2018 has, so far, been the year of the Holy Roar, and their collective of alternative takes on challenging and artistic music has seen the label rack up a string of successes with a variety of bands with some very different sounds, all united by a desire to create evocative and provocative music. Sam Jarvis, guitarist of UK post-rock innovators Talons spoke to Ghost Cult to cover all things ‘We All Know’, the band’s third album overall, and first for Holy Roar…
With Holy Roar deservedly getting a lot of press attention for releasing records by some of the most forward-thinking bands in rock and metal at the moment, how has the transition been since joining the label? and will you feel a split sense of loyalty during the Holy Roar vs. BSM throwdown at ArcTanGent (August 2018) given your history with them?
It has been great to join Holy Roar, particularly at a time when they are releasing some of the most exciting and forward-thinking music. BSM had been our home since 2009 and we owe a massive debt of gratitude to Kev and the team for all their hard work over the years in getting our music out there. As a band that has evolved quite a lot musically since our first album, mainly in terms of incorporating heavier and darker tones, Holy Roar became a much better fit for this album. In regard to Holy Roar vs. BSM on Thursday at ArcTanGent we are staying out of it and will be playing on the Friday instead. Perhaps that’s the best place for us as “traitors” to the BSM cause!
Speaking of labels and friendly rivalries, are there any peers that you look to for inspiration or that you’ve been enjoying as of late that our readers may not be aware of?
Whilst I am sure your readers are well aware of them, the new Deafheaven album has been the record that has got me most excited in recent months. They are certainly a band who we look to for inspiration and who continue to push their sound in interesting ways unlike anyone else at the moment. Beyond that the new Rolo Tomassi album is fantastic and has rightfully been getting the plaudits for what is a very well-crafted and executed record.
This year marks your 10 year anniversary as a band, which is something a lot of bands don’t get to celebrate. Is there anything you can chalk your longevity up to or is there any advice you would give younger bands who hope to have long careers?
To still be a band this long takes a lot of patience and most importantly close friendships. At the end of the day, you have to still want to keep making music with the same people and enjoy spending time in their company. Whilst we all have a range of interests and jobs outside of the band we still all get that kick out of playing live or recording new music. That’s what keeps us excited and willing to make time and sacrifices for the band.
In terms of advice for younger bands, it would stay realistic about the goals you want to achieve together and try to remain focused on what made you want to play in a band in the first place. This gets particularly harder as times go on and when you have to make some tough decisions! At times it can be easy to get too focused on what others are saying about you or how you wish your music to be interpreted. Stay focused on the kind of music you want to create and spend your time making it as strong as you can.
We All Know can be read as a fairly ambiguous title, so would you be able to explain a little about the background of the record and how the ideas/themes you focused on resulted in that particular title?
The initial ideas behind the album came from a rejection of traditional instrumental music themes which you often find are connected to grand events or vast landscapes that reflect a very expansive sound. We wanted to create a much more insular and intimate record that connected more with internal feelings and almost provided a claustrophobic atmosphere. An instrumental psychological thriller if you will.
The title We All Know therefore reflects this and represents the ominous and unpromising beliefs we often associate with collective self-assurance. The songs reflect such themes through combining feelings of dread and horror with euphoria and ecstasy in order to try and paint a more revealing picture of our own collective insecurities, doubts and fears. The song titles are also quite abstract in style and reflect on different themes such as motion, sound, space and light. We hope that the listener can make their own interpretation of the deeper connection between the music and the words themselves as they progress through the album listening experience.
As I understand it, you chose to once again record your album at Greenmount Studios, with mastering from Tom Woodhead. Has this collaborative process changed much since New Topographics? If so, how?
We first worked with Tom Woodhead on our 2009 single ‘Anthropods’ and since then he has been involved in all the music we have recorded in one way or another. Over the years we have built up a strong working relationship with him and he definitely played a big role in helping us shape the sound of New Topographics.
For the new album, we approached the recording process slightly differently.
Most significantly we wanted to try and create a more intimate and raw sounding album. In order to do so, we recorded everything live with very minimal overdubs as well as moving away from using the large church hall space for the violins and instead experimenting with putting violins through amps and distortion pedals. This gives the album less of a traditional orchestral feel and provides a more eerie and unsettling atmosphere. Lee Smith and Jamie Lockhart of Greenmount Studios did a fantastic job of capturing the energy of the tracks and really pushing us to get the right live takes. Cutting back on excessive overdubs helped us to build more interesting dynamics and shifts in volume, giving the tracks more space to breathe.
Calling We All Know a post-rock record doesn’t feel quite right, as you’ve taken elements from classical, drone, and world music to make something very different and unique. Who are some of your biggest influences from those worlds?
Certainly, from the classical world, Steve Reich was a big influence. In particular, his use of repetitive figures and slow harmonic rhythm. The bass and the drums on the album reflect this and are often quite repetitive and driving throughout. The rhythm parts on the album are also quite restrained and minimal for longer periods of time in contrast to some of our previous work. Drones are also a really important part of the record and we were very much inspired by artists such as Stars of the Lid, Tim Hecker and Infinite Body. The track Southern Shade draws on these influences in the final section as it descends into a euphoric crescendo of drone.
The violin sounds on this album were influenced by the style and playing of Warren Ellis (Dirty Three and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds). We experimented with distorted violin sounds and encouraged a much more freestyle approach to the recording process. I think this was crucial in bringing out some more experimental sounds and giving the whole album a much rawer and intimate feel.
You recently performed at the 2 day festival, Portals, in London and you’ll soon be making return trips to both ArcTanGent and Tramlines. How has your experience at each of these festivals varied over the years and do you see a potential glass ceiling for more niche events like these in the UK?
We have played both ArcTanGent and Tramlines multiple times over the years and both have always been a lot of fun. The organisers of ArcTanGent have been very supportive of our music and given us some great exposure. We have also been lucky to watch the festival grow since playing the very first one back in 2013, it’s always a pleasure to return and see the festival improving year on year. Its continued growth, therefore, suggests that there is still a developing international audience out there for this kind of niche music alongside the rise of new two-day city festivals such as Portals. Back in 2010 there were small festivals but the scene at the time was much smaller and a lot less connected. As a band that has been around for a number of years, it is great to have experimental music getting more recognition and for bands to be playing to bigger and more responsive crowds here in the UK. In terms of a glass ceiling, it is hard to say but it certainly feels like there is a strong apatite out there for this kind of music, which certainly hasn’t slowed down in recent years.
What are the main goals for Talons in 2018? More touring? Any specific countries you’d like to play or bands you’d like to tour with? Or are you keen to get back to writing?
We are hoping to do some more touring over the next 6 months and have another London gig coming up in September as part of the BSM Big Day out event. The main aim is to get back out to mainland Europe for some shows as its been a while now since we last played beyond the UK. We would also love to go further afield with Japan a long time goal for us, but will have to wait on that one I think.
The writing process for this new album was probably the most fun we have had with the band and so we have already spoken about getting the ball rolling on some new songs very soon. We have often take a long time between albums to write new material but there is already an itch to keep the momentum going in terms of writing and recording. Perhaps this time we won’t leave everyone waiting for another four years….
WORDS BY ROSS JENNER