Hope + Love: An Interview with Leah Fay and Peter Driemanis from July Talk

Introductions + the Tour thus Far

Amanda Maceda: Right now, I’m with Peter and Leah from July Talk. Howdy!

Leah Fay: Hi.

Peter Driemanis: Hi there. Thanks for having us.

So y’all have been on tour. This is your final stop, right?

LF: Yeah, this is it. We were in Austin last night. We’ve been out for about 10 days and we have, I think it’s eight shows total. Is that right?

PD: Something like that.

LF: Maybe it was seven. Anyway, just a little quick run. We had a show playing at ZONA, the festival in Phoenix, Arizona, and we just built a little tour around that. We’ve got new music coming out in January, so it seems like a good time to come back to the states and show our faces. It’s been a while.

PD: It’s been great.This tour is kind of finishing a tour. We started in the spring, where we did two separate tours of the West and East Coast with this awesome artist called Shilpa Ray from New York City. We really enjoyed that, but we missed Denver, Salt Lake, Austin, that middle stretch of the country. And we thought we should go back to LA anyway, ‘cuz everyone says “go to LA, go to LA,” it’s a thing [laughs]. But yeah, it’s been a great tour. It’s so nice to be back at it as you’d imagine as a band that’s been touring pretty heavily for 10 years and then, you know, we got the carpet pulled out from underneath us. Just the rhythm of it, the endorphins you’ll let out each night. We’re very much a live band and fall in the footsteps of live rock-and-roll traditions. And so to be able to have that rhythm each night and go out and feel the energy of the crowd is pretty special.

Really excited for tonight.

LF: We love it.

PD: [laughs].


Part 1: Remember Never Before

Speaking of having the carpet being pulled out from under you, your last album, Pray for Ity’all had it planned before 2020 really went into full-swing. That’s just wild to think about. Your upcoming album, which is coming out on January 20th, Remember Never Before, that would be then the culmination of 2020 as a whole perhaps, and other experiences y’all have had since.

LF: A lot happened in the world as everyone listening knows, starting in 2016-2017, politically. It just felt like the world started being set on fire in a lot of ways. And so I think we felt pretty doomy, gloomy, scared, and at times hopeless. Calling the album Pray for It was a call for reflection and help, acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers, and preparing for how much worse it was gonna get. And then it got so much worse, like unimaginably bad, living through a global pandemic. This is something that only happens once every hundred years or so, and it changes the course of history. You don’t grow up thinking that you’re gonna live through something like that. The news is crazy and it just continues to be crazy and the world continues to be polarized. I think we made our very reflective COVID album in the years before COVID accidentally, just ‘cuz we were feeling a lot, we know each other really well, and were processing a lot of feelings. Making this new album, Remember Never Before, was the culmination of hopelessness and moving into something that’s more hopeful. And also surviving. We were very lucky to come through the pandemic. We caught COVID a couple times, but we were okay and supported by our governments and healthcare systems. It was a really sad, dark time. But considering where we are and considering the whole world, we came through it. I mean it’s still ongoing obviously, but just choosing hope in the face of despair as an action is something that feels pretty radical and exciting. And that’s the energy of the new music that’s coming out.

PD: Yeah, often you hear people question musicians who are consistently writing music about politics or interacting with the world in that way. I think that what you don’t realize is that, especially once you come into yourself as an artist of any kind, the only way that you can make anything is to follow your intuition and your instincts. And so the context of the world around us, it exists in the way you asked your question.

Each record is a bit of a time capsule from the years prior, right? And there’s not really any way of escaping that. We’re not really an escapist band, we don’t necessarily write songs that are meant to let people out of the stress and anxieties of their lives [laughs]. It’s not really our style. Remember Never Before is supposed to be “remember never before,” you know, it’s supposed to be this feeling. There’s this photograph that’s gonna be on the back of it that encapsulates this feeling that was taken of my friend John. He’s just screaming in the front row of an audience at a basement show from when we were teenagers. And he’s just in it, you know? Art has the ability to allow people to experience awe and shock. The moment when you figure out who your truest form is or something, there’s like a realization there.

