The onset of the 21st century was famously a big moment for Canadian indie rock bands with too many members to count—most of them talented solo songwriters in their own right—with New Pornographers and Broken Social Scene leading the way, and even relatively compact units like Wolf Parade boasting two lead vocalists/songwriters. Toronto’s July Talk emerged in the aftermath of this movement, with their self-titled debut dropping in 2013, but the four LPs they’ve accumulated fit neatly into the busy tracklists of these bands, leaning even further into experimentation both lyrically and instrumentally on each successive track as Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay trade off on lead vocals when they aren’t harmonizing.
Their latest collection of songs Remember Never Before sees the group processing spirituality, nature, and, of course, the COVID years over an ever-shifting soundscape tunneling through various pockets of alt-rock subgenres. Additionally, contributions from Wolf Parade’s Spencer Krug and Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew solidify the band’s legacy of lyrical Canadian indie-rock troupes, with the former’s immediately familiar vocals and the latter’s production expertise further emboldening the record’s distinctive sound.
With the album out today via Six Shooter Records, Dreimanis and Fay took the time to break the project down track by track, speaking to the histories and lyrical influences of each song. As you read on, you can stream the record below, or order it here.
1. “After This”
Leah Fay: This song started in a dream. It features a recording of my Babcia asking G-d for help on behalf of humanity, as she believed we were “heading to self-destruction” when she recorded it in 1982. She talks about being in awe of a gnat that she looks at under a microscope and ponders various theories of how it all began. You only hear a snippet of it in this song, though. The full recording only exists on cassette.
2. “Certain Father”
Peter Dreimanis: “Certain Father” is a song that floated around us for quite some time. I don’t believe in the devil—or God, for that matter—but I believe that we are all vulnerable to a devil of self-doubt. Who’s better at cutting you down than your own little devil, sitting on your shoulder telling you exactly how you’ve ruined everything? I’m skeptical of anyone who’s certain of anything these days, and the devil of self-doubt is certain of absolutely everything. In my case, this character takes a very masculine form, relying on the archetypes of success and failure that were taught to me as a young boy on the schoolyard.
Musically, these themes led us into a sort of Earthling-era Bowie death march, which in turn inspired us to ask our friend/hero Spencer Krug to join us in step. It certainly felt like we unlocked a new creative door for the band with this song—I’m looking forward to seeing what new material this song may inspire in the future.
3. “Human Side”
LF: We’ve picked up and put down this song many times over the last eight years, but the concept of bringing out one’s own “human side” is something we’ve been guided by since the earliest days of our band. The first versions were all about sex, but now it seems to be about accepting human fallibility and being humbled by the power of love and of light. What a difference the better part of a decade makes.
The bridge/outro features two opposing beliefs: a side that only sees darkness and longs to live in fear, and a side that intrinsically believes love is divine and conquers all and that everything will be OK, even if we can’t know what “OK” looks like. They meet in the middle of a disco dance party. After all, it’s nice to be alive even though we’re all gonna die!
PD: “Hold” is a love song about conflict. There’s only so much that darkness can do. It can swirl you around and steal your clarity, but you’re always safe to depend on unconditional love.
5. “G-d Mother Fire”
LF: This was a song Josh sent out as a super catchy demo. First, Peter sings about taking a tour of the place with a dismayed G-d. She’s really pissed (I mean, for starters we assumed she was a man this whole time) and wants to burn everything down to the clay, start over—for real this time. The day we were demoing I felt overwhelming love for my mother in realizing all the bullshit she protected me from, and I wanted to yell about it, so the second verse came about really quick.
