Interview: People//Talk

Liverpudlian post-punk quartet People//Talk chat about their upcoming second EP BG083 with Richard Lewis

Interview: People//Talk ‘Music with guitar, bass, keyboards, drums & voices’. As far as Facebook band page descriptions go, it's prosaic but accurate. A group clearly unwilling to give too much away Liverpool quartet People//Talk announced their arrival last September with the release of their dramatic debut EP Transient Scenes (review), back when the band was called So Sexual. An absorbing mélange of deep synth textures, chorus pedal basslines and compelling lyrics, the set showcased a sound steeped in the gloom of post-punk with a sharp instinct for a pop melody.

Similar to the group the most famous post-punk crew Joy Division morphed into, People//Talk exhibit New Order’s fondness for juxtaposing cold synth textures and lyrics alternating between desperate and detached. This, along with a soupçon of post-rock titans Godspeed You Black Emperor’s fondness for sparse arrangements sees the band offering an update rather than a re-creation of the long-raincoat-and-Albert-Camus-reading-groups of the early 1980s.

The band's new EP, five song set BG083 continues the rain-washed synth pop of the first disc and continues their mission to re-route pop music to more esoteric pastures, melodic but not immediate, gloomy but not uninviting. A meeting to discuss the new opus gets underway in one of the ornate pubs Liverpool city centre specialises in on a drizzly weekday evening, with three quarters of the band: vocalist/guitarist Peter, bassist Thom and drummer Philip (keyboard player James is currently holidaying in Egypt).

‘The best thing about the first EP is that it captures that time perfectly’ drummer Phil says of the band’s debut. ‘With Transient Scenes it was a case of well, we're gonna release this and probably that’s it, we’re not gonna release anything else’. What was originally intended to be a one-off took on a different form however following a positive reception for the EP and a slew of well-received gigs. These led to the quartet to decide that continuing was definitely worth the effort, necessitating a change in the band name (‘It was a nightmare trying to do promo with the old name’ Phil smiles wearily)

Taking their new moniker from the last track on the previous collection, titles have been weighing on the band’s mind collectively of late. ‘Originally we had this punk rock attitude to it all of ‘We’re not even got put titles to the songs, the cover is gonna be us in this pub drinking beer. We weren’t going to put the band name on the front of the new EP, we thought ‘Who’s gonna fucking care anyway!’ Phil laughs self-deprecatingly. ‘The day we got the final mix was the day we decided on the song titles’ Thom adds. Part of the idea certainly stuck however, as in the absence of a proper name for the collection, the record’s catalogue number BG083 doubles up as the title.

Released through San Diego boutique label Bleeding Gold in a limited edition of 150, the handsome packaging, typical of the label depicts a framed photograph of a haunted looking turn of the century couple. The first fruits of the EP to be heard publically, lead single ‘Translation’ came backed with a brilliantly creepy video, well suited to All Hallow’s Eve of the band filmed in the cellars beneath the Gothic revival splendour of Liverpool landmark St. George’s Hall.

Wanting to showcase the band as though you were 'sitting in' with them a shift in recording methods gave the EP a new found edge. ‘Very early on when we started writing this batch of songs I’m always thinking ahead with production’ Phil explains of the new songs, helmed by returning producer Andy Fernihough, studio session veteran for scores of Merseyside bands. ‘With the new tracks I said ‘let’s approach it differently and not have loads of reverb on the drums, let’s capture what we sound like in the room, vocals straining over the music'. With this one we recorded a guide guitar and played together live, so there was still a live vibe coming through the headphones. Then we’d say that was a good take we’ll keep it, or let’s do it again’.

Eschewing Pro-Tools and other modern accoutrements many bands lean on, the quartet effectively imposed a rule on themselves for the recording. ‘There has been times in the past we’ve had to piece things together’ bassist Thom states. ‘With this it was a case of ‘a take is a take’’. ‘Pretty much how you hear it on the recording is how we’d play it live. I can’t even think of an overdub’ Pete says. ‘Basically if we couldn’t play it live we haven’t recorded it, we made a conscious decision for us to record it as we play it’ the singer explains.

‘One of the ways we try and write, if we’ve got ideas that we couldn’t recreate in a live environment we tend to just not record it’ Thom explains. ‘We could have recorded this on an 8-track probably’ Phil agrees. ‘There will be a definite time when we do something with the approach of doing sixty tracks on it but not at the moment’ the drummer laughs. ‘The ideas we had when we started up it was literally just write, record, play, just fire things off rather than spending ages and ages over it. We’re impatient I guess’ he shrugs.

While People//Talk’s tunes are certainly melodic enough to qualify as off-kilter pop, the lyrics mark the band’s output as something far weightier. ‘The songs are a lot darker and deeper than the previous stuff’ Phil nods. ‘We seem to have fallen into an even deeper pit of despair as time's gone on!’ Thom laughs.

The memorably dismissive title of the EPs third track ‘I Had a Friend (She was Alright)’ contrasts somewhat with the words within, the chorus centred around the lyrics: ‘Don’t let anyone tell you/The tables they won’t turn for you/I've got something to tell you/Lately I would die for you’. Final track ‘Laura’ meanwhile led by a dexterous Thom bassline concludes with the resigned lyric ‘I haven’t got the strength to walk away/We need closure/And there is no other way' before the song abruptly ends.

‘The way we write the music comes first, I don’t have any idea at all what the lyrics are gonna be until we’ve pretty much finished’ Pete explains. ‘Sometimes I worry that these guys are getting a bit impatient with me because the song’s been written for ages and the lyrics might take a couple of months to write. Two months down the line it’ll still be a new song for me, whereas the guys will have been playing it for a month’ the singer states. ‘The weird thing about these songs is that they oddly… connect’ Phil explains of the EP's running order. ‘We weren’t conscious of it at all until the finished article. You could sit and listen to them and if you get deep into them you realise there’s a story’.

Adhering to the principal of less-is-more, the minimal elements provide a strong canvas to work on, the willingness to strip guitars out of the mix and allow Thom’s plangent basslines and James’ synth patterns to power the songs forward lending the tracks an added dynamism. Illuminated by the occasional melody line redolent of Mancunian dream-pop pioneers The Chameleons, while already submerged on the previous EP, here the guitars are even more scaled back. ‘The guitar presence is still there but it’s more spacious’ Pete explains. ‘During the whole EP I don’t think I played one chord’.

Returning to the subject of Salford/Macclesfield’s famous progeny, the band have acquired a highly impressive fan in the shape of former New Order cohort Michael Johnson. The engineering talent behind the groundbreaking sequence of albums from Power, Corruption & Lies (1983) to Technique (1989) following a recorded live session earlier this summer, the quartet are scheduled to work with Johnson next year.

Prior to more studio work People//Talk's near-constant presence on the gig circuit continues apace with an upcoming set at the closing party for Liverpool Music Week this Saturday. The next release is also in its embryonic stages with the possibility of ‘a split single, probably early next year’ according to Phil. Before any of that however, the crepuscular lure of BG083 more than sates appetites whetted by Transient Scenes and with autumn now fully upon us supplies pitch-perfect listening material for the season.

BG083 is released on November 3rd through Bleeding Gold Records

People//Talk tour:

1st Nov: Liverpool @ Constellations (L'pool Music Week Closing Party - Outdoor stage)
5th Nov: Canterbury @ Bramleys w/ Keira Is You, Cosmic Thoughts
7th Nov: Manchester @ Eagle Inn w/ Keira Is You/ Douga, Seatoller
8th Nov: Liverpool Maguire's Pizza Bar w/ Keira Is You, Faded Gold, In Gehenna