Where to start with Talons? They’re a band that confounds the critic, offering forth both luscious post-rock shades and dynamic math-core sidesteps, and the whole is always considerably more arresting than the sum of its parts.
Based in Hereford, the young instrumental sextet have begun to turn the right kind of industry heads, with Q magazine recently featuring them on its pages and celebrated indie label Big Scary Monsters stepping up to release a track of theirs on a recent ‘unsigned’ compilation.
A run through some of the acts they’ve supported gives one some idea of what sort of noise to expect: 65daysofstatic, Future Of The Left, Rolo Tomassi, Grammatics, Forward Russia, Tubelord, Pulled Apart By Horses… all have shared stages with Talons and lived to tell the tale. Their own influences include the likes of Explosions In The Sky, Parts & Labor, Isis and Battles – pretty much a dream mix to this writer. Radio 1’s Huw Stephens is a fan, and recently aired the group’s ‘Commiserations Buff Orpington’ track on his regular show.
The band’s Oliver Steels – Talons is completed by Thom Parker, Reuben Brunt, Sam Little, Sam Jarvis and Alex MacDougall – kindly answered our Live Talking questions ahead of their set at this weekend’s Clash Saturday Social @ RoTa – which, if you’d not guessed, takes place this Saturday, June 27, at the Notting Hill Arts Club from 4pm ‘til 8pm. Entry is free, but restricted to over-18s only. Because there is booze.
Are you a band that records to tour, or that tours to record? Or do you not see the two as separate parts of what you do?
I suppose that both are essential parts of our band, really. It obviously helps to have some element of recorded material available so that people can get an idea of what you’re about, and if they like it then hopefully they’ll come and check it out live. We love playing live shows and in that sense we’d rather be out gigging than recording any day of the week. We also have very little money, and so in many ways playing gigs is a good way to get our music out there to a larger audience, and scrape together whatever cash we can through CDs
Do you feel you translate well as a live act, perhaps better than on record, or have live shows been a bigger learning process than writing/recording?
Personally I think we work best as a live band. There is something about a live situation that really gives the listener a more full-on experience, and a chance to become absorbed in the whole sound rather than maybe listening to it at home in your bedroom, especially with the kind of music we make. There are no vocals so it’s all about the instruments themselves – which is brilliant as it gives us a bit of freedom to crank everything up, without worrying about overpowering the vocals coming through (more often than not) an awful PA system. Obviously the studio is a powerful tool when it comes to producing a polished, professional sounding record, but at the same time it can be dangerous. The number of local, national and internationally recognised bands who sound great on record, but have left me feeling overwhelmingly disappointed live, is vast. We try and keep our sound on record as close as we can to how we’d do it live – it’s nice to keep a certain honesty about it.
To date, what show stands out in your memory as the best you’ve played?
This is a funny one really. We’ve had the pleasure of sharing a stage with some great bands in the past – a few recent ones have been 65daysofstatic, Rolo Tomassi and Pulled Apart by Horses etc – and they’ve been awesome both in terms of how we were received and in getting to watch the bands’ sets and chat nonsense with them. However, in some ways it’s often the smaller scale, low-key gigs which end up being the most enjoyable. One such show was a date we played in Worcester a while back. We were headlining and a couple of other local bands started the night off. It was a tiny little venue, with no stage, which made it even more intimate. The atmosphere was incredible and to look up and see a sweaty mass of people completely entranced by your music is always a great sensation.
What’s the best show (by another band) that you’ve been to? Perhaps not ever, but certainly of late…
For me, the These Arms Are Snakes and Russian Circles joint tour last October or November was one the single best shows I’ve been to, at least in the last couple of years for sure. Russian Circles played first, and it was one of those moments where you’re left wondering if anything could ever top it – cue TAAS who just took the bar and raised it to another level. The fact that it was a free show for some crazy reason just made things even more enjoyable. Needless to say, I spent a lot of money on merch that night! Brainwash Festival [in Leeds], also last November, I think was great fun as well. The line-up was fantastic and the tickets were dirt cheap, with all the money going to charity. The atmosphere at the Brudenell and the Royal Park Cellar was great. Definitely plan on going again.
