by Christopher L. Istace
June 1, 2015
Outside of its atmospheric temperance and open, sonic landscape, one can draw another straight line through the sophomore LP from Saskatoon indie-rock quartet Close Talker.
Flux (Nevado Records, 2014) is about change; about the transformations the band has experienced as a group and individually. It’s about the progression of their music, both in composition and in what they are saying through it. It’s about experiencing the band’s growth in stature since coming together just three years ago.
“Even the name, Flux, seems to say the overall theme is about change,” vocalist and drummer Chris Morien said in early December, one month after the album was released in North America on November 4.
“We have even tried to capture the changes we are going through personally. There are changes in our relationships with our families and friends, and the balance between playing music and having other lives. Our songwriting and lyrics will relate to those themes. Then there’s the music itself, which has changed from our older material.”
Three years is a short period of time for a band trying to find their share of the world’s listening audience. Morien, guitarists Will Quiring and Matthew Kopperud and bass guitarist Jeremy Olson – all four members also provide vocals – have found a need to mature quickly.
After working together for about a year, they independently released their debut, eight-song LP Timbers and an EP, Slow Weather, in 2013. Close Talker’s first efforts garnered attention for its hook-laden, ear-catching, indie-pop groove that had familiar audiences in Regina and Saskatoon singing alongside them at live performances.
Their work on Timbers contributed to a successful run through the 2013 CBC Searchlight Best New Artist Competition. Close Talker was a finalist among about 3,000 entries in the contest, finishing behind the ultimate winners Sherman Downey and The Ambiguous Case from Newfoundland.
The CBC’s vote-in competition provided considerable exposure, earning them airplay on the afternoon show, CBC Radio 2 Drive. Meanwhile, their guitar-driven single “The West Was Won” held a top-ten spot on the CBC Radio 3 chart for seven weeks.
Morien said the band has taken an incremental approach to dealing with their growth in popularity.
“Mostly, we’re going at it day-to-day and doing things as we were before,” he said. “We have gotten some pretty important opportunities along the way. It’s been a crazy ride and a pretty fun experience this fall when we played the States and did some showcases. We’re just having fun and enjoying what’s coming our way.”
Among the challenges they have encountered is the balance between their personal and professional lives.
“As we’ve been getting busier and busier, it’s been more challenging to manage ourselves and sort of live our lives outside of our band life,” Morien said. “But we’ve had opportunities to get used to everything. We are all pretty supportive of each other and have been able to cope with it pretty well. (On tour), there have been small bumps like getting from one city to another and having the van break down, or time conflicts. But overall, we’ve managed everything pretty well.”
As their popularity grew, some of these transitions had to happen if the band was to maintain the momentum they had garnered through the previous year.
“We’ve responded well (to the increasing exposure) in the sense that we haven’t let anything influence our primary focus and desire to progress as artists and as a band. We’re all pretty young and we’re pretty young on the music scene and want to grow as a band together,” said Matthew Kopperud. “(Until recently), Will (Quiring) and I lived in B.C. and the others lived in Saskatchewan. It was tough enough to get noticed. All we wanted to do was play music, but we were handcuffed geographically.”
Kopperud and Quiring, who were both seeking an education in British Columbia, have moved back to Saskatoon. Unhampered by the distance between them, it has allowed the band to focus on their expanding musical enterprise.
The success of Timbers and the exposure granted by CBC Searchlight set the foundation for Close Talker’s affiliation with Nevado Records, a label and artist management agency with offices in Toronto ON, Los Angeles CA and Hamburg, Germany. In May 2014, the band met with musician-producer Jace Lasek at Breakglass Studios in Montreal to record their first album under the Nevado banner.
Although Timbers was ultimately successful, the band felt their debut LP was put together and recorded too hastily. Olson told Verb Magazine in 2014 that Timbers “felt slapped together.”
When Close Talker arrived in Montreal in May of 2014, their objective was to be more intentional with their songwriting and arrangements. They experimented with sound, effects and dynamics in an attempt to relate with their audience on deeper levels than their previous attempts. Ultimately, they immersed themselves in the process, sometimes spending the night at Breakglass Studios to put as much into their work as possible. The result is Flux, a more mature, introspective piece of work than Timbers.
Morien says the recording process developed a more collaborative approach to songwriting that drew everyone into the creative process as it went along. The songs were written with all four members of the band in the room suggesting ideas. They took whatever time was necessary to improve each song until they felt it said what they wanted it to.
“Before, it wasn’t like it was not collaborative, but one idea was brought to the table and we’d work on it,” he said. “Now, we’re spending a lot more time with our songwriting and trying to find sounds that are emotive and atmospheric. It takes more than one person to get that vibe going.”
Kopperud says this shows a progression in band’s artistic intentions. They had an objective they wanted to convey in terms of sound, emotion and message and they committed to the work until they accomplished it.
“We want to put our best foot forward in every regard. To do that, we have to depend on one another,” he said.
“The lyrics aren’t arbitrary; they mean something significant to each of us. We wanted to relate to the change of seasons we are in, personally and musically. We wanted to decipher what is changing and not live in that tension of letting anyone down during it. It’s about navigating, identifying and enduring that change.”
The result is an atmospheric soundscape that focuses the listener’s attention. The 10 tracks found on Flux have a similar texture to Close Talker’s earlier work, but the depth of the arrangements is obviously more thoroughly thought out.
Overall, the band follows an indie-rock/alternative pop structure set forth by the likes of Royal Canoe, Arcade Fire, Local Natives, Fleet Foxes and – at times – U2 or Coldplay. The guitars drip with reverb and echo, giving the music a wide, airy verve, as if Close Talker is trying to portray an expansive view of an open horizon. This ethereal motif is distinctly sparse at times, but builds into a wall of sound; sublime and placid one moment, vigorous and turbulent the next.
