Liz Powell Talks Land of Talk

By: Marsha Casselman

Liz Powell Talks Land of Talk
Photo: courtesy of the band

As Montreal's Land of Talk (LOT) get ready to drop their first full-length album Oct. 7, front woman Elizabeth Powell is still trying to get over the dog days of summer.

"So I jumped in, and I was like, oh dude, I can taste everybody!" she recounts of her hazy afternoon. "There was a sea of people wading around with their big sweaty bodies."

No, this wasn't a mosh pit, but rather an end of summer pool jam – indie rock style – starring Land Of Talk and other bands, like Karkwa, from one of Canada's most hyped indie music scenes. It was one last summer holiday chill session before everyone parts ways. "It was a bittersweet afternoon," says Powell.

Sweet, because she has so much to anticipate, as LOT start a Canadian tour to support their new album Some Are Lakes. They've also just signed to Omaha, Nebraska's Saddle Creek Records, home of Bright Eyes and Canadian acts Tokyo Police Club and Sebastien Grainger.

Bitter, because if anyone deserves a longer holiday it's LOT. A variety of release dates across the globe for their first 7-song EP Applause Cheer Boo Hiss had them touring for almost two years, most recently in Europe with Tapes ‘n Tapes and before that with the Decemberists.

Touring that long, Powell would have liked to have a full-length album under LOT's belt. "Had I known all we needed was an extra two-and-a-half minutes, I could of just banged on a garbage can and called it art."

The new album, Some Are Lakes, will certainly be longer, but will also take a more calculated approach than the "flying by the seat of our pants experimenting" that was Applause Cheer Boo Hiss.

For production duties they recruited critic darling Justin Vernon, a.k.a. Bon Iver, whose album For Emma, Forever Ago changed Powell's life upon her first listen.

Vernon's elegant folk influence can be heard in LOT's first single "Some are Lakes," but Powell promises the album will also feature the "balls to the wall rock" that fills their live show. Considering her influences - which range from Fugazi, the Pixies and Nirvana to Mary Margaret O'Hara and Suzanne Vega - describing LOT's sound can be tough. Essentially, Powell's trademark high-pitched, locked-jaw vocals are backed by what she describes as a stab at a "dirty, pretty, dissonant, but also melodic" sound.

New elements on Some Are Lakes, like boy choir backups and organ, were Vernon's idea, but he "was instrumental in taking things away that were unnecessary or more crutches of mine," Powell says. "Where I would triple or quadruple the vocals, distort the heck out of the guitar and make everything crunchy, almost in an attempt to mask any of what I see as my own imperfections, he just stripped it bare. It could sound like he was sterilizing it, but he wasn't, it's still a very warm sounding album. For me it's just way more naked."

From their recording sessions, Powell realizes that keeping it simple is usually the best way to go for an indie band, on record and on the road.

"I love the three-piece vibe . . . the simplicity. We've talked about introducing a forth member, but a lot of my chord structures and the voicing are such that there's not much room. In terms of building on the harmonics of the songs, they're already pretty full."

Even logistics-wise, it's hard enough maintaining a three-piece. Powell and bassist Chris McCarron will carry LOT on the tour, as the band has been using various replacements since their permanent drummer, Bucky Wheaton, left in 2006.

"I have a bunch of people in my back pocket because at this point all my favourite drummers – unless I start approaching people from high school music classes – they're all busy with their own projects."

And the reality is, finances are still a huge deal at the grassroots level. "I don't understand how bands with more than three or four people can tour," Powell says, adding that a fourth member would be a pipe dream now that they need to hire a sound guy.

"I'd never been on a tour bus until we did our first show with Broken Social Scene. They need a tour bus with at least twelve members at all times, but I don't understand how a band can even pay for that much fuel. Maybe I'm just naive, but it seems like a gas guzzler. We tour in a little minivan. It's a soccer mom van. If we could bike, we would."

There's no doubt LOT has the ingredients to hit the big time, but until then, touring – like their new album – will do best with a minimalist approach. "As a band at our level, which is really still underground and D.I.Y. and very independent, I think it's just going to take a lot of time."

With gas prices as they are, the Canadian tour will be kept tight. Expect LOT's minivan to pull up to an Ontario or Quebec city near you this month, ending their mini tour Sept. 27 in Toronto before hitting the US.

Update: Liz Powell has lost her voice and, as a result, the rest of LOT's tour dates in September have been cancelled. If you'd been planning on attending, not to fear; the band is planning to reschedule as soon as possible.

 

Video: "Speak to Me Bones" by Land of Talk

 

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