Anyway, this record was a yearning for that through COVID, spending a lot of time at home of course. But like Leah said, we’d already made this sad bastard, thoughtful record that I love. It felt like we had to go find what that moment in the night was gonna be. Hey, you know, we lived, you know what I mean? We’re here, what else are we gonna do? What’s so important? You know, what are we fighting for? What were we yearning for all that time? Okay, well now you get to do it. Go on tour. What are you gonna do? What’s so special about life before, you know? You get it back. I know we’re not through anything completely, but it just feels like, okay, you missed life? It’s time to identify what you missed and try to live in that moment, live in that potent self, I guess. If that makes sense.

That does make sense.

LF: Yeah.

PD: Blather.

I love the blathering. They’re listening for y’all, to get these opinions, takes, and the emotions. That’s my favorite part of interviewing, you get to figure out more about the band that you don’t experience when you watch them on stage. On stage we watch y’all get super emotional, the catharsis, concert euphoria. But there’s a lot more dialogue that happens off stage that a lot of the fans never get to know. We can relate through the music and the lyricism, but it’s nice to have a dialogue. In this way, it’s more of a passive interaction for the people listening back at home, but it’s nonetheless really nice to get these additional layers to y’all’s music.

LF: That’s so sweet.

PD: Thanks for giving us the opportunity to do that.


Part 2: July Talk in Color

You said there’s gonna be a photo at the back for Remember Never Before.

PD: Yeah.

Is that photo gonna be in black and white?

PD: It just happens to be in black and white. It was shot on black and white film. It’s interesting how we’ve been interacting with that. To be honest, it’s never occupied less of our psyche as artists as it has in this moment. Like that decisionfor people listening that don’t know the band, we started with only doing black and white images. Everything we ever put out was in black and white. And that started because we thought we were clever early-on. Leah and I sing together and we have very different voices. We liked this as a visual metaphor,  a very early-twenties visual metaphor. Not to be ageist at all, but you know what I mean. And now we’re just interested in doing whatever the hell we want. In every project we do we’re visual-filmmaker types, and we look at the project and think, does this feel better in black and white or color? It’s been really liberating to not have to adhere to certain limitations.

When we first started we were really hyped up on Jack White and the idea of putting limitations on a project so that you can exercise yourself within a more minimal landscape visually. But as time’s gone on, Leah’s such a huge fan of color and she comes from a long line of artists. Her grandfather was an incredible artist, her mom is an incredible artist, and she can do anything and make anything. It started to feel a bit limiting to just be working in black and white. Limiting in not a good way. She has such a crazy color tone aesthetic sense of the world. And so we’ve had a lot of fun making stuff in color. Though, there’s still some black and white stuff for this record too. It’s just whatever suits us.

Right? It was very much y’all’s branding going in, emphasizing the juxtaposition of y’all’s voices. I remember it being such a shock online when you introduced color. Especially in the comments section on YouTube sometimes. You still get people being like, July Talk in color, what is this? With “The News,” that was y’all’s first full-color music video.

LF: Yeah. And we tried to play with it by using the background of the color bars, as if we’re calibrating ourselves trying to figure out this new world.

PD: Tell them how it was all painted too. It’s kinda cool.

LF: What do you mean?

PD: Like the color bars, how we painted it.

LF: Yeah, we were in a big white studio and we worked with these two great people on art direction, John and Jen. They taped out those color bars and then made them drag down across the floor in different sizes. So we had a little encapsulating stage for us to play in. Weezer, “The Sweater Song,” our video was a big callback to that one. But yeah, that song was just supposed to be fun and kind of making fun of how polarized news media had become, and how scary that is. Me and Peter both come from news families. My dad and Peter’s mom are both journalists and worked for different newspapers from varying sides of the political spectrum.

PD: News kids, newsroom kids.

LF: Yeah, we talk a lot about news and the importance of honest journalism. That song was commenting on that. In that video, for people who haven’t seen it, we made a news museum and there’s a barf scene with confetti and a toilet and it was just a blast. It was in the middle of COVID. We’d been locked up for almost a year and we were just like, let’s go have some fun and let’s do it in color. But yeah, a lot of people don’t like change and they don’t like when you do something that’s different than what they think they like and you know, people don’t like to be pushed.

PD: A lot of people loved it, Leah.

I loved the paper confetti barf.

