Wrestling with the Beauty and the Beast

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - GRA­HAM ROCK­ING­HAM

ON THE FACE OF IT, the con­trast­ing voices of July Talk’s two lead singers pro­vide an un­likely recipe for suc­cess, with the lit­tle-girl so­prano of Leah Fay pro­vid­ing the sweet, and the grav­elly throat of Pe­ter Dreima­nis pro­vid­ing the sour.

It’s Canada’s rock ’n’ roll ver­sion of “Beauty and the Beast,” with a com­bat­ive edge and sex­ual charge that has brought the Toronto band to the top of the coun­try’s alt-rock scene in less than five years.

Since re­leas­ing its self-ti­tled de­but al­bum in 2012, the band has main­tained a rig­or­ous road sched­ule, tour­ing with bands Billy Ta­lent, Sam Roberts, Weezer and Te­gan And Sara.

The past year, fol­low­ing the re­lease of their sopho­more al­bum “Touch,” has been a break­out one for July Talk, scor­ing a spot on the Juno main­stage, sell­ing out Toronto’s Bud­weiser Stage (for­merly Mol­son Amp­ithe­atre) with the Arkells and plac­ing three songs in the top 10 of the Cana­dian rock charts.

On Satur­day night, July Talk will head­line the 42nd an­nual Fes­ti­val of Friends at Gage Park, and the band is well on its way to sell­ing out three per­for­mances at Toronto’s pres­ti­gious Massey Hall in De­cem­ber.

Songs like “Guns + Am­mu­ni­tion,” “Push + Pull,” and “Pic­tur­ing Love” are im­me­di­ately rec­og­niz­able as July Talk. No other band in Canada has that dis­tinc­tive du­al­ity of voice.

Yet in con­ver­sa­tion, Fay and Dreima­nis present a uni­fied front. Their

thoughts in­ter­mesh and build on each other. They buckle at the “Beauty and the Beast” stereo­type, ad­mit to con­sciously try­ing to fight it by some­times ex­chang­ing roles.

There are songs on the new al­bum, like “Lola and Joseph,” where you’re never quite sure who is in con­trol, whether “Beauty” is the ag­gres­sor and “Beast” the sub­mis­sive one.

“The last thing we’d want to do is be some sweet ‘Beauty and the Beast’ bulls -- t,” says Dreima­nis, an Ed­mon­ton na­tive, who played gui­tar with The Mo­hawk Lodge and Ea­mon McGrath be­fore form­ing July Talk with Fay in 2012.

“We’re not re­ally in­ter­ested in that, so we’re try­ing to find ways to sub­vert it and re­tain that essence of what we do, which is just this strangely sat­is­fy­ing sound of our two very dif­fer­ent voices.”

Adds Fay: “It’s been re­ally fun to be given the la­bels and then try to step out of the way of them, try to ex­per­i­ment with what they mean and what they don’t mean to us.”

BE­SIDES THE SUC­CESS of their al­bums, July Talk has gained a rep­u­ta­tion as a fiery live act. Part of that rep­u­ta­tion stems from Fay’s brazen un­pre­dictabil­ity.

“Whether in­ten­tion­ally or not, I think Leah is try­ing to de­con­struct that she is even on a stage,” says Dreima­nis.

“She’s re­ally in­ter­ested in jump­ing on peo­ple’s shoul­ders and rid­ing around the room, look­ing at folks in the crowd for an un­com­fort­ably long time … putting peo­ple on edge to al­low them to view their space in a new way.”

Fay, who stud­ied con­tem­po­rary dance at Montreal’s Con­cor­dia Univer­sity, says she tries to break down bar­ri­ers between the band and its au­di­ence.

“I have a real prob­lem with hi­er­ar­chy in a lot of ways,” says Fay, daugh­ter of long­time Toronto Sun jour­nal­ist Lor­rie Gold­stein. “The mere fact of me be­ing on a stage is some­what prob­lem­atic for me, which is prob­a­bly why I’m try­ing to make every one else for­get that we’re on a stage as well.”

Fay and Dreima­nis are guarded about their off­stage re­la­tion­ship. But the ques­tion has to be asked, with all that sex­ual ten­sion on stage, what is the re­la­tion­ship?

“I’m try­ing to fig­ure out a way to de­scribe it to you,” says Fay, be­fore al­low­ing Dreima­nis to take over.

“It’s hard enough to de­scribe it to each other, to be hon­est,” he adds. “It’s been a re­ally long haul. I think we lis­ten to each other pretty heav­ily. It’s im­por­tant that we watch out for each other, be­cause I don’t re­ally know any­body else who has gone through what I have gone through over the past five years, other than Leah. So there’s a cer­tain amount of pri­vacy that we de­mand to keep the wheel turn­ing.”

Af­ter much thought, Fay fi­nally chimes in: “Our re­la­tion­ship can be best de­scribed as a snow globe.” A snow globe? “Yeah, a snow globe.” I in­form Fay that I per­son­ally love snow globes.

“Who doesn’t?” she says. “I don’t think it needs a fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion.”

July Talk: From left, Josh War­bur­ton, Ian Docherty, Pe­ter Dreima­nis, Leah Fay and Danny Miles.

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