On a recent trip to Perth, Western Australia, the woman behind the counter at the city's answer to the Chickenburger, Alfred's Burger Kitchen, noticed my accent, and promptly asked, "Oh, you're from Canada, do you know July Talk?"
Clearly the Toronto pop-rock ensemble had made an impact Down Under, most likely through the auspices of national radio station Triple J, and the anecdote delights co-founders Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis to no end. Especially considering that they've yet to make it to the Aussie Indian Ocean coast.
"Now we need to play there and get a burger!" Dreimanis chuckles over the phone from Toronto, just before embarking on an East Coast excursion.
"I guess we've just been on the road for the last few years, and the word gets around."
"I blame the Internet!" interjects Fay, ebullient after a recent Juno Awards weekend in Ottawa that saw July Talk's second album Touch named alternative album of the year (its second win in the category), and earning a recording-engineer-of-the-year trophy for Touch technician Jason Dufour.
After a rousing outdoor show at last summer's Garrison Brewery Backlot Bash, July Talk returns to Halifax for two sold-out nights at the Marquee Ballroom on Friday and Saturday. Along for the ride is Dreimanis's longtime friend and original July Talk guitarist Eamon McGrath, with a new book Berlin-Warszawa Express, inspired by touring Europe on the paths less taken.
Selling out two shows here in rapid succession is a clear indication that the band's incessant worldwide touring, and the ability to create and grow in the studio in the rare spaces available between legs on the road, are paying dividends. Touch is a marked progression from its self-titled predecessor; the onstage chemistry between Dreimanis's white-hot blues-rock guitar and full-throated growl and Fay's indomitable combination of spunky and sultry continues to percolate in new and fascinating ways.
They were also blessed by the long lifespan of their 2012 debut, which continued to snowball and pick up new fans along the way.
"We made a commitment to each other to finish introducing ourselves before we put out the second record," says Dreimanis. "That meant that we went around the world a couple of times, played hundreds and hundreds of shows, lots of showcases for different labels, who would go on to put out the record again in different places. Then new songs get added to the shows, and you get the opportunity to open for bigger bands, and you're trying to break through in the States and so on.
"We told ourselves it's best to be patient and not rush into a second record when a bunch of people haven't had a chance to hear us yet. So it took a long time of touring and reintroducing ourselves in a bunch of different countries. By the time we'd established ourselves in the States and Europe and other places, it felt like Canada was still along for the ride, and we didn't feel a ton of pressure to rush into the second album."
Dreimanis, Fay, and bandmates Ian Docherty, James Warburton and Danny Miles were able to whittle Touch's 10 tracks down from around 60 songs and song ideas in just over a year. They tightened the focus into themes of love, alienation and sexual politics in the electronic age, and recruited Nunavut throat singer Tanya Tagaq for some rhythmic push and pull on the single Beck + Call.
The sound is modern pop-rock without overdosing on electronics, and the record rarely strays from the path laid by July Talk's incendiary performances.
"It was pretty clear in our brains what our sound had kind of evolved to be from our live show," says Dreimanis. "We wanted to make something really honest, something we really liked, and we learned through the process that a sophomore record can pretty near kill ya."
"Because we were just putting so much pressure on our own shoulders. Only now with the hindsight of getting it out there are we really able to start recognizing that. But it was a really tough process, we probably discussed everything for over a month too long, from the arrangements to the lyrics to the artwork ... everything about it was really discussed and thought about."
Fay says July Talk is currently "in the zygote stage" of creating new material, although there might be a couple of unfamiliar numbers in this weekend's set list. The creative machinery will be well-oiled when the steady touring gives way to summer festival season, with some downtime between stops to start thinking about ramping up the songwriting.
"Luckily, I think this band, and us as human beings in general, function better when we're super-busy," she says. "Trying to make videos and write music and record demos and finally recording the album — all while needing to go and play SXSW and go to Ireland and all over the place — we're always in it, living it and breathing it.
"The upside of that is that there's this dialogue and a language that is constantly being spoken. We take time off very, very rarely, and we're at a point in our lives where this project gets all of our attention. In terms of being strategic, we just look at it as always thinking about creating stuff, and having new content ready to go."
Once Touch was out last fall, Dreimanis says he and the band weren't really able to reflect on the record and the period that followed until Juno Week in Ottawa, when they were hanging out with other friends who'd spent the past year on the road and sharing stories, after being on tour constantly since mid-August.
He jokes that they've been away so much that Dartmouth rocker Matt Mays has been subletting his place in Toronto while they've been on tour, "but now I feel like we're finally able to look back on it and have fun touring it and just enjoying it.
"And now we can play and write new songs without feeling like we have the world resting on our shoulders."