July Talk on Professional Partying, Live Music's Return and Compliments from Paris Hilton

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

"I swear that Paris Hilton — in a brunette wig — once told my brother he was a good dancer"

Photo: Mitch Brown

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Nov 24, 2021

Before July Talk made Canadian tour plans to cap off their 2021, the band hit the studio with Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh to begin work on the follow-up to 2020's Pray for It. Now, with the new single "I Am Water" out through the band's new label/collective Danuta, the group are returning to the road on their Live at Last tour, which kicks off in Quebec City on November 29 and wraps up in Victoria on December 23.

To mark the occasion, we spoke with vocalists Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis about zoning out in nature, being a "party motivator" and cutting class in the name of inspiration.

What are you up to?

Dreimanis: Sometime in August, we decided to go into the studio with our friend/producer Graham Walsh for the new July Talk record. We had been writing a bunch of new music that felt ready, and the session ended up being pretty magical. Graham is such an extraordinary human being; it's like his father was a zen monk and his mother was a mad scientist. The five of us couldn't stop remarking on how kinetic the session felt, and we left feeling inspired about what was captured.

We just put out the first song from that session, called "I Am Water," which was co-written with our dear friends Kevin Drew and Dani Nash. The song marks the beginning of Danuta, the new art collective/production company/record label that Leah and I are starting with our family at Six Shooter Records. We often collaborate with other artists, directing music videos, songwriting, curating shows, etc., and Danuta will be a way that we can provide a home for that kind of creative work while also putting out July Talk material as well. We're currently creating a music video for our friend, the one and only Tanya Tagaq, and just released another one for Jasmyn, formerly of Weaves. Toronto is such a wildly talented city, sometimes you've got to recognize how blessed you are to be a part of it. I guess Danuta is our way of contributing to that community and highlighting art that we love.

We're also about to hit the road on our first tour back! The Live at Last tour starts on November 28 in Ottawa and finishes on December 23 in Victoria. The anticipation is real! We were able to curate a lineup of our favourite artists in the country to join us in each city, so we can't wait to feel that energy of artists and audiences reuniting at last. I think it's going to be an emotional explosion when we finally get to step out on that stage again. Can almost taste it…

What are your current fixations?

Dreimanis: I've been on a heavy Radiohead kick, to be honest. Mostly cued by this whole KID A MNESIA release, but it's sent me on a wild trek From the Basement to the Computer and everywhere in between. Other current song obsessions include "On My Mind" by James Baley, "You Shadow" by Sharon Van Etten, "Waiting for the Light to Change" by Luke Lalonde and "EMT Police and the Fire Department" by Shilpa Ray. Also loving the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Why do you live where you do? 

Fay: My maternal grandparents both came to Canada as displaced people after World War II from Poland, met in Parkdale outside the library, fell in love, and moved to a few different spots around Toronto before buying the house that I live in now. To pay off the mortgage, they had 13 people living in it at one point, all sharing one bathroom! I now share it with Peter, two of our best friends who are also artists, and two cats. It's old and weird but I am very tied to it and don't think I'll ever leave. At this point, I can't afford to move to Hamilton anyway. 

What's the last book or movie that blew your mind? 

Fay: I'm just finishing Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and I'm very in love with it. It's taken me a while to get through because I find it requires many crying breaks and ample absorbing time.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational concert and why? 

Fay: I see the Queer Songbook Orchestra every chance I get because their shows are phenomenal musically and the community storytelling aspect makes my heart grow five sizes every time. I've had the chance to perform with them a few times, and the opportunity to sing and speak openly about the songs and artists that have been most integral to my own queer identity has been life-changing in a way I didn't expect it to be. Their shows make the world better and I'm so grateful they exist.

What's been the greatest moment of your career so far?

Dreimanis: Well, it's a strange time to answer that question, leaning into the dawn of the first tour back after such a long time away from the stage. All my favourite July Talk memories have been onstage, because it's when we are most ourselves. 

I've spoken to folks that have been through near death experiences, you know? Heart attacks, strokes, car accidents, overdoses, etc. And about how afterwards every day is a gift, they let go of the small stuff and approach it as a second chance at life.

