Punky Rock The Kids Would Want to Listen To: An Interview with Talay (& Live Acoustic Song)
Talented singer-songwriter Talay is very active in the NYC music scene and has just released her second EP. She sat down with PopMatters for a chat and a live performance.
The New York City music scene feels more diverse and vibrant than ever these days as new bands and record labels rise up every week (not to mention music festivals). Several of those young bands and/or musicians, like Charly Bliss, Boytoy and Megan Talay, have been revisiting the poppy '90s rock scene that many Gen-Xers may remember fondly from high school. Talay released her first EP Piece by Piece in 2015. Those acoustic guitar driven songs were of a different cut than Talay's new EP, Talay. However, they are an early demonstration of Talay's dynamic vocals and her nuanced song crafting.
With the change in direction, Talay finds herself in possession of a little more attitude and wit. When I first heard Talay's music, I thought, well this was the excitement I wish one of my fond high school remembrances, Save Ferris, had possessed when I recently caught them live for the first time. It was no surprise to me then that the talented singer-songwriter considers No Doubt's style as one from which inspiration may have come.
Though I had missed Talay's recent full band shows, I did manage to catch an acoustic set of hers at Pete's Candy Store. From there, I invited her to perform an acoustic song of her own choosing for PopMatters and to chat. Read our interview with Talay, where she discusses her inspirations, her music video for "Parents House" and more, below where you'll also find the exclusive acoustic #GiantMonkeySession of "I Hope Your Band Goes Nowhere". Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Your new EP is self-titled.
Was that a way to reinvent yourself?
[My] first EP was really different. So I guess [the self-titled EP] was my way of being like, "this is what this project is". I have been playing New York City since I was like 19 or whatever -- playing at the Bitter End, playing pop rock and folk music or whatever. It felt like these are the songs that really represent me. So now this is Talay; this is what the project is, this is what the band is, the musical message I'm trying to get across.
Did the Brooklyn scene influence your sonic change?
There are so many specifics. Honestly, a big thing was I wrote a lot of these songs [when] I was working at the School of Rock. I was in Westchester teaching kids and running this group called California punk. For some reason, I was like, "I don't know why I never learned to play the riff to 'Just a Girl' before." Then I started covering all that stuff in my own shows. I was like, "oh, this is like a huge deal to me." This is the music that I grew up on, teaching the kids and being around teenagers, I want to write songs that these kids want to listen to.
It was a whole lot of other stuff. I was playing with Guns N' Hoses, which is an all-girl Guns N' Roses cover band, and those girls rock really hard in terms of musicianship. I was just hanging out with other people that were [said], "you can play lead guitar, why aren't you doing that more?" And I could because now I was playing with a band. You can't a riff a wild guitar solo over your own folky-acoustic song. You have a band and [you can] stretch out. This is a big part of why I started playing music to begin. I used to listen to Slash and be like, "Oh my god, I want to do that."
Your songs have a lot of snark. In particular, in the song you just performed here at PamNation headquarters, "I Hope Your Band Goes Nowhere", you are pretty mean…
It's pretty mean.
Yeah, it's certainly the meanest song on your EP.
What was your emotional state when you wrote this song?
I guess I was pissed off! [Laughs]
But it was also immediately a tongue-in-cheek thing. You can't be too serious about saying something like that. It was just so funny. It was immediately very brutal. I felt like I needed to go for that as hard as I could. Like, what insults can I do? Everything just fell into place when I wrote that song. It was like too easy. Maybe this will ruffle some people the wrong way but I just think it's funny.
Another vibe I got from listening to your EP was one of youthfulness, specifically, it rekindled a connection to my high school experience. You've mentioned you worked with School of Rock but I understand you've also moved back in with your parents after you graduated college.
I don't know how conscious it was that I was trying to make a youthful sounding EP. That might have just happened by osmosis like working in that [School of Rock] situation and maybe being back at home.
I can speak mostly to the lyrical aspect. "Parents' House", for example, comes out like a quirky silly song because I'm trying to make light of the fact that I'm 20-whatever at the time and living with my parents. That's sort of where that vibe came from. I just got back into that musical-style a lot, Weezer and stuff I did listen to in high school.
