Since moving to the Bay Area several months ago, I’ve really come to appreciate the musical diversity here. Between the sold-out rap concerts, symphony orchestras, and conceptual listening projects, there is pretty much something for everyone.
Last Tuesday evening, I rode solo to the Brick and Mortar Music Hall in SF where Wood Shoppe, a free monthly concert series, was taking place. I’d also scheduled a conversation with one of the bands: headliner Strange Talk, an incredibly danceable, dynamic quartet from Melbourne, Australia. The rest of lineup was excellent too: the Portland-based experimental pop group Aan and lo-fi garage rockers Battleme.
The venue itself was cozy and intimate, but loud and scattered during the sound check. So Strange Talk invited me out to their van where we had a brief chat about their writing processes, their big ambitions, and the upcoming American release of full-length album, Cast Away.
It’s funny, I first heard you on Neon Gold [Records]—their blog, that is—which is still going. I’m interested in how your music got heard?
Gerard: When we first released our EP two and a half years ago, they picked it up and released it in the US, which is great, because they’re a real pacemaker label—Kitsuné, too. So it was great to have them break us out, support and promo the EP. We’ve made and kept a lot of ties with Neon Gold. It’s been a great affiliation.
Was this before or after your spot in the Triple J Unearthed competition?
Steve: I don’t know if it was directly from Triple J. I think they just heard “Climbing Walls,” which was the first song we put out on the blog.
Steve: Thank you.
Gerard: Our management also knew Derek and Lizzie, and just through the management circles and our EP, they ended up releasing it for us.
Your name, “Strange Talk:” is there a specific meaning behind it? Did you have any other monikers in mind?
Gill: We all used to play indoor soccer together, and we’d always talk crap to the other team. We’d call it “strange talk.”
Gerard: We couldn’t call ourselves “Shit Talk.”
Travis: We also had “Theives of Aon” at first, but it was a little too much like Kings of Leon.
“Climbing up a wall, I’m waiting for the weather to sway / I’m feeling like a fool in a cage, there’s nothing left to say”—what do your lyrics mean? Where do you get the inspiration for them?
Steve: Whatever we’re feeling at the time, but we try to use catchy phrases and sentences that draw emotion from the listener. A lot of people have come up to us with different interpretations of “Eskimo Boy,” which is kind of cool. That’s the beauty of songwriting. You can write about love or breakups, or you can get into character and tell a story.
Gerard: Everyone has a different take on what we do; everyone gets a different kind of understanding or meaning from it. They interpret it to what they’re feeling.
Gill: When I first heard [“Eskimo Boy”], I thought it was about Mr. Whippy.
I’m sorry, it was about what?
Gill: Mr. Whippy, you know? The ice cream man?
Gerard [laughing]: In Australia, the ice cream van drives around, it’s called “Mr. Whippy.” We’ve clearly been in this van way too long now.
It’s an Australian thing? You’re totally forgiven. Would you say the writing is a fast process, then?
Stephen: It depends on the song. We generally start with the drums and try to get a vibe happening from there. Then we add all the other elements. Whatever sound we like, we roll with, and the next thing you know, we have a structured instrumental.
Gerard: “Cast Away,” for example, was pretty quick, whereas others take weeks.
Stephen: Personally, I hate spending too long on a song. If it takes too long, we just forget it. It gets boring.
Gerard: Knock it out.
Stephen: You play it enough on the road that you’re eventually going to get sick of it. Best not to get sick of it within the first day or two of writing.
What’s everyone’s personal favourite track on Cast Away?
Gill: Mine’s “Is It Real?”
Steve: I’m with Gill on that.
Gerard: Mine’s “Still Wanted” or “Take Me As I Am” … it’s a creeper; it grows on you and creeps up.
Travis: I like “So So La La.”
I don’t think I’ve heard the latter two.
Gerard: No, our full album isn’t out in the US yet.
Gill: Our EP is.
This is the second time you’ve played in SF? The third?
Steve: Third time. We played the Rickshaw the last two times. San Fran’s been really good for us, lots of support from fans.
We love having you around! There’s some really good stuff coming out of Australia and New Zealand lately: Lorde, Josef Salvat… where do you guys fit in in this grand scheme?
Gerard: Just one of the many indie-electronic-pop-rock-whatever-you-wanna-call-us bands writing music that’s good enough to translate overseas. There’s a lot of bands coming out of Australia and New Zealand who are doing it at the moment.
And we can’t forget The Naked and Famous. You remixed their single, “Young Blood,” in 2011. How do you choose what you remix?
Gerard: We have a listen to the options that we’re sent, see if we’re vibing with them, see if we can come up with any ideas first, and go from there. But if we get something we’re not into, we’ll just pass. It’s better than delivering something half-assed.
Is there anything you wouldn’t mess with?
Gerard: I mean, if you come up with something fresh and cray, which is different from the original, that gives it a new life, then go for it. But if you use [a sample] in some way that devalues the original, or you’re destroying it, then naw, pass. You have to be careful how you use stuff, especially the classics.
Cast Away was released earlier this year in Australia and New Zealand; do you have any plans for new material in mind? More remixes?
Gerard: In a few weeks, we’re going to try and produce a new single in LA. We want something new on the album for its American debut. Our tour schedule’s been very hectic; we haven’t had time to think about remixes are anything.
Gill: It’s been fun, though.
Is most of your material written on tour?
Gerard: No, we’re generally very studio-based. On tour, we’ve been working off a laptop and some speakers.
Travis: A lot of our gear’s still back in Australia, so we’re going to try and get it over here.
What instrument would you like to see make an appearance in future material?
Travis: Didge. The didgeridoo.
Steve: What do you reckon, Gill? The triangle? Travis used to play trombone.
Travis: Naw, I used to play the trumpet.
Stephen: But Capital Cities have got that whole trumpet thing.
Gerard: Steve played classical violin for a while.
Gill: Maybe a rapper? Vanilla Ice?
Where would you most like to tour? And whom with?
Steve: Wembley Stadium. A small show.
Travis: With Queen.
Stephen: Definitely Queen. Maybe they can open for us.
Gerard: Japan, too, I heard that was a nice place to travel around and tour.
Travis: And we love Japanese food.
Stephen: But Queen and Europe first, to answer your question.
The boys apologized for the van smelling like man—which I assured them, it didn’t—I thanked them for their words, and we parted ways.
Article by Joanna Jiang