My mom taught me to question everything and follow my own beliefs. We made up our own rituals, including one where we burned a box of mementos from an ex-lover I couldn’t get over. Her mom (aforementioned Babcia) was from a small town in Poland (which is now in Ukraine) where kerosene was first distilled and where kerosene lamps were invented in the 1850s. We didn’t actually use any kerosene to burn said “ex-box,” but it seemed like a fitting shoutout. And then the band kind of ignites for the last part of the song. Ian’s guitars act like a gusting wind that sends the flames higher—it’s fire energy until it burns out. “Say what you see,” to me, is referencing how we need to be able to name what’s in front of us before we can change anything. It’s about how even when everything’s fucked up, all hope is not lost.
6. “When You Stop”
PD: “When You Stop” came at us fast without warning. We wrote it in a sort of intuition exercise with Kevin Drew at our jam space. The chorus lyric appeared in my head as I paced around the room with my guitar, listening to Danny and Dani play that pulsing beat. “When you stop, you find out what you’re running from.” It seems like we’ve all been in a lockstep march together for decades, forging our way through a dense forest with chainsaws and machetes. COVID came along and forced us to stop in our tracks, locate the best clearing we could find and build a shelter. Finally still for a moment, we had to consider our journey, remember the “why,” and face the versions of ourselves that we’d left in our wake.
7. “Silent Type”
LF: To me, “Silent Type” is about pulling the wool from your eyes so you don’t have to believe the narratives you’ve been given about yourself or the way society works. I loved what Peter wrote for the first verse of this song. Wanting an “American”-sounding name. Being made to feel you are “too much.” There’s a lot being touched on in this song, but instead of spelling it all out for you, for now I’ll just beee…
8. “Twenty Four Hours”
PD: “Twenty Four Hours” is the pop banger on the record. It was the first song we recorded of the batch, and ended up being the last one added to the sequence. What you hear now hasn’t changed much from the first versions Ian recorded and mixed in our jam space. There were moments of clarity as we made this record where it felt like we had a responsibility to expose pure joy and hope at a time when joy and hope were hard to come by. This song feels like a 3 a.m. kitchen dance party. It feels like that moment where you realize your car stereo can’t go any louder. Pure ecstatic catharsis.
LF: I wrote the bulk of “Repeat”’s lyrics in the back of the van in 2016, and it took six years and countless arrangements and recordings by us to get it right. Danny really wanted to try it again for this record, and I’m so glad he pushed us to give it one more go. I really love it now. I love how Peter’s voice is the light at the end of the tunnel that doesn’t look away from darkness, and I love how the end of the song makes me feel like we’re riding a rollercoaster. Some of the vocal delivery was inspired by Laura Marling on her songs like “Wild Fire” and “Strange Girl” where she decides to talk a bit of a line even though she has the most stunning voice in existence—as if she’s leveling with you.
PD: Songs like “After This,” “When You Stop,” “Silent Type,” and “Human Side” were sort of asking listeners to consider themselves, to reflect on how they might have changed, and what it took for them to find their new self. As the record took shape, I thought about what it meant to ask that of the listener. I guess “Raw” could have never left home, it could have just been kept private between me and the piano—where many songs remain—but I felt like I had to have some skin in the game too, you know? Like I had to share that song as a sort of proof that I had faced my demons as well, just like so many of us did over the last few years. The song was a lot harder to live than it was to write. It took me exactly as long to write it as it does to play...flowed out like a river, couldn’t have stopped it if I tried.
11. “I Am Water”
LF: This is a song about how we’re all Mother Earth’s bitches. We were hanging out with a guy named Johnny Hawke around the time it was written and he talked with us a lot about how no one can own water or land or air. That summer, half the world seemed to be flooded and the other half seemed to be on fire. We were calling friends daily to make sure their houses and lives hadn’t been burned to the ground or washed away. Then a new friend at a picnic asked me if I knew that the spot we were sitting had once been underwater. The bridge is meant to be a mantra/lesson and the pacing was inspired by Dani’s percussion part. Do you ever go to the museum or watch a show about the universe, or stare at a tree and get lost thinking about your own insignificance? I find it helps me when my world feels out of control and my fears are taking over. I like to think about the smallness and the miraculousness of existence.