Tanya Taqag & July Talk

By Ian Steaman

On first blush, it might be hard to see what Tanya Tagaq and July Talk have in common, though the love between the charismatic experimental vocalist and theatrical radio-ready rockers is evident the moment they connect by phone. “So good to hear your voices. I can’t wait to hug you and hang out with you again,” she tells July Talk’s co-vocalists Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay, and they delve into a discussion of their relationship to each other, and to their respective audiences.

The three singers became close after meeting at the 2014 JUNO Awards in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “I remember looking up the stairs at them and thinking, Oh, they’re my people,” Tagaq recalls. “I didn’t even know them yet, but every once in a while you meet people who you immediately know you want to be around.”

The outcome was their collaboration on the uptempo, glam rock-esque thumper “Beck + Call” from the group’s sophomore full-length, Touch, which went on to win a JUNO Award for Alternative Album of the Year in 2017. “The first incarnation of the song was very different than what it ended up becoming,” Leah Fay recalls. “We deconstructed it in the studio into something far more stripped down and minimal. You could feel the song in your pulse, and in your hips, and it was like, ‘Oh my God! You know who can make this five hundred times better?’”

“Tanya!” Dreimanis chimes in, laughing. “It allowed us to step away from the song, and let Tanya’s voice be all the textures and soundscapes.” The group didn’t even feel it necessary to brief Tagaq on what they were looking for, letting her add her own unique spin. “It just made sense,” she says. “Not to simplify anything but it was a very easy job.” There are future plans to collaborate in the works. “I think ‘Beck + Call’ was just scratching the surface of what we could ultimately do together,” Dreimanis says. “We need to do more,” Tagaq adds. “I would like to actually spend a few weeks, eating and making something together. I love our song, but we were apart when we recorded it.”

Surprisingly, the two acts have yet to share a stage, though they have been to each other’s shows. Seeing July Talk for the first time at the famous Austin, Texas venue and BBQ joint Stubb’s, Tagaq recalls, “It seemed so natural but it was also very tight. There was this intense, vibrating, giant energy they were giving out, and how the audience was reacting. The energy was being generated and spit back, over and over again. It was just glorious to watch. You guys have a way o riling up an audience that’s incredible.”

One of the most memorable Tagaq shows for Dreimanis and Fay was seeing her Massey Hall debut for the Live at Massey Hall series in December 2015. “It was Owen Pallett with Tanya closing, backed by an improvisational choir [Christine Duncan’s 60-person Elements Choir] who are actually pretty close to the neighborhood where we live in Toronto,” recalls Dreimanis. “It’s always pretty mind-flattening how she gets into an audience’s subconscious, but particularly in that show. It definitely rewrote the book for us.”

Tagaq’s recollection of that night at Massey is more modest. “There was an excitement, and it was very audience driven. Peter and Leah know what it is to be so audience-dependent, and [dependent on] the energy that people are giving off. It’s kind of like a big rock balancing on a domino. I definitely remember, not a reverence, but an added excitement because it’s such an iconic venue. It’s a milestone in a performer’s career to be in that space.”

July Talk haven’t yet played Massey Hall, but are set to make their debut with a three-night stand, beginning December 21st. “To play hometown shows, like the series we’re doing at Massey Hall, is pretty special,” says Dreimanis. “I’ve seen so many of my heroes on that stage, from Lucinda Williams and Levon Helm to Ryan Adams — as well growing up on the Neil Young live album. It just affects the way you play because you’re contributing to an ongoing journal. Like Tanya said, it’s a milestone, and we are still a relatively young band.”

“We’re really looking forward to creating a special three nights to finish this year,” he continues. “We’ve had a community of artists around Toronto who have been a part of the band for so long: we’re looking forward to what we can create together with people like Tanya, and everyone else we work with. 2017 was not an amazing year for the world, so I’m excited to play around Winter Solstice, and feel a bit of closure to the year. Sometimes closure can present an opportunity for rebirth.”

“I can’t wait to perform with you guys,” adds Tagaq. “I feel like it’s going to be like the tide sucking out when a tsunami is coming.”