Brooklyn noise duo Talk Normal may be a minimalist band, but they sure have a lot going on. Though certainly drawing on No Wave influences, drummer Andrya Ambro and guitarist Sarah Register are hard to pin down, shouldering against boundaries and weaving a variety of other musical strands into their dense bundle of steel wool sound. The duo, known for their exciting, intense live shows, is playing WFMU Fest with Teenage Jesus and The Jerks this week. We caught up with Talk Normal to chat about their upcoming tour and their new album, Sugarland, which drops on October 27.
JM.com: Well first off, how did you two meet?
Talk Normal: We met in college…different programs that shared similar classes, and we ended up working in the same department (music technology) at school as well.
JM.com: You were in another band together, Antonius Block, right? How does Talk Normal differ from that first band?
Andrya: The structural components between Antonius and Talk Normal seem very different; whereas there was four of us in Antonius, all doing separate things, Talk Normal blurs the lines of “who does what” much more, which opens up new ways for orchestration & arrangement for us. Common themes definitely include a “discordant” & “minimal
JM.com: You have your first full-length coming out at the end of October right? What can we expect – how does it build upon [your EP] Secret Cog?
TN: Yes, October 27! Record release party that night in NYC at Cakeshop.
JM.com: Yeah, you’re playing with Pterodactyl that night, right?
Sarah: Sugarland represents material spanning a broad time frame, including a few songs that were pre-Secret Cog. But the majority of it is more recent, from the past year-ish, that we’ve been performing live. Also it’s the most representative recording of what we sound like live, which is very satisfying to us. For these reasons and many more, we are extremely pleased to be unleashing it – finally! Nicolas Verhnes, who we recorded and mixed with at Rare Book Room, was key in helping us translate the sounds we make into the recordings we wanted to hear. And yes, we are beyond psyched to be playing with our buddies Antimagic & Pterodactyl, with the additional sparkling company of DJ Mike Wolf.
JM.com: I was going to ask about who you recorded with, because you’re both sound engineers, right? Do you find that makes it easier or more frustrating to work with other engineers?
TN: Probably sometimes both? It can be hard to relinquish “control.” It’s hard to trust someone with your creations, no matter who or how. Essentially it’s two different things that can be separate but end up the same whole. Simply working with someone, and additionally, working with somewhere where you are in the same field has many pros for the familiarity. Hopefully/theoretically they’ll bring new things to the table, or they’ll be a conduit for your preconceived intentions. Fortunately with Nicolas we had a lot of common ground, and he’s very open to amending/changing/challenging any approach.
JM.com: Awesome. Andrya, people get pretty excited about the various objects you use percussively in shows. Anything new or exciting that you’ve tried out for this album?
Andrya: For this album, I played the things I usually play live (steel drum, guitar, prepared drums). As for the future, one must never forget the triangle.
JM.com: Another for you, Andrya: I read in your interview with Tom Tom Magazine that you’re interested in African music, specifically Ghanaian and Jamaican. What aspects of that do you bring to your drumming?
Andrya: African music – it’s very grounded, more emphasis is on the ‘one.’ It’s danceable in a way that made sense to me – more direct. As for Jamaican, the aesthetic of “making crap awesome” – they were interpreting western culture and came up with something that was entirely their own. “Western culture” meaning American/British r&b and pop music. Regarding drumming specifically – have you ever seen Horsemouth play in Rockers? That dude just grooves – I like that.
JM.com: And Sarah, of course both your guitar and vocals get the Lydia Lunch comparison, but are there other influences that might surprise people?
Sarah: I’ll start with: I wonder if people can tell when it’s me and when it’s Andrya? Because the singing is pretty fairly split half and half at this point. Initially it was almost all Andrya. As far as influences, Andrya & I are very different on that score… total Venn diagram, but with lots of common ground too of course. I grew up a serious product of pop culture, I hardly knew there was any alternative. Things have changed a lot but I’m still always digesting new music of all sorts, which is how I want it. However, my devout childhood collection of Mariah Carey remix singles might be surprising.
JM.com: Wait, i read your “Crate Diggers” article on Impose – was it Salt-N-Pepa that you dug so much?
Sarah: Oh yes. Well, and TLC. I mean I could go on and on, but…
JM.com: But I’ll interrupt if you like, with a totally unprofessional and leading question: how psyched are you about playing with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks this weekend??
TN: As you might imagine, we are totally psyched. We missed the reunion last year, and so this is like dessert…with dessert.
JM.com: Now after your record release you’re going on tour – I know you went to SXSW, but otherwise have you done much touring?
TN: Many Northeast runs. Consider the Northeast/Upper Midwest haunted by Talk Normal. California, GET READY.
JM.com: You have played with a shit ton of bands – are there any other bands that you’d really like to play with but haven’t yet?
TN: Oh! Many! Dirty Projectors. Gang Gang Dance. The Breeders. Why won’t The Creatures have a reunion so that we can play with them? The list goes on and on and on.
JM.com: Who are some of your favorite bands out there today – contemporary influences or people you just like to play with?
TN: Gowns, Pterodactyl, Marnie Stern, Antimagic. We really respect what These Are Powers is doing… Magik Markers, Sightings, Little Claw. There are so many more.
JM.com: Hmm, I feel like I could keep asking you more, but…is there anything else that you’d like to add about Talk Normal and all your upcoming adventures?
TN: Always looking for new ways to create. Always taking donations. Just kidding to that last part. Except, sort of not.
by Erin Sheehy