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UNCOMFORTABLE SPACES

NEW TALK - photo by Stapled Together
NEW TALK - photo by Stapled Together

Perth band, New Talk’s sophomore album, Time And Memory, landed from seemingly nowhere on 9 April.  Released just over four years after their storied debut, A Handful Of Ash (March 2017), it’s difficult not to feel like there was a fracture in the band’s momentum between albums.  For a while New Talk were ubiquitous in Perth, winning more than enough local music awards during 2017 and 2018 to have them earmarked as next big things, and playing the sort of live sets that made jaws drop and people turn up to their gigs in increasingly large numbers. 

In terms of the seriousness or, sometimes, overwroughtness that can sometimes come from themes and things like that, it’s not as if we’re walking around carrying ourselves like that all the time. We’re big dumb idiots for the most part.  I think we’re all invested in this band so much that it’s the most perfect way to express those really deeper, meaningful things.

Axel Carrington, New Talk

The world was theirs for the taking.  And then, somehow, it wasn’t.

Another thing about New Talk is the sense of gravitas they exude.  Played live, their music is powerful, immediate and just about as intense an experience as you’d ever see on a stage.  They have an aura of seriousness and mystery that makes getting behind their mask essential.

But forget all that.  If you want to know what it’s like to gatecrash a children’s birthday party with members of one of Perth’s finest bands, please do read on.

Present this chilly Autumn evening at Perth’s premier live music venue, the Rosemount Hotel, were Kiera Owen, vocals; Axel Carrington, guitar; and Jamie Gallacher, drums.  Bass player, Sara McPherson, was unable to make it and probably spent a quiet evening listening to roadworkers outside her loungeroom window, watching stampeding herds of elephants on YouTube with the volume turned up to eleventeen, or just anything less disturbing than sharing space with a marauding hoard of tweens high on sugar celebrating one of their cohort being another year older.

‘A tweens birthday at the Rosemount?’ I hear you asking.  We escaped the noisy expanse of the venue’s beer garden to find a quiet booth in the labyrinthine space between the outside and the venue’s main room and just came across them.  They’d taken over the whole area and, as we slid into what we thought was an empty booth, we were accosted by two outrageously young people wanting their chips back.  It was unexpected, to say the least.  Seems times are a changing all around.

We carried on bravely, wincing only slightly each time the noise from the birthday party crescendoed and hoping that we wouldn’t be overrun by youth.  Yes, ironic.

I figured I may as well just go for it, it felt like we were living on borrowed time, anyway, so I opened by asking Owen, Carrington and Gallacher what the hold up had been.  Why have they been away so long?

To start with, the replies were slow to come.

Carrington began with comedy, quipping, “My mind’s just blank, always. There’s not much going on up there,” immediately obliterating any idea that our time together would be in any way serious.  His bandmates and, turns out, lifelong besties, cracked up.

While they paused for breath through the giggles, Owen began to answer in earnest.  “It’s been a long time coming,” she said, stating the obvious, but with the poet’s eye for meaning within and between the words that she applies to her role as lyricist with New Talk. 

“The clichéd second album syndrome, everything gets really hard,” added Gallacher, not laughing any more.

“That first album,” continued Owen, warming to the task now, “once we’d finished that, recorded it put it out and played quite a few shows with it, it definitely felt like quite a feat to try and reset and start a whole new project.  From a creative point of view, from an energy point of view, and I guess just lives changing. It’s four people in a band and you’re trying to constantly grow but you’re also growing in different directions.”

Here, Owen began to pick at the threads of what became a recurrent theme in our conversation, the relationships between New Talk’s members.  It was a fascinating and recursive exchange that spoke volumes about the band’s interpersonal dynamics and capacity to create such magnificent music.

I asked whether they felt daunted by the success of their first album, to which Carrington replied, “Maybe creatively, yeah. I think, A Handful Of Ash, was probably the first self-realised thing that we had done, from start to finish, self-contained, written for and produced for itself. Definitely in terms of the creative process absolutely, there’s already that element of, it’s not good enough or it’s not like…”

“Have we already written our best song?” continued Owen, getting to the heart of the artist’s greatest fear, losing access to the creative stream.

Success is a headfuck at times.  You get some, you want more and, worse still, audiences expect greater and better, and no waiting around.  But what if the well is dry or you can’t top what you’ve already done?  Seems the members of New Talk suffered a little with this creative malaise, which Gallacher bundled up as follows: “After the [first] album was out, it was like, that took so long, and the idea of starting from a morsel of something, doing all that again can be super daunting.”

And then there was the pause New Talk took in their creative process.

“Realistically, we didn’t work as a band together until a year or two after the release of the first one,” Carrington said.

Though this was the case, even in the aftermath of recording and performing their first album, New Talk were still creating new songs. 

“There were a couple of songs that we kind of fleshed out and started to introduce into the live set that weren’t part of the first album,” said Owen, “so some of the songs like ‘Red Tuesday’ and ‘Filmer’s Clay’, they go back quite a few years now to our live set, we’ve been playing them for a long time. ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’, the first time we played that was at the [first] album launch. We’d kind of vaguely fleshed that out and wanted to try it, try putting a new song in. And then we didn’t play it again, we just kind of tucked it away and came back to it years later.”

