This article originally appeared on the blog at Songeist.com
At Songeist we have no remit for the genre of emerging artists we promote; from classical to hardcore punk, our ears are open. However, we won't pretend we don't have our personal preferences and, for his sins, ska music is something very near and dear to the heart of Barney Songeist, to the point where 'Can't Remember To Forget You' by Shakira can often be heard emanating from our office when everyone else has gone to lunch. And so, it's his pleasure to be able to catch up with Jody, Pat and Iain from one of the great hopes of UK ska music, The Talks, whose rugged, rough-and-tumble ska and dapper British style has turned heads over the last few years, in both the UK and mainland Europe.
B. Hey The Talks. Let’s get the formalities out-of-the-way. Can you give everyone The Talks in a nutshell; your style, where you guys met, what you guys have done up to now. Then we can move on and get into the details!
Jody. In a nutshell... The Talks are 4 lads from Hull that all met from playing in different bands together previously or studying music together. So far we have had one album out in 2011 and an E.P called ‘West Sinister’ which we released early last year and we are currently two singles in to our new album which will be released soon.
B. Cool! Your last two singles ‘Radio’ and ‘Don’t Look Behind You’ are streaming on Songeist now and feature on your forthcoming album ‘Commoners, Peers, Drunks and Thieves’. When did you record the album, who did you record it with and, most importantly, when is it going to drop?
Jody. We started demoing and jamming the album throughout 2013 but didn’t actually properly start tracking the album until early 2014. Luckily myself and Pat (lead singer) run a recording studio in Hull which helps, so this time all the album has been recorded at AOO Studios. Previously with ‘West Sinister’ we tracked the E.P in our studio but sent it out to a producer for mixing which made life easier. But with this album we are doing the lot, as some tracks were written in the recording process. Saying that, it did take a little longer than we'd hoped because at times we did found ourselves a little too close to the project; tracking, producing, arranging, mixing and mastering all takes its toll! So it did become a process of leaving it - to get some head space - before returning back to it, and continuing the session. It's a longer process but a good learning one!
Hopefully all being well, we should have it out in October.
B. One of the things that I love - and find very interesting - about you guys is that you’ve managed a nice balancing act between existing in the UK ska scene and getting mainstream attention from BBC Introducing and others. One reason for this is that you manage to achieve the live energy of the US ska-punk bands like Rancid that the underground circuit demands, but you manage to retain the identity of a UK band like The Specials or The Ordinary Boys that more commercial enterprises can get a handle on. In a scene that has often been stifled by the pop-cultural cul-de-sac of UK bands aping US ones, do you see your Britishness as a factor in the band’s character and consciously attempt to retain it? What do you think of UK ska bands that look and sound exactly like US bands?
Jody. I think it’s a case of knowing who and what you are; we are British and it seems that’s what people like about us and what sets us apart when we go over to play Europe. We are blessed that we have been left with a history of amazing music coming from the UK; The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Specials... and it seems that other country’s artists are also influenced by the UK, so why would we look to be anything else when we've been left with such a legacy? So I suppose with us loving the British sound, it tends to sound more British naturally. But saying that, it's like you say, influence from the States with the energetic style, or anywhere in the world is always huge too. I guess if it's good and inspiring to us, we tend borrow aspects of it.
Any band from the UK that is playing ska music, American, European or British style, we support and good on them. It's all good for a possible re-emergence of the musical genre. We would never denounce a band for playing their own music and putting the work in.
B. It’s not just sounding-American that can hinder the progress of UK ska bands. Stylistically ska music doesn’t have a great representation in the mainstream and has a healthier underground scene in countries like Germany, which you guys tap into. On tracks like ‘Radio’ you have the sound of a fresh and vital band but underneath it all is essentially a ska band that the music industry, ironically radio especially, might perceive as being ‘retro’. Is your game plan to set your stall in the ska scene and hope that your songs, style and talent will bring you to success further afield or do you have an approach to avoid the pitfalls of getting stuck behind the glass ceiling of being labelled a ‘genre band’.
Pat. Yeah, it can be a bit of a drawback being labeled by some radio and media as being retro sometimes, but most people listen on and realise it is progressive as well. Ska is a great style and we love to play it and try to progress it in our own way as much as we can, but there does come a point when it stops being familiar in its feel and then of course it's harder for a lot to identify with. The new digital distribution doesn't allow for crossing genres as much either. The iTunes buttons to identify genre like a nice neat 'Ska' or 'Rock' or 'Indie' or whatever it is. But saying that, no musician or artist wants to be cornered into one style. So we are, and have been, pushing the boundaries when writing. Sometimes it works and sometimes not, or maybe not for now anyways. The hope is once a band is established people are open to hearing what else they have to offer I think. That's certainly how we feel anyway.
The Talks, pushing things forward.
B. On the forthcoming album there’s a track that features Itch (ex-The King Blues) which has a strongly anti-war lyrical bent. How did your collab with Itch come about? Do you feel that it is important for bands to express their political opinions through music and which artists inspire you to do so?
