Peter Dreimanis doesn’t have what you’d think of as a typical Canadian indie-rock voice. The Toronto-based, Alberta-born singer is aware that his gravel-gargling baritone stands out, which explains why the July Talk co-frontman spent the early years of his music career as a guitarist for hire, playing with touring acts such as Eamon McGrath and the Mohawk Lodge. Reached at his parents’ house in Edmonton, Dreimanis tells the Straight that he was always too self-conscious about his voice to sing on-stage, but he would gladly sit down at a piano after a gig and belt his way through the catalogues of his “big five”: Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, and Paul Westerberg.
Since forming July Talk with his fellow singer Leah Fay, guitarist Ian Docherty, bassist Josh Warburton, and drummer Danny Miles, however, Dreimanis has come to embrace his vocal quirks. “It’s just about confidence, and as I started writing these songs and we started playing shows and things started rolling along, it just gave me the confidence to keep doing it,” he says. “I think in general you have to find out what makes you original and let that evolve.”
A large part of what makes July Talk unique is the silk-and-sandpaper interplay between the razor-throated Dreimanis and the notably more dulcet-toned Fay. As heard on the band’s self-titled debut LP, the two voices work well together precisely because they are so different. You could easily imagine Dreimanis barking out gin-soaked Delta blues and Fay wrapping her pipes around wispy folk-rock melodies, but July Talk is unquestionably a rock band, as proven on the hard-charging “Head Sick” and the more groove-oriented but no less muscular “Guns + Ammunition”.
The latter number, like many of July Talk’s songs, has the two singers alternately harmonizing and trading off barbed solo lines. Dreimanis reveals that the band’s goal is to have each song come across as a conversation. Make no mistake, however, these are not off-the-cuff lyrics. A lot of sweat and toil goes into the seemingly casual back-and-forth dynamic in order to make every song convey two sides of the same story.
“We work really hard on the editing process,” Dreimanis says. “We might have some lines that we’re going with that we originally came up with in a conversational way. But we totally allow each other to say ‘Okay, well, that kind of makes sense, but we should really try to explore this idea,’ because we only slightly touch on it on this one verse, let’s say. It’s really important for us both to feel like we really understand where the other person is coming from.”
The two are likewise on the same page when it comes to making each live performance a unique experience. Dreimanis says he doesn’t mind if July Talk pushes some audience members out of their comfort zones, even if it’s only for a moment. “I think that Leah and I are obsessed with honesty and vulnerability,” he notes, “and so if she grabs onto my back and jumps on me and her knee hits my guitar, and my guitar is going, like, ‘Brah-ra-rah’, and everything’s going wrong in the state of what is right and wrong traditionally, then everyone’s going to go ‘Oh my God, that was a mistake. Holy shit, that feels wrong. This is awkward. they’re probably so embarrassed.’ But then when we hit a chorus, it’s like, ‘Oh, everything’s okay.’”