“We didn’t play it again until we played that first show we played last year,” confirmed Carrington, “which was when we pretty much played the album all the way through for the first time.”

A Handful Of Ash was launched on 18 March 2017 and New Talk’s first gig in 2020 was on 11 July, so that’s a gap of more than three years.  On the surface, that feels like a long time in the making of a contemporary song, but artists will often pick over fragments of their work, shaping and reshaping them over many years until they become something more than just ephemera and they’re ready to be recorded and released as a finished article.  It appears that’s what New Talk have been doing here.

“It (new music) did trickle in, in the live sets,” said Owen, “but in terms of realising the full concept of this next one and focusing on writing more songs, that only happened in the last two and a half years. I don’t think of 2020 as a year.  We’d already recorded this second album at the end of 2019 and it felt like a bit of a roadblock for us having to wait through 2020 sitting on this release and trying to keep it fresh in our own hearts and not being able to play it, and all this time is going past. I think it was a very emotional time where we felt a little bit flat and disconnected.”

It’s all in the timing.  While many other bands used the enforced hiatus of 2020 to write and record new music, New Talk were ahead of the curve, but then had to sit out the pandemic with a new record burning a hole in their collective pockets and nowhere to spend it.  You can see how that would get old in a hurry.

Carrington summed up the temporal anomalies in New Talk’s progress to their second album, saying, “It’s curious, the whole theme of the record is time and memory, and memory is so slippery, and we’re talking about a song that the first draft was written five years ago and then you play it live and it’s fresh again. And we just released it, so to everybody else it’s a new thing for them, so new experiences are being drawn from that too.”

Since Carrington had touched on Time And Memory’s content and themes, it seemed wise on my part to try to tease more out of them about this and why, as a band, New Talk are just so damned serious all the time.

Gallacher’s response immediately reminded me that New Talk’s gravitas is a largely professional thing, saying with a cheesy grin, “Through no fault of one’s own, I suppose,” making it clear that the band’s members mean it, they live it, but that’s not all they are.  This is what you get for trying to create one dimension out of multidimensional beings, a gentle correction.

“There’s a lot of touchpoints,” said Carrington, expanding on Gallacher’s redirect, “but really it’s about the realm of identity and how you’re always grappling with your own perception versus other’s perception versus… Memory is a fickle thing, it’s fluid and it’s ever changing, your perception of what one event is versus later on down the track, that’s something that can and, potentially, should change for various reasons.  In terms of the seriousness or, sometimes, overwroughtness that can sometimes come from themes and things like that, it’s not as if we’re walking around carrying ourselves like that all the time. We’re big dumb idiots for the most part.  I think we’re all invested in this band so much that it’s the most perfect way to express those really deeper, meaningful things.”

Thank you, there’s the click bait quote for our socials, but there, also, is the beating heart of New Talk.  If I wanted to be clichéd about it, this is where I would talk about the parts being greater than the sum of the whole, or some other bullshit cod philosophy.  That would be underselling what New Talk is all about.  Rather than try to explain it with hackneyed phrases, I’m just going to say that, when these four get together, they create magic, and leave it at that.  Trying to explain it further would be like trying to explain religion.  At the end of the day, you either believe something or you don’t and, in my estimation, New Talk create magic worth believing in.

It was at this point that we began to dig deeper into what makes the gestalt that is New Talk work.

“If I think back to this band when we first started,” said Owen, “getting together with zero expectations, it was always a space for us to let out what we were feeling and to talk about things and build our friendships and relationships with each other.  I think having absolutely no expectation going into this creatively in the early days really built this beautiful foundation for expression between us.  We found very intimate, interpersonal relationships between the band as well, so as people we’ve been meshed in each other’s lives since we were teenagers and we’ve all grown together. This has been like a safe space, like a sacred space to us where, even though we have connections outside of the band, this is like this one place where we get to really truly express ourselves and be very honest with each other.”

“It’s very organic, I think,” continued Gallacher.  “It’s kind of funny how it all came about, I’ve known Kiera since we were both kids.”

Turns our Gallacher’s parents had a piano, which was what first brought the 12-year-old Owen out to play, literally, and things evolved from there, with Carrington and McPherson joining the party when the four members of New Talk were in their mid to late teens.  They’ve been playing together as Rag N’ Bone and then New Talk since 2012. 

“We met, all four of us, around 2009,” said Owen, “and then we were just friends for quite a few years and sort of fell into this jam space and just didn’t stop.”

This is a band built on enduring relationships and friendships.  Things may have shifted as the members themselves have grown from adolescence to adulthood, but the core of what first brought them together remains.

Bringing us to the present day, Owen said, “I feel like the album release and us re-feeling it has united us again. Over the last two years we’ve all had a lot of life changes and whatnot but getting in that space again, hearing the album in full again and being able to release it has definitely united us and brought us closer.”

