There was a phrase used by Talk Show during the writing and recording of their latest project that summed up the direction they want to go in after months of lockdown life – “evolve or die”.
Teaming up with lauded house producer Eli Brown may not have been the most obvious partnership for the fast-rising south London outfit, but it shows the willingness to step into the unknown and out of their comfort zone to push boundaries and own new territories.
The result is Trouble; a visceral, two-part collaboration that sees stirring, dark techno collide with the four-piece’s formidable brand of post-punk. Frontman Harrison Swann provides vocals for Eli’s explosive first part before Talk Show cast their dizzyingly intense brilliance onto their own reimagination, with production duties provided by Hot Chip heavyweights Al Doyle and Joe Goddard.
In essence, Talk Show refuse to stand still.
The time offered by lockdown saw them pen three or four tracks – but they were scrapped as Harrison and co delved into the partnership with Eli and the new possibilities that grew from it.
“We had three or four other tracks and scrapped everything”, Harrison told Daily Star. “Not because it was s***, it was ‘this is not what we want to do anymore’. This is way more interesting. It’s phase two of Talk Show almost.”
With a UK tour scheduled to get under way in October, festival dates and more material on the horizon, 2021 is set to be a monster one for one of the UK’s most exciting guitar acts.
Welcome to Talk Show "phase two".
Daily Star’s Rory McKeown caught up with Harrison to find out more about the Eli Brown collaboration, working with Al Doyle and Joe Goddard, recording at Damon Albarn’s studio, and what’s next for Talk Show.
HI Harrison. How can you sum up the past 12 months for Talk Show?
“We were supposed to head out on our first ever headline tour. We had two or three booked, loads of festivals, but they were all cancelled. We released the EP (These People) in lockdown, which was nuts. Instantly our campaign had to change. Instantly everything was social media based. It was cool. It was difficult but it’s been interesting, definitely.
“Essentially I just wrote loads. I spent the entire time writing. I didn’t do much else other than that. I’ve always had other jobs and my thing has been fighting for that time to write. Being put on furlough from my bar job was secretly a blessing in disguise.
“We were pinging demos back and forth. We’ve been in and out of studios recording demos ourselves.”
You’ve teamed up with Eli Brown for the Trouble two-part collaboration project. It’s a really interesting idea. Tell me how it came about.
“In the summer, I can’t remember if I got approached by Eli’s (Brown) team or Polydor, but it was like ‘there’s this producer Eli Brown who’d love to work with you. Do you fancy it?’ Originally my thought was ‘this is not what we do’ but then I was like actually, what have I got to lose? I’ll never know what would come from it.
"I started to listen to more of his stuff and I was like ‘actually, this is f****** wicked!’ It bangs and it’s the kind of stuff I grew up listening to when I was 16-17 with mates in Manchester when we’d listen to dance music in clubs.
“We did an initial writing session at a studio in west London that turned out to be Damon Albarn’s studio, which I had no idea about. I left the room and there was Gorillaz stuff all over the walls.
“We’d been talking previous to the session by going through references, referencing the same kind of stuff, what he was aiming for and what I’d been listening to in lockdown. I had pretty much stopped listening to bands in lockdown, both modern and old. I only listened to dance music and soul music for a change and something different. When me and Eli were bouncing stuff back and forth it clicked and made loads of sense sat in the studio.
“We were doing guitar takes, trying different stuff as opposed to what I’d do in Talk Show. He was like ‘do you want to do some vocals?’. I remember going up to the microphone and thinking I’ve got to blow this mic off its hinges and prove why you’re in the room. It was the same when we recorded the final version. Just prove what you’re good at and why he wanted to work with you in the first place.
“It was nice as it felt like there was no pressure. We were enjoying what we were writing, pinging ideas back and forth. It was refreshing to work with someone from a completely different world, using completely different starting points for ideas.
“We went and recorded with Joe Goddard from Hot Chip and Al Doyle from Hot Chip and LCD (Soundsystem) in December. It was of a similar thing. It was like turn up and do what we’re really good at. Prove you’re good at what you do. I think often there’s a misconception that bands have to consistently be so humble and appear very humble. It is very important to know what you are good at so when you step into those spaces you go ‘right, I know what I can deliver because I know what I’m good at’.