PD: It was a very fun video to make. We made it with our dear friends Nora and Mike who lived with us in this big house of creativity. It was fun.


Part 3: House of Creatives + Music Recommendations

I was gonna mention the house, since y’all mentioned it in a few other interviews too. Living with multiple artistswas that before/during/after COVID? Is that still your home base?

PD: It’s been a long time since that house has been going. You’ve been the steward of that house since when?

LF: Since I graduated from university. I was living in Montreal at the time, I’m from Toronto. It’s the house that my grandparents bought in the 1950s. They both ended up in Canada after World War II. They came to Canada as displaced people and refugees, met, fell in love, and then got this house and rented it out to 13 people to try and pay it off. It was often immigrants and artists and people who, if they couldn’t pay their rent, they’d pay in a painting or something like that. So the walls are decorated with murals, and my grandfather was a set painter. So their energy and spirit is really in that house. And when I was done with university, my mom said, ‘You should move into that house, I’ll be your landlord, and you can move in with whoever you want.’ Since then it’s always just been a rotating cast of very special friends. Pete moved in at a certain point with me and our best friend Nora, and then this guy Mike moved in, and he’s a filmmaker.

PD: Everybody works away at it like, you pitch in and try to update it where it needs updating. It’s falling over a little, a wonky over-100-year-old house, and a really beautiful place. Leah’s grandparents were so special. Those people were so interesting. To be carrying that baton and trying to make art within it and stuff is really special.

LF: I feel like they’re the happiest when the house is full of people, as opposed to just me living there by myself. They were always super welcoming and just trying to create a haven for folks.

Yeah, that sounds so rad. We have a little bit of a creative scene here where we’ve had different creatives or DJs live together, and over time it would turn into a house venue or just a place to create.

LF: Oh that’s awesome.

PD: Cool.

Sometimes they’d even have little art fairs. Have y’all ever done anything like that?

LF: Yeah there’s been some house performances. COVID made us realize that we should probably be using the house more for that kind of thing once we were able to gather again safely. I hope we do more of it in the future.

PD: For sure.

Speaking of enjoying other creatives and being inspired by them, it also helps with being hopeful and just seeing other people’s spark, just working together to ignite that within each other. Have there been any recent artists or musicians that you’ve really enjoyed, or collaborating with recently?

LF: So many!

PD: My favorite band right now is called Tropical Fuck Storm. They’re from Melbourne, Australia and they’re the best live band I’ve ever seen. We saw them at last in Toronto after their show was canceled because of COVID, and it was so much fun. What comes to mind for you?

LF: I’m thinking about Crack Cloud and how inspired we are by them visually and their ethos. They’re a super visual, community-based band. I believe most of them have experience working in harm reduction in Vancouver. They make really cool music and amazing visuals that just feel really joyful, post-apocalyptic and hopeful. Turnstile, too, is a band that we really love right now musically. Their community vibe and how they bring people together at showsthey just seem so welcoming, and their videos are really sick as well.

PD: There’s also an incredible duo from Toronto/Peterborough called Joyful Joyful. That’s probably something to check out.

Nice. Thank you for those recommendations!

PD: I’m sure we’ll remember a bunch that we should have said afterwards.

That’s usually how it goes, but also, you’re further reminded and thankful of who you’ve gotten to meet or be inspired by, so that’s the plus of that.

PD: That’s right.


Part 4: Defining Hope + Love

So, I have a fun question for y’all. Well, now I have two, because you gave me the second one as we were talking. At this moment, what would be y’all’s definitions for hope and love?

PD: “Hope” is a weird one right now, because you can show your optimism through action in the most subtle ways. Simply by getting up and touching base with a friend. You’re like a little optimism bomb in your community just by these little actions, which I don’t think was always the case. I hope I’m not too much of a bummer by saying this, but I think a lot of people are really depressed right now. And I think that there’s a lot of folks that are really struggling, and I’m super inspired by these small little actions that seem to be beacons of hope in the mundane. Do you know what I mean? Like, going on tour right now is an act of optimism somehow. It’s like, “we’re gonna do this.” It didn’t use to be. Maybe we didn’t face as many obstacles, but when talking about hope, I’m definitely focused on that, and I feel very empowered when I get to provide those little doses of optimism in strange, mundane ways. I hope that makes sense. [To Leah] Now you have to define love.

