Saturday, November 7, 2009

Land of Talk

My interview with Elizabeth Powell's Land of Talk is online at

Land of Talk's Elizabeth Powell spares no expense on the photography budget.

Land of Talk's Elizabeth Powell spares no expense on the photography budget.

Land of Talk finds its voice again

Three years ago, former Ontarian Elizabeth Powell was hanging out in a Montreal coffee shop, surrounded by day-job haters: people who slaved all day and spent their downtime waxing poetic about how they’d rather be artists.

Determined to turn her own words into action, Powell founded Land of Talk. Since then, the indie-rock group — which has drawn comparisons to Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey — has experienced all the ups and downs of buzz-band hype: Their debut EP earned critical acclaim and the attention of famed Omaha indie label Saddle Creek (co-founded by Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst), and opened for high-profile bands on both sides of the border, including the Decemberists and Broken Social Scene.

But then, the band was halted in mid-stride by what Powell now calls burnout. Her voice literally gave out, forcing the cancellation of the 2008 tour in support of Land of Talk’s first Saddle Creek album, Some Are Lakes.

A year later, Powell’s voice is back in shape, and the band is celebrating its new EP, Fun and Laughter, with a tour that hits the Biltmore this Saturday (Nov. 7).

You’re back on the road again after having some time off. How are you enjoying it?
Elizabeth Powell: I think it’s more about who you’re actually touring with. Not to say we haven’t had a really good team in the past, but on this one we’re all good buddies.

What kind of stuff do you do to pass the time on the road?
We’re all kind of obsessed with sketch comedy and Zach Galifinakis and all those comedy shows, and YouTube and stuff. Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show Great Job or The Office. We always just end up being totally goofy, and that’s how we pass the time. Sometimes we end up spending two hours on a ridiculous top and impromptu — like yesterday, we ended up in San Diego, and just out of nowhere the drummer started beat-boxing on the street, and we broke into a really bad break-dancing routine and we videoed it. We’re good at entertaining ourselves. It’s actually pretty appropriate, since the EP’s called Fun and Laughter. Maybe that’s self-fulfilling prophecy and I should call all the albums something super-positive, like some super-positive projection and it will come true!

That sounds like so much fun. Better than those people who are like, oh, I’m reading War and Peace.
Well, I’m reading Infinite Jest, but it’s taking me two years to finish that book.

Was that in response to the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy reading it? He was Twittering about it all summer, and a bunch of his fans were reading it and trying to keep pace with him.
We toured with them! What? Are you serious? Oh, my gosh. I don’t even — sorry, I’m ignorant about Twitter. Does that come to your cellphone or something? That’s awesome! It’s kind of like a cult or a religion; as soon as I find people who are reading it, or have read it, or were deeply effected by it — actually, the last song on the EP, “A Series of Small Planes”, is the title of the protagonists father’s film cartridges. I’m totally nerding out over it. It’s all over everything I’m doing right now.

What’s the difference for you between recording your first studio album last year and doing the EP this year? Was there more pressure for the studio album?
I had to do a lot of attitude-changing because I lost my voice last year, and it was really just a symptom of burnout — it’s how my body manifested the burnout and just shut down, and obviously my voice was the first thing to go... I don’t know what happened. I think it was a survival mechanism; I just kind of switched gears, and Fun and Laughter was way more fun to make than any other record. Well, except the first EP because there were no expectations, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. But, yeah, a lot less pressure.
And maybe after touring with such a successful band like Broken Social Scene, it took a lot of pressure off, ironically. It kind of demystified the whole idea of critical acclaim, because they’ve been through that whole gauntlet and they’ve come through it as completely normal people. It brought it all the way back to the original conception — the music — and just doing it for yourself because there’s really no other reason to do it. The music really becomes the footnote in this industry, so it’s better to bring it all back, and I try to cut out all the bullshit and the drama.

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