June 28, 2016
Premiere: All Talk | upstairs/downstairs EP
While still a young project, All Talk has already shown an impressive ability to navigate transition. Following the release of 2015's Juno -- which principles Tim Mensel and Cole Maxwell consider the band's true starting point -- and an attendant tour, the Boston indie concern's first drummer Tim Carman decamped for the west coast. Undaunted, Messrs. Mensel and Maxwell rigged an Ableton Live setup to anchor the rhythm and then plotted out new songs. The digitally augmented duo self-recorded its newest EP upstairs/downstairs, but has since incorporated childhood friend Dan Shapiro to helm the drum kit. The proverbial shoe fits.
"I felt like it took a couple shows for... the beats to sound right," said Mensel. "I had a MIDI controller and I would try and trigger them with my feet, but we were singing and playing, too, so it was tough at first to do it at spots like the ER without a stage monitor."
Needless to say the addition of Mr. Shapiro has proven beneficial. Both Maxwell and Mensel credit rehearsing with a live drummer, and at Shapiro's spacious Brookline basement no less, with giving new life to All Talk's music; even arrangements have shifted. And while he doesn't play on the new record, Shapiro has clearly played a crucial role in the band's (re-)development as a live act, too.
"[T]he songs have changed a lot, going from the Ableton versions to recording, and then to us playing them as a trio -- especially the drums," said Maxwell. "Part of that had to do with my limitations as a drummer, or what I thought sounded good, but I think Dan's influence changed things a lot, too."
Shapiro's fluid integration into the unit is unsurprising, given there is meaningful shared history among the players. All three grew up together in suburb Needham, Mass., often taking to Shapiro's basement to work out Beatles tunes. To up his game, Shapiro has in recent months -- even before joining All Talk -- taken a more studious approach to drumming, going so far as to take lessons from Mr. Carman's former teacher at Berklee.
"It just happened to be good timing, 'cause we had jammed a few times while they were doing the shows with the beats, and it seemed to go pretty well," said Shapiro. "They saw that I was starting to get serious about drumming and asked me if I wanted to play a show with them. We basically just went from there."
While keen to mention the influence of classic acts like The Beatles, Radiohead, and Wilco, All Talk has been sopping up more proximal influences as well, largely by virtue of attending more shows. More actively participating in the scene has, somewhat counter-intuitively, helped All Talk shape its own identity.
"I definitely don't think we go out of our way to write songs that sound like the bands that we go see or the sort of Boston scene in general," Maxwell observes. "But when I do go out to shows and stuff, I definitely pay attention to arrangements and sounds and try and add some of those things to what we do."
"Being able to work at our own pace, without worrying about time constraints, was definitely a benefit," said Mensel. "It was nice to be able to go back and work on things after playing back certain things immediately."
upstairs/downstairs finds the band doubling down on the sturdily melodic and folk-tinged power-pop that characterized Juno's strongest moments. Mensel and Maxwell have distinctive (although not entirely dissimilar) voices and writing styles, and the songwriters' give-and-take across the EP is among its charms. Mensel-penned tunes including opener "Misled" are often appointed with modest, yearning vocals and sprightly jangle-guitar leads that lead to big distorted riffs, a neat reflex that engenders emotional heft. Maxwell's numbers tend to rely less on dynamics and instead dig in to establish memorable grooves. The upstroked and tremoloed guitars on his "Pay No Mind," for example, play into a sturdy and insistent backbeat that pushes the song ahead.
All Talk is prepping for a month-long tour that will take it as far Texas and Oklahoma with rehearsals in Shapiro's basement, last-minute DIY flyer production and gear purchases, but it is also looking ahead to its next move.
"The next release is gonna be a lot different, for sure," Mensel offers.
All Talk's record release/tour kickoff extravaganza is set for this very Saturday at Cambridge's living room, the great Lilypad. Dreamy folk strummer (and recent Captured Track signee) Lina Tullgren and Erica from surfy indie poppers Littlefoot also perform. Stream upstairs/downstairs via the embed below, check out the complete tour dates at upper right, and order a limited-edition cassette right here. -- Dillon Riley
All Talk: Bandcamp | Facebook