in the middle of a bar with no lights on. It was like, ‘Oh, she can sing beautifully, and she seems like a completely crazy, awesome person.’
I think she said you chased her down while she was riding her bike away.
Yeah! I mean, to be completely honest, I was getting off of a show we had played an hour earlier at a festival down the street. It wasn’t a very good festival and the show had ended in a bit of chaos, and me and the singer of that band walked into this other bar. Obviously, seeing a girl singing beautifully with a guitar, covered in face paint in a bike helmet, you’re going to ask her name.
I tried to get a phone number. She just flat out denied me. I think afterwards, the next afternoon, when I woke up I had a feeling of, ’Oh, this is the place. That’s the place for these songs.’
Toronto’s a big city and I wasn’t expecting to just walk outside and happen to see her, so it took a while before I sort of tracked her down. I think it was a Rolling Stones cover night a few weeks later. I might be wrong about that. I finally convinced her.
To be honest, it came at a perfect time in my life. I won’t speak for her, but it was a really creative time and it still is. It’s blown me away how much of a creative outlet this band has become, because we’re so involved as people and as artists. With us and the other three guys in the band –– Ian, Josh and Danny –– we’re all just in it right now and we’re able to be on the road all the time.
When did Ian, Josh and Danny come into the project?
There were maybe three months of Leah and I just working on stuff. We didn’t play any shows. We were just working on the songs. Pretty quickly, we realized that the dynamics we were both picturing had absolutely nothing to do with a two-person act. I love bands like Whitehorse and Johnny and June, but even Johnny and June had a band, you know? You really gotta … you gotta rock. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. It’s really important to get rowdy and show the crowd that you’ve come to change their bar for that night, to make it really fun, really exciting and new. We’re working on a sound and a live show where people can get drunk and not feel regret in the morning.
As time went on, the writing process changed. I’d say the album is a bit of a cross-section of our formation. Some of the songs were written a long time ago; some were written close to its release in October. But now, we’ve really found our writing stride.
You’ve got some stuff that’s almost reminiscent of Metric’s synth-rock up alongside blues-rock material. Did the rock stuff come out later in the band’s development?
No, it was the opposite. The band started out as an Alberta trashy bar band. I really love that and I was kinda scared of synths and poppiness. I don’t know if you feel the same way –– and this is a gross stereotype, so please forgive –– but sometimes growing up in the Prairies as a teenager, there’s a lot of resistance against anything that’s outside your comfort zone musically. From my angle, when I was making music, it was like punk-slash-rock ’n’ roll was my safety zone and I didn’t feel comfortable going outside of that.
I think when I met my bass player, Josh, he grew up on bands like Weezer and Blood Brothers, bands that were outside their own comfort zones but they did it in this really poppy way. They have great songs that just live on. Everybody makes their best art when they’re outside their comfort zones and taking risks. I think for us, I thought, ‘I want to be in a band that’s enjoyable, where anyone could walk in and feel like they have a place in that room.’ It might not be front row –– it could be in the back –– but they need to have a place.”
Employing the synths and the more pop sensibilities in that barn-burner attitude really brought more people into the fold. It’s not fun when you’re doing it on your own. I’ve been in a lot of bands over the years where the attitude is like, ‘I don’t give a fuck if you like my music or not. It’s good.’ I’m tired of that, man. I enjoy having 500 people in a room losing their minds and we are five of that 500. It’s not four people playing to the rest of them.
I get where you’re coming from. I remember when I was younger reading a quote from Andy Falkous of Mclusky saying something along the lines of “Leave the keyboards at the fucking disco.” When I was younger, that appealed to me so much.
Yeah, I know! I totally agreed. I remember whenever the Constantines would come through, they would have keys, but it would be Will Kidman standing on the keys, going through six pedals. And they were vintage synths or whatever. It was just so punk, and that was what was cool and I accepted it wholeheartedly. Even now, I have a little bit of Prairie in me. And it’s not to say that Toronto people aren’t like that. There are a lot of people like that here. But I think there’s something very organic about analogue instruments. You’re not going to fail with a Telecaster, you’re not going to make something cheesy with a Telecaster. But the truth is, you are. And you have just as much opportunity with every instrument to create what you want to create. It’s all a matter of what kind of sounds are going to benefit your songs.
This interview has been edited and condensed.