"Parents' House" is your only video so far. How did you go about casting the actors to play your parents?
I really just used a site called Backstage. I just cared that they could theoretically pass as my parents. A lot of people were like, "your parents are funny" and I'm like, "they're not my parents". I saw both [the actors'] reels and it was sort of last minute by the time I was doing that 'cause somebody else was supposed to do it and they weren't doing it… I was like, "okay, here we go".
What will be the next song you want to do a video for?
I actually have a video in the works for "I Hope Your Band Goes Nowhere". I basically got like seven or eight different New York City bands to come in and play the song with me. We do crazy stuff like ripping up our own band t-shirts and throw shit across the room.
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Are you close with a lot of the NYC musicians through your previous session work? When I saw you perform at Pete's Candy Store, you played with Fort Vine.
It's kind of evenly split. I do a lot of work for other bands. I know [Fort Vine] through like an open mic scene -- I have a friend who used to organize all these different events, like "The Cover Collective", and all these original acts would come together and play covers. There's such a wealth of those events in the city. Rockwood [Music Hall] has been huge for me for meeting people.
A big thing was for me was, when I came back from college, I'm sort of a couple of years younger than a lot of the people who were actually my teachers. I kind of just dropped people's names for like a whole year and just went up to people who I didn't really know and was like, "Hey, you know my friend Greg? He was my teacher". I guess I know all people through other people.
Did you have any intention of crafting a message of female empowerment?
Maybe "I Hope Your Band Goes Nowhere" fills a hole that of like a breakup song that has a little more balls. (I feel like we need to change that phrase, 'cause balls are guy thing.) But you know what I mean.
I don't think in writing the songs I was ever thinking of that, but in playing them the way I do, playing lead guitar and fronting a band, it is important to me that it has that this project has that potential. I want to do more. Getting in front of audiences of young female people is definitely a goal.
I wish that I did. My sister was going to get a tattoo that said, like "follow the fear", which is apparently an improv thing. So I guess I'm stealing my sister's motto right now because I like that. That has helped me at times. Does something make you really scared and really nervous? Okay, then do it. That means like go full-force ahead 'cause obviously that helps when you're trying to put yourself out there all the time. And be like, "Hey, look at me! Look at me again! Look at me now! Look at me still for my music that I wrote!" That's a cool one.
What stood out in that interview Goodman did was her point to, "Enjoy yourself. It’s not going to last." I read that just before this chat and it had me thinking about the guiltless enjoyment of your music.
That's a good one. That's probably closer to like my actual motto of life or my personal beliefs. Like the nihilist view of nothing matters.
In another interview you have done, there was mention of a NYC-based band that connected with LGBTQ fans but has now got itself in hot water… If a band's music has a message, is it possible to separate art from artist in order to gain from the message alone?
Art and artist -- as you get to know someone better you understand their music more. I have a very strong tendency to dig the music of people and friends who I like. I'm lucky to always have a lot of friends surrounding me that are great people and great musicians. It seems like the more that I get along with someone, the more I like their tunes 'cause you see eye-to-eye in a couple of different ways.
What are some other NYC band's you are into or would you recommend I check out?
I always like to ask musicians, have you recently experienced any cultural event or indulged any entertainment that has stuck with you?
The record Alvvays by the band Alvvays is getting into my writing a little bit. There's other stuff I'm obsessed with like the newest Haim track, "Want You Back", I love. Also this is I'm totally late to this game but do you know the podcast Serial? How old is that? That's not even recent but I did get really into that. And Stranger Things… Podcasts and murder mystery podcasts. [Laughs]
Is this EP going to lead into an album?
I don't think so. I'm going to be in the studio in July for another four song set. I'll probably release those as singles. It's always like this game right now -- what can people really pay attention to? I guess there are some people that are saying to me, "Oh I'm excited about the EP." But I feel like I got the most attention on just the first single when it came out and the "Parents House" video. Maybe next time I put out a song and then just wait like months. I might make a full length only when I have somebody else behind it financially.
Will you be writing any murder ballads?
[Rather mysteriously…] I don't know… maybe!