“Heads,” Flux’s opening track, sets the pattern with the melody on bass and guitar laid over a rambunctious drum line and a rhythm guitar set deep in the background. The song draws down through the lightly, vocalized verses, comes to a full stop, then punches forth with a dense sounding chorus.
“Burnstick” was the first single released off of the album. It contains expressive vocals over echoed and reverbed lead guitars, simple chording and synthesizer accents. The drums drive the song forward, setting an interesting foundation that lets the rest of the instrumentation give the song space and air. It ends in a cacophony of cymbals, bass, guitars and vocals, a wave of sound crashing to its end.
The song instrumentation has a nostalgic feel. It was intentional, considering the lyrics: “Remembering the old days; Sitting there in silence; Hoping that we can live it again.”
Olson recently told Spin.com that “Burnstick” was born out of an unplanned experience in a rural setting.
“(It) is centered around a day off that we had on our first tour last February,” he says. “We were lucky enough to spend this night at a family cabin and as it progressed, embarked on an adventure across the desolate, frozen lake. The song dives into those moments when you really are having the time of your life and may not even recognize it until you later look back and remember those lasting memories for what they truly were.”
Close Talker’s musical style is influenced by a variety sources, Kopperud said. The band has recently been listening to artists who are “pushing the envelope” and are “a little bit abstract.” It’s a balancing act between developing original, unconventional work while maintaining a grip on traditional structure to keep it recognizable, he said.
“I have a lot of respect for bands doing something original and taking songs where you don’t anticipate,” he said. “We’re trying to flirt with the abstract as well, experimenting with sounds and arrangements that are unique. But, at the same time, we are clinging to the ideal of creating great, simple songs like those that have so much structure and persevere through the ages. We don’t want to fall captive to any fads. We cling to classic elements that make a good song, but at the same time, push ourselves into new territory.”
Close Talker opened a six-week tour in support of Flux on October 25. It was the most extensive performance schedule for the band thus far, both in length and geography.
The tour opened and closed in Saskatoon. By its conclusion, Close Talker had played 14 shows in five Canadian provinces - Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta - and four U.S. states, including New York, California, Washington State and Oregon.
“We sort of broke it into three different tours,” Morien said. “We got a chance to go to Germany and London in September (through Creative Saskatchewan/SaskMusic initiatives), which was an amazing experience on its own. Then in October, we opened for Royal Canoe. It was great to open for that level of band.”
Previous tours had them on the road two weeks at the most. Morien said the six-week jaunt for Flux was a challenge, but being on stage almost every night was exhilarating. In the end, they put more than 15,000 kilometers on their van performing for crowds of three to 150.
Morien’s favorite stop was at Clark Hall on Queens University in Kingston ON. The performance was well-attended by an attentive and energetic audience. It was the sixth show of the tour, and it spurred the members of Close Talker through the rest of the schedule.
“In our minds, we knew we were going to be doing longer time (on the road) and we got into the mindset of getting from one show to the next,” he said. “It did get difficult to be in the van for that long, but once we were playing music, it was all worth it.”
Kopperud said he was blown away by the support Close Talker received at most of the shows.
“Granted, we did go in with low expectations to protect ourselves, but we were blown away across the board,” he said. “People came out and we were received well. We made a lot of friends and, hopefully, some lifelong fans.”
Close Talker returned to the road in 2015. After a break through most of December and January, performed again in February and then onto more extensive lineup of shows in April and May. They are also booking festival dates through the summer months and are considering another, more extensive tour in autumn. All of these performances will support Flux.
“We have no plans to record again in the next year, but eventually we will,” Morien said. “We are going to take our time writing material through the next year. But other than that, we are pushing this album.”
In the meantime, Kopperud is hoping their first album under the Nevado label does to listeners what the band intended it to do; carry them away for a while.
Ultimately, that’s the greatest change Close Talker has experienced since their ride into the limelight began early in 2013. They are walking in various new directions artistically. These new areas are not necessarily far away from the party-anthem, indie-rock that brought them their quick success. However, it seems the band has come to a place where their music is deeper and richer through honest introspection into themselves and their experiences.
For now, these experiences are about the transitory aspect of their mental, philosophical and artistic growth.
It’s about the constancy of change.
“Lyrically, we wanted to have more depth for ourselves personally, but still wanted to have others be able to relate,” Kopperud said. “We didn’t want to go too deep. We wanted it to be accessible and relatable for everyone...”
“We just want to draw people into a song and allow them to escape where ever it is they hope to escape to.”
Close Talker’s April-May 2015 tour has taken them to several European countries including showcases at The Great Escape and Liverpool Sound City. They were nominated for a SiriusXM “Emerging Artist of the Year” (English) at the 13th Annual SiriusXM “Indies”, handed out May 9 during Canadian Music Week.
Visit www.closetalker.ca for tour updates and other news for the summer!
BY CHRISTOPHER L. ISTACE FOR THE SESSION
IMAGES: CHRIS GRAHAM PHOTO
Published: June 1 2015
Christopher L. Istace is a singer/songwriter, author and SWNA Award-winning freelance writer based in Moosomin SK. His duo, The Old 21, released their debut EP A Pretty Good Shot in December 2014, just days after the launch of Christopher’s e-novel, “Paco’s Provision.” He is currently working on a collection of short stories and a memoir called “This Attempted Life” about his experiences with and survival of Crohn’s Disease and two brain tumours.