Thirty seconds after we meet up with noir-pop specialists TEAR TALK at one of Liverpool’s venerable rehearsal studios, we find ourselves in the most awkward of introductory scenarios: crammed together in a lift that seems to have been designed to transport single snare drums rather than actual human beings. “They’ve really done this place up recently, haven’t they,” muses Tear Talk frontman Josh Miller (Vocals, Guitar) just a few inches from us. “There used to be cocks drawn over the walls.” We nod appreciatively at the lack of cocks on the walls and continue our ascent to the room in which Miller and co. have been sculpting the stark melancholia of their forthcoming EP, Ruins.
Stark and dark may be the picture painted by the four tracks on Ruins, but the world of Tear Talk is far from being bereft of optimism. Two years ago they were a band who had stirred the whispers of those with their ears to the ground in Liverpool with a couple of raw EPs steeped in nihilistic poetry and scrappy melodies, only to retreat into silence on both occasions. Perched in their practice space, all improvised ashtrays and scribbled track names, Josh explains that, with most of the band’s members at uni, they’d write manically whenever they had the opportunity before dispersing again. “In the summers, we’d write really quickly, and then everyone would leave. It’s only this time that we’ve come back and there’s been no massive rush; we’ve got all the time in the world.”
It’s not all that’s changed since Tear Talk released their first EP, Port Sunlight, way back in the depths of 2012. Back then they were splicing together dark, existential lyrics with breezy washes of guitar and keys, whilst second EP B R E A T H E saw them traverse into swampier atmospheres that felt menacing rather than breezy. “It was all just a bit too happy,” says Josh of their sound from the Port Sunlight days. “I think it was a conscious shift really to stop writing songs in a major key and to do something that was more reflective of what we actually liked. Our listening habits change all the time… When we started, we were into Beat Happening and the DIY ethos but, with B R E A T H E, we got a lot more into the dark wave stuff from L.A. And obviously it’s changed again on Ruins.”
It says a lot of Liverpool’s swelling creative infrastructure that when asked to pinpoint these specific influences of Ruins, Tear Talk avoid the music industry’s approved list of influences (Twin Peaks, The Velvet Underground, perhaps even an ironic appreciation of ABBA) and instead, tongue lodged firmly in cheek, respond “By The Sea.” They laugh, but they’re not quite joking – not in a practical sense, anyway. As it turns out, Ruins was conceived when the band agreed to work on something with By The Sea’s Joe Edwards and Danny McConnell, who then produced the record and will be casting it out into the world on their newly minted War Room Records imprint. As Josh explains: “We’d met By The Sea and done a few shows with them, and it was suggested that we should work together… So we made something as dissonant and as difficult as possible: it started out that every song was six minutes plus. It’s been whittled down into a pop record by them, which is something we definitely needed.”
After much enthusing about the textures and layers that the By The Sea boys brought to the table – not to mention Joe’s keyboard heroics (“he’s a keyboard wizard”) – Josh turns to us with the intensity of a convicted man who’s about to confess something grave. “Suicide were a big deal for us. The summer before we’d seen them live at Primavera in Barcelona, and it sort of stuck with me. It was really loud, aggressive, but still really poppy.” Aggressive and loud aren’t the first adjectives you’d attach to Ruins, but there are definitely similarities in the way that they both obscure their melodic roots; the hooks are there at the centre of songs like Decades, but they’re shrouded by Miller’s introspective musings and the slight fog of synthesised flourishes that hangs over the entire EP. That misty shawl of electronics definitely seems like a departure for the band, as well. “We were listening to a lot of electronic stuff when we were writing it,” intones Josh. “Stuff like Mmoths – stuff that had a really strong emphasis on atmosphere but kept pop song structures.”
It’s maybe a result of them moving simultaneously in these two opposite directions – at once embracing pop structures and adding gloomy synth glows – that Ruins ends up delicately balanced: it houses both some of their most immediate moments and their most agonisingly introspective. Decades, for example, is full of cascading guitar and vocal melodies astride powering drums, but it follows the slo-mo melancholia of Realise – three minutes of skeletal xx-like beats, the spectral chimes of delay-smothered guitars, and lyrics centring around alienation and amorous frustration.
The EP also embodies optimism, not only because it heralds the arrival of another hugely talented prospect, but also because of its release on War Room Records, which is rapidly looking like it could become the label and community of artists hybrid that has admittedly been lacking in Liverpool recently. Set up by By The Sea partially to release their recent LP, and now housing not just Tear Talk but Two Sunsets and Minnietonka, Tear Talk are full of enthusiasm for what the project might become. “War Room could be a very cool thing,” Josh tells us. “I personally wanted to model it on SWAYS in Manchester [the Mancunian “cultural regenerator” record label and early home of MONEY], because I think that’s something that’s kind of lacking in Liverpool, in my personal opinion.”
With cynicism surrounding a music industry that’s finding it tougher than ever to turn a profit, it may well be that musicians increasingly turn to local artist-involved projects like War Room to release their music. Josh sums up this general distrust of the envoys of the music industry, who come armed with contracts and promises (and a demand for a cut of all future earnings): “I don’t trust anyone to do anything music-related. But I trust Joe and Danny to do a very good job no matter what. I think that’s what you need at the top – people who you can really trust, who are just doing it purely for the love of it. Not because they want to make money out of it, but because they want to get the artists the most exposure that they can.” Make no mistake about it though, this doesn’t reflect a lack of ambition. Exactly the opposite is true, in fact, but, as Josh says, Tear Talk are simply ambitious in an artistic rather than a commercial sense; “Ruins is something that I’m really proud of; I think it has surpassed my expectations. A lot of time and effort went into it. As long as people hear it, I’ll be happy.”
But there’s no rush: when you’ve got all the time in the world, what’s the point? Tear Talk have used their time wisely, arriving just where they need to be at precisely the right time. When you’ve got some time, spend it wisely: spend it with Tear Talk.
Ruins is released on War Room Records in November.