I guess I'm so energized by the idea of returning to the stage with a fresh perspective, as a more fully formed person than I was when I left it. It feels like the greatest moments of our career are yet to come, because, as much as I enjoyed everything we've been through together, and we've shared some profound moments all around the world, I feel totally and completely focused on moving forward. Maybe it's a coping mechanism I developed at some point, but it works for me so I'm going to keep leaving the past behind and trying to strive to find newness however I can.

What's been the worst moment of your career so far?

Fay: Releasing our third album Pray For It, without being able to tour and play shows was very challenging. The world, as we knew it, changed forever in 2020, and we were simultaneously in the midst of changing labels and management. It felt like the floor disappeared beneath us momentarily. Performing onstage has been a coping mechanism of mine since I was a kid, and I experience a great deal of healing from it, so going through 2020-2021 and all it entailed without the main thing that grounds me was destabilizing. I learned a lot, though.

Who's a Canadian musician that should be more famous?

Dreimanis: James Baley. Full stop. James Baley needs to be stratosphere famous. If you asked a squirrel at the top of a tree who James Baley is, they should roll their eyes at you like you've been hiding under a rock. I genuinely feel that he is someone that can and will bring the world together. He effortlessly represents a myriad of emotions every time he graces a microphone with his voice, and I think he is a superstar.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?

Dreimanis: Just to advocate for myself in business relationships probably. I'm a very optimistic person and have assumed the best of people on occasion and been burned badly in return.

What was the first song you ever wrote?

Fay: It was a song called "Sin," and, now that I'm recalling the lyrics, I think it was pretty bad. But I remember I skipped class to stay home and record it on GarageBand because I wasn't sure if another song would ever come and it felt really important. 

What do you think of when you think of Canada?

Fay: It's a bit of a mindfuck. I feel really angry at the violent, scheming measures that were taken to create this settler state — which I benefit from every minute of every day and owe my survival to — and I also feel so grateful to be here on this beautiful land that has saved so many immigrants' lives from danger abroad.

What's the meanest thing anyone has ever said about your art?

Dreimanis: Mostly just boring reactions to July Talk not re-writing our first record over and over. I think there's a fair amount of people online who just want us to stay the same and play gritty blues songs over and over. I think the five of us are pretty united in that we'll always be searching for newness wherever we can look, instead of finding a sound and putting out the same record every couple years. I'm glad that we all share that inclination.

What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?

Dreimanis: I think it was Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was a CD I bought from the HMV in Edmonton City Centre on 101 Street before catching the bus home from seventh grade, and it totally blew my mind.

What was your most memorable day job?

Fay: I used to work as a dancer for a DJ company, dancing at bar/bat mitzvahs and giving out inflatable guitars and stuff. I referred to it as "Party Motivator" on my resume. Actually pretty close to what I feel I do now.

If you weren't playing music, what would you be doing instead?

Dreimanis: I do miss working in film sometimes. But would also love to work with young people at some point. I've had a few experiences with it and I enjoyed trying to inspire them to explore their own ideas and find out more about who they want to be. I'd love to do more of that kind of work.

How do you spoil yourself?

Fay: I feel really spoiled when I get to zone out in nature for a while.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?

Dreimanis: Exclaim!, these questions are tough! Ha. I feel like I talk too much sometimes. I get really excited about something and blather on, and I often wish that I would just shut up and listen more. That said, I think I can be a good conductor of energy, and can inspire others to see more in themselves and believe in themselves, I think.

What's the best way to listen to music?

Dreimanis: Driving alone, straight prairie road.

What do you fear most?

Fay: I guess neo-Nazis and people of that ilk — and the retribution of Mother Earth, but at least that's warranted.

If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?

Dreimanis: Play a whole tour of free shows, powered by solar energy? 

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?

Fay: I can't prove it, but I swear that Paris Hilton — in a brunette wig — once told my brother he was a good dancer at a nightclub in Mexico. He is a remarkable dancer.

What is the greatest song of all-time?

Dreimanis: "A Case of You" by Joni Mitchell.

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