Land of Talk

Land of Talk singer Liz Powell moved back to Montreal for the music

“I wanted to be closer to the people I make music with. It all drew me back. “

Chances are, if you’ve watched television with closed captioning these past few months, you’ve come across the term “indistinct conversations,” typically used as a catch-all for the background chatter in a particular scene. For Land of Talk singer Liz Powell, this recurring phrase became the perfect title for their latest album, and second since the end of a self-imposed seven year hiatus. Like Powell’s subconscious lyrical style that sticks with you in a surprising ways, there’s a lot of meaning to unwrap in that phrase. There are also literal indistinct conversations on the album, in the form of voicemails and FaceTimes involving Powell, Land of Talk bandmates Bucky Wheaton and Chris McCarron, and their respective family members.

The new Land of Talk album was recorded at Wheaton’s home studio in Montreal, where Powell is living again. We discussed the studio, Montreal and a lot more in this conversation:

Erik Leijon: When did you come back to Montreal?

Liz Powell: I moved back two summers ago, in 2018. This is where, as soon as the music picked up again and I returned to that part of my life again, it re-illuminated Montreal. I wanted to be closer to the people I make music with. It all drew me back. And I really love Montreal. The hiatus I took, which ended up being seven years, it really wasn’t meant to be permanent, so I always wanted to come back, it just took a very long time.

EL: As someone who’s left and come back, you’re in a unique position to tell us how Montreal has changed over time.

LP: I used to live right above la Croissanterie Figaro in the heart of the Mile End/Outremont, which is now about bus tours and guided tours. You can’t walk down the street without brushing up against someone, even in a pandemic, might I add. Coming back, I thought I knew what I could budget living here, but I didn’t have dogs last time. I have two dogs, and I didn’t realize how nearly impossible it is to find a dog-friendly rental. Just a lot of my personal Montreal has changed: my friends have started families or are deep into careers, so I find the social life is different, we’re all doing different things. I live up in Villeray, I love it. I still get to see my favourite people, I still get to run up the mountain, which I adore. So there’s a lot that’s stayed the same.

EL: I guess part of the reason for those bus tours in Mile End is because of the cool music scene you were a part of.

LP: We created a monster! And it’s gentrification, too. I am more aware now, having gone away and come back, of a sea change in movements. Social media became more powerful in disseminating information. My feminism wasn’t intersectional seven years ago, I didn’t understand my privilege. I think I’m seeing Montreal through a different, hopefully more educated lens. I see as much as the music scene helped create a monster, there’s a lot more to it, and it’s our responsibility to give back to our community and be more mindful of where we are.

EL: Has this increased awareness changed your music as well?

LP: It has to. I don’t know if I can clearly pinpoint how, but it has to inform. I know in terms of my gender identity and the way I’ve been expressing myself vocally, I realized the way I sung on this record – I’m more laid back in my delivery, not singing as urgently, powerful or even as flowery, melodically speaking – and I think it has to do with how I also didn’t realize there was a gender binary. All these things that are so clear to me and obvious, I didn’t realize I don’t necessarily have to identify as a woman. It always felt not quite right. So it has to inform because I’m singing in a different way, and it’s the way I dress and don’t wear make-up anymore, I think it has to be coming out in my music. Even the way I play guitar, I’m not maybe the best person to notice, but I’m sure it’s slowly revealing itself, even to me. It happens at this glacial pace, this series of epiphanies. But it all comes together, looking back on it. Looking back on records we’ve made, even seven years later, it all seems clear. That’s what I was going through! That’s why it sounds the way it does! But I’m bad at discerning it in the moment.

EL: Is it the same with your lyrics, too? Your lyrics sound like they come from your subconscious.

LP: Yes, and it happens mid-show, it happens when the words are coming out of my mouth. I’ll be moved or taken aback by it in the moment. They hit me at certain points. I can’t for the life of me write a linear verse-chorus-verse-chorus pop song. And I hope I’m not hiding behind some type of cryptic coding. It’s all the truth, though. I love to dance, and I have a history of classical ballet, and there are all these steps and moves you’ve named, you choreograph them together and you make a piece, and I think I use lyrics as a choreography of words, and so it’s more of a dance. That helps me better understand it. They’re not words on a page.

EL: What’s Bucky’s home studio like?

LP: It’s super cramped and cozy. It’s like a cottage. It’s almost like a little hobbit hole. You go down the back steps, and he has all his drums there, and he has all kinds of kits because he’s a jazz and rock drummer. Chris set us up and built a beautiful console, and it’s very tight. All three of us can barely stand there at the same time, but it’s a magical little place and it was the nest for these songs. And we’re at it again, we have so much music. We can’t keep ourselves away from recording.

EL: What are the literal conversations on Indistinct Conversations?

LP: Bucky really did sculpt and shape this record. He put so much of his own heart and soul into it. He pays attention to detail. One day we were recording and my dad FaceTimed me and mic was still on, but Bucky didn’t stop it from recording. That’s the intro to “Look to You.” He also had all these saved voice messages from his family home, some of it from his late mother and father. Bucky ended up peppering in these snippets that in context are emotional, but out of context are also quite moving. If you listen close, a lot of the conversations deal with health issues, hospitals and ailing family members. There’s that carry-over from the Life After Youth when my father suffered a stroke. As you age, it makes its way into the art. Bucky and his partner had a child, so it’s the whole circle of life. Some beautiful artifacts from that made the record, too. The most meaningful and intimate moments on the record are buried.

That’s the literal example. Really, the inspiration for the title came from seeing it over and over again on television with subtitles. Visually I’d see that, or indistinct chatter. It resonated with me, feeling there’s a whole world out there and I can’t quite understand it. I can’t really make sense of something that seems so simple for others. Not an uncommon feeling of being on the outside and looking in. It’s also about me: music and lyrics are how I express myself, but interpersonally articulating has been a real struggle for me, so I feel my own conversations can be indistinct. I don’t know if I’m getting through when I communicate. It’s a title that means so much to me, but I can’t explain why.

EL: I think that’s the sign of a good album title, if it can be interpreted multiple ways.

LP: Instinctively it hit me, and that’s how I make most of my choices these days. ■

Indistinct Conversations by Land of Talk is available here.

From Indistinct Conversations by Land of Talk

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