LF: [laughs]

PD: [In a character voice likely from a movie or show that the transcriber can’t place] P.S., I love you [laughs].

LF:  I feel really sensitive to how much hate there is in the world. I get pretty emotionally triggered by hatred, demonstrations of hate, discrimination, hate crimes, and laws happening to discriminate against people. When we talk about tolerance, it gets finicky. People just want basic human rights. I’m specifically thinking of trans rights, gay rights, women’s rights, and anti-racism. All people fighting those fights on either side. The louder, more powerful, and stronger that one side becomes, the more fearful the other side becomes, and they raise their voices and organize. It can get really scary, polarized, and hateful.

There’s a lot of reasons to believe that there’s no future, and it’s easy to go into nihilistic places and get really dark. Thinking about future generations and how we want them to feel, to be accepted, to be loved, and to truly be whoever they want to be, I think that’s something that’s inextricably linked to hope and love.  Creating space and really looking at “hate”why does it exist? What is the history of it? Where does it come from? Who does it serve? Who is it keeping in certain places? And how do we educate and break ourselves out of that? Because it’s a pattern and it’s something that has always happened. The whole reason why we’re here is love. It’s not hate. The whole reason why we continue to populate and live on this earth, love the earth, want to live, and strive to survive is because of love. It’s not because of hate. Hate will just serve to seek, destroy, and end, but love will always provide light, a path, a future, and hope. I think we all just gotta decide which side we’re on. [laughs]

That was wonderfully put, both of those.

PD: Sums up the world.

LF: It’s also really important for understanding. For us, coming from these two very political backgrounds means we have to have these complicated conversations, and everyone has people in their family who disagree with them. I think that’s the best place to start. How do you sit down with your parent, or that one f***ing uncle or aunt that everyone’s got, who just said something that made you cringe. How do you speak to them with love?

I know not everyone has the capacity to do that, and not everyone has to have the capacity to do that. We’ve all experienced different things, and sometimes it’s just not possible. We’re all born innocent and shit, and then we just get fucked up as time goes on. [laughs]

PD: A lot of those folks are really set in their ways and are looking at things from a different perspective. A lot of that’s coming out of fear, right? Which is another big ingredient in this whole mess. Folks are tired of being patronized and they’re tired of being patted on the head. If you’re trying to sit down with your uncle, who has vastly different views than you, and your motive in that conversation is to change him or to tell him he’s wrong and that he needs to change, then you’re not really approaching it with love either. That’s what’s getting us into this whole mess. The actual conversations start from a zero that is so patronizing.

Ever since the eighties with Reagan, Thatcher, and all that, it just served to separate the consumer from the people making all the decisions. And now we’ve got this sort of elitist scenario where we can’t talk, we can’t really talk about anything, we can’t really get anything done in a conversation because it’s hard. It’s just really hard to chat. But if you can approach it with love, you know, when you think about someone saying, “oh, don’t talk to me about your trans friends” or what, “I don’t want to use certain pronouns” or “I don’t wanna do any of it,” you know, people are afraid of what they don’t understand. If you approach them being, “you need to understand this” well, you know. Like Leah was saying, we have access to these people because they’re in our families and they trust us, and they saw us when we were little kids and they thought we were cute. And so you could still use your cuteness against them and go up to them and be like, “listen, uncle Jerry, you used to love me and I’d like to chat with you for a little bit.” You know what I mean? Like it can be productive, but I just think that like often the jumping-off point is like, none of us know what to say. None of us know how to behave in those conversations and therefore the conversations don’t end up being very productive. I guess you gotta meet someone where they’re at a little bit in order to try to get anything done, rather than put them down.

Yeah. There’s such a fear in being vulnerable, and that’s where a lot of those conversations create that situation. If it’s not handled the best, then it just turns to yelling at each other, and that’s where the hate comes in and the conflict. Conversations like that are gonna make people uncomfortable, but if you never have them then the cycle just continues.

