Wrestling with the Beauty and the Beast
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.