Jamie Reader-Johnson from Planetmosh caught up with July Talk after their set at Sound Control in Manchester, in support of their latest studio album, Touch, to discuss the new record, touring, and all things in between.
What was the first track that came together to build Touch?
P: Strange Habit and Push + Pull were the first two tracks that made it on to the Touch album, but technically Push + Pull was the first track that we came up with – we went to a secluded cabin in Burnstown (just outside of Ottawa, Canada), and spent about a month up there writing and working on a bunch of tunes, and the first ones that came about from that session were Gentleman, Blood + Honey, Push + Pull, Strange Habits and Uninvited.
At that point in time, Blood + Honey, Gentleman and Uninvited were considered the cream of the crop, so we put them on to an EP for American and British release, while Strange Habit and Push + Pull took a back seat.
With Push + Pull, we had all been staying up really late smoking hash at this cabin, and Josh came up with this super hazy piano line with a real David Lynch / Virgin Suicides vibe, which we all just started jamming off.
Danny did a drum take, recorded off a mic located on the far side of the room, which sounded really cool, and we just looped it, began to create different progressions, and really experimented.
D: At first we had something a little more conventional, however one night I had to go to bed early, basically because I’d just got way too high, and I could hear the rest of the guys below me working on the computer looping this piece over and over. I couldn’t actually hear any notes, but I just thought “that’s the verse right there, I need to try and remember that in the morning!”.
Luckily I did, and I grabbed Peter and suggested we cut this piece and use the repetition to build the intro to Push + Pull, which was the one element we still needed to figure out, and make a little more special.
Based on this, I’m guessing each member of the band has a significant involvement in the writing process then?
D: Yes, absolutely.
Once you had Strange Habit and Push + Pull, how did you find writing the rest of the album?
P: It took a super long time – because Strange Habit and Push + Pull were written so long before most of the writing for the rest of the record, we ended up going back to Toronto and writing about fifty songs, which included early versions of Touch and Jesus Said So (both called something different at the time).
We got in touch with our friend called Tom Darcy; a great Toronto musician, who gave us access to his studio three or four times a week to record our best tracks from that week’s practice sessions.
It was at this point when we finally put our finger on what the album was supposed to sound like. There was a lot of talk about the word “swagger-ass” [laughs], which was like a dark, danceable rhythm. We were really into certain grooves from bands like Queens Of The Stone Age and Spoon, who utilise really dark progressions, while still allowing the tracks to be fun, danceable, and allow your body to move.
This concept was applied to all the songs that hadn’t yet been recorded in that way, but had that feeling within their lyrics, not to say that the album is in any way a singular sound.
L: That’s the thing, when the first album came out, some of the earliest feedback we received was that it didn’t fit enough into one genre, and that the album was too disarranged. Now, however, we’re getting reviews for Touch that are saying how the first album was super cohesive, and how it really established a specific sound, whereas Touch is all over the place, so it’s hard to please everyone.
It all depends on who it is listening to the album, and how much you invest of yourself when you listen to it, which dictates whether you’re going to consider it cohesive or disjointed.
Did you find there was a particular track you struggled with?
L: I think before Push + Pull and Strange Habit, we had a ‘working title’ track called Sex Song, which is now known as Touch. The very first whisperings of that song came about even before parts of the first album were recorded, that was jammed out a long time ago and kind of became a fan favourite (and even a band favourite), which we’d often close with.
It’s such a dynamic song, probably the most dynamic track we’ve recorded, but we soon realised it should probably be called Touch, as Sex Song is kind of a bad name for a song!
I think this was when we first got the idea to make Touch the title track, as it was the track we’d been putting off the longest and procrastinating over while we figured out how we wanted it to sound, as each time we had recorded it previously, it had kind of fallen flat.
We were working with a great producer called Ian Davenport from Reading, UK (known for his work with artists such as Band of Skulls, Gaz Coombes and Supergrass), who helped us sift through the pieces of Sex Song / Touch, which finally came together in the very last stages of putting the record together.
How would you describe your sound to people who have never heard you before?
L: If we meet people in elevators and stuff, we just say we’re a Rock ‘n’ Roll band, and try and just leave it at that. It’s just easier to call it Rock ‘n’ Roll and call it a day.
Is there anything that you hope your fans take away from your music / shows?
L: I’d say we’re completely invested in what we do, in a way where we just try and stay true to what we believe in, and try and learn every day about what it is to be a human-being. Fortunately for us [the band], our opportunity to experience the world is through touring, getting to write music together, and getting to learn about collaboration and the creative process, it teaches you so much.
I think we’re in a faze of questioning right now, and I think that’s something the whole world is experiencing too. There’s nihilism and there’s hope, and you kind of have to figure out where you stand between both of those things.
Some days it just feels like we’re all fucked, which is both chaotic and terrifying, but the only thing you can do is question, and try and change or express your comment on things. This is something that speaks to all of us, and I like to think that in our own tiny way, this is what we’re trying to do.
We’re just trying to make people feel things.
If you were to tour alongside any other band, who would you love to tour with?
P: We got to play a show with Spoon, I think they’re probably one of the best bands in the Universe right now. I think very record they play is perfect, it’s a masterpiece.
If we got to tour with them, I imagine I’d feel extremely humbled, scared and terrified, but I’d also be a sponge, just in terms of getting the opportunity to witness how they arrange and play their songs live would be incredible, they’d definitely be up there!
L: Cage The Elephant.
P: Cage The Elephant would definitely be up there, they’re a band that harnesses energy in a way that we can look up to I think. They’re just so exciting, and they’re probably one of the only bands that have been constantly on the road for how ever long they’ve been out there, and every night they just give it their absolute all, and leave everything out there on the stage.
They’re a well known band that have had huge hits, but when you see them live it’s not like they’re taking any of it for granted, it’s like they’re not even aware of how brilliant they are, or big they are, or whatever it is you want to call it. Watching them play is just so exciting.
L: And Jenny Lewis and Angel Olsen… Angel Olsen just released a new album called ‘My Woman’, check it out.
What advice would you give to people trying to make it in the music industry?
P: What I say when people ask me that is focus on whatever makes you the most unique, weird or strange is the only thing people are interested in, and if you can portray that really well, you’ve got a great chance at being able to tour.
I think that if your motives are based on just being up there holding a guitar and feeling or looking cool, I wouldn’t expect much to come from it. After a certain point, it just wouldn’t be fun anymore.
Unless there’s a greater cause, and unless you’re really accessing the vulnerable parts of yourself that you’re scared of showing others, it’s as if it’s more for you than it is for anyone else. At the end of the day, we’re all trying to contribute to what has already been put into the world, and if you’re not putting something new into the pool, well, the pool is pretty crowded as it is.
L: I think it comes down to trusting your intuition. In particular, for young female musicians, I’ve heard a lot of different perspectives from those trying to make it in the industry. There seem to be a lot of changes happening, and as time goes on there are more and more sound engineers and producers and such, but there’s always someone waiting to take advantage of you, so it’s all about trusting your human intuition. Trust your guts.
Touch is available now in all formats, and be sure to keep an eye out for July Talk’s return to British soil in the Spring!