PD: Totally. It’s tough, and like Leah was saying, when we look forward to next generations, it’s really exciting. I imagine there’s gotta be a level of just frustration watching it all go down. I think having a relationship with anybody that’s in the younger part of their life, there’s a social contract there. You owe that person a life. You owe that person more than what you get out of your average political debate these days, you know? Hopefully we find some sort of new way to communicate that makes room. That’s a lot. We’re covering a lot of bases here.

That was a lot. I don’t want to do a quick transition because that would make it feel lesslet’s take a pause here.

PD: Yeah, for sure.

Thank you both for answering that question by the way.

PD: Oh, it’s all good. It’s just big business, lots to chat about when you talk about everything.

LF: Yeah. Also, there’s always that thing too where we’re Canadian. We have a different history, worldview, and education. Obviously we can’t help but pay attention to what’s happening down here. It dominates our news cycles and we love it down here, and we feel invested in what happens to our neighbors and our family down south. But at the same time, there is always that thing where it’s like, “don’t talk politics when you go to the States.” Cause you don’t know what it’s like and we don’t. And so all of this comes with a caveat that we are Canadian.

PD: Totally. And our systems up there are just as screwed-up in all kinds of different ways, you know? We don’t say it from a high horse. We’re just obviously very affected by it.

So I’ve got a bit of an introspective question. Since y’all have been together for about a decade, wasn’t it October that one of your albums celebrated that big 10?

LF: Yes.

PD: Yeah, that’s right.

How have y’all as a singing duo changed throughout those 10 years? Do you think y’all have blended at all, in lyricism or maybe just in performance? How have y’all evolved over time?

PD: We’ve definitely gotten better at it, because you listen to the early stuff, you’re like, what were we doing? [laughs] I’m just joking. I think our taste has changed, probably. We have a very common taste.

LF: When we first started, there was this huge emphasis on how different our voices were. We spend all our time together, we talk about everything, and we disagree on very little. It’s almost like the past 10 years we’ve just been trying to turn into each other, [laughs] I think, sometimes in a way. The reading into the differences in our band, like “his voice” and “her voice” and “he sounds like a pack of cigarettes” and “she sounds like,” you know, “whatever.” [laughs] I think that stuff often says more about other people and it says more about their own worldview and where they’re coming from and their taste and stuff than it does about us. And so I kind of feel like over the past 10 years it’s been a process of not allowing those definitions to define us. Knowing our quintessential nature when we’re songwriting and making music together is more just about like two people, two humans having a human conversation. And sometimes we’re talking to each other in our songs, and sometimes we’re not talking to each other, and we’re just speaking together as a united front to the world. That’s the beautiful thing about duets and the art of dueting. It can really be anything, but I think it’s a special thing when two people get up and they sing like Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra at karaoke or something. It does something. It widens the scope of it. We’ve always used that to our advantage.

PD: Yeah. And we’re just kind of blind to any of that stuff. When I talk about other music, or try to explain it to friends, categorizing is a necessary evil. But when you try to explain or figure out who you are to other people, it’s usually not very productive. It’s not a space that you generally wanna linger too much in. I like to call it the business of overthinking things. We don’t really know how we’ve changed over the last 10 years. Luckily, we have these cool little recordings that we did along the way to mark our steps, but really that’s all it is. When you’re making new music, you’re just gravitating to what the five of us, and now six of us, are just excited about. The sounds that just feel cool, that exist in our bodies and make us wanna dance and make us wanna be ourselves. So it’s interesting, but yeah, I don’t really think about it.

Solid. Well, this was lovely chatting with y’all and we’re so excited to see y’all live on stage later tonight.

PD: Amazing. Thanks for chatting.

LF: It’s so nice you’re coming! Often, you chat with people and then you’re like, “see you at the show.” And they’re like, “eh, I’m really busy.”

PD: “I’m going to a bar mitzvah.” [laughs] I appreciate the thoughtful chat. It’s nice to have a chat that’s not like, [electric radio announcer voice] “Welcome to 92.9!!!” [laughs]. You know, like with such an agenda. It’s nice to just chat. So I appreciate it very much.

The power of college radio.

PD: Exactly. REM Forever.

LF: Good luck on your finals. Is it finals? Yes. Good luck on your finals.

PD: Everyone, everyone listening. You’re doing it. You’re in it. You got this.

LF: And don’t forget to vote whenever you can.

PD: Please vote.


July Talk