Pat. The track 'Ceasefire' was born of just seeing so much mayhem going on in the world. I guess it's always been one of our things to say what we see and hopefully convey a message. Many of our tracks have that kinda of angle. It was a pretty natural thing to ask Itch to get involved as I feel The King Blues had a similar style in speaking out, as do many of the bands in the punk and ska scene. I've always loved Itch's style and the fact that he loved the track enough to do it was brilliant. We've always enjoyed working with people we admire the style of and hopefully there's gonna be more to come.
B. Across the forthcoming album, and indeed your back catalogue, there are forays into many genres, from new wave pop to dub to tracks with more of an experimental, jungle-influenced sound. I see this as being in the tradition of The Clash, who always attempted to bring other styles into their sound while retaining their own aesthetic. What is your philosophy on bringing other styles into The Talks fold, and how do you retain your own identity while playing music ‘outside’ of your box?
Pat. I absolutely love bands that try diversify their sound and I always felt there is so much greatness in so many musical styles; so much so you feel like a kid in sweet shop when you're jamming out new ideas with the band. I guess it can get a little out of hand and we have to rein it in a bit and keep a sound that doesn't become too unfamiliar. We intend to keep trying new things, there's so much diversity out there, and there are a lot of great bands that have managed it, so that always gives us confidence.
B. How important is the city of Hull to The Talks? The city has had its share of social and economic adversities and yet manages to win City of Culture and have a tremendously close-knit and thriving music scene. Events like the Songeist-sponsored Humber Street Sesh and the work of Warren Records and venues like the Adelphi, Welly and Fruit give the scene a real sense of community, with bands of all different genres associating together. How do you feel this has happened and why do you think live music is so important in Hull? Other than the awesome Counting Coins, who else should we be checking out in Hull?
Iain: Hull is extremely important to us. Like with most bands, their home town is the place where they met, where they took their experiences and moulded them into songs, where they learned how to perform, the place that gave them life, and this is exactly how we feel about Hull. To be granted City of Culture is a great accolade, something to really work towards and show the rest of the world all that we have to offer. Bands don’t really segregate themselves stylistically here, we all appreciate just how hard each other works and are equally supportive of the scene. I think it works this way partly because of the recent social and economic upheavals; it’s a city on the up with everything to gain. We’ve been hit pretty hard in the past and not too much has been expected, so no one’s really living in anybody’s shadows. There are loads of great bands to check out, just to name a few: EndofLevelBaddie, Life, Young Jack and Black Delta Movement.
B. The video for ‘Radio’ takes place in a record shop and has scenes of people digging through the crates for vinyl. You’ve also released vinyl in Germany yourselves. Do you feel an affinity for the physical product and the album format? How do you think that acts can keep the tradition of the LP and record shop alive in a digital, playlist-orientated world?
Jody. Absolutely, with the vinyl its like it's a real, real product... a real piece of art and that's what I love about vinyl. Also I think by releasing a record it shows that you are investing in your band - as they are not cheap to manufacture - but people who collect vinyl know that and that's why they're still a bit special to this day. The download code does help towards this... but ultimately bands need to release more vinyl and inspire people to hear how it sounds rather than some hacked MP3 that has had the tits compressed out of it through some extra fake bass-boosting earphones that they picked because they were cheaper and more colourful, physically and sonically. Ssshhhh...
But what I think is paramount to a bands growth, is keeping the album format alive, whether that's digitally or physically. It seems that most bands release single after single to maintain momentum which is fine, but with an album it's more personal, taking the listeners on a journey through your music and the way you agonise over which way to take them through the album and where to break it up with a slight change in style or feel. This, I think, is always gonna bring your crowd closer to you because they have had that journey with you. They know the album tracks that everyone who bought just the singles doesn't, and that can't be a bad thing. Of course this is just our thoughts on the process and I guess time will tell once we have had 'Commoners, Peers, Drunks & Thieves' out for a while.
B. You’ve been playing a great deal of festivals this summer and getting The Talks sound out there across a lot of different countries. How have you found the reaction of fans in Europe? Do they need more time to get engaged than a UK crowd or are they even more up for it?
Iain. The European reaction to the band has been wicked. We’re lucky enough to have entered a lot of territories with good billing on some big festivals, which has really helped boost things. The audiences in Germany, Belgium, Holland and France are equally as up for it as those in the UK, if not at times moreso. They seem to engage instantly and latch on to the vibe. They really seem to get the vibe of the band live. In Germany for instance live music seems to have a heightened level of importance and going to a gig is a real event, not just going to the pub for a pint and as a by-product there’s a band on. Live gigs seem less saturated so they are better organised, promoted and more of an anticipated happening.
B. Finally, let us know what you guys have coming up and where we can keep in touch with you guys?
We're just finishing up with the festivals and then we release the album in November. We hit the road straight after, with three weeks in Europe and then a few weeks in the UK in November touring to promote the album. After that we will probably hate each other for a while, ha ha.
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You can stream tracks by The Talks on Songeist HERE.