Sometime in 2019 I had a brief conversation with Owen when we came across each other in another of Perth’s live music venues.  At that time, she was nowhere near as bullish about the future of New Talk, implying that their continuation was by no means assured.  It’s so good to see that the band’s four members have navigated their way past this moment and have returned reinvigorated, stronger and more united than ever.  Why?  Because what’s good for New Talk is good for music, plain and simple.

“I’ve always felt like this is a kind of band where losing a member is literally like losing a limb,” said Owen, “and I’ve never been able to perceive this band without each individual that is part of it, because it’s so integral to what we create and also how it’s then translated. From a vocal point of view, it’s like having a space in music and the opportunity to deeply fall into it and completely let go.  It’s probably the only space in my life where I have that opportunity and it’s also a space where I get to really challenge my own emotional input into a song and I get to challenge how full throttle I go with my instrument the music allows for that, I guess.  If you’re not getting that out of a set or a song it feels like it’s not fully done, it’s not fully expressed. Vocally, it’s been an extremely amazing band to be in, to know my own capability and my own worth in that regard.”

Carrington expressed the moment New Talk currently find themselves in by saying, “I think it’s wonderful that we finally get to share the work that we’ve done. It’s our best work, and it’s also reinvigorated us to think that there’s better yet to come.”

I love it when artists are willing to make bold claims about their work.  Most just whitter on about hoping people will like what they’ve done and how they enjoy making and playing music, especially with their mates, so it was refreshing to hear Carrington’s confidence and to see that neither of his bandmates disagreed with him.  It makes my job as a reviewer so much easier, because he’s either right, or I get to write several delicious paragraphs about just how wrong he is, there’s no in between.  Bring it on!

Turns out he was right.

Time And Memory is an assured second coming for a band that thought, even if only for the briefest of moments, they might not stay the course.  Whatever turbulence they have ridden out has ultimately been poured into their creative processes and the resulting music is superb.

New Talk play a brand of post/neo punk that is glass-sharp and mesmerisingly good.  Foregrounding Owen’s vocals and incisive lyrics, which are as expansive and other worldly as a science fiction novel and as skewering as a Laura Tingle opinion piece, the eight tracks that make up Time And Memory are, individually, frighteningly good.  Together, they make for an entirely satisfying sonic supper that reveals more and more with each listen.

Carrington’s guitar work, which is unique to him alone and ranges from airy atmospherics to in-your-face coruscating, propels the songs, sometimes at breakneck speed.  The sense of urgency in this album is palpable and palpitation inducing and rests on a rock solid and innovative rhythm section in McPherson’s bass and Gallacher’s drums.

Speaking about the interplay between New Talk’s members, Owen said, “One of the things that has been super affecting on the way I sing is how each individual person plays in the band. There’s this unspoken language between us when we’re playing together and we’re listening to each other. There’s a sense of safety and relying on that other person to be the foundation for what you’re doing, particularly with drums. It’s one thing people don’t think about is the link between vocals and drums. There are times when we are playing, and I can hear and feel that Jamie is listening through what I’m singing. It’s the same with every instrument, it doesn’t feel like anyone is switched off to each other.”

New Talk is a band that transcends time and place.  Time And Memory is rooted in the right now with its take on our current societal malaise along with the deeply personal reflections you’d expect from a band for whose members their collective endeavour is the place into which they pour every part of themselves.  But it’s also meaty enough to be enduring and, as a work of art, delivers and will continue to deliver insights and intrigues for the band’s audience as they begin to understand what New Talk is really all about, through their music, which is the only place to properly understand them.

Is it their best work?  In a word, yes.  Time And Memory is an album that is sewn together with band members’ personal reflections between tracks.  Barely intelligible, they add to the mystery of the music, draw the listener in close so that, as each track unfolds, it feels like the band created and are singing it for you personally.  This album is an intimate listening experience, unique and innovative, like the band that created it.  It delivers what you’d expect from a New Talk album, if you’ve been on the ride for any amount of time: a highly nuanced sucker punch songs that hit hard, but also know when to pause for breath; but there’s a greater willingness to experiment here, more breadth to the songs, more depth, too, if that’s at all possible.

Time And Memory is a stunning return.  Not a return to form, because New talk never lost their way musically, they just disappeared on us for a while.  It’s so very good to have them back.

Who knows what the future holds for them?  Owen did talk about wanting to visit colder climes, Dublin and places where she could immerse herself in greyness.  Carrington talked about wanting to get back to Asia, where the band has previously toured with some success.  All of that is on hold for the moment, of course.

Whatever happens, once thing is certain, New Talk will keep pushing each other until they reach newer heights.

“Part of the key reward of us playing together,” said Owen, “is how we intrinsically push each other, whether it’s recording or just hanging out at the pub. We’re not afraid to push each other into uncomfortable spaces and really try to get the best out of each other.”

Just for the record, there was cake, but we didn’t get any, although Owen was brave enough to ask one of the tweens to take a photo of our party, so maybe that will surface somewhere at some time in the future.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

New Talk launch Time And Memory at the Rechabite today, Friday 16 April.  For event information, click here.

You can follow New Talk on Facebook and Instagram.

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