And what about the worst show? By yourselves… is there a venue/town you’ll happily never return to?
Well we’ve had our share of technical hiccups and the occasional empty room to play to – who hasn’t? – but we’ve never really had an overwhelmingly terrible experience at a gig. Now I’ve said that though, I’ve probably gone and jinxed it, so who knows. I think the worst experiences are usually related to driving miles to get somewhere only to find the venue is nowhere near the parts of town where people actually spend time, and hence the gigs are empty. I’m also massively self critical so the majority of people who speak to me after a gig will probably have to deal with me complaining about how badly I played and that my gear was playing up et cetera, so just ignore me!
Say you’ve the budget to put on your ultimate four-band bill, featuring yourselves – who plays and in what order? No bringing anyone back from the dead, here, but defunct bands can count.
That’s a tricky one. My favourite current band is probably These Arms Are Snakes, so I’m guessing they’d feature on the bill. After that though I’m completely lost – my mind always goes blank when it comes to answering questions like these. Part of me wants to say Slipknot, purely as they were one of my favourite bands when I was growing up, and somewhere deep down they still have a special place in my heart! It would be awesome to get someone like Botch to reform, too – I have so much love for that band, though I doubt Brian Cook would be happy playing for them and TAAS in one night, so that’s looking very unlikely really. Perhaps to soften things up a little and give a moment of respite to the night someone like Sigur Rós would be incredible. I know for a fact if the others were here they’d be shouting abuse at me for not mentioning bands I’ve completely forgotten about. Actually, I’d love The National to play – not seen them live yet, and reckon they’d be a nice addition. Battles too perhaps… oh, and if Weezer were to play the Blue album from start to finish that would make my evening! In short though, I have no idea who’d play – let’s hope I never find myself in a position where I have to make that kind of decision.
How does the band keep itself entertained on the road? Any bus games you break out for motorway gridlock?
Mainly our journeys consist of listening to terrible mix CDs, giving each other stick for previous night’s antics, and just generally talking rubbish. A few of the guys seem to be able to sleep the entire way there and back, which is one way of dealing with it I suppose. I’m the only one insured to drive the van so I’m always wearing my sensible hat unfortunately. Recently we’ve started taking a video camera with us everywhere we go, so that can be one way to document and add entertainment to the journeys themselves. We are kind of joking/actually giving thought to obtaining some sort of TV and PlayStation set-up to play on during the really long journeys, which will be fun, but I’m not looking forward to the rivalries it will no doubt create.
What tips would you give a new band about to embark on their first ‘proper’ tour?
Well, I guess for us we put an emphasis on just having fun, and being sure to not take everything too seriously! Obviously we treat the gigs seriously as it’s a responsibility for us to sound good to new people, and to not let down promoters who have put trust in you to perform to a certain level by booking and paying you. Also eat plenty of kebabs – they form an essential part of the Talons gigging schedule. In the past we managed to break down the the most important elements of Talons, in order of priority to something like: Kebab > Banter > Music.
What’s coming soon on the release front?
Our first release proper has just been provisionally penned in, I think, for August 17 on Big Scary Monsters (it hasn’t been announced yet, so hopefully I’m not going to get in trouble for mentioning it!). It will be available on digital and 7” formats, and will contain the songs ‘The Pearl is so upscale it makes Dubai’s Palm look like Milton Keynes’ and ‘Manatee’. At shows we currently sell a self-made CD with a couple of tracks on it, and some very nice t-shirts, all at very reasonable prices. Be sure to check them out!
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Find Talons on MySpace HERE.
Facebook users can find details of the Clash Saturday Social @ RoTa - also featuring William and 4 Or 5 Magicians - HERE.