“It’s been a pleasure working with Eli. He’s dead sound as well. It underpinned the whole collaboration from the start when it was supposed to be a one-track release. We get on with each other, it seems to work us working together, that’s why we went ‘why don’t we do a version where Talk Show cover a live version of it?’ That’s not really been done before. It’s almost like a remix but in reverse. We got pretty excited by the idea. Let’s push these two worlds as far as we can take it. Why not push the idea as far as it could go? It’s been sweet.”
Was your live reimagining of the track a real opportunity to put the Talk Show stamp on it?
“When we took the song and brought it to a Talk Show rehearsal, we thought about the fundamentals of the song; what underpins it, what is the common thread? It’s just got to pump all the way through like a dance track, essentially. It has to have that pounding rhythm to it. It has to have an atmosphere to it and be almost a little bit challenging. It’s supposed to be in your face as a track. Ours had to emulate that and reflect that. With Eli’s track, there’s not really a chord progression. It’s not like we could smash out a load of chords as if it’s The Beatles. I think it benefitted us to stay on this route and see how big we could take it, and to try and create an atmosphere around that.
“When we’d got to grips with the bare bones of it, it was like ‘oh s***, this works, this is cool!’. It’s electronic music but it’s on guitars, which is not a totally new idea because everyone’s been doing it since the 90s.
"We had a load of material we’d been writing in lockdown and essentially, after we came out of the studio with Joe and Al and the version recorded with Eli, we scrapped everything. We had three or four other tracks and scrapped everything. Not because it was s***, it was ‘this is not what we want to do anymore’. This is way more interesting. It’s phase two of Talk Show almost. It’s that cheesy montage part of the film where the superhero changes or is becoming the superhero. I can’t believe I just said that!
“It felt really exciting. After we’d sat in lockdown pinging demos back in forth it felt a bit stagnant. This Eli Brown collaboration has felt really exciting. It’s influenced our next batch of material dramatically. We have been referencing dance music, 90s electronica, like Chemical Brothers, Faithless and Tricky. It’s made us really listen back to that 90s stuff. This feels way more like Talk Show than anything we’ve done previously, which sounds weird but it felt more exciting and we just ran with it.”
This time 12 months ago you were on the charge with the new EP dropping. But with this new Trouble project, would you say it’s an invigoration of Talk Show?
“The phrase we’ve been knocking about amongst us is ‘evolve or die’. It has to feel like that. To roll with the times. How can we after 12 months of lockdown pretend to be the same band? We’re going to have naturally grown and changed.”
You mentioned Joe (Goddard) and Al (Doyle) there. What did they bring to the party?
“They were awesome to work with. When we turned up and were recording our live version of Trouble, they gave us the space to do it. They trusted us. It was like ‘we believe you’ve got this, do your live version, we’ll set you up and just f****** play it’. We played it to them and they were like ‘cool, wicked, let’s not f*** with this!’. They gave us enough of a prod to do another take or this or that, but what I loved was the space and the respect they gave us.
"They’re at the top of their careers. We’re just at the start of us. Not that they’d ever look down on us, but they did pay us that respect. As a young band it’s important. You want to feel respected and equal in those rooms. Hopefully we’ll get some more stuff out of them.”
It must be great having that support from figures like that.
“Definitely. It’s a boost of confidence. If they like it and we like it, we must be onto something here. It was a pleasure working with them.”
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Are you already looking at your next EP in this direction? What’s the latest? Is it even an EP? It could be an album…
“I’m not even allowed to say what it is yet. We’ve got the tracks finished and we’ll be going to the studio really soon. It will be in this kind of direction. It will be this almost phase two of Talk Show, this evolved form of the band.”
You’ve announced the rescheduled tour for later in the year. How eager are you to get back out on the road?
“Ah man. I can’t even explain it, how excited I am. There are probably a million other singers and bands that have said it better than I have but I’m just dying for it. It was a big part of what we are, and still are, as a band.
"Playing live will be at the forefront of it. It’s just the most tactile part of being in a band. It’s the most real response. You can polish up and put as many gizmos on a track in a studio but if it doesn’t translate live, you’re not any good. It becomes fodder if you can’t play it live. That’s always been our opinion, anyway.
"Being able to get back out on the road is unbelievably exciting. We’ve rescheduled that tour three times now. It’s a pleasure to be able to announce it. It’s really satisfying that it might actually be on this time. We’ve added more dates and other dates we’ve not announced yet that are in different countries and cities we’ve not been to.
"I want everything and more with that. Take us to the furthest corner of the globe, we want to play there! We want to show off this new version of what we’ve been doing. I want to show it off.”
Talk Show's Trouble collaboration